Fundraisers thrive on information, often asking the questions: ‘What is our donor retention performance this year?’ ‘Which kind of donor acquisition provided the best long-term ROI?’ ‘What moves one-time donors to recurring givers?’ So it is a cause for concern when one of the most common complaints from fundraisers goes along the lines of, “I can’t get the information I need from our donor database.”
This doesn’t seem to be the fault of one fundraising software package or another – I’ve heard similar complaints from users of many systems. Some have even gone down the expensive route of changing their software to solve the problem. In some cases this may be justified, but usually the solution is quite simply clearer communication.
Fundraising software often comes with a number of canned reports which may provide the information you need, but they’re unlikely to give you everything that relates to the way you do things in your organisation. You probably have an additional software package with which to write your own reports. This only works if done correctly – I have seen many organisations send the wrong staff members on technical report-writing courses in the hope that they would be able to create complex reports for themselves. This is a great idea in prospect, but you need someone with a pretty rare combination of skills to be able to (a) interpret the business requirements — a business skill — and (b) write the reports — a technical skill. Sadly, many not-for-profits have wasted time and money that way.
The key is to work more closely with your software vendor, who has the business and technical skills to create the reports you need. However, there is a vital communication step in this process that many organisations miss, and that is to make sure the vendor gets a clear understanding of what you mean and remaining cautious around the use of familiar fundraising jargon. You may think you have been clear, but unfortunately the terms are not yet universally understood or applied in the fundraising world. And there is a danger that you and the vendor will have different assumptions of the meaning of the same concept — which could result in misleading information, leading to bad decisions.
For example, I have heard the term lifetime value to mean either the total sum of a donor’s contributions from the time they first connected with the organisation, or the sum of the expected value of a donor’s gifts in the next five years, discounted year on year by the anticipated attrition rate and the effect of inflation. These are not the same things! We see this with other widely used terms in fundraising, such as ROI and retention.
It may seem obvious to you, but if you want good information, you should be explicit about your requirements. Then they can be written into the reports your system produces. The reward is that from that point forward you will get exactly the information you meant to get, which isn’t always the same as what the vendor first understood you to mean!
Niroo Rad is CEO and Managing Director of ASI Europe