Carolyn Appleton has more than 30 years of hands-on nonprofit major gift fundraising experience. She both designs and implements major gift campaigns, and has raised more than $33 million. Carolyn is known for being a “troubleshooter,” tackling difficult and seemingly impossible fundraising efforts and turning them into success stories. With two degrees from The University of Texas at Austin, Carolyn has extensive experience with grant research and writing for individuals, foundations, corporations and government agencies. She is present on most major social media platforms and Carolyn has lectured about using social media in the context of fundraising and major gift campaigns, specifically.
I have worked with nonprofits large and small. Perhaps surprisingly, I find some large nonprofits could do with less technology and better use of the systems in which their organizations have already invested. And small nonprofits are frequently duped into thinking they cannot function without a lot of fundraising tools, some of them expensive.
In both situations, I find nonprofits often patch together a variety of technology solutions when just a few will do. Most of these organizations also fail to set aside time for staff to be adequately trained to use software, and they are not encouraged to be routinely updated about changes to the software.
Sometimes Less Is More
Having tackled major gift campaigns with nothing more than Microsoft Word and Excel, I know one can survive and thrive by simply making use of those two veteran software systems. A formal “customer relationship management” or CRM platform was not required.
For example, I developed two types of spreadsheets. First, Microsoft Word (charts) was used for tracking prospects, volunteer solicitors, and grant submission/reporting deadlines, and we used those for our volunteer fundraising team meetings. The charts were easily updated after each session.
And I used Excel for pledges received, payment dates, project(s) funded, stewardship and reporting needs. The latter spreadsheet passed a formal accounting firm audit with ease, and was teamed up with a large notebook of hard copy pledge correspondence, sorted alphabetically and tabbed. What was required in these cases was a fundraising mindset, listening skills, and attention to detail, but relatively little software training.
I believe what we call the “computer” is in fact you and your brain. The tools you use to help your brain keep track of relationships and donations are the equipment, and software platform(s) installed on that equipment. Your nonprofit’s device(s) are not in control: your brain is in control.
Hence, time must be set aside for initial software and device training, and regular updates as your chosen software and devices evolve. If you have been duped into thinking you cannot achieve significant fundraising success because you do not have the most expensive CRM available today, change your mindset. I have seen several situations where the most expensive CRM was purchased, no one on staff was adequately trained, and the CRM sat idle. And the nonprofit still paid for it.
Fundraising Tools Nonprofits Need
So, what fundraising tools do nonprofits need?
I would argue nonprofits need systems that house information and data, that ensure donors can give securely online, and that enable methods for communicating regularly and professionally.
As I mentioned, you can accomplish quite a bit with Microsoft Word and Excel, or counterparts offered by other companies.
A CRM and Fundraising Support Tools
If you can afford a CRM, those software platforms can be immensely helpful. But what you will want to investigate before purchasing are obtaining the proper training, and the integrations.
Qgiv works with several industry-leading CRMs, from eTapestry to DonorPerfect. Qgiv’s gift processing services make connecting the tools fundraisers need an easy process. Be sure to choose a CRM and related services that function well together, from emailing services to electronic funds transfer. Qgiv integrates seamlessly with email services like MailChimp and Emma, and with finance and data tracking platforms like QuickBooks and Google Analytics. You can build a very strong “nptech” system this way.
A Payment Processor with EFT
Online gift processing today is not just for small online donations. Fidelity Charitable – one of the largest and most respected donor advised funds in the world – urges nonprofits to, “Receive grants faster, safely, with Electronic Funds Transfer.”
Likewise, when you enroll with Qgiv, you complete official forms that authorize the secure transfer of funds from your donors directly to your nonprofit bank account – just like with Fidelity and other grantmaking organizations. Your online gifts and grants can be instantly and securely transferred, and they are recorded by Qgiv for ease of reference.
Given the ever-increasing move by philanthropists to online giving, establishing electronic “contactless” transfer of funds is also an essential “nptech” tool.
Most reputable software platforms allow you to export your data to Excel or Google Sheets formats. If you are running a major gift campaign and want to conduct advanced research with WealthEngine or other wealth screening services, and you do not have a wealth screening integration in your CRM, you can export your data via spreadsheets and then share that document with the screening service.
I have also found the inner workings of gift processing platforms like Qgiv make for excellent major gift research. I once simply reviewed the “back-end” of a nonprofit’s Qgiv platform and discovered several excellent prospective donors at much higher levels than they were currently giving. This simply takes your brain, focus, and dedicated “quiet time” for research, and an Internet connection so you can work back-and-forth online.
I have done the same with MailChimp and other emailing services. People already in your fold receiving information and giving online – even at relatively small levels – can become ideal major gift or special project donors.
Nonprofit Technology Support
I would suggest you follow NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network and TechSoup online for information as it becomes available.
NTEN’s “Reports and Resources” page includes a wealth of helpful information tailored specifically to nonprofits. Check out their courses and community discussions.
TechSoup also hosts courses and shares “nptech” information routinely on social media. And, if you need to purchase software and equipment, sign-up on the TechSoup website to receive impressive discounts.
In the end, I would advise that less is more. Your brain – your knowledge, research, and related fundraising work – is the most important part of the “nptech” equation.
If you arrive at a nonprofit that has amassed a patchwork of platforms, review and make suggestions for improving efficiency. Regardless, take the time to learn how to use your platforms. I know nonprofit leaders can be in a hurry to get results, but you should stand firm. Adequate software training will make you a powerful fundraising force for the greater good.
Best wishes for your fundraising success!