12 Essential Questions To Ask When Buying Fundraising Software

While many nonprofit organizations are aware of the benefits of using fundraising software, many are hesitant to enter into the buying process.

With so many vendors and platforms out there, nonprofits have a lot to think about before making the purchase. It’s no wonder that the buying process is a source of anxiety!

However, an involved buying process shouldn’t deter your organization from finding the tools it needs to be as successful as possible. Fundraising software will enable you to develop a multichannel fundraising strategy and more effectively steward your donors, both of which can help you raise exponentially more.

If you go into purchasing software with the right considerations at the forefront of your mind, there’s no reason why the process should be stressful.

That’s why we’ve laid out a list of the top 12 questions you should ask before purchasing fundraising software. They include:

  1. Why are we shopping?
  2. What is our budget?
  3. How many people need to use the software?
  4. How many constituents should our software accommodate?
  5. What type of software should we purchase?
  6. Do we need any expansions or integrations?
  7. How much does the software cost?
  8. What does data migration look like?
  9. Is it easy to manage data?
  10. Is the platform secure?
  11. What kind of training and support are included?
  12. What other organizations are using the software?

With all the right questions at hand, you’re sure to find the perfect fundraising software solution for your organization!

Plus — don’t forget to check out Neon’s fundraising software, which has one of the most comprehensive feature sets available!

You should have a clear idea about why you are looking for fundraising software before you make a purchase.

1. Why are we shopping?

If you’re shopping for new fundraising software, it’s probably safe to say that there’s some aspect of your current operations that isn’t working or that you’d like to improve.

In other words, you definitely have a reason for shopping!

While it’s probably already clear what that reason is, you should still make sure to start off the buying process by asking: why exactly are we shopping for new software?

Nonprofits buy fundraising software for any number of reasons. Some of the most common include:

  • To gain deeper insights into donors.
  • To facilitate more efficient or streamlined operations.
  • To free up more staff hours.
  • To better manage data.
  • To better organize staff and volunteer efforts.
  • To find a platform that’s more user-friendly.
  • To find a platform that’s more scalable.
  • To find a platform that’s more feature rich.
  • To find a platform that provides more support.
  • To find a platform that’s more affordable.

Whether you’re purchasing your first fundraising software platform or making a switch, it’s important to really think about how you want the new software to address the current difficulties or shortcomings your organization is facing.

This way you can ensure that the platform you eventually end up buying will actually be the right solution to address your concerns.

Have a clear idea of your budget before deciding on a fundraising software.

2. What is our budget?

Purchasing fundraising software is a big investment.

Make sure that the purchase will be feasible for your organization by setting a budget.

Any big purchase warrants careful budgeting. You wouldn’t go into buying a house or a car without setting a budget first, so why wouldn’t you do the same when shopping for software?

Of course, you would never want to put a fiscal strain on your organization.

Furthermore, you’re going to have to pitch the software to your board before you can actually go through with the purchase.

If it’s an investment that’s going to break the bank, your board will inevitably turn it down. You don’t want to spend all that time and effort searching for the perfect software just for it to be vetoed in the final stages of the buying process.

Avoid this setback by setting a realistic budget from the beginning!

Think about how many people will need to be abler to use your prospective fundraising software.

3. How many people need to use the software?

Oftentimes, the price of fundraising software is influenced by the number of people who can use it.

As such, your organization will want to determine how many staff members will be using the new software, so you can buy a platform that accommodates the necessary number of users.

The staff who need to use the software will depend mostly on the type of software you’re purchasing (we’ll go into more detail on this later).

If you’re buying a more comprehensive platform, it’s likely that many staff members will need to use it to do their jobs effectively. If, on the other hand, you’re buying a highly specialized platform, only one or two staff might need access to it.

It can be helpful to ask around the organization to get a better idea of which data sources staff in various departments consult on a regular basis.

Doing this should help you make sure that you’re buying a platform that’s the right size, so you don’t accidentally leave anyone out.

Consider the number of constituents you'll need your fundraising software to accommodate.

4. How many constituents should our software accommodate?

The price of software can also be influenced by the number of constituent profiles it allows.

That means you’ll also want to start thinking about how many constituents the new software should be able to accommodate.

Keep in mind that constituents aren’t just donors. They can also be volunteers, members, sponsors, and any others who are associated with your organization.

You’ll also want to factor in potential growth. While you don’t want to waste money buying a platform that’s too large, the platform should be scalable enough to grow with your organization for at least the foreseeable future.

If you buy a platform that’s too limiting, you’ll just end up having to invest in another new platform sooner rather than later.

Think about what kind of fundraising software will bebest for your organization before making a decision.

5. What type of software should we purchase?

Fundraising software is actually an umbrella term that refers to a wide range of platforms meant to assist nonprofits with their fundraising efforts.

When going through the buying process, you’ll have to do some research to figure out which type of software will best address your organization’s needs.

Some common types of fundraising software include:

  • Donor databases or nonprofit CRMs
  • Online fundraising software
  • Association management software
  • Event planning software
  • Advocacy software
  • Peer-to-peer software
  • Mobile giving software

Donor databases are the most generalized type of fundraising software. This type of software allows nonprofits to collect all of their donor data in one place to get a 360° view of their supporters.

Not only will a nonprofit CRM help you manage your data more easily, but you’ll also receive deeper insights into your donors that will help you individualize your outreach to get more out of your fundraising.

While virtually any nonprofit will benefit from using a donor database, your organization might need a more specialized platform depending on which efforts you need to use it for.

For example, if you raise most of your money through a membership program instead of through traditional fundraising, your organization would probably benefit more from membership management software. This type of software was especially built to help nonprofits facilitate their membership programs and more effectively administer membership benefits.

Think about which specific efforts you’ll need to manage with your software and which functionalities your software must include to manage these efforts. This should help you start searching for the right type of solution.

Once you start evaluating specific platforms, make sure to ask your vendor if the solution you’re considering has all of the features you need.

If the solution you’re considering doesn’t have all of the necessary functionalities, it could be a sign that you need to look at another platform.

Think about what kind of fundraising software will bebest for your organization before making a decision.

6. Do we need any expansions or integrations?

One of the great things about robust fundraising software is that it’s so customizable.

Because needs vary from organization to organization, fundraising software can be tweaked until your organization finds the perfect fit.

As such, if the fundraising software you’re considering doesn’t include all of the features you need, supplementing the missing functionalities might be as simple as adding integrations or expansions.

Let’s quickly define each of these terms:

  • Expansions. Expansions are additional feature sets offered by the same vendor who developed the base software. Since the base software and the expansion packs were made by the same vendor, integrating the two should be fairly simple.
  • Integrations. Integrations refer to third-party platforms that can be integrated with the base software to provide additional functionality. Because these platforms are made by third-party vendors, integrations can be more difficult to incorporate into your software.

Ideally, your vendor will also offer an expansion pack to cover the features you need. Not only will expansions be easier to add on, but you’ll also only have to go back and forth with one consultant if you run into any difficulties.

However, in many cases, you might need to add on integrations to support the capabilities you need.

Some common integrations include:

  • Payment processing
  • Accounting
  • Email marketing
  • Social media sites
  • Wealth screening and prospect research services
  • Matching gift services
  • And more!

If you’re already using a third-party platform to address these needs, ask your vendor if the software you’re considering supports integrations with that platform.

If you’re not already using third-party platforms, make sure that the new software supports integrations with platforms that offer the features you need.

Consider the cost of the fundraising software.

7. How much does the software cost?

Ensuring that you’ll have the right feature set is a great start, but before you decide on the platform that’s right for you, you’ll need to be absolutely sure that the price falls within your budget.

Determining the exact cost of fundraising software can be tricky.

On their websites, most vendors only list the price of the base software, which generally takes into account the basic feature set, number of users, and number of constituents.

While the list price will give you a ballpark idea of how much the solution will cost, there are often many hidden costs that can hike up the price of the platform, such as:

  • Expansions and integrations
  • Training
  • Setup
  • IT support
  • Payment processing fees
  • Costs associated with updating the platform over time
  • And more

Make sure you explicitly ask your vendor about costs, so you’re not hit with any unpleasant surprises down the line. If you don’t account for all of the expenses from the beginning, it could put your organization’s financial stability in jeopardy.

Think about the data migration process to your new fundraising software.

8. What does data migration look like?

Fundraising software is heavily reliant on data.

In order to get set up with your new software, you’ll need to transfer over all of the existing data sitting in your current platform.

Unfortunately, the data migration process can often be difficult. Between analyzing your data to make sure it’s compatible with the new system, cleaning it, exporting it, importing it, and testing it, the process can definitely be a headache.

Luckily, some software vendors make data transfer a whole lot easier than others.

Many vendors will evaluate your data beforehand to assess how involved data migration will be.

Depending on how difficult the process will be for your organization, your vendor will either determine that you can do it alone or offer their full or partial help.

If you anticipate that you’ll need assistance with data migration, make sure you’re working with a vendor who can provide you with the support you need.

Consider how easily your chosen fundraising software manages your data before making a purchase.

9. Is it easy to manage data?

Data transfer is only half of the equation.

While all of your existing data is already sitting comfortably in the new platform, you’ll want to make sure that it’s easy to collect and manage the wealth of new data that will be coming in.

Automation plays a huge part in data management.

Automated features will make your operations much more efficient. By automating many of the routine tasks your staff has to do on a regular basis, fundraising software will free up many staff hours, so you can channel them into the efforts that really do need to be done by hand.

Especially if you’re purchasing software with the goal of making your operations more efficient, make sure that the platform you’re buying has plenty of automated features.

Some common automated features might include:

  • Data cleaning features, such as record merging and deduplication.
  • Sending out thank-you letters and donation receipts.
  • Tracking data submitted through online forms.
  • Generating reports.
  • And more!

One of the reasons you’re buying new fundraising software is to make data management simpler, so make sure you’re buying a platform that can actually do that.

The security of your donor data is a crucial consideration when choosing a new fundraising software platform.

10. Is the platform secure?

Security should be another huge consideration when purchasing fundraising software.

Your new platform will be holding all of your supporters’ data, including the payment information your donors use when submitting their donations or registering for an event.

Your donors are trusting your organization enough to support you. They deserve to know that you’re doing everything in your power to keep their information safe.

When evaluating a platform, you want to make absolutely sure that it has the proper security measures in place to protect your donors’ confidential information.

For example, if you’re buying a donor database, it should allow you to control permissions so that only certain users have access to confidential information. This way, only the people who really need to handle sensitive data will have access to it.

If you’re buying software that will be processing payment information, make sure that it’s PCI-compliant. This means that the platform adheres to the standards outlined by the Payment Card Industry, so processing donations should be secure.

Asking about security during the buying process will give both you and your donors the peace of mind knowing that confidential information will never fall into the wrong hands.

Be sure to ask about the training and support that your chosen fundraising software vendor offers.

11. What kind of training and support are included?

Your relationship with your vendor won’t just end once the contract is signed.

Your vendor of choice will play a huge role in helping you set up and maintain your fundraising software, so you want to make sure that they can provide you with the support you need.

The level of training and IT support can vary significantly from vendor to vendor (or even platform to platform!), so ask your vendor about each.

Training is usually done in one of two ways:

  • Through pre-recorded videos. The most basic type of training is done through pre-recorded videos. While this is the most affordable training option, it’s also the least supportive. Because the training sessions are pre-recorded, training will not be customized to your organization, and staff won’t be able to ask questions throughout the process.
  • Through live training. Live training can either be done over the computer or on-site. While this option is more expensive, training will be customized to your organization. You can focus on the modules you’ll be using most, and staff will be able to ask any questions that arise throughout the process.

The type of training you choose will be up to your organization. If your staff isn’t so technically savvy, it’s probably a good idea to splurge on a more supportive training option.

When it comes to IT support, you’ll want to ask a few questions, including:

  • When is support available?
  • How do I get in touch with a consultant (i.e. through phone, live chat, etc.)?
  • What’s the average turnaround time for addressing technical issues?
  • Does IT support cost extra, or is it included in the price of the software?

It’s crucial to determine whether or not you’ll have the support you need to keep your software functioning at top speed.

If you run into technical difficulties and there’s a long turnaround time for solving these issues, your operations could take a hit.

Take a look at what other organizations are using your chosen fundraising software to see it in action.

12. What other organizations are using the software?

Understanding the features and functionalities of your software is a huge component of the buying process.

However, before you put the pen to the contract, you should also do everything you can to get an idea of how the software performs in practice.

The best way to do this is to ask your vendor about which other nonprofits are currently using the platform.

In particular, you’ll want to ask about organizations similar to your own. This will help you determine whether the vendor has experience working with organizations like yours.

If you’d like a second opinion, you can take it a step further by asking if the vendor has any references you can consult.

Along with viewing a demo, there’s probably nothing more telling than the feedback of current users. Current users will be nonprofits who use the platform on a day-to-day basis for efforts similar to your own, so their advice will be extremely valuable.

Hearing what they have to say about how the platform will give you a more well-rounded view of the platform’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can decide if this is really the right solution for your organization.

It never hurts to get a second opinion!

As you can see, the fundraising software buying process warrants many questions and considerations.

However, if you go in prepared, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t find the perfect solution for your organization.

Now go out and start shopping!

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