Fundraising software typically pays off in two ways: by decreasing program costs and increasing contribution. Before starting your search for a system, conduct a careful analysis of your organizational infrastructure, including an assessment of your current development programs, an inventory of your existing technology and your staff's computing skills and a review of your budget. In each area, don't forget to consider where your organization may be three to five years down the road so that the system you choose will meet your anticipated growth.
You then have to look at your development and fundraising programs and create a function list to use in your software search. The activities you spend the most time on will dictate the feature areas that have higher priorities than others. You also have to consider the type of information you want to capture, as well as the level of detail required You must determine what detail is needed to build and maximize relationships, analyze giving trends, and develop effective reports. These activities will help you compare costs and benefits of different software packages based on essentials. When reviewing systems, you'll be able to quickly factor in additional costs for desired but non-critical features.
Another important part of the process is undergoing a technological inventory to find out what tools you already have. This will help you determine if you can run a new fundraising package on the system you have or whether you will need other hardware or peripherals to support it. Make a comprehensive list of hardware, operating systems networking information and other critical software so that you understand your organization's technical capability when speaking with a software vendor.
When budgeting for fundraising software, remember that the purchase price is not always the complete cost of the solution. A system can have added costs in the form of additional user licenses, data conversion, extra staff training, and annual technical support, as well as additional hardware to support the solution.
Treating the purchase of new fundraising software as a long-term investment rather than an expense will help select a system that has the capabilities you need and a software company that will be a long-term partner in your success.
For more information about the process of evaluating and purchasing software, download Sage Software's A Nonprofit's Guide to Purchasing Fundraising Software.