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10 Common Mistakes in Selecting Donor Databases (and How to Avoid Them)

Lori Halley 14 September 2007 0 comments

Fundraising technology strategist Robert Weiner has put together an excellent article about 10 common mistakes  that can prevent you from selecting the right database and managing it effectively.

Even though this article has been written a while back, I thought it would be a good idea to post it again as a reminder and because it's a topic that many small non profit organizations might run into. 

According to Robert - selecting and managing a donor database is never easy, but if you avoid the mistakes on this list, you can start out on the right foot. So here are the top 10 mistakes; for additional information see the full blog entry:

1. Letting techies make the decision

Although the market for donor databases has changed significantly over the past three decades, techies still make many of the purchasing decisions.  However, few techies have experience with fundraising.  This makes it critical to get input from the people who will actually use the database. 

2. Wishful budgeting

Before you go shopping for a database, you need to know what you can spend.  And before you sign a contract, you need to make sure you can afford to pay the bill, now and in the future.

3. Prioritizing price about anything

Buy the product that meets your top needs, fits your resources, and offers the best price. Think in terms of Return on Investment. 

4. Randomly looking at demos

Randomly looking at software demonstrations is not likely to produce a good result. 

Your first step should be to convene a selection team that will help you make the decision.  Make sure they understand their role—is it their decision, or are they advising management?  Will the decisions be made based on majority-rule or consensus?

5. Falling in love with cool features

Your donor database has to meet your needs and provide room for growth.  But the vendor is also a critical factor.  The right vendor will keep up with changing technologies, provide good training and support, and supply usable documentation. 

6. Falling in love with the sales person

You are not buying the sales person.  Try to look past who has the best personality or the nicest suit and judge the software on its own merits. 

7. Buying more than you need

Plan for the future, but make sure you can use it now

8. Confusing highly functional software with highly trained staff

Complex software requires your staff to have more computer skills, not less.  It’s also important to look at your staffing and procedures as part of the project.  Beware of management and “people” problems masquerading as technology problems. 

9. Hoping the database will install itself

Buying software is usually the easiest part of the project.  Next comes the hard part: the conversion project. 

10. Leaving the database to fend for itself

First, someone should “own” the database and be responsible for quality control.  Someone will also need to make sure that staff are trained on new features and procedures, and that new staff are trained before they start entering data. Finally, you will need to budget for ongoing hardware and software upgrades, annual software maintenance fees, and ongoing training from the vendor—including attendance at annual Users Group conferences.

Also a reminder to take part in the survey that NTEN's new series of Vendor Satisfaction Surveys. Their first survey will focus on Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) tools. You can help the NTEN community by rating your CRM today.


Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 14 September 2007 at 9:00 AM
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