Fundraising technology is rapidly changing in the education sector; vendors are re-engineering their tools so that they’re easier for users to navigate. This post by fundraising consultant, John H. Taylor, looks at the evolution of fundraising tools in the marketplace.
Well, you are getting a revolution when it comes to the ‘next generation’ of fundraising software solutions, products, and services. Although I think that the 4th line in the Beatles “Revolution” song is more to the point: “You tell me that it’s evolution. Well, you know, we all want to change the world”. And we do. Well, in fact, the fundraising world is changing before our eyes and we are only now realizing that we need to ‘grow up.’
Gone are the days of simply tracking donations. We now must understand relations, affinities, and affiliations outside our ‘borders’. Our next big donor likely never even attended our institution.
The old fundraising technology marketplace
For over 15 years the fundraising system solution marketplace has been dominated by a handful of products. While there are easily 100+ available products, less than 20 have been recognized as ‘best of breed’. You can learn more about those in the periodic report issued by Idealware.
But here is the real deal. None of the ‘top’ solutions available in the marketplace were even considered for the report – well, perhaps with the exception of Raiser’s Edge and Salesforce – but neither of those products look the same today, and will look vastly different tomorrow.
The Idealware report focused on ‘low cost’ solutions for our sector, and I am grateful that they did. A great many NPOs are still relying on spreadsheets and even paper files to manage their donors and prospects. Many of these low-cost solutions are great for them. But what is going on with the big organizations? Right now, I would call it either a revolution, or total confusion!
The problem with ‘shelf solutions’
I cannot cite one large institution I have visited that has not done something (usually horrible) to make a ‘shelf solution’ work for them. Because of their customizations, they have to spend thousands developing reporting solutions – that usually do not work. Frankly, they look at these solutions carelessly. Rather than taking the opportunity when replacing a system to conduct business process re-engineering, they try to cram their square peg into the new round hole. The result? Another ‘broken’ system.
Goodness. I just left a client site in April of 2016. In the past 25 years they have used Millennium, Advance, Raiser’s Edge, and are now converting to Blackbaud Enterprise CRM. Every single one of these products were/are state-of-the-art. Yet, each conversion has been attributed to the fact that the previous system was ‘broken’. Please. It is not the system – it is the people and processes.
The evolution of fundraising technology
In recognition of the fact that institutions are NOT using products the way they should, an evolution of sorts is occurring. Every single major player in the industry is in the process of re-engineering their tools, with the hope that we will not then try to make them better but, rather, trust them and use them as intended/suggested. It is time for us to give the vendors a chance.
Ellucian, who now owns SCTs Banner; who now owns Datatels Colleague; who now owns BSRs Advance, is now creating a new solution – an evolution and revolution – for all three products. The end result will be highly customizeable from an end-user perspective. Super – don’t mess with the ‘guts’.
Blackbaud has already introduced their CRM solution and is working to move RE clients to NXT. Again, this is super. Just do not tweak the product.
Salesforce is coming online with an awesome CRM. But as is true with every solution I have named above, reporting is a problem. Few get this right. Fortunately, keeping up with the marketplace, reporting solutions like Michelangelo are evolving.
So here is the point. Our fundraising world is changing. Our vendors are working hard to keep up with our nuances. It is time for us to take a deep breath and see where our vendors lead is. I believe that within 5 years we will see entirely new solutions that will blow us away. While our vendors go through this revolutionary cycle, let’s give them the time and space to be creative.