It was six years ago but I remember it like it was last week. A colleague told me that organizations should use Salesforce to manage major gift fundraising, even if they weren’t going to replace their primary advancement system. I laughed, and then listed off the reasons I completely disagreed. At the time, it was simple:
I won’t go so far as to say that I was wrong then, but a lot has changed in six years. The time is right to rethink the way we picture our advancement systems.
For decades, a few large systems set the standard that all back-office fundraising data should be accessed with one toolset. Annual Fund, Major Gifts, Corporate and Foundation relations, Planned Giving, Events and sometimes Volunteer management all go into the same system. There are definite advantages to this: donors have a lot of different interactions across any organization and it’s useful to have that data in one place. The disadvantage is one toolset rarely meets the needs of all connected departments. Inevitably one group will have a stronger imprint on how the system is configured and used. Other departments end up developing their own way of working, getting less and less advantage from the system. The result: the system that can hold everything rarely does.
Most often we see colleges and universities use one of three approaches for managing:
While each of these solutions is somewhat functional, competition for fundraising contributions is increasing, and ‘somewhat’ solutions will help institutions ‘somewhat’ meet their fundraising goals. Teams are asked to come up with new and innovative ways to expand the pool of supporters and increase essential donations. That’s when most people tend to think of all the “new stuff” that has come available through online marketing tools– personal fundraising tools, crowd-funding, day-of-giving systems. It seems like every year there’s a new approach to getting people to give through some sort of social mechanism and everyone shouts “We should try that!”
The fact of the matter is that tried and true methods of fundraising are still very much present in every advancement program. The major gift officers that are able to establish and nurture relationships with supporters are still the most successful. They need to be meeting with donors, building relationships and working with faculty to align donor interests with campus needs.
Above I listed the reasons I didn’t think a separate system for Major Gifts would work six years ago, but I’ve changed my mind, and I’d like to update my perspective to be more accurate:
In the end, I’ve come around to the idea that it makes sense to equip major gift officers with the right tools for their role, even if that means expanding the suite of systems in your arsenal.
I want to be clear, having one system that meets all fundraisers’ needs is not a bad goal. But there’s also room to consider the way the different needs of different advancement staff can be met. Online tools are now much more like apps on our cell phones– different apps for different needs. So why haven’t we applied this thinking to our back-office fundraising systems?