Donor and Alumni Databases
They Are a Changin’

Finally, higher education advancement systems have their primary focus on driving relationships. For decades we have been working with donor and alumni database systems that have gift accounting as its primordial need. Everything else has been an evolutionary add-on or afterthought.

We have spent countless thousands of hours worrying about the gift versus focusing on how to engage potential donors. Is the gift split? Who gets soft credit? Is the pledge entered correctly? Did the batch post correctly? These questions are all important, and have legalities associated with the accurate handling of them.

Did you know that there are more database tables associated with gifts than any other, no matter what donor database you are using? Your database is complex to be sure. However this is not what drives gifts to your institution. Relationships bear gifts. Advancement software vendors have shifted their focus from gifts to relationships and are now building systems based on engagement.


The Emergence of Cloud-based Software

A decade ago I saw a demonstration of software by a for-profit company that recognized the nonprofit sector could benefit from their “sales engagement” tool. That tool was Salesforce. The executive education program at my university was using it to track people interested in their programs. Many of us in the nonprofit field were using Act! or another relational database tool (this is data relating to itself not people to people). Some were even using Microsoft Access to manage contacts. These choices were often driven by donor systems’ inability to manage contacts effectively.

What a great idea Salesforce put forth: a system hosted in the cloud that could allow an organization and the contact to manage their relationship with each other; each providing information to the other in real-time. Not only could the system do that, it could also connect disparate databases through a framework that would allow them to be contained AND connected. Exciting stuff!

So here it is a decade later and higher education advancement is feeling the groundswell NOW!

Most, if not all, higher education software providers have a cloud-based system or are building one. And they want your organization to make the move with them. With the lower margins of profitability in the nonprofit world, software providers are unable to maintain and develop both a server and a cloud platform. Consequently the creative and future developments are being done in their CRM cloud-based products.

Within the next two to three years you will need to determine what your institution will do to move to the cloud. At this time current systems are not being sunset, but they are no longer being developed. You will need to make a change.


So what does it mean to move to the cloud?

With cloud-based CRM products, your database is hosted on the software provider’s server in a remote location. You will no longer need servers and redundant systems. Your ability to modify the software will be more limited, changes to the software will be done by the provider, you will not require the same technical expertise in your staff, and data security will be the responsibility of the provider.

With the change to a cloud-based system, your costs will change. Systems that used to charge based on the number of licenses are now charging according to the number of records or bandwidth being used. Hosting may be more expensive than your current arrangement since the provider is taking on more of the work.

The reality is, a conversion is in your future, no matter what system you choose. While providers are working to minimize the complexity of a conversion, there is much to be reviewed at your institution to determine the relative complexities and investments required. Some institutions have engaged in an exploratory period with a provider to determine the length and costs of the conversion as a way to best understand what is involved.

Here’s what you can do to begin strategically moving forward for your institution:

  1. Learn about the different providers and what their CRM offerings are – NOTE: do not treat them as if they are all alike – they are not.
  2. Talk with your head of your Advancement Services unit or Database Manager: What do they think or have been considering?
  3. Talk with your VP of IT or CIO to see what they are thinking or planning.
  4. Talk with others in your institution – Enrollment Management, Executive Education, etc.
    – about what they have been considering for their strategic information needs.
  5. Do an assessment of your database – understand its business processes and idiosyncrasies.
  6. Talk with the provider of your current database, specifically the person responsible for product development, to see what they are doing.
  7. Talk with the competitors to your provider.
  8. Review the different directions to take – bring in fundraising operations counsel to assist with this since they are agnostic and not connected to any software providers.

This groundswell is long overdue, and it is one that is changing Advancement. Be prepared!

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to talk about Advancement databases and operations.

Karen’s E-mail