Armanino Blog

Nonprofit Symposium Recap: How to Streamline Your Fundraising

September 08, 2016

Although fundraising is critical to nonprofits' success, many don't have the right finance infrastructure to support it. To better serve their missions, organizations of all sizes need to put efficient donor management technology and processes in place. "We've found that if you're working with donors, you need a system to track those relationships," said Armanino partner Scott Schimberg, speaking at the firm's recent Nonprofit Symposium.

For finance teams at organizations that are underinvested in technology, partnership with the development staff is a major source of pain. "You have disparate systems, they (development) are not accountants, and they think that everything that comes in is revenue," said Armanino manager Brenda Kahler.

This disconnect between development, which handles donor relations, and accounting can cause reporting errors. "You risk reporting to your board something that isn't revenue, and you risk reporting to your auditor something that had a condition or didn't meet the criteria to be recorded as a pledge," Kahler said.

Part of the remedy for this situation is having well-defined processes. "It almost doesn't matter what system you have or don't have," said Schimberg. "If you don't have good processes in place, (you're) going to have some problems."

Strong processes for tasks such as data coding also mean you don't need an expert in every finance role. "Make your processes very, very structured, so that for the basic blocking and tackling activities, you can have others in your organization (do them) at a much lower cost," Schimberg said.

The other part of the fix is, of course, technology. This can be a donor management solution or a customer relationship management (CRM) system that's leveraged for donor management. CRM is becoming increasingly popular among nonprofits, said Schimberg, and many CRM systems now offer features designed for the nonprofit world, such as nonprofit-specific nomenclature.

Either option needs to be integrated with the rest of your organization's systems. Typically, this is easier when you have an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, versus more basic accounting software, such as Quickbooks. If your systems aren't integrated, you risk having development report one number and finance report another. Plus, it takes days to reconcile disparate systems and get everyone in agreement on the revenue number for the month, post-close.

Find the right technology

There are a lot of donor management/CRM solutions on the market. To find the one that best fits your organization, you need to have a clear picture of your goals and constraints. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How do you work with your donors? Donors often have complex reporting relationships. They may have complicated giving schemes or may only want to talk to a certain person, for example. You need to understand what the most effective way to reach them is.
  2. What are you trying to accomplish? Think about what you're trying to streamline and how you're going to get the data out of the system. Are you doing mail merges, using emails, etc. You need to ensure that you're collecting the correct information at the point of entry, so you can harness your system in the best way to utilize it.
  3. How many users do you have? Most Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are priced by user, with some also priced by transaction. License prices can vary greatly depending on whether you have a full license or just a license to approve expense reports or timesheets, so figure out who needs full access and who just needs reporting access.
  4. What additional resources will you need? This includes money and staff time. Think about the implementation costs and the ongoing costs, such as annual license fees. Timewise, consider the number of hours staff will have to invest in the implementation, and their eagerness to learn new processes and technologies. Most importantly, think about how you'll maintain the system. Organizations often start out doing this in-house, but then the person responsible for it leaves, and no one else understands the system. Consider whether you want to outsource that maintenance and support.
  5. Does this system address my specific needs? Create a nitty-gritty list of criteria, based on the problems you're trying to solve. Then get a demo from any prospective vendor, to make sure they can solve your specific pain points.

With the right technology, plus strong processes, you can streamline your fundraising—and help your finance team stay sane.

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