An Excel spreadsheet is only going to get you so far in life and in all honesty, not really very far at all.
So before I get into the how, let’s start with the why…
Search – First of all, you can search a database. So, for example, if you need to find out how many prospects have the potential to give over a certain amount, you don’t need to trawl through an Excel spreadsheet to find that information. You simply set up a query to extract all of those prospects from your database (you will of course, have created a field for potential gift levels prior to doing this).
Dynamics – a database is dynamic.Every time you update an Excel spreadsheet you’ll lose the previous information OR if you choose to save a new version of the spreadsheet every time you update, you’ll end up with information spread across a number of spreadsheets.
What do I mean by this?
Let’s say you have a column on your Excel spreadsheet that says ‘Most Recent Contact’, which is where you record when you last sent a letter or made a phone call. Every time there’s a new contact, you’ll overwrite that column losing the previous information. On a database, you add it to the list of previous contacts with a date attached and without losing any of the previous information, thereby creating a more accurate picture of your prospect and their involvement with your charity.
A database will also allow you to pull reports for your management and board that are essentially a snapshot of where you are at any particular time, which can help you to determine your fundraising effectiveness, gaps in your research or where you need to concentrate your resources.
Ultimately, having a database will allow you to become more efficient.
You will be able to store important pieces of donor information and track them through every step of the donor cycle, from research to stewardship.
You’ll be able to launch direct mail and email campaigns while keeping track of who has received what from you and how they have responded. This is a vital aspect of your donor stewardship and will ultimately benefit your future fundraising.
So, my number one piece of advice is, get a database.
Now you need to consider choosing the right database for your charity:
How do you work with donors – how will you be engaging with prospects and encouraging them to get involved? What information will you be collecting and what type of reports will you produce?
Think through your numbers – Database providers often base pricing on the number of staff using the system and/or the number of supporter records you have, so you need to consider current AND future numbers to get an accurate reflection of costs.
Consider your resources – How much money you have will depend on which system you can afford but you should also consider how much time staff have to setup, learn and maintain a new donor management system over the long term. You may consider a database that is cheap or free to be the best option for you but do you have the resources to set it up properly?
Ask other charities in your field or around your size what database they use, what they use it to do and whether they would recommend it. You never know, there may even be discounts available for both of you if a recommendation is made!
One charity’s ‘reasonably priced’ is another’s ‘OMG, how much?!?’ so SHOP AROUND.