Ends vs. Means: A Balanced View of Fundraising Technology
It seems that 2012 will be a year for change in fundraising operations. The proverbial dust is starting to settle on one of the two biggest fundraising operations stories in months. In January, Datatel and SungardHE finalized their merger (click here for details). January also held the other big story about the purchase of Convio by Blackbaud (click here for details).
The Twitterverse has been abuzz. ListServs, blog posts, calls to account managers…the volume of attention to these issues has been significant. How much does it matter? In total, not much.
Fundraising is still a predominantly top-down, inside-out business (with some exceptions). Grass-roots, high-volume, high-tech fundraising is neat and (somewhat) new, but the essentials–asking engaged people of means for very large gifts–is where most campaigns are won. And, frankly, an organization’s database of choice affects these sorts of gifts less than we might think. For example, have a look at this technology transition cycle. What you will notice is that it’s a loop: you’re never quite finished because you should be constantly learning and adapting the use of your technology. Without long-range, comprehensive implementation plans to fully leverage our technology, we tend to have databases that house name, address, giving, and a few other details.
Now, this may sound odd coming from a guy who champions fundraising operations, published a book to inform fundraising executives about the nuances of our sometimes complicated world, and generally views leveraging tools to support fundraising as a vocation. Careful selection, strategic planning and design, rigorous testing and complete conversion is important and warrant attention. But it’s implementation that makes the most difference. Hundreds of cases and clients have convinced me that it’s not which tool, it’s how we use it.
Don’t get me wrong. Databases and technology for fundraising matter. It’s just that which database matters so much less than behavior, we should focus on the proper ends here. Technology is a means to better support our missions, our ends. I’ve yet to see a donor database that can’t support some level of prospect management, handle gifts, and generally support fundraising. Some are better suited to your needs than others. Some special needs and programs demand technological sophistication. And, more than some organizations have barely scratched the surface of the technology they have installed.
There is an old, purportedly Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times. These technology tool upheavals are certainly interesting and may lead to more work, conversions, etc. However, if your organization is affected by these changes, remember: technology is a tool, a means to an end. The most important issue isn’t which tool, but whether your organization is leveraging it to achieve its ends.