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Leveraging your Systems in a Changing World

March 28, 2012

Competition in the fundraising software marketplace has yielded some big changes and some even bigger questions. Organizations are increasingly asking the “should I stay or should I go” question, no matter what system they’ve implemented. Questions of which vendor, which product, and with what impact and effects can be difficult to answer these days. Corporate mergers, shrinking client bases, growing product portfolios, and increasingly “flexible” applications complicate assessments.

Your fundraising software should help your organization raise money and build relationships. Period. As odd as it is coming from a fundraising operations guy, nonprofits can (potentially) raise as much money from Rolodexes as CRMs. But, better tools should support better results. So, what’s a smart fundraiser to do? Consider these five questions:

  1. Necessary vs. Nifty. If your team hasn’t shown the ability to leverage what’s already available and critical to supporting fundraising, a new and nifty tool won’t likely help.
  2. Expense vs. Cost. Change has costs, but your budget (within reason of typical fundraising results) should’t be the deciding factor. TCO (total cost of ownership) should include opportunity costs, which could show an inability to manage critical data and relationships that result in leaving money on the table (or not even knowing which table to visit!).
  3. Capacity vs. Complexity. New tools (or moving from old tools) can seem like a great option. The reality is often different from expectations, though. What may appear to be a penchant for expanded applications (capacity) is frequently stymied by the time and energy needed to adopt more complex tools.
  4. Perception vs. Performance. Perceptions about systems use (see Gartner.com’s hype cycle work) generally follow the “grass is greener” model. However, actual selection, conversion, and implementation of a new system may not generate the performance improvements desired.
  5. Culture vs. Change Management. Most tools are a reflection of the culture they support. Transparent teams like KPI’s and broad access to  systems because they foster openness. More risk averse teams may never be able to launch and leverage a robust CRM because they aren’t willing to share “so much data.”

These five contrasting issues are the starting point for your “stay or go” question. Before your team even starts to entertain the “where,” make sure you’ve established the “why” and that you’re asking the question for the right reasons. This will increase your likelihood to leverage systems, not just buy and install new, still-ineffectual tools.

These ideas stem in part from a series of client-based trips and discussions I’ve been involved with in recent weeks. We seem to start on the path of “tools” and move quickly to “behavior.”  There’s a potentially controversial tag line from the NRA that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The obvious point here is that tools are only as effective as those who use them. I prefer the message carried forward on Happy Gilmore with the Mr. Larson, aka Jaws from the Bond series wearing this great shirt–“Guns don’s kill people, I kill people.”

Of course, I’m no homicidal sociopath, I simply like the idea that it’s personal responsibility for the tool that yields the right results. So, to leverage your systems, look first in the mirror.

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  1. 8 Secrets of Success « fundraisingoperations

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