1995 Oct 01
Fund Raising Systems
David M. Raab
DM News
October, 1995
Fund raising software tracks networks of personal, business and social relationships that would make an insurance salesman weep. But knowing where a prospect’s cousin’s niece attended college isn’t enough. These systems must also process payments, locate individuals, schedule telephone calls, generate mailing lists, and produce management reports–all in ways that reflect the unique needs of each organization, protect sensitive personal data, require minimal technical support, and fit into eternally limited budgets. You’d think software developers would select an easier task, like scaling Mount Everest blindfolded.

But several vendors have accepted the challenge and produced remarkably flexible PC-based systems. Here are two of them.

The Raiser’s Edge for Windows (Blackbaud, 800-443-9441) is the successor to Blackbaud’s DOS-based product, which has sold nearly 4,000 copies since its debut in 1985. The system is offered as a base product plus a series of modules for special applications such as prospect research, special events, membership, alumni tracking, memorials, report queues, and address standardization. The system is also available in network and client/server editions.

The base system provides a sophisticated set of tools for capturing personal data, managing contacts and processing payments. It will store multiple addresses and telephone numbers for each contact, build linkages such as employees to companies and parents to children, perform online searches by an “alias” such as maiden name or organization, and instantly display an individual’s gift history. The Windows interface uses layers of tabbed “folders” to give instant access to different data and functions without crowding any single screen.

A point-and-shoot query generator can select groups of names to contact, or users can schedule individual contacts with a date, status, responsible person, text note and additional user-defined attributes. The system can generate personalized correspondence but does not include the telephone scripts, automatic rescheduling of missed contact, multi-cell hierarchical selects and other capabilities of dedicated sales automation or direct marketing systems. Nor is there a separate promotion history file, although old contact records can be saved to provide something similar and there is a separate text field to hold manually-written notes. The membership module does have the ability to set up a schedule of renewal notices, relative to expiration date, and generate these automatically as they become due.

When gifts are received, the system can prepare bank deposits and batch reports, send receipts and acknowledgments, and schedule payments on pledges. It handles company matching funds, non-cash donations, payroll deductions and gifts split among multiple projects. There are dozens of standard reports and output formats, as well as an embedded copy of Crystal Reports for user-defined reports. Reports can be placed in a queue to run at a time scheduled by the user. The system offers particularly strong security, allowing the administrator to assign specific users to specific functions and even certain sets of records.

The Raiser’s Edge is designed so that some combination of its base and special-purpose modules will meet the needs of most fund raisers without customization. Opportunities for change are limited: users can attach a list of permitted values to most fields and can add their own categories of attributes, but screen designs, data structure and processing routines are basically fixed. An “Open Access” module lets other systems read the Raiser’s Edge files, but not update them directly. The system does allow global data changes, batch file updates and list import routines with matchcode-based duplicate identification. It currently runs on the Jet relational database used in Microsoft Access, although Oracle, SQL Server and Sybase versions are scheduled for release in 1996.

Pricing for The Raiser’s Edge for Windows starts at $6,000 for a single user copy, with an additional $1,000 plus $600 per user for a network version. Most special modules cost $2,000 each. The product was introduced in January 1995 and has already sold to about 700 organizations. Most sites have three to five users with 25,000 to 50,000 names on file, although the largest installation holds over one million individuals.

DonorPerfect (SofterWare, 800-220-8080) was released in DOS in 1987 and Windows in 1994. Built with the FoxPro database and programming language, the software is made to be customized: each purchaser fills out a worksheet that describes the required activities, and the vendor then delivers a version with custom screens and file layouts. After installation, clients themselves can easily change screens and add or delete fields.

The system achieves this flexibility by limiting itself to four major tables: donors, gifts, pledges and “other”. The key is the “other” table, which can mix records holding different types of information. That is, some records may hold volunteer time sheets while others store seating arrangements for a special event. Screens built for each function read only the relevant fields in the appropriate records. The vendor or technically skilled users can also embed custom processing logic.

This approach allows the system to support virtually any specialized function. For most tasks, the vendor can use designs created for previous buyers with similar needs. While adequate, these modules sometimes lack the refinements of specialized programs with dedicated files. For example, DonorPerfect will track membership status and expiration dates but it cannot automatically send a sequence of renewal notices on a predefined schedule. A major advantage of the custom approach is fewer and simpler screens, since users can eliminate unneeded fields and even use a single screen for functions that would be separated in specialized add-on modules.

The base capabilities of DonorPerfect include donor list maintenance, contact management, gift and pledge processing and reporting. The system has strong data entry and name lookup features, including matchcode-based duplicate detection, online donation history and user-defined “linking” categories for relationships among records. It processes gifts well, storing information including the accounting code, fund, payment medium, solicitor, and honorarium/memorial, as well as handling split gifts, creating batch reports, and producing receipts and acknowledgements. It can generate payment schedules, reminder notices, delinquency listing and cash flow projections for pledges. It includes over 50 standard reports, a simple cross tab generator, and access to FoxPro’s powerful custom report writer.

List selection can handle basic queries but requires more than one pass for a task such as selecting donors whose combined gifts exceed a certain amount in a particular time period. The system stores some recent mailing history on the donor record, but does not have a separate promotion history table. It does store cost and quantity information about promotions and campaigns, and uses this for response rate and profitability reporting.

Users can create lists of tasks with an associated date, responsible individual, notes, status and other information. An on-screen icon can even dial the phone. But the system cannot execute multi-step contact strategies or perform other advanced sales automation functions. In fact, users cannot produce a personalized follow-up letter while editing individual donor record; instead, they must generate a mail merge file and load it into a word processor. The company says there has been little demand for tighter integration.

Customers can purchase a $75 file import utility that loads ASCII files into a temporary database, allows users to check them, and then adds the records to the main database with an appropriate identifying code. The utility automatically checks for duplicates against the existing file and sets aside any matching records for user review. Data export functions can produce ASCII, spreadsheet and word processing formats, and the system can generate labels, envelopes and telemarketing forms. Security can limit users to specific functions, fields and screens, but not to a particular set of records. There is no batch processing or scheduling capability.

DonorPerfect pricing ranges from $1,295 for a DOS version limited to one user and 1,200 records, to $4,395 for a Windows system that can handle unlimited numbers of users and records. Support is priced from $350 to $495 per user per year. There are about 800 DOS installations and 300 on Windows. About half are multi-user.

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David M. Raab is a Principal at Raab Associates Inc., a consultancy specializing in marketing technology and analytics. He can be reached at draab@raabassociates.com.

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