Hosting Nonprofit CRM Donor Systems in the Cloud

There is a revolution occurring in the fundraising sector – a silent yet rapidly approaching shift in how nonprofits raise their revenue, engage their donors, and manage their data. The old way of accessing and interacting with data via a system housed on your own is becoming costly – not just in overseeing a server based solution but in the revenue on which your organization will miss out. The revolution will be in the “cloud”.

What exactly is “The Cloud”?

There is a fair amount of discussion about the “cloud” when it comes to nonprofits and their technological next steps. We hear about the iCloud, Google Apps, Amazon, and other solutions that draw on the language of the “cloud” to describe what they do. You may also hear this referred to as “Online”, “Hosted”, or “Web Based” software.

Yet what exactly is the cloud? In short, it is a buzzword that refers to software and services that can be accessed via the internet that do not require software to be installed on your local computer or network. There are a multitude of configurations with many vendors offering services that can be considered “cloud-based.” The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) has a helpful definition of the cloud, stating, “Any software accessed over the Internet can be considered cloud software, including everything from Facebook to broadcast email tools … to online accounting systems and constituent databases.”

Do not be fooled by “Remote-Access” software. Some providers do offer software such as pc. Anywhere that does allow you to access the software installed on your local computer or server via the internet, but this is not real “cloud” based software. This lacks true Internet connectivity and still leaves your organization with the responsibility of managing backups, security, upgrades, and uptime.

We have seen an explosion of cloud-based software and Internet capable devices, with 1.2 billion smartphones entering into the general market in the next five years and tablet adoption growing by 50% each year. Folks will be engaging cloud-based solutions in a growing number of formats; nonprofits not only should be aware of the benefits of utilizing these solutions, but may be surprised that they are already utilizing them for many aspects of their programming and fundraising.

Cloud-based fundraising solutions – right for you?

As a nonprofit organization, generating revenue for the continuation of your mission is a vital component of your planning and work. In order to provide the programs and services that encapsulate who you are, you need fundraising.

Fundraising can come in many forms – annual fund, individual giving, foundational and corporate grants, special events, phone-a-thons, major donor solicitation, planned giving, and more. When you come down to the essence of fundraising though, data is at the core. You need to store and track and utilize information about your constituents in order to generate important operational funds. Yet is the cloud the right direction to go when it comes to this mission critical information?
According to the recent NTEN survey report “The State of the Cloud,” 91% of nonprofits are utilizing a cloud-based solution for at least a part of their organizational needs, with slightly over 40% utilizing a cloud-based CRM solution.2 So what exactly does this mean?

Many nonprofits have been doing fundraising in the same manner for a long time. Organizations have a server or computer-based solution in the form of Excel spreadsheets or a more complex fundraising software program that is installed and managed internally. Staff has to manually enter data or import it from online fundraising forms, segmenting donors in a complex and time consuming way in order to match the complexity of donors to the reality shown in the data. This also requires your staff to be IT experts and manage all of the uptime, security, upgrades, and back-ups of your data. Managing data and servers can become overwhelming and takes away from time that could be spent raising more money or fulfilling your mission. Organizations have been operating with a disconnect between the passionate support of their constituents and the operational realities of managing data.

Making the right decision

If there was ever a time to consider moving to a cloud-based fundraising solution, now is the time. The costs of in-house server-based solutions are rising while cloud-based solutions are becoming the more budget conscious option that can provide an immediate return on investment for your organization’s bottom-line. This decision should not be taken lightly and there should be many questions answered before moving forward.

  • Does the cloud-based solution offer the functionality necessary to complete my fundraising goals and objectives?
  • How is security and data integrity handled?
  • What are the first year costs compared to the ongoing costs?
  • How is data migration to the new system handled? Is it outsourced to consultants or handled by the vendor? Do I have the ability to import data on my own?
  • How can data be retrieved once I am using the cloud-based system?
  • What are training and support options?
  • How is credit card payment processing handled? Is it PCI compliant?
  • What are the options for website integration? Does the vendor offer website design services or partnerships?
  • How are system upgrades handled? How often are feature and bug fixes released?
  • What degree of control do I have over my own data?

The key to ensuring a smooth transition to a new system is proper planning, asking any and all questions your organization may have, and realistic expectations for implementation. The absolute last thing any organization should be doing is rushing into choosing a solution because they feel they need to adopt the newest trend. Fortunately cloud-based fundraising solutions are not only here to stay, they are becoming the preferred solution for fundraisers of all levels of experience. The key is turning this exciting tool into the driving force of your mission’s revenue generation.

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Margaux Pagan
Margaux Pagan has worked in the nonprofit sector for nearly a decade in various fundraising capacities including DRTV, inbound/outbound telemarketing, online fundraising, new media, and analytics. In 2011, Fundraising Success Magazine awarded her as a Fundraising Star. Now serving as Director of Strategic Fundraising, Margaux oversees the business development, project management, and marketing for DonorFuse, a technology and fundraising consulting agency located in Chicago.