How to determine nonprofit software costs

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit technology, nonprofit software, donor software, software evaluation, SaaS, software pricingSoftware is at the heart of so many nonprofit functions. You can’t afford down time. And you don’t want to find out your new system won’t talk to an existing one after its up and running. What’s a nonprofit leader to do? In search of guidance we talked with Janna Finch of Software Advice an online firm that reviews nonprofit technology.

Here’s her suggestion. “Many vendors have developed their products to integrate well with commonly used third-party software—especially accounting programs—so look for a list on their website or ask a sales rep. The vendor’s developers should also know which products integrate well, which integrate with some work and which don’t integrate at all. If the product you’re evaluating doesn’t work with the programs you need, you can choose to operate them independently, evaluate different software, or replace the software you’re currently using with something you know will work with the new software.”

It’s one thing to purchase software, it’s another to manage it. Finch reminded us that the type of person a nonprofit needs to manage their technology “depends on the complexity of the system, your organization’s needs and whether or not the software is hosted on- or off-site. Usually, the larger the organization, the more complex its IT requirements.”

Yet with hosted services such as software as a service (SaaS) smaller organizations don’t have to worry about updates and keeping the system up and running. They now have access to high quality software without the maintenance responsibilities.

But there are still costs, and these are impacted by the pricing model you choose. According to Finch, “Both perpetual license and subscription pricing models have upfront costs, typically set-up and data migration fees. Sometimes new equipment, such as credit card readers, is necessary and that’s also an upfront cost. With regard to the perpetual license model, the license fee is also considered an upfront cost.”

“Beyond upfront costs,” she continued, “you’ll have recurring costs to cover support and upgrades, or, in the case of subscription software, the monthly or annual subscription fee itself.”

There are also annual costs which Finch points out vary wildly depending on a nonprofit’s size and the complexity of its software. Here’s some benchmark information. “The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) determined that the average nonprofit spends 3.2 percent of their budget on technology. The smallest nonprofits can expect to pay, at minimum, about $500 (one-time) for a fundraising and donor management program installed on one computer, or as little as $30 per month for hosted software. Factor in an additional 15 to 20 percent of the annual license cost toward training, support and other costs.”

Take the time to make an informed decision. You can compare software systems and learn more at

Have you read: Three ways to evaluate nonprofit technology

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Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Three ways to evaluate nonprofit technology

Part one of a two part series

Janna Finch, fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit technology, nonprofit software, donor software, software evaluation, Software Advice“The main reason nonprofits look to update or implement technology is to acquire additional functionality that will automate more tasks, which they hope will free up time to work on more strategic projects.” – Janna Finch

Technology plays a critical role in the life of nonprofits, large and small. Accounting, fundraising, social media, admissions, recruitment, ticket sales, and human resources are only a few of the areas that depend on technology solutions. To help you navigate the maze of software solutions we interviewed nonprofit market researcher Janna Finch. She works with Software Advice, a donor management and fundraising tech resource for nonprofits.

Here are Finch’s three suggestions for software evaluation.

  1. “Most importantly, write down what you and the people who will use the software need it to do. Be specific. “Automatically generate 3,000 annual giving statements and email them to recipients,” “support recurring donations,” “integrate with our current fund accounting software,” and “allow 11 staff members and volunteers to access the system at the same time” are examples of how specific you should get.”
  2. “Learn about the types of pricing models offered by software vendors and calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO). The two most common pricing models are perpetual license and subscription. With a perpetual license, you typically pay a larger amount upfront to cover the license and set-up fees, then a smaller amount (around 20 percent of the license cost) annually for periodic upgrades and support. With subscription pricing, those same costs are spread out and paid for in smaller amounts monthly or annually for as long as you use the software. Subscriptions often start around $50 a month, but can scale much higher.”
  3. “Finally, you need to make sure that everyone who will use software can use it. To do this, take advantage of vendors’ demos and free trials to give the software a test-drive before committing. It may look like the perfect solution on paper, but hands-on experience may uncover that it has a learning curve greater than expected. If that’s the case, look at different software or add training costs to your budget.”

But, how do you know when to migrate to another platform? Here’s what Finch has learned from working with buyers. “There are a few situations when you should consider scrapping what you’ve got for a new vendor or product. The most obvious time is when a vendor goes out of business or stops supporting the product you’re using. Another is when your operations have outgrown the software’s capabilities and your options for customizing it are limited or cost prohibitive. Nonprofit professionals I talk to sometimes mention that unhelpful or unpleasant customer support is the reason they’re considering a switch.”

Next week: how to determine nonprofit software costs

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Recommit to fundraising

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, commitment, fundraising commitment formIs fundraising at the top of your to-do list for 2015? Are you ready to recommit to help ensure the vitality of your nonprofit or college? Will you sign your fundraising commitment form again? What?!? Your organization doesn’t use one? Now is the time to change that. Here are three suggestions for how you can make a difference in your organization’s fundraising.

If you are a fundraising or development professional: Review the commitment forms that board members completed last year. Set up a time to meet with each member to review and plan for 2015. Meeting in person is ideal, but a phone or video meeting could work well too. Ask each to rate their fundraising participation for the prior year. Ask what worked well, and what didn’t. Inquire about training that could help increase their involvement. Let each know you are available to partner and support their efforts. Ask each to recommit for 2015. If your board doesn’t use a fundraising commitment form, now is the time to introduce this. Most likely there will be resistance. That is a good thing: you want to grow into a board where members are proud to give and fundraise. Introducing a formal commitment form can start a catalytic conversation.

If you are the chair of the board development committee: Meet with members to assess your commitment as a committee, and to assess the board’s commitment to fundraising. What is working? What strategies or activities were most successful? Are there problem areas that impede fundraising? What needs to be addressed in the new year for the board to take on a larger role in fundraising? Is there a specific project or fundraising priority the board can take on? If the board is not yet a “fundraising board” what activity can be introduced in 2015 to move in that direction? Don’t be afraid to set a specific amount as a goal. A defined goal (with a timeframe) allows you to measure progress. Be sure to measure!

If you are the CEO of a nonprofit or the president of a college: Commit to your role as the chief fundraising officer. You may have a development director or even an advancement department, but at the end of the day you are the person responsible for the organization’s or institution’s bottom line. Review your calendar and make time for cultivation and solicitation activities with potential major donors and supporters. Schedule time to meet with your top fundraising/development person. Ask “what do you need to be successful,” listen to the response, and work together towards success. Set your own fundraising goal: determine how much you will personally raise in the coming year and secure the involvement of those who can help you reach that goal.

Your commitment will show up on the bottom line!

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Five ways to attract media attention

Gaining Media Attention, fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, media relations Will 2015 be the year your nonprofit is highlighted in news stories and feature pieces? Will those who could benefit from the work of your organization read about you in the newspaper, see a story on TV, or listen to an interview on the radio? The media could “somehow” find out about your organization and decide to cover it. Or you could dedicate time and resources to cultivating media. Here are four things to consider when engaging the media in 2015

  1. Meet with the editorial board of your local paper. If you are looking for TV or radio exposure, meet with the station’s management. To secure this meeting, call the editor or station manager and request a time to meet. If your organization has a marketing person on staff, he or she should secure the meeting. If you don’t, ask a member of the board who has marketing experience or a relationship with the media to make the call. If you are without this resource, the executive director should request the meeting.
  2. During the meeting make the case for your organization, share your impact, and your plans for the coming year. Ask about their guidelines for how to share news about your nonprofit. Request assistance in creating awareness for your organization, its programs and events. Ask for their criteria when covering an organization such as yours. Who should you contact? How much lead time is required? What constitutes a good news story and what types of feature stories are they looking for? Be prepared to honestly answer questions they may ask of you, especially those that may be uncomfortable.
  3. Bring your media kit. Your kit should contain your case for support, annual report, program highlights, testimonials, and an annotated board list. It should also include a calendar of upcoming events such as fundraisers, lecture series, performances, receptions, and visits by people of note. As appropriate, include a list of the businesses and organizations you partner with, and any honors and awards.
  4. Be prepared. The executive director, board chair, top development person and top marketing person should attend the meeting. All should be prepared. Create an agenda and determine what role each person will play.
  5. Follow up. Keep your media contacts apprised of key staff changes and promotions, new board members and upcoming events. If you have expertise on a topic in the news, let them know you are available as a resource. Invite reporters to visit your organization to learn more.

Building media relationships takes time. You have to build a relationship with the media same as you would with a potential donor or board member. Get organized and integrate media relations into your work plan. Build a partnership that creates awareness and provides accountability.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Nonprofit assessment task force

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit assessmentYour 2015 secret to success: an assessment taskforce

We often start the new year with enthusiasm and high expectations, and yet by year-end so many of our great plans are unfulfilled. Will 2015 be another year of doing the same thing and expecting different results, or will this truly be a new year?

Here’s a suggestion for nonprofits who want to focus on different results: create a short-term assessment task force to review your planning processes and the people and resources available to implement your plans.

Your task force should be a small, focused working group comprised of people who are committed to

your organization but not currently involved in its operations. Task force members could include a major donor, past program participant, a new board member, or a local business person or faculty member. What you don’t want is a task force comprised of the executive director, development director, and board chair. You want fresh eyes on the organization. Those who are at “arms length” can ask questions and make suggestions without the knowledge or “baggage” that comes from knowing “we tried that three years ago” or “the board would never approve that” or “we can’t afford that.”

Members will look at your organization with the goal of helping you achieve your goals.

Four steps for task force members.

Step one. Review the organization’s strategic plan; fundraising plan; and marketing, communications and social media plan. Look at program descriptions, goals, objectives, outcomes and impact; and financial reports and fundraising reports. If the nonprofit is an educational institution, review recruitment, enrollment, retention, and graduation reports. Look at demographics of communities served and their identified and emerging needs.

Step two. Create a list of questions that arise during the review. Add to the list as you contemplate the documents holistically. What’s missing? Where are the redundancies? Individual questions should be shared with fellow task force members. What are the common themes that arise?

Step three. Meet individually with the executive director or president, fundraising leadership, program directors, accountants or bookkeepers, board members, clients or students and others who you believe can provide insights and answer questions.

Step four. Create a list of things for the nonprofit to consider. These suggestions can include short and long term suggestions: all should focus on how to help the organization best deliver on its mission and vision. No more than one page.

Two things for nonprofits to remember. First, this is a small, short-term task force so keep the group to no more than seven people, and don’t let the process drag on: the work should be completed in a month if possible. Second, while you don’t have to adopt all or any of the suggestions you will have a new look at what you are doing and how you could be more successful.

Happy New Year!

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Nonprofit dating game

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit partnership, nonprofit collaboration, evaluationThe holiday mistletoe, love songs, and New Year’s Eve parties conjure up the allure – and the drama – of dating. Who are you dating? Who do you want to be dating? Who will you be dating in 2015? And, if you’re married, how will you reaffirm your marriage in 2015?

What does all this have to do with nonprofits and fundraising? Well, we want you to have a happy love life, and we want you to enjoy your nonprofit relationships, especially your partnerships and collaborations. While there is a lot of pressure this time of year to be in a relationship, that isn’t always the right thing for everybody. Healthy relationships are characterized by love and mutual respect. There’s also pressure for nonprofits to partner and collaborate, but as with people, it has to be a right fit.

The end of the year is a good time to reassess, recommit or plan for a mutually agreeable dissolution. Consider the following as you make your assessment: what were the objectives of the relationship when it began? Have the initial expectations been met? Did the relationship help your nonprofit increase revenue? Did it help reduce costs through joint purchasing or shared resources such as facilities, personnel, services, or joint fundraising? Were you able to allocate the time and personnel required for the collaboration to thrive, or did these relationships tax your organization in terms of time and money? Were they more of a distraction than a benefit? Were these relationships like a planned marriage, begun with the encouragement of a foundation or funder? Has a love grown? Or did mutual attraction ignite both parties from the beginning?

While mutually beneficial, well-managed partnerships and collaborations can put your nonprofit at the head of the class, those that are a burden or take your nonprofit off course should be reevaluated. You may not have formed the right relationship. Related to this, it is okay if you are not a part of a partnership or collaboration, especially if such a relationship isn’t in line with your vision or if a prospective partner just isn’t a match. Being in the wrong relationship can be more of a negative than a plus if all parties are not in sync.

Here are our thoughts. Aim for mutual benefit. Question your motives: is the partnership for show, or for real? What is the substance of the relationship? Do your collaborations help your organization meet its goals and bring its mission to life? What about the goals and mission of your collaborators? Has the relationship changed over time? Is the vision that brought you together one that continues to inspire all parties, or are you staying together “for the children” (i.e. for a funder)?

Whether your nonprofit is single, dating or married make the most of the coming year.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Social Change and Nonprofits – More than fundraising

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, Ferguson, blackbodies matterFUNdraising Good Times Social change and nonprofits – more than fundraising Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY. Cleveland, OH. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. These cities and the deaths of these African American males – men and boys – are in the headlines. So are people’s responses. These incidents are a catalyst for social change on many levels. Changes in policing, the use of the grand jury system, the role of the prosecutor. Changes in how we view and value the lives and bodies of black men and boys. Right now people can’t get past the double standards, and across the country – in ways big and small – people are demanding change.

There is a role for everyone to play, especially grassroots organizations. Regardless of your size you can make a difference. You are a catalyst whether reaching one person, 100 people or 1,000 people at a time. Change comes in many ways. It comes in the way you treat young people in after school programs, how you coach your basketball team, the explicit messages you send about the value of Black lives, and the way you resolve conflicts and de-escalate arguments.

During times of local or national protest you can demonstrate with others. You can also work behind the scenes, bringing water and serving meals to peaceful protestors. You can provide training, counsel, or transportation, create signs, collect money for legal fees, recruit volunteers. You can identify areas in local law and policy that need to be changed and advocate. You can be part of pushing a larger agenda.

Social change requires participation by all, same as it did in the past. It’s about churches, sororities and fraternities, civic and professional organizations. It’s about people of all faiths, colors and backgrounds. Now is the time to come together and be part of something larger whether formally or informally. This is not a time for “us vs. them” In the words of the president of the United States, “It’s about closing the gap between our professed ideals and how they are applied in day-to-day situations.”

At the same time, don’t get too caught up in the moment and emotions. Social change takes time. Are you committed to the work of changing policies and attitudes when the cameras are gone? This is the true test of the value of a nonprofit.

Finally, you don’t have to be big to make an impact. The civil rights movement was a consortium of grass roots organizations some of which later evolved into larger organizations. Fifty years later the situation is the same: you can make a difference.

You have a right to participate. As the old sayings go, “the crying baby gets the milk” and “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Be focused and committed to make sure you are heard. Grassroots organizations: America needs you!

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Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Year End Reflections – Part Two

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, fundraising strategyLast week we shared a little of the history of this column. We hope we conveyed why we are committed to these weekly writings, and most importantly our belief in you, our readers. While we have met very few of you in person, we hold you up before us in our minds as we write. When we have the opportunity to meet you in person we are always delighted. Now and then people come up to us in the grocery store or on the street to let us know they read our column. Others let us know when we meet in business settings. Now and then we get an email or phone call.

Here’s who we think of as we write. We think of people who are committed to nonprofit organizations, those who volunteer, those who provide executive leadership, and those who are charged with fundraising. We think of receptionists and vice presidents, long-term donors and committed alumni. From our experience we know that some of you are well connected professionals, others are grassroots activists. Some are devoutly religious, others are more secularly focused. We conjure up the diversity of your life experience, and the diversity of the organizations and causes you believe in. Mostly, we salute your humanity, your leadership, and your willingness to get involved. We want you to succeed.

That’s what drives us to write each week. You. As we prepare to celebrate 10 years of writing this column we look back at its evolution and the diversity of topics we have addressed. We share them with you here to encourage you to look for past columns on our blog www.FUNdraisingGoodTimes. As you prepare for 2015 there may be columns you missed with content that can help you.

For example, early columns focused on “how to” topics. These included how to create a case for support, how to create a fundraising plan, how to write a proposal, how to solicit a gift, and how to host a friendraiser. We moved into guidance and suggestions related to ensuring special events generate revenue, recruiting board members, and the difference between staff-led fundraising and volunteer-led fundraising. We expanded into interviews with philanthropic leaders, donors, bookkeepers, technologists and grant writers. Guidance grew to include topics such as “answer the phone” and “how to keep a fundraising job” and “how to sabotage your fundraising.” We highlighted organizations that were successful in their fundraising. The prerequisites for fundraising success have been featured throughout our columns, and in fact our book Prerequisites for Fundraising Success is an outgrowth of this column.

As you prepare for 2015, contemplate what you are willing to do in support of nonprofits you believe in. If you would like us to address a specific topic, let us know. We’ll get busy writing.

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Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

FUNdraising Good Times Year End Reflections

Year end reflections, fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, fundraising strategyAs 2014 comes to an end, we find ourselves reflecting on our work and this column. They are both intertwined: FUNdraising Good Times is one way we help nonprofit organizations and institutions position themselves for fundraising success. To the uninitiated, fundraising can appear either easy or hard. Confidence and fear typically drive these stances. What is needed is a healthy dose of both, and lots of planning. In our work locally and across the country we help organizations large and small build the prerequisites for fundraising success. We help bring together board members, executive directors, fundraising professionals, and volunteers for the purpose of honestly assessing where they are, what they need, and where they want to go.

That’s what we seek to accomplish with this column as well. We write to stimulate healthy conversation, to encourage volunteer leaders and nonprofit executives to hold each other accountable, and to share some of the technical or how-to information specific to fundraising.

We began writing FUNdraising Good Times in October of 2005 when we lived in the San Francisco, CA Bay Area. We approached Vernon Whitmore and Eleanor Boswell Raine of The Globe Newspaper Group with the column concept. We knew that many of their readers worked for nonprofits, made financial contributions, and depended on the work of these organizations. We also knew that readers served as board members, were called upon to lead fundraising campaigns, and were forced to make difficult decisions when adequate funding could not be secured. We also knew that many struggled without access fundraising counsel. We wanted to fill the gap, for free, 500 words at a time.

As we anticipate our 10th year writing this column we remain ever grateful to Vernon and Eleanor for our launch. We now reach readers across the country through 28 papers, two magazines and our blog The issues that drove us to begin writing this column are those that sustain us in all aspects of our work. We want to help nonprofit organizations and institutions bring their visions and missions to life. We want them to succeed. And we want them to be thoughtful stewards of the resources they have access to.

We encourage board members to increase their involvement, and we encourage nonprofit staff to invite board members into the fundraising process from the very beginning. Most importantly we encourage all nonprofit leaders to ask the hard questions: is our work making an impact? What if we invested in new technology or marketing? Do we need to do things differently, to innovate? Are we meeting a need? And critical to fundraising, where will the money come from?

You are our readers. We appreciate your work. We want you to succeed. Tell us what you want us to write about in 2015. We’ll get busy.

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Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday,  fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, #GivingTuesday, year-end giving, philanthropyThanksgiving. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. What’s next? Giving Tuesday. That’s right. This December 2nd, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is a new global holiday and it’s all about philanthropy. Established in 2012, by New York City’s 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, and a team of influencers and founding partners, Giving Tuesday now engages over 10,000 organizations worldwide.

As we wrote in our last column, “It’s always good to give.” Now you can give in concert with your family, co-workers, friends, and most importantly people around the world. There is no end to the diversity of causes that seek your time, money, influence and resources. You can “Like” a Facebook page, forward a tweet, or sign an online petition. You can engage your friends using social media, the phone, or a short meeting after church, synagogue, or prayers at your mosque. You can give money or time or both. Either way when you engage others you multiply and amplify your giving. If you are an employer you can match your employee’s giving. If you run a consumer business you can pledge of portion of Giving Tuesday’s proceeds. You make the choice.

If you are involved with a nonprofit you are – most likely – finalizing your Giving Tuesday plans. The University of Michigan is launching Giving BlueDay on December 2nd, seeking to raise $1 million from alumni and friends that day. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship encourages people to share their story of surviving cancer and give $10 to $20. Your local United Way welcomes your support. The Africa America Institute is raising funds on Giving Tuesday to train nurses at Tubman University’s Nursing Program in Liberia. Google an organization close to your heart and find a way to give.

This is also an important time to introduce or reinforce the value of giving to the next generation. Talk with your children at home. Integrate philanthropy into your classroom or afterschool program using Dr. Heidi Kasevich’s curriculum guide for grades K-12. There’s also the gratitude blog through which you, your family and friends can record your gratitude. Both of these resources are available at where you can also find tools, tips and technology to help you give and receive.

At the end of the day Giving Tuesday is about philanthropy – a time for each of us to reflect on our abundance and share our resources with others. We can give on this one day, or we can take time to build giving into our everyday lives. We can reflect on how giving changes our relationship to ourselves and the world. We can diminish feelings of alienation and restore our feelings of connection. Giving has deep spiritual, emotional, social and religious impacts. We are changed as we give. Often for the better.

Photo credit: Giving Tuesday

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.