7 Ways to Streamline Your Fundraising System for End-of-Year Success [Tech Tips]

7 Things to Think About Before You Implement a Fundraising System
It’s here. The end of the year!  Time to think about streamlining your fundraising system for end-of-year success.  Ok, so maybe the calendar says we’ve still got several weeks to go, but for those focused on fundraising, December 31st looms large.

There’s a lot of money to raise and a lot to do — connect with prospects, process gifts, communicate with accounting, thank donors and report on progress — all at once, and often at break-neck speed.  To be successful, you need your fundraising system humming; any problems that you may be able to live with throughout the year can become major hurdles at year-end.  So let’s knock them down!

Following are our top suggestions for streamlining your fundraising system for end-of-year success.  (And here’s an exercise for you:  As you review the list, give each area a couple of simple scores, using a scale of 1 to 5:

  • Pain– Is this area:
    • running smoothly (1)
    • hampering (but not stopping) your efforts on a daily basis (3)
    • totally stalling your fundraising (5)
  • Possibility– Is this an area that:
    • you can address with a small investment of time (1)
    • would require significant effort (and maybe greater skills or knowledge) (3)
    • is it a tangled mess completely beyond fixing (5)

Start with items where the pain is high (4 or 5), and the possibility is within reach (1 or 2).  Then, move on to those in the middle ground (3’s in either).  Make note of the more complex issues, and save them for later when you have more time.)

So, on to the list…

1. Clean up demographic codes to support better segmentation — The first order of business with end-of-year fundraising is accurately determining who you’ll be soliciting.  Determine the key constituencies you’ll be contacting and ensure the coding for those records is up to date.  For the constituents you’ll contact, create and audit lists to ensure no one is on a list who shouldn’t be, and those who should be on a list have the proper code.

TIP: You don’t need to clean up all your codes!  Just those you’ll be contacting.  And while you may review lists in Excel, update the codes in your fundraising system so the fruits of your hard work are available to you (and others) later.

2. Update addresses and addressee / salutation information to get communications to the right person with the right name — If you suspect you’ve got a lot of outdated addresses in your database, go through a National Change of Address (NCOA) update.  Consider working with a vendor who can ensure the data gets uploaded into your database.  While it’s more expensive than just getting NCOA data yourself for free, time is of the essence, and you’ll likely make up the costs with improved fundraising results and reduced expenses due to mis- or un-delivered mail.

Addressee / Salutations are a bit more effort to update, as they must be done in-house.  For major gift prospects, export the lists to Excel and review (and, then update in your database!).  For the broad base of other prospects, run audit queries that uncover anomalies (e.g., a salutation of “Mr. & Mrs.” when one of the records has been marked “Deceased”.  Ouch.)

3. Tighten up key data entry practices for more efficient processing – Are you ready to handle all of those year-end gifts?  For “tricky transactions” like stock gifts or complex pledge payments, update (or create) documentation.  It doesn’t have to be a novel, just a series of numbered steps so you can be consistent and not miss anything in the midst of all your busy-ness.  For your high volume transactions, grab a white board and make a simple flowchart of what happens from the moment a check leaves a donor’s hands and gets to your organization, through gift processing, acknowledgment, reconciliation and reporting.  Pinpoint the areas where you experience the greatest bottlenecks.  Those are the areas to focus some attention and figure out a way to do it faster (e.g. fewer photocopies, less people in the approval process, etc.).

TIP: You’ll find some handy documents for steps 1-3 on our website. Look for the “Gift Processing Steps” document and the “Gift Workflow” flowchart – they’ll save you time!  (Simple registration process required.)

4. Square your gift coding and recording with your accounting department for easier reconciliation — Gifts and pledges aren’t really revenue until the accounting department says it’s so.  Three steps you can take to better work together: a. Align your database’s fund/designation codes with their GL account codes.  If there are discrepancies, this is where confusion will occur when you attribute a donor’s restricted gift. b. Show them your gift entry practices and any documentation you’ve created.  This can help increase their confidence in the gift data and reports produced from your fundraising system. c. Create a schedule and agenda for reconciliation.   While this process usually occurs monthly, during this busy time you might meet twice a month or even weekly to conduct “mini-reconciliations,” making the end-of-month (and end-of-year) meetings much smoother and easier.

It may seem difficult to make time for these steps when you’re busy, but they allow donated funds to be used by your organization more quickly, and they are part of your good stewardship commitment to your donors!

TIP: We’ve got another great document on our website on “Clarifying Communication Between Development & Accounting” that can help you with these conversations.

5. Clean up gift coding for faster fundraising reporting — At the end of this season, many folks will ask you “How did we do?”  And, you’ll be asking yourself every day between now and then!  Getting the answers can be a multi-step, spreadsheet-wizarding process.  Or, it can be driven by the press of a button.  The difference is in your campaign and appeal codes: align them with your reporting needs, and it can all flow smoothly.  The steps:

  • Determine what reports you’ll need daily, weekly and monthly.
  • Look at the standard reports in your fundraising system, and pick those that come closest to delivering what you need.  (At this time of year, there’s no time to build custom reports.  And frankly, there’s rarely a real need once Gift Codes are streamlined.)
  • See which codes the good reports are based around – those are the ones you’ll want to align with your strategies (campaigns) and appeals.

If your current codes are way off from what you need, you can set up the new codes you need now and start using them; go back later to clean up codes on gifts already given.  Yes, you’re creating a future project for yourself, but the alternative is to have a constant project of working in spreadsheets for hours every day.

TIP: We have a couple of really helpful documents about Coding on our website.  (While they’re found in the Raiser’s Edge section of our Resources, the content can apply to any fundraising system.)  Download “Raiser’s Edge Coding Best Practices” and “Financial Goals and Raiser’s Edge Codes”.

6. Get just-in-time training to more effectively use your system — “Who has time for training?  I’m too busy doing!” is akin to saying “Who has time to look at a map?  I’m too busy driving!”  I’m not suggesting you immerse yourself in days of software training.  But, look at what features you’ll use most over the next several weeks (creating lists and reports, entering constituents and gifts, generating acknowledgments) and be honest about your comfort with them.  If you feel a bit reticent about any, check out some quick training options.  Your software vendor, or a consultant, may offer some short, accessible online training on just the topics you need.  Best to fill those knowledge gaps now than to feel their impact in midst of the year-end craziness.

7. Note what works and what doesn’t so you can improve your future — Use this period to observe what works and what doesn’t – in your software, business practices and knowledge.  Note any problems you’d like to solve and ideas you’d like to implement.  When the dust settles on the end-of-year, you can pick up this list and let it guide your efforts to improve as you move into 2013.

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The Connected Cause is a place for experts in the nonprofit online space to share perspective, offer guidance and promote best practices for using today’s technology effectively. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive source of collaborative thought leadership for the nonprofit industry.

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