Caleb knew that donor management software could help, but theirs was more of a liability. “We had some kind of membership tracking software at that time. It took more work to use than it saved. We were also using several Excel spreadsheets. We needed a software product that would help us do our job without having to put so much into it.”
First step toward successful donor relations
At that point, they purchased FundRaiser Basic. “We knew that, in addition to purchasing new software, someone needed to be specifically responsible for getting out responses to our donors. Jennifer Weiss, our database manager and in charge of donor services, took the job on, and in a few weeks, she was able to bring the response time down to twelve days,” says Caleb.
For Jennifer, the job went surprisingly easily. “I am the most computer illiterate person, but it was really easy for me. I came into the office and there were things everywhere that needed to be entered, but it all went smoothly and was fast. It was very easy.”
“Immediately, that made a difference to our ministry,” says Caleb. “We learned a very important lesson: the best place to put our development energy was into letters thanking people for their contribution or purchase. It made a night-and-day difference from simply delivering a product or sending out a tax letter at the end of the year.
“Over years, the positive trend that began with simply sending out prompt thank-you letters has continued to grow. We have built on that lesson, and have steadily increased our ability to respond in ways that let people know we are paying attention and value them,” says Caleb.
Taking the next big step forward
The next step for CrossTalk came when they decide they needed to track the response from the newsletter and other products they sent to listeners. “We couldn’t do that in Basic,” says Caleb, “so we were using Excel to supplement Basic. We decided it was time to move to FundRaiser Select.
“Once we began using Select, we were able to stop using Excel. We were better able to track data and understand what was happening.
“Primarily we were sending out a CD to our contributors. When we started using Select to track who got what, we could see that some people were calling back again and again and we kept sending them the same thing. That realization really helped to improve our outreach. It was a big step forward. It stopped us from sending the same things over and over,” says Caleb.
For Jennifer, who has continued as the database manager for CrossTalk, it was an easy transition. “I was excited by the ability to set reminders on tasks, and ability to capture more information on donors.”
Growing into the next stage
FundRaiser Select, which CrossTalk was using at that point, consists of a core program of extensive donor management features, as well as several optional modules with special features related to particular fundraising activities. When purchasing Select, customers ‘select’ which modules they want. This arrangement allows organizations to start with only the features that they need at the time, and add on as needed, later. The optional modules are built into the program, and can be activated at any time - either with the initial purchase, or later as an organization’s needs grow.
Another way to get all the modules at once is to upgrade to FundRaiser Professional. In Professional all the special features of the modules are included in the base price.
Getting even better at responding to constituent needs
As CrossTalk grew, Caleb once again began to think how to make their work go more smoothly. “We were just using the core program in FundRaiser Select. We didn’t have the product sales or other modules and we wanted them,” says Caleb.
“We moved into the full Professional Online version recently which now gives us everything. That has made us so much more streamlined. Now we can track products in the software, and send out specific letters related to each one of our products.
“We are also able to track other important data. For instance, we now keep a history on calls we return about prayer needs. With that data easily accessible, everyone in our organization who returns a call can look up any previous history on the prayer request. The person receiving the prayer call has a much better experience when the person from our organization they are talking to knows what has been going on.”
Help with figuring ROI
“We also now track our sales and see how our products are doing. We track the places where our shows are syndicated to see how a particular network is performing. For instance, when we send out a mailer, we know what the hard cost of the mailer is, from printing and postage. We can see if we covered costs, and if it was successful at bringing in donations or getting a response to the product it featured.
“We also track data relating to a call center we use. We can see how those calls are converting to sales, prayer requests, or requests for customer service. We track every call that comes in and can attribute to the call center what came in. That gives us some help to see if it is worth paying for that service,” explains Caleb.
Improving follow-up on promised donations
“We also have ministry sponsorships, where people pay a small amount each month. We now know who has sent in their monthly payment and who hasn’t. We have started to send out reminders and I’m certain that will improve response rate.
“Without software to help track it, it was a guessing game. We didn’t do it because there wasn’t time in the day to create the procedures that we would have needed to track it, but it is all there in the software, set up. With the online version and modules we can know where we are at with sponsorships,” says Caleb.
How the Online version helps
The online version of FundRaiser has allowed more than one user to access the database from wherever they prefer to work. “That helps us,” says Caleb. “I can run reports from the office and Jennifer can work from home. I don’t need to interrupt her work to get what I need; we can both view and edit the same data simultaneously.
“It also means that we can bring in additional volunteers. They can use the database wherever they are located, make calls to donors and new contacts, update the database with address changes or a request for prayer, which we track through the use of spare fields,” says Caleb.
With other users accessing the database, data is protected with passwords that allow different levels of access. Says Jennifer, “I’m the only one that enters the financial data. No one else can do that. The volunteer that helps with prayer calls can enter that she made the call and any information on that, but nothing else.”
As in the other upgrades, Jennifer found the transition from Select to Professional to be simple. “The transition is so easy from one to the other. It wasn’t a complicated thing.” In addition, she likes the additional features. “Work seems to go smoother. I like being able to go online, and access it from any computer. The online version also updates automatically, and that makes it easier for me. Before I was sending updates over to the office and now other users can just log on and it is all there.”
Surprise benefits of upgrading
“The additional features have been a tremendous blessing, more that we expected. Each time we’ve upgraded, this has been the case. The things we thought we were buying the upgrade for were always there, and then something more that we needed but hadn’t been the specific reason that we were upgrading,” says Caleb.
With the upgrade to Professional, one of these unexpected benefits was the handling of ‘split transactions.’ When a donor receives a product or premium when they send in a donation, the cost of the product is not tax deducible. It needs to be accounted for separately from the donation.
Split transactions can be an accounting headache, as Caleb knows. “One donor option we have is for people to sign up for a monthly donation commitment and then they also get a pound of coffee every month. Before we were using the Pro Online, it was a real challenge to record the money that came in. We needed to split the transaction to show how much of the value was a premium and how much was a donation. It was hard to send letters. We solved this by sending out two letters, one in thank you for the donation and the other about the premium. It confused people, but we needed to handle it in some way because of the tax legalities. With the online version it is all done in one simple transaction, and it all comes out in one seamless letter.
“We also give things away free, but before there was no way to print reports to see what was sent to whom. We can now do that and track what they are getting. It helps us improve our offerings, and follow up knowing what they got. It opens up opportunities to connect better,” says Caleb.
Best advice for beginners – thank your donors!
“If organizations that aren’t already doing it, I’d encourage them to focus on the people who are contacting them and make sure that those people feel valued. A thank-you letter from you tells them they were valued. If you receive money and put it in the bank, and your donors only learn about it on their bank statement, it doesn’t make them feel valued. They will have some level of frustration. And if you wait too long to say thank you, they don’t care anymore,” says Caleb.
“Decide that everyone who contacts you, be it with a donation or a manuscript they want you to read, gets a response that lets them know that you got it. A letter or a receipt for their donation, though not required, is a good response. A letter at the end of the year is not enough.
“Think about it from the perspective of what you would want. They want to hear quickly, and don’t know you are a small organization. They perceive you as something of value them. Keep that perception going.”