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Moving donors up the giving ladder was the goal foremost in Raelene Pullen’s mind as Development Director at Figge Art Museum. The Figge Art Museum actively serves the public by making real its mission of bringing art and people together. Like many fundraisers, she has a small staff and limited budget, so she needs to use resources wisely. To help her decide how to best do that, she turned to the donor database for information … and at first found the data she needed wasn’t there.

FundRaiser Professional was the database already in use at the Figge Art Museum when she arrived. “The previous development team didn’t use the software in a very dynamic way. I’d have a question and refer to the software.  The answers weren’t there. So I had to ask myself why that was. Is this software not good? The software can only return information based on what was input,” says Raelene about her first experiences with the donor database.

Instead of giving up on FundRaiser, she sat down to figure out what information she needed and if FundRaiser could do the job. She went through each of the technical trainings offered by FundRaiser Training and spoke to FundRaiser Technical Support.  When properly implemented, FundRaiser was able to provide almost all she needed. “Since then, we’ve revitalized and revamped the coding and campaign management processes. Now we are able to benchmark and track the differences in response for appeals, museum events, gifts, and engagement and have data over a number of years.”

Figge Art Museum

“One of the most important things I’ve learned through this work and using FundRaiser is the need for data organization and entry. We use the coding in FundRaiser in a way that allows us to communicate with donors in a dynamic way. We have clarified what kind of information we need to record and maintain so when we need it, we have the information we need.  Our intention has been to use highly specific information to target and move donors up the giving ladder,” says Raelene.

Moving Donors Up the Giving Ladder

Raelene is very deliberate about the steps she takes to move donors up the giving ladder. “We start with engaging people to attend museum events, then  join and become members of the museum. Then we move them towards supporting programs and initiatives and hopefully on to sponsoring exhibitions and the endowment. This is exciting—members and donors can each support the museum in a way that truly matches their interests and involvement in the museum and community,” she says.

Amy Martens, Membership Manager at Figge Art Museum, and the other staff member who works in FundRaiser, is closely attuned to helping members make a bigger commitment to the museum. “After they’ve been members for a year or so we work at involving them more as donors. One of the ways that we use FundRaiser to move donors up is with data we merge into the membership letter. Now, we add a paragraph, “You are so close to the next level. Just give a little more and you will be there,” says Amy.

Amy Martens and Raelene Pullen at Figge Gala Event
Amy Martens and Raelene Pullen at Figge Gala Event

Using Data At Every Stage of a Campaign

The development team at Figge rely on their data to increase donations at every stage of their event work. “Data is really important in the planning of events and campaigns. We use data to help us know where our donors’ interest lie; to which events they have shown an interest; and to which people they are connected.

“The goal is to be able to speak to every donor as an individual and based on their relationship with the Figge Art Museum.  We may target some with calling campaigns or letter campaigns or invitations to specific events.

“After an event, we use FundRaiser in a dynamic way to analyze and track people’s attendance at our events. We’ve done that through coding, reporting and the campaign module. It helps us stay engaged with donors who have been invited to an event.”

Small Events are Ideal 

Raelene has focused in on small events as an ideal way to increase donations. “We do many small events in the homes of our donors. That allows us to explain one-on-one the importance and impact of our programs.”

Raelene uses the data in to create a harmonious list of invitees. “Let’s say a donor has a relationship with other donors and a trustee. We code those relationships. We then set up an event at the donor’s home and invite other donors that they are connected to. The trustee that they know attends and connects with everyone there,” says Raelene.

One of the key ways that FundRaiser has helped has been to make sure that no donor gets lost to appropriate follow-up. “If someone we invited isn’t able to attend, we can see that.  Then we can follow up and invite them again. This means we don’t lose touch with people if they can’t attend that particular event,” says Raelene.

Evaluating ROI of Events

FundRaiser is also important in evaluating ROI (Return On Investment) of an event. “After an event, we are interested to see the relationship between donations received by the Museum and the donor’s attendance at recent events. How do the donations that come in from those prospects compare to the ones that come from people who haven’t attended? This makes visible the impact of the event and that way of cultivating these relationships.  We have a unique report that we run to see people who attended those parties. Did the gifts come in at the event, after the event, or at another event? We run that report weekly to analyze those results.” As a result of her work, Raelene has discovered some key truths about giving that have helped her make good development decisions:

  • People give when they want to give, and on their own schedule. 
  • The most important thing about an event is sharing time with our donors.

People give when they want to give

“We can ask the donor on our schedule but they will give when they want. They may be inspired to give during the annual fund drive if the timing of that drive is right. But, if they attend an event, even if they don’t give, that attendance has an impact on their understanding and support for our mission,” says Raelene.

“We learned that we can’t have an event and expect it is the right time for a donor to give. That’s not the trend of the donor, that’s our schedule. But when we make a connection that has an impact, we definitely show a correlation between size of gift in previous years before they had the relationship and contact, and the size of the gift after they have that contact and education," says Raelene.

Connection Between Outreach and Size of Donations

Although donors may not give at the time of the event, the event does have an important and positive impact on giving. “There is a direct correlation between the understanding a donor has for our programs and service to the community as a result of attending an event, and their support for the Figge. The event educates, informs and helps them to understand the important part they play as supporters, both internally at the museum and externally in the community. You expect people will know this, but they don’t if they don’t hear it from us. We don’t have the marketing budget to advertise our programs in the community, so these supporters that we educate are an important link in the communication chain. It’s important to tell people so they can tell others. Without that special time with our donors that sort of network is impossible,” says Raelene.

Campaign Management

The Campaign management module has been important to the work that Raelene and Amy are doing. “Since we really started implementing the campaign management module last fall, it has gone really well. We’ve been able to track well in it,” says Amy. “I enjoy working in it. It’s always fun when you have an event going on and you are playing in the campaign part. It is fun to look back and people do donate to that campaign and you can see right there how much is attached to them, where they are from, the demographic of that campaign in particular. I can select the event and can later see the ROI of a particular letter,” says Amy.

A helpful tip from Amy for using the campaign management module at an event is this: “When we have events, we print out everyone who has free tickets vs. paid tickets; and who says they are coming vs. who needs to pay still.  It’s been very helpful. The first event I ever helped with at Figge, I did without it. It was a member event and I was still new, and I just printed an entire list of every member we had and didn’t know who was coming or not -- it was a mess, but I was also new. With this it is a whole lot easier.”

Making Decisions to Change Traditions

FundRaiser helps in figuring out the ROI of an event, says Raelene. “The data we use from FundRaiser was helpful when we considered changing the dates and duration of our annual fund drive. We’ve used the data to analyze that and help make a decision on the timing. It’s very helpful to know there’s a reason why we do things the way we do it. We are able to be more efficient.”

New to a database

From her experience, Raelene encourages others who inherit a database and aren’t sure if it is a good fit, to spend some time learning and talking to Technical Support. “Sometimes, coming in to a new situation, people might want to get new software.  I remember feeling that it may be easier to start fresh than stick with the existing system.  I learned that how my predecessors used the system was important. I took the time to learn about the software and how it could serve our needs, then made processes for my team to enter data in a way that the software could work to help us achieve our goals. Someone like me, just starting with FundRaiser, or who is inheriting a system that has been used before they came, will need to put time into it to get out what they want,” says Raelene.

Outstanding Technical Support

You don’t have to go through the process alone. Raelene and Amy have accessed FundRaiser Technical Support whenever they needed to. At first it was to learn, and then to get help in achieving with FundRaiser the tasks that were important to their data needs. Says Raelene, “If there is something important to your organization and you don’t know how to do it in the system, call Tech Support. Not only does it help us as the user to see new and innovative and creative ways to do things. It also helps Tech Support to understand us as users and our needs. That creates an opportunity for the developers to evolve the software. That relationship helps us both to get better.”

One way that Raelene has used Technical Support to achieve the museum’s fundraising goals is in clarifying how to track unusual donation situations. “Obviously, taht will automatically set up to cover every possible event of every organization. For instance, recently the FundRaiser team sat down with us and helped us think through how to track some special gifts we had coming in. The gifts had a community matching part. The way the donations were divided, between direct gifts and matching gift was unique. We were able to set things up so that the data was malleable for analysis and we could keep the information about donors for future reference.”


Amy also encourages new users to take advantage of FundRaiser training. “When I started with FundRaiser, I took some of the training courses. That was very helpful. I don’t know what I would have done without it. Now, the things I do every day are easy, and I’m moving around in it quickly.”

On-Going Development

Fundraising is evolving and software needs to evolve as well. Input received from users like Figge is an important part of FundRaiser development goals. Says Raelene, “As a user, it’s important to have software that is being developed, growing, expanding. Giving in the last two to ten years has evolved. Development directors need to evolve too or be left behind. We are happy that FundRaiser’s development is ongoing and responsive to our input.”

Says Amy, “Tech Support is really good at figuring out what we are needing, working with us to help us do it.  And if it isn’t currently in the software, they are really good about putting our requests on the list for the next release.”