Guest Post by Kari Kiel

One of the first decisions your organization will need to make when hosting a fundraiser is deciding how you will plan and manage your campaign. Today, many organizations choose to use online fundraising software for managing donations, registrations, sponsors, evaluations, and more. If your nonprofit decides to use fundraising software, how do you select the right software package for your fundraiser?

There are many factors you’ll want to consider when selecting fundraising software. We address many of these in detail below. But first, let’s start with the basics.

Before you decide on a fundraising software provider, be sure you know what type of fundraiser you are hosting. There are so many options today! And with as many different possible fundraising campaigns, there shouldn’t be just one possible fundraising software solution, should there? Of course not! One software might be great at general donation processing and donor database management, where another might be the better choice for individual participants collecting donations and pledges for a walk-a-thon event. Yet another software solution might be a great choice for hosting a stand-alone online fundraising event such as a charity auction where registration, online bidding, email communications, payment processing and reporting takes place on your fundraising website.

So, my advice to you is: First decide on the type of fundraising campaign you’ll be hosting, and then focus your research on companies who provide software solutions for the specific type of fundraiser you are hosting.

There are a number of factors to consider when making your evaluations to find the right software provider for your fundraiser. Here we’ve put together a list of the top criteria you should be looking for.

Software Features: What features does the software provide? Is it one standard website, or does it come with pages that can be customized for each participant. Are people able to register as individuals and/or teams? How are sponsorships managed and product sales? Does the software manage email communications? What tracking and reporting tools are available?

Users: How many users are included in the package? Think about how many administrators will be working on the back-end, and how many participants will be involved in your event? (For example, a school fundraiser may require use for 1,000 participants, where a small organization may have less than 100). Pricing can change dramatically depending on users, so be sure to inquire.

Website Customization: Most fundraising software provides will provide you with a fundraising website to host your fundraiser. Be sure you have the ability to customize the design to reflect your organization’s identity. For instance, can you choose a relevant color scheme and upload your own banner or logo? Does the site allow for your photographs and branding?

Ease of Use: If you are taking an enormous amount of time figuring out the software and setting it up, you’re not saving money. You’ve simply transferred where you spend your time. Look for a solution that is user friendly, while providing flexibility to meet the needs of administrators and participants.

Collecting Donations and Funds: Payment processing is handled differently by different vendors. Some companies offer their own payment processing services and others let you choose your own preferred partner (such as PayPal). Be sure to ask if you will receive the money directly (vs. being paid later by check) and what percentage of each transaction will be taken by the payment processor.

Pricing: Reputable companies provide their pricing information upfront. Of course you will want to look for a low cost solution, but also remember that purchasing fundraising software is like making an investment. The purchase should save your organization money in time and effort, as well as allowing you to extend your reach and make more money.

Resources & Support: You will likely need some assistance using the new software system. What fundraising resources are available to you? Look for things like chat support and solid FAQs, a knowledge base, and online user manuals. You will also want to watch for hidden fees! Some companies sell you on the product, but then later charge for you for training and customer support.

Social Media Integration: Adding a Twitter and Facebook application allows your organization and event participants to easily promote the fundraiser to a greater audience helping to increase the pool of potential donors.

Free Software Trials? How else are you going to know if the software is right for you if you can’t test-drive it first? This is the time to seriously review and compare services. During trial mode, call in to see how knowledgeable staff is and also test-drive their customer support.

Customer Examples & Testimonials: Most established companies offer examples of fundraising websites to show how current customers are using their software as well as testimonials from satisfied customers. Check them out! You may come across some great ideas to help with planning your own fundraiser, and you’ll get a better idea if the software provider’s services match your expectations.

Kari Kiel, is a marketing consultant who currently leads marketing efforts for online fundraising software provider, DoJiggy LLC. Kari has more than twelve years experience developing and executing strategic event marketing plans. She has produced large-scale community fundraising events for nonprofits, and has consulted for various companies to help them extend their reach and improve results through integrating targeted online marketing campaigns.