It took almost two years, from the first moment of serious consideration to the final days of implementation: we let go of Sage’s Millennium and now work in Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge fundraising software. I did not think that it would take that long and that it would be that complex.
Having worked as an independent consultat many years ago and having completed several fundraising database conversions for nonprofits and schools, I thought that I could perhaps do this conversion myself as well. But, hey, we are a state university and things get done differently.
There is a good reason for that. State universities are complex beasts of organizations, very different from small nonprofits. At a state university, there are many more stakeholders and whatever you do, you do not want to endanger the reputation of the university or cause grief otherwise to executive management.
A few month after we hired a consultant, Rob Weiner, to help us with the initial evaluation of software packages, the university’s information technology division stepped into the process, took some ownership of it, and gave me a project manager to oversee the entire undertaking. Talking about risk management. Well, it was for the better I think. It afforded me the time to keep doing my regular job directing advancement services, instead of primarily managing timelines, resources and conflict.
I also hired Sabre Leek, a consultant experience with Sage’s Millennium fundraising software, to re-align and “clean up” data in the system we wanted to retire. I thought it would be better to do the “scrubbing” in the system we were most familiar with, prior to the conversion. A smart move, as we encounted a gazillion of issues in the data.
Data in Millennium was not only inaccurate (Berkeley spelled as Bersekely, etc.), data also sat in the wrong places (employment data in the address fields, membership dues on non-existing memberships, etc.). This was not Millennium’s fault, but just plain, unintelligent data entry of the past. It took us about 9 month to massage the data to a point were it possibly could be considered safe for conversion.
We haggled with Blackbaud over the licensing costs for the Raiser’s Edge and got us some discounts. While I had a generous budget to work with, the Enterprise version of RE with a license for 20 concurrent users did not come cheap. One could buy a nice house in the Central Valley for the money.
I hired Heller consultants for the conversion and implementation itself. We got a deal there as well since they are local and did not incur a lot of travel costs. Their conversion programmer operates out of Chicago or so, and we managed with a few video conference calls. We had some issues with the conversion programming in regard to installment schedules for pledges. Heller consultants say that it is difficult to convert extensive pledge information into RE. Luckily we are in between fundraising campaigns and do not have a lot of pledges with outstanding balances.
So, after nearly four month of conversion and implementation, we are now tinkering around in our fundraining data within the Raiser’s Edge. Executives and staff are generally happy and inspired about the database. We had Heller consultants train our staff for a week on our premises and also provide individual hands-on assistance in terms of work flow and processes. Some of my core staff took Blackbaud’s online classes for the more intricate chores of data entry, etc.
I am almost done setting up the constituent codes, fund codes and the chart of accounts so that they lend themselves to a one-click VSE report. Sure do not want to spend countless hours running countless and disjointed queries and reports trying to get a coherent financial picture of our fundraising activites.
Successful fundraising is a complex undertaking. The more money you want to raise, the more effort you have to expend on systems like fundraising software and the maintenance of its data. While the Raiser’s Edge is rather full-featured and yet intuitive to use, it does accomodate the inticacies of comprehensive fundraising methodologies and processes.
This poses a challenge to users, both fundraisers and advancement services staff, because many operational choices have to be made by them regardless of the systems intuitiveness and ease-of-use. In a report, do we want to summarize annual giving based on donations that walked through the door of the organization (gifts, pledge payments, etc.), or do we want to summarize based on committments made (gifts, pledges, etc.)? Do we need the report to be based on the calendar year or the fiscal year? Do we want to mail to home addresses as well as business addresses (if no home address exists)? Do we need your report in .pdf format or as a comma-delimited file? Why are there duplicates in the list?
In this age of a data-driven economy, endusers, including major gifts officers, will need to deal with some details of a fundraising system (processes, methodologies, data, hardware, criteria, formats, etc.) that may be too technical for many of the older generation.