Thinking about Selecting a New Advancement System?

Allow me to start off by pointing you to my article on System Selection from the CASE book on Advancement Services. (Click the link above to access it.) That can provide you an overview for system selection. This (and future) System Selection posts will explore in more detail some of the key issues that you should be considering as you are going into the process.

What is wrong with your current system? Think of your system as a three-legged stool – programs, people, procedures. (Refer to my prior post on the 3-legged stool.) If your problems are with staff (quality and quantity), organization, training, etc. OR with policies and procedures not being documented or adhered to, don’t you want to fix those things first?

Yes, I have had clients that said, “well can’t we fix those things as we get new hardware and software? And the answer is also “Yes”, but if you don’t really have (or confirm you have) problems with software functionality, performance, security, ease of use, etc. you probably should fix the people and procedures issues first. Please also recognize that if you fix those things first, you may get many more fruitful, remunerative years out of your advancement software. And having staff trained on general concepts (e.g., Moves Management, Campaign Reporting, Events & Volunteer Management, Contact Reporting, etc.) can pay benefits regardless of what software you have. Having the right policy guidelines in place (and documented with easy access) will help your whole team march in the direction you want them to go, regardless of your software.

Specific training on your software and specific procedures on how to use it will depend on the software you have/choose. But there is much you can do before making a decision to change your current software.

Next recognize that System Selection is the first step in a much longer process of system acquisition, implementation, use, and maintenance. Over a 7-10 year period, I would guess that the costs for System Selection will likely be less than 10% of your on-going “cost of ownership.”

Another key issue is what is your budget for systems (all 3 legs) within Advancement? If your systems and Advancement Services budget is annually below 1/2 million dollars, don’t start considering a system acquisition program where the software and implementation costs exceed $1M.

So with these points considered, think about what else is going on in your institution?

  • Are there any new plans for technology? Is your organization implementing or planning to implement new database or CRM technology?
  • Are you looking to go into a campaign in the next couple years?
  • Are there other institution-wide initiatives that will reduce/divert funds from your advancement plans?
  • Is Advancement considered a “cost center” or “revenue center” within your organization?
  • Is your institution’s organization stable or are you presently looking for a new President, VP of Advancement, VP for Information Technology or other key player and decision-maker?

And there are many other broad points to consider. None of these are “show-stoppers,” but they all will have a significant impact on your system selection plans.

I wanted to get these points documented as I focus a number of up-coming posts on System Selection. And I’ll cover selection of not only selecting a general Advancement system, but also Phonathon, Events Management, Alumni Community, and other specific applications.

I’d welcome any additions/comments/questions via e-mail at  And please sign up for my periodic blog posts in the space in the column on the right!

 SDG, Charlie Hunsaker
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