QuickBooks is NOT a Donor Management System

(Donor Management Software is NOT an Accounting System)

Many new and smaller organizations gravitate to QuickBooks to help keep track of the organizations finances.  The seemingly logical extension of this software is to use it to keep detailed records of donor activity.  Since you need to enter the donations into the accounting system, it only makes sense to keep all of your donor information there also.

Unfortunately, as an organization grows they realize the limit of QuickBooks when it comes to dealing with donors.  Although it is a great spot to keep track of specific donations, it does not provide a suitable platform for important tasks like:

  1. Sending out donation acknowledgment letters
  2. Organizing prospects who might give to your organization in the future
  3. Tracking communication activities with donors and prospective donors
  4. Managing pledges
  5. Collecting ancillary data for specific donors such as:
    • volunteering history
    • board membership
    • email preferences
    • custom criteria and groups

Most organizations first try to augment their QuickBooks data with Excel spreadsheets to help accomplish the other necessary functions.  This is when the real fun (or frustration) starts.  People move, divorce, marry, have children, give money under different names, change employers, and that is just the start.  Keeping accurate records of your donors and constituents in one database is hard enough.  Keeping that information in more than one spot becomes almost impossible.

At DonorSnap it is very customary to have an organization come to us that has 800 names in the QuickBooks records along with 3-4 years of giving history.  In addition to that, they also have an Excel spreadsheet or two that is their mailing list that they use to communicate events, newsletters, etc. with their constituents.  These spreadsheets will have anywhere from 1,000 – 3,000 contacts.  There is some cross over with the QuickBooks system, but in general each list will have contacts in it that are not present in the other.

When we get this information at DonorSnap, there is an arduous process of combining the various lists together to come up with one cohesive set of contacts that can be used for all aspects on donor management.  Prospects, donors, volunteers, members, etc. can easily be tracked in a donor management system. This makes it easy to build specific and targeted lists for mailings, invitations, and directed solicitation.  The actual gifts (monetary, in kind, or soft credits) can be tracked and historical analysis can be done.  You can easily produce one of the most important reports an organization can have – LYBUNT (donors that gave last year but not this year).  These things cannot be done with QuickBooks.

That being said, a donor management system does NOT replace an accounting system.  You need QuickBooks, or your chosen accounting software, to keep track of the organizations revenue and expenses.  Having accurate fiscal records is just as important as having accurate donor records.  The two systems complement each other. The only point of cross over between the two is the actual collected donations that you will be reporting to the IRS and other constituents looking at your financial statements.  These donations are ideally kept in detail in your donor management system with a batch (monthly or weekly) journal entry in QuickBooks of the total donations.  There is no legal or accounting need to keep the detailed donors in QuickBooks so long as you can produce the detailed report from your donor management software.  However, certain organizations get a sense of comfort by having the donation detail also in the general ledger.  For these organizations, many of the leading donor management software packages have integrations with both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop (installed) versions that will allow automated transfer of donation detail.

Is Social Media Necessary for Nonprofits?

Nonprofit organizations stand to gain a lot from the smart usage of social media. The key word here is “smart.” Not all nonprofits have a target audience that is going to be active across all social media networks. It is important for organizations to do some analysis of their likely donors. Try to determine how they prefer to interact with an organization, where they are most likely to be active online, and what the right approach is to reach out to them.

The other part of smart social media usage is to have SMART goals. You have probably heard it before, but your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time sensitive. Determine ahead of time what you want to accomplish, and develop your social media strategy specific to those goals.

If you need some help getting started with your goals, try thinking about things like the following:

  • Expanding your reach to new potential supporters such as the friends of your friends.
  • Increase engagement from the people that are already supporting your organization.
  • Increase donations by placing online donation forms in your social media pages
  • Developing a communications platform to increase awareness of your cause

Do not confuse those starting points with smart goals though. Every organization is different, so you will need to make these goals specific to your needs. Define them with numbers that you can track such as 1,000 visitors each month, or 5 new stories posted each week. Well written goals make it easier to come up with a great strategy for success.

Here is a quick overview of some of the most popular social media networks and ways to tell if they are good marketing avenues for your nonprofit:

  • Facebook is far and away the largest social media site on the internet. With nearly two billion active users, Facebook has the benefit of a gigantic range of users you can reach out to. Unlike many other social media sites, Facebook is not just a digital hangout for young people. Working professionals up through senior citizens are regularly active on the site. It also has plenty of options for sponsored content and different forms of media, including videos, images, and stories. Because of Facebook’s versatility and diversity of users, almost every nonprofit organization can benefit from having an active account there.
  • Twitter does not have nearly the diversity of users as Facebook; it skews a bit younger, though there is still a sizable audience of older people and working professionals. It also does not have quite the same versatility in terms of functionality. However, it is an outstanding place to interact with followers or to take part in large-scale conversations about topics related to your organization—perhaps more so than Facebook.
  • Instagram has become the most-used and most-loved social network of the younger generation. Millennials and the so-called Generation Z (born in the late 90s and after) have embraced Instagram for its simplicity and its propensity for self-expression. If you’re primarily using social media to find new donors, Instagram might not be your best bet, because it is a much younger audience. It doesn’t allow for as in-depth of content. However, its large user base and ease of use still make it an attractive outlet for organizations that have missions that align with the interests of a younger demographic.
  • LinkedIn is a professional network that tends to have an older, more business-centric audience than the other social media sites listed above. While it is a great platform to provide more information about your organization and to publish some informative articles, it is not necessarily an ideal platform for attracting new donors.

In general, nonprofits should always keep their target audience in mind. Social media can be a great tool depending on the kind of organization you are running, but ultimately you need to meet your audience where they are already likely to be. Learn to communicate with them in the method they most prefer.

Checking for Duplicate Contacts On the Fly

How to keep your database free from duplicates without slowing down.

The demise of all donor and contact management systems (or CRMs) is the creeping addition of duplicate contacts.  There are many sources for duplicate entries, but every organization is bound to have a few that stand out.

Does your organization ever have:

  • Volunteers who do not check if a contact already exists in your database?
  • Multiple connection points with a supporter (e.g. volunteer, donor, events, etc.)?
  • Individuals from one household interacting with your organization separately?
  • Limited time causing you to rush through data entry?
  • Perfect keyboard skills (a.k.a. have you ever made a typo)?

However they get into your system, they erode and undermine the value of your donor data.  Aside from being just plain embarrassing, duplicate contacts cause more work, create unnecessary costs, and negatively affect your donors’ perception of how valuable they are to your organization.

The costs are simple and often small on the surface, but don’t forget about the lasting consequences. First is the extra printing, mailing, and labor costs when you are sending identical communications to donors. The more devastating cost is the impression you leave with the Donor.

How many of your supporters have ever thought:

  • “If they really valued me – why wouldn’t they see that they are sending me the same letter twice?”
  • “Are they really a good steward of my donation?”
  • “Why not just address the appeal to To Whom it May Concern?”

In the past, best practices revolved around reviewing your database at least annually, but those timelines always seem to be a little too flexible. When it happens, this process merges duplicates, verifies email and mailing addresses, and removes bouncing email addresses. Those are still valid steps and should continue to be done, but what are you doing before those audits?

Preemptive action should be your main focus. The best way to avoid the introduction of duplicates is to use a system that automatically alerts you at the time of entry of a possible duplicate. We like to call that “dynamic duplicate checking.” As you enter the last name of the contact you are adding, a strong database system will be scanning all your existing contacts and suggesting possible duplicates.  This does not slow down the entry of new contacts but can alert you quickly if a duplicate exists and allow you to take action.

Below is a screen shot showing the Dynamic Duplicate Checking in process.  As the user types in the first few letters of Smith, the system displays all the possible duplicates for that contact in the system.  This scan is checking both the main contact name and in the case of two name households, the second contact name.  Paying attention to these potential duplicates should greatly reduce the errors in your system.

live duplicate checker

It is important to periodically ask yourself… do you value each of your supporters? Are you a good steward of their donations?


If your organization is not using dynamic duplicate checking today, you should contact your DonorSnap representative to learn more about this feature.  If you are not currently using DonorSnap, you can learn more information by emailing Sales@DonorSnap.com or by participating in a live demo: Register for a live DonorSnap demo.

What is the Difference Between a Campaign and an Appeal?

If you are looking at the best strategy to raise money for your organization, cause or event, you might have heard the terms “campaign” and “appeal” used seemingly interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between a campaign and appeal that you need to be aware of.

On a very broad level, a campaign is the reason why you are asking for or collecting money, while an appeal is how you asked for that money. For example, your organization might be asking for money so you can expand certain services you provide, or go on a mission trip. Whatever the reason is, that is at the root of your campaign. It is the ultimate goal or objective you have for your organization’s fundraising, and the vision that you are selling to your potential donors.

Most organizations have more than one method they use to attempt to raise the funds needed to complete their campaign. These methods are your “appeals.” Using different approaches for your appeals allows you to go back at the end of the year to analyze the effectiveness of your appeals and compare them to each other or appeals you made in previous years. If a campaign is a set of all the fundraising activities you perform to achieve a particular objective, your appeals are those individual fundraising activities.

For example, let’s say you have an annual fundraising event, a Summer Appeal letter and drive, and several other smaller appeals scheduled throughout your year. By analyzing these appeals and comparing them year-over-year, you can get a better sense of how much money you can expect to raise, or what types of tweaks you may need to perform to make your appeals more successful.

Additional Ways to Categorize Donations

Generally, most donor management systems allow you to assign various categories to each donation.  As we mentioned above you may want to use the Campaign and Appeal fields to help you run reports on your donations and compare from one year to the next.  You may also want to use categories codes for:

  • Donation Type (such as soft credit, in kind or regular donation)
  • Accounting Code (typically a fund code tied to your accounting records)
  • Payment Method (check/credit card/PayPal/etc.)

You may use any or all of these codes or none of them.  It depends on your organization and what you want to track.  For example, if your organization doesn’t record donations into different General Ledger accounts (something the accountants sometimes want) then there is no sense using the Accounting Code field.  Payment method can be used to reconcile deposits to your bank account from different sources (credit cards, PayPal, etc.).  Donation Type is especially useful if you want to track non-monetary donations (in kind).  It’s useful to know how much an individual or organization has contributed to your cause overall, but it’s important to know how much was in the form of money. This makes it clear what you can use for budgetary expenditures vs. material donations that are helpful in other ways.

DonorSnap provides all the aforementioned categories along with unlimited user defined fields. You are able to analyze and report on your contributions in any way that you need.  If you have specific questions on tracking donation information, contact a DonorSnap representative at   Sales@DonorSnap.com.

Common Problems that Could Damage Your Email Communications

(and How to Resolve Them)

Nonprofits across the nation continue to expand their use of email in communications with their donors and followers. However, many of these organizations are not aware of how many of their contacts never actually receive their messages, for a variety of reasons.

Below we outline a few of the most common problems that prevent your contacts from getting your messages, and how you can correct those issues.

Emails never getting opened

This is the equivalent of your letter or call to a contact going unanswered or unread.  If you consistently send information to an important donor and they do not open your messages, your communication with them is ineffective.  If they consistently don’t open your emails you may need to change your method of communication.  Maybe this particular contact prefers a phone call or a personal visit.  If they are critical to your mission, you need to reach out to them in a method they will respond to.

Getting caught in spam filters

 It is not unusual for newsletters or mass email messages to get caught in email spam filters. These filters are designed with the goal of reducing the amount of “junk” mail a person receives in their inbox. To get around a spam filter, you must first understand exactly how these filters identify what is and is not spam.

Typically, spam filters consider the following factors:

  • The recipient’s relationship with the person sending the message
  • The reputation of a particular IP address or sender domain
  • The quality and/or safety of the links included in the message
  • The quality of the subject line and content
  • The ratio of images to text and links to text

While there are many more factors that go into deciding what is considered spam, these are among the most common.

You will have a much easier time getting your messages around spam filters if you create high-quality content that doesn’t pack in too many links or images. This content should be professionally formatted (turn off your caps lock and avoid using too many exclamation points!), and should avoid spammy-sounding words and phrases. It also helps to only send messages to people who actively subscribed to your content. Using services such as Constant Contact or MailChimp can aide you in producing higher quality emails. They will review your email format and suggest ways to improve your chances of being delivered.

Bounced emails

There are several common reasons why emails bounce back, including non-existent email addresses, unavailable or overloaded servers, full mailboxes, and auto-responders or vacation responders.  This would be the equivalent of a return to sender in the days of regular mail. The intended recipient never even knew you tried to reach out to them.

Each of these problems has resolution strategies you should consider. For example, if the bounce was marked as a non-existent address, you should double check for typos. An “undeliverable” message might just mean you need to try again later when the server is back up or the inbox has cleared. An auto response or vacation response will likely provide you with instructions as to when you can reach the targeted person.

Email blocked by ISP

Internet service providers (ISPs) might decide to block emails from certain addresses if they look like spam, if they are sending messages to too many invalid email addresses or if there are technical problems with delivering the message.  This is the worst case scenario for an organization. Not only didn’t your message get delivered, you don’t even know that it wasn’t delivered. Similar to a letter sent to an old address that doesn’t have forwarding in place and you didn’t pay for return postage.  Fortunately, these problems are relatively easy to fix, as seen above.

There are tools that allow you to track the ultimate delivery of your email and whether that email was opened. When doing mass emails using systems such as Constant Contact, you can review the mailing and see which emails were bounced, blocked, never opened or opened multiple times. For specific emails such as Donation Acknowledgments, Pledge reminders and Annual Statements, having a tracking program linked to your emails will help you understand which emails are getting thru and which ones aren’t.

DonorSnap utilizes the latest software, SendGrid, with all of its outbound emails to give you the ability to track where the email is in the delivery process, if and how often it’s been opened and also provides the ability to resend a misplaced email. This will provide you with full control over the email process and, most importantly, let you know who is getting and who is reading your emails.

Remember – in the new age of electronic communication, you can’t assume that your message is getting through and read by your target audience.

Get Those Email Addresses

business-cards2

For those that haven’t noticed, the age of electronic communication is upon us in full force. Almost everyone has an email address and the younger generation tend to live on Facebook and messaging. Nonprofits have been slow to take advantage of this new medium and are now trying to play catch up. Many organizations with long established databases of contacts had not collected email addresses in the past and now need to play “Catch Up” to update their lists.

Organizations should take every opportunity to get this information whenever interacting with their constituents. The key is knowing who you have email addresses for and who you don’t. Depending on whether you use a Donor Management system or an Excel spreadsheet, you need to code it so you can easily identify people with missing information. Once you know what is missing, you can be on the lookout to add this information whenever possible.

One trick my nonprofit recently used (quite successfully) was to pre-code name tags for our annual event. As people either mailed or phoned in their registered for the event we maintained an Excel spreadsheet that was to be used to print out the name tags for the event. This Excel spreadsheet was cross checked against our Donor Database to see if we were missing critical pieces of information. We added a column on the spreadsheet that was either blank or contained “e”, “m” or “em”. The column was left blank if we had both their electronic and ground mailing addresses. If we were missing either or both we added an “e” to signify a missing email, an “m” for missing mailing address or “em” if both pieces of information were missing. (In the case of guests and people new to our organization registering for the event we almost always were missing both pieces of information.)

nametag

The day of the event, we printed out the name tags for all the registered attendees. The First and Last name were printed from the Excel spreadsheet using a large font. Then in a very small font in the bottom corner of the name tag we printed the “em” code in small print. The name tags were then laid out on the registration table in name order.

As guests arrived, we asked volunteer greeters at the registration desk to hand them their name tags. The volunteer would quickly look to see if there was a code on the lower corner of the tag or if it was blank. If there was nothing on the name tag the guest was simply greeted and given the event information. However, if there was a code on the bottom, the guest was asked if they would like to provide their email and/or address for our newsletter or future communications. If they said yes (and most did) we had clipboards with a brief information sheet for them to fill out. The greeter instructed what information we needed to be filled out and then collected the form from the guest before sending them on their way.

Our organization is also set up to collect this information directly into our database and could have done so the night of the event (rather than the intermediate step of having them write it on paper). We could have provided an iPad to the guest and asked them to enter the missing information. However, we opted not to take this approach in hopes of helping speed the guest along and not imposing on their evening any more than we had to.