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Robert Weiner Talks about his Donor Databases Toolbox

Robert Weiner, nonprofit technology consultant, recently put together a toolbox on Social Source Commons of Donor Databases and I was able to steal a few minutes of his time to get his opinion on donor databases for nonprofits. Check it out:

What do you do? How are you involved in the nonprofit sector?

The vast majority of my work is helping nonprofits assess whether they have the right donor database, and whether they’re using it correctly. If they don’t have the right database, I help them select a new one. Assessments include asking questions like: Does the tool have the proper support? Are people getting their work done with it? Most of my projects revolve around donor management, and about 80% are focused on selecting donor database tools.

How did this list come into existence and why do you maintain it?

The list came about from a 2008 NTEN customer satisfaction survey on donor databases and Idealware’s 2009 low-cost database guide. Those surveys built on earlier vendor lists and some Campbell Research customer satisfaction surveys. I kept getting requests for a comprehensive donor database list so I put them all together and posted it on my web site. Once it was up on my website, people requested additional interactivity for the listings, which Social Source Commons added (links to the product pages, other useful links, areas to comment, etc.).

Has putting it into SSC changed the way you see it being used in the future?

The interactivity that SSC lends to the Donor Database Toolbox will help ensure that the listing is actively maintained and actually used as a collaborative resource.

What trends are you seeing in the Donor Database field?

One trend that is definitely on the upswing is more integration within products. For example, there is a lot more demand for database tools that also do mass email, online donations, online event registration, etc. Email marketing especially has become a core feature over the last few years, but recently online giving and registration have also increasingly started popping up. On top of integration within a single tool, more donor database tools have started featuring integration with other products (whereas before they would be closed systems). More and more applications are publishing their APIs making it easier for different products to talk to each other.

Also, more products are moving to a web interface (not necessarily SAAS—some can be installed locally).

Speaking of Software As A Service, how do you see it as a competing offering in the donor database world?

More products than ever are offering a hosted option alongside their download-able (local) option so that people have the choice. Usually the decision whether to go SAAS or local is very client-specific with regard to donor databases. Some clients can’t keep their information local because they simply don’t have the internal IT support to maintain it. Others don’t want to devote their resources to managing their own data. On the other hand, political organizations and universities insist that they manage their data themselves. So there are a lot of considerations for an organization to make when looking at using a hosted option for their data.

As far as security goes, most of the vulnerabilities of SAAS exist for hosting your own data as well (vulnerabilities to hackers on the internet, or a disgruntled IT staffer). So there are risks on both sides. Sometimes managing data in house could be less secure. For example, if an org isn’t taking proper security measures (backing up, proper password procedures, etc.). On the hosting side, best practices call for the assumption that the night before your biggest event of the year, your hosting goes down. Whether it’s hosted or local, you need to have access to backups of your data. Some people assume that when they have their data hosted, that they don’t have a responsibility for backing up, but it’s just as critical as when you host the data locally yourself. Because even if your host is backing up your site, it doesn’t help you much if the host goes down.

Do you think that programs like Salesforce are gaining on Blackbaud?

I don’t think that “gaining on” is the right phrase to use. I would say that programs like Salesforce are definitely forcing more established vendors to rethink their sustainability and their strategy in general. Programs like Salesforce aren’t running them out of business but rather leading the way and spurring more open integration. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

How do you feel about Salesforce for nonprofits, in general?

Salesforce is always a special case. When using it, you’re getting a toolkit that someone needs to configure for you. Almost always, an organization’s success using Salesforce comes down to who configures it for you and if they can put it together to do what you want, and, perhaps more importantly, maintain if for you as you use it.

Many nonprofits come to me saying “Let’s do Salesforce!” because they’ve heard a lot about it and know that it’s free for nonprofits. The problem is that it looks free, but it isn’t. Even after setting it up, you have to get your data out of your old system and into Salesforce as well as generate new reports and get training and support. Many nonprofits forget about the support aspect of IT. I’ll often see nonprofits that get Salesforce and even get someone set it up for them in a way that they can use but then they don’t have any ongoing support. So they have no one to call when things go wrong. Not the position you want to be in. There is a HUGE risk in not having software support. Many think that annual support is just gouging them for money but it’s really a form of insurance.


Robert Weiner maintains a blog at and can be reached at You can also check out his Donor Databases toolbox embedded on his website here:

Be sure to check out his Donor Databases Toolbox as well as the many other toolboxes on Social Source Commons.

And as always, if you’ve got a story to tell like Robert Weiner, create a toolbox on SSC and let us know about it!

Happy Toolbox-ing!


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