An Eleven Step Program to Cure Shiny Object Syndrome

NTEN just published of mine called "An Eleven Step Program to Cure Shiny Object Syndrome" (technically, they reprinted an article that AFP will publish this summer). My co-conspirators were Dahna Goldstein, Marc Baizman, and Tracy Kronzak.

The four of us, plus Vered Meir, will be leading a workshop on the topic of shiny object avoidance at NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference in March.

Filed in Best Practices,IT Management,Nonprofit Management,Nonprofit Technology,NTEN No Responses yet

New book: “Advancement Services: Enhancing Fundraising Success”


CASE has just published the third edition of its guide to Advancement Services. The title of this edition is "Advancement Services: Enhancing Fundraising Success." The book was a labor of love for over 2 years by 25 of advancement services professionals, led and edited by the esteemed John Taylor. I'm honored to have written two chapters.

You can buy a copy from CASE by clicking here. Here's the table of contents as a preview:

2016 AS Book ToC Copy pdf page 1
2016 AS Book ToC Copy pdf page 2

Filed in Advancement Services,Best Practices,Donor Databases,IT Management,Nonprofit Management,Nonprofit Technology,Prospect Research No Responses yet

Robert on the (Internet) radio

This Friday, October 16 at 1 pm Eastern time, Nonprofit Radio will be broadcasting a discussion with me, Tracy Kronzak of Bright Step Partners; Marc Baizman of the Salesforce Foundation; and Dahna Goldstein of Altum. We'll be talking about how people and processes can be the real culprits behind technology problems. Links to listen live or get a podcast are posted at

NonProfit Radio Panel
Nonprofit Radio Panel

Filed in Best Practices,IT Management,Nonprofit Management,Nonprofit Technology No Responses yet

Robert in the news(paper)

I was interviewed for two articles that were published recently. The NonProfit Times ran the story The Evolution of Donor Management And Its Fundraising Future, which deals with how technology is transforming the way nonprofits interact with donors, particularly online. And the Chronicle of Philanthropy ran 'But It's Free!' and 9 Other Lines About Technology You Don't Want to Hear. If you're a Chronicle subscriber you can read that one by clicking here.

Filed in Advancement Services,Donor Databases,Fundraising,Online Fundraising,Software No Responses yet

What to Do When Technology Isn’t Your Problem

cartoon technology
Copyright P. S. Mueller

Does it feel like you never find the right combination of technologies to just make things work? Do you lie awake at night and wonder how everything is going to get done, or why a new project was just dumped on your plate? If you technology decisions at your organization are driven by some of the following, we’d love to see you at NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference (aka the NTC):

  • We chose the system because we have a volunteer who knows it. Or “Our VISTA/New Sector volunteer is really smart. She’ll figure this out!”
  • Let’s get this tool. It worked great at my last (completely dissimilar) organization.
  • We should get the _____est thing.
  • Our board member, donor, or funder said to do or buy ________.
  • It’s not in our strategic/operating plan, but ___________.
  • Won’t it just tell us what to do?
  • It’s free, and that’s all we can afford.
  • Drop everything. We need to get this up and running in the next 3 weeks.

People and process problems frequently masquerade as technology problems. It may seem like the wrong tool was selected, it doesn’t do what it was supposed to do, or the instructions aren’t written clearly enough. In fact, in many cases, what seem like problems with a particular piece of technology are actually due to issues with people, processes, or overall technology strategy.

So how can you identify these types of problems and help your organization - and yourself - better use technology to meet your mission?

On Thursday, March 5 at 1:30 pm, Marc Baizman, Dahna Goldstein, Tracy Kronzak, and I will help you and your colleagues stop blaming the *$%!& technology for organizational problems. Come to this NTC session and talk about issues like:

  • Are technology decisions tied to your mission and strategic plan?
  • Have you prioritized your technology needs and projects, or are you responding to whoever screams the loudest?
  • Are you trying to solve a lack of strategy or broken processes by throwing software at the problem?
  • Have you looked at your business processes to make sure they’re efficient and effective?
  • If you’re struggling with your current systems, did you select systems that meet your real needs, and that you can afford and support?
  • Do you have the necessary funding, staff time, and understanding of your goals and needs to support the technology you’re adopting?
  • Do you have policies and procedures telling people how to use your systems consistently?
  • Have staff been trained on those policies and procedures? Do you have an ongoing training plan that includes time for mentorship and learning?
  • Is someone in charge of making sure that people actually do what they were trained to do, and that everything’s running smoothly?
    • Are they placed appropriately in your organization so they can focus on your mission rather than the needs of one department (or person)?
    • Has that person been trained on the systems they support, or are they making it up as they go along?
    • Do they understand how those systems support the organization’s mission and strategic plans?
    • Does this person play well with others?
  • Is there a help or service desk where someone is readily available to help when needed?
  • Is the help/service desk staffed by friendly people with good customer service skills? Do they understand the systems you’re using?

Come join us for a collaborative, interactive, therapeutic discussion at the NTC.

Thanks to Marc Baizman, Dahna Goldstein, and Tracy Kronzak for their collaboration on this post.

Filed in Best Practices,IT Management,Nonprofit Management,Nonprofit Technology 3 Comments so far

Important changes for GiftWorks users

FrontStream, the current owner of GiftWorks, sent me the following notice this week:

Hey there Robert,

As in the past, we are preparing to upgrade FrontStream CRM (previously GiftWorks 2013) users to the newest version of CRM.

This change is in-line with our transition to a subscription-based service. As such, current and new clients are guaranteed access to ongoing software updates, training and support, and enhanced features. Retiring older versions allows us to invest our time and resources into the continuous improvement of CRM.

We will begin contacting 2013 users on February 5th regarding the need to upgrade to the latest version of CRM by August 1, 2015. There are many benefits to upgrading, such as:

  • Free FirstGiving account including a customizable donation button and virtual terminal
  • Push-to-sync online donations: sync donors and donations with CRM in a single click
  • Sync event information: registrants, event donations, fundraisers, and team information seamlessly flow into CRM
  • Process recurring donations based on donors' schedule of giving
  • Maintain cleaner data: set required fields for donors and donation records
  • And more!!

In the months leading up to the deadline, we will completely waive the set-up fee. However, after August 1st clients will be responsible for paying 100% of this fee. Please urge your 2013 users to upgrade sooner rather than later to take advantage of this incentive.

To help clients through this transition, we will be hosting biweekly live webinars dedicated to showing them what has changed since 2013. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions during these sessions as well as better understand the upgrade process. 

This change will affect both hosted clients, who already pay a monthly fee, as well as clients using an on-premise (local) installation of GiftWorks. Many of the latter group thought they had made a one-time purchase and would only need to pay (optional) annual maintenance fees if they didn't need additional modules. However, FrontStream is planning to disable nonprofits' ability to use their on-premise database if those clients don’t upgrade and move to a hosted, subscription-based version. A representative from FrontStream confirmed that all clients, whether their database is on-premise (local) or hosted by FrontStream, will no longer be able to access their data if they do not upgrade by midnight on July 31st, 2015. 

There have been extensive discussions of this on TechSoup (here and here), and I hope that by now all GiftWorks clients know about this impending change. However, I expect that some nonprofits will be in for unpleasant surprises on August 1st. 

Filed in Donor Databases,Fundraising,Nonprofit Technology,Software 7 Comments so far

Discussion of Donor Data Retention

A few months ago I wrote a post on the topic of whether nonprofits should delete old donor records. The same topic came up recently on the APRA's listserve, PRSPCT-L. The original question:

My organization is working on a data retention policy and wondering if others have insights to share. There seems to be a feeling we should remove any records that have not had an action in 7 years. I’m a bit worried by this. Does this make sense to others?

Here is a compilation of the responses:

I did my graduate work in archives and records management. It will depend on local laws, your storage needs, and your relationship to past customers. Basically, if there are no laws in Canada about what kinds of records you have to keep for a certain amount of time, then you are good there. Storage needs can be assessed internally. – good questions to consider – “How much space does a record take up?”, “How much space do you you have/need/can get?”, “How much space do our backups take up?”, “How many new records do we amass per year?”, “How many records would we lose if we implemented a 7 year schedule?”. As far as your relationship to customers – do you need to reference past records? How many people in your database have gone off the grid for 7+ years and then come back? There is also a potential 3rd option outside of deleting forever or inactivating and forgetting, which would be to implement a policy of deletion, but before your annual purge make a long-term backup copy of the entire database so that if you were ever in a pinch and really needed a deleted record you could access the backups and get at the information. The only potential issue here is then you need to consider an additional record as part of the retention schedule, though if this were also 7 years, you would conceivably be able to access records of people who had been inactive for up to 14 years. It would just be harder to get at the ones that are over 7 years old.

I would consider any data valuable when it can be utilized for predictive analytics or to build a case for trends. Do you know what the issues are that would prompt their wanting to do away with historical records?

I’d be very hesitant to remove a record; maybe they could be marked as inactive or something similar? Is data-storage limits the concern?
If it’s a record with no financial giving and no actions, is there another reason that it is in the database? I have removed records from databases before that had no financial giving, no actions, no alumni status—no clear reason why they were entered in the first place. (I’ve worked in institutions in the past that have decided to just enter everyone in a wealthy neighborhood or every local doctor, etc., in the database—that’s just taking up space.)

My first reaction is not positive.
1) What are the criteria for removal? Not giving? Not wanting mail?
Is it a criteria which is temporary – “they’ve not given to us ever” doesn’t mean they may not wish they had, and upon decease urge gifts “in their memory” to your organization. Or their relatives may wish to honor them in some way.

2) What are you going to do with those records?
Are you going to shelve them in another database – for review ?

I agree with colleagues who've advised not to delete records, and I have a cautionary tale to reinforce that. Many, many years ago, an administrator here apparently made a similar decision to delete an entire group of records from the database. Fast forward to a couple of years ago, and we're forwarded a press release of a $5M gift to an out-of-state university, in which it says the donor is an alumnus of our university (the donor wasn't an alum of the university that got the gift, but it was in his home community). We can't find the alumnus in our alumni and donor database, and the hunt to answer the question of 'why didn't we know about this guy' leads to the discovery that the alum's record was deleted in that group years ago and that there are many other records we need to recover, as well. We've since tried to contact the alum and explain why he hadn't heard from us in 30 years, but, no surprise, he's been somewhat difficult to engage. For whatever reason that administrator many years ago made that decision, we'd never make the same one today. As others have said, data storage is cheap and reporting systems should allow you to deal with excluding individuals from mailings or solicitations if they've been inactive for a period of time, but if individuals aren't in the database, they're not being included in screenings for updated addresses, employment info, wealth events, etc., so removing records is a sure way to lose individuals who could be a donor in the future.

We never remove records, but we continually update the coding of records (e.g., deceased; does not want to be contacted; do not email; etc.)

Rather than deleting the records you may want to consider coding those who have not had any action in 7 years as inactive or some other terminology that has meaning to your organization.

I would hate for you to delete those records and lose all that data and institutional knowledge that you have been collecting along the way.

You should not remove records, especially if there is any record of contact or giving in them, even if it is really old. You could mark them inactive, but some databases don’t show inactive records when you do a regular lookup, which could lead to duplicate creation. The other problem with marking them inactive, is that sometimes they make contact or give a gift, but someone forgets to remove the inactive code and then they are excluded from queries and mailings, etc.

I suggest managing them by implementing some way to exclude them from mailings, etc. (e.g., no contact or gifts in the last 7 years).   

I’d be very hesitant to remove a record; maybe they could be marked as inactive or something similar? Are data-storage limits the concern?

In this day and age, storage is cheap and data is one of your most valuable tools. No sense in removing records....

Filed in Advancement Services,Best Practices,Donor Databases,Fundraising,Prospect Research One Response so far

Should You Delete Donor Records?

I was recently contacted by the vendor behind a new cloud-based donor management system with this question:

We have noticed that our clients have become much more conscious about archiving/deleting old donor/prospect records because our pricing model is based on the number of records.  After talking with some clients, it seems opinions vary wildly regarding this subject. For example, one nonprofit archives records every year based on past giving or when someone last interacted with them.  But an animal welfare group never archives records because the elderly women with 15 cats who gave $20 ten years ago may leave them her entire estate.

I just wanted to see if you had any insight you could offer regarding this subject.

My response:

I am opposed to deleting donor records. While there are ways around it, that typically ends your ability to communicate with the donor, invite them to events, re-engage them, steward them, or understand why a subsequent gift or bequest came from them. I’ve heard enough tales of bequests from one-time or small donors to believe that they’re real. For my clients with on-premise systems, I see no justification for deleting donors; disk space is cheap. If inactive donors clutter your search results, code them so they don’t appear in searches. But don’t delete them.

This doesn’t mean a nonprofit should send their glossy annual report or magazine to every $5 donor. Organizations need to have a policy about what level of donation gets a particular level of stewardship. You should be able to mark records as inactive after a set time period and stop sending them anything. That’s not the same as deleting them.

On the other hand, many nonprofits have bought lists, or added prospects to their database because they saw them listed on another nonprofit’s honor roll or read about them in the paper, or a board member said, "so and so has money". I have no quarrel with deleting nonresponsive “prospects” or constituents with no tangible connection to the organization.

I encouraged the vendor to find a pricing model that won’t encourage this behavior, such as pricing based on concurrent logins, number of modules, number of emails sent, and/or online transactions.  All of these approaches have their downsides, of course, but they don't encourage data loss.

What do you think?  Is there a justification for deleting donor records?

Filed in Advancement Services,Best Practices,Databases,Donor Databases,Fundraising 5 Comments so far

Preventing Fraud on our Online Giving Pages

Guest post by:

Vered Siegel, Manager of Development Services
Children’s Home + Aid
Kirsten Williams, Associate Director, Gift Services
University of Oregon Foundation

The Scams

The credit card scam/fraud attempt that many nonprofits have experiences starts with a very large online gift from an unknown donor. Shortly afterward, an email arrives saying the amount was a mistake (e.g., $7,000 instead of $700) and asking for a refund of the difference to a different credit card. These attempts don’t cost nonprofits much in lost revenue, but can be a headache to clean up.

Another scam uses nonprofits’ websites to test stolen credit cards. Often card numbers are ‘stolen’ by a waiter or other service provider while the card is in his or her possession. The card holder has no idea that their card number has been compromised and so has not reported it stolen. S/he may not notice the extra charges until a statement arrives weeks later.

After that, scammers can manipulate the stolen card numbers to create other possible credit card numbers. The first six numbers identify the bank that issued the card and the last six identify the specific customer. Using a computer program, they generate thousands of new card account numbers, some of which will be valid.

A second source of credit card fraud comes from outright theft – primarily by hacking a popular website or retailer’s database. Scammers purchase these stolen credit card numbers for pennies on the dollar in the hopes that some will be valid.

This is where the nonprofits come in. Scammers will take their list of stolen or invented card numbers — sometimes containing thousands of names, addresses, and card numbers – and start making small “donations” to confirm that the card is valid. Using networked computers to automate their work, they can try thousands of numbers in a few hours. If they get that confirmation, they are ready to go shopping.

Warning Signs

What are some of the giveaways that you’ve been hit?

·         A large bump in volume of online donations. (For example, if you tend to get 40 gifts overnight, you may see 400 or even 4000.)

·         Those gifts are typically for less than $5.

·         The email addresses used for confirmation look suspicious – they are random combinations of letters and numbers, from an email provider that is free and easy to create accounts for. (AOL, Yahoo!, and Hotmail are all common.)

·         The addresses of the “donors” are all in sequence, or all within the same zip code. This is a good indicator that your scammer purchased or stole a list and is using a subsection of it.


One way you can help protect credit card data is by beefing up the security measures on the back-end using your payment gateway. One of the best ways methods is to set up Address Verification Service (AVS). If your bank does not provide this service, consider using a payment gateway (e.g.,, BluePay, iATS, etc.) to facilitate these transactions. Many offer this protection. AVS checks the street address and zip code of each card against the issuing bank’s data for that card. If either does not match, the card will be declines. Most scammers do not have the complete addresses of the card holders and will be unable to process any transactions.

Putting transaction filters on your payment gateway account offer a further layer of protection. One option is a velocity filter. A velocity filter limits the number of approved transactions that can be made in any given hour. If you typically see 10 transactions per hour on your website, setting a limit of 15 will allow your normal transactions to process but flag the extra charges. You can choose to decline these transactions automatically or hold them for manual review.

Another option some payment gateways offer to limit fraud attempts is to block specific IP addresses. Scammers often use a few computers at the same location to process transactions resulting in a few IP address linked to the bogus transactions. These IP address can be put on a blocked list, preventing them from using your website.

Another option is to set up front-end security measures. You can set up a minimum gift amount, such as $5 — which is more than most scam gifts. While this penalizes some online donors who want to donate just a dollar or two, many nonprofits find that they don’t have many legitimate donors who give less than $5 online.

Some organizations even go so far as to require a CAPTCHA or RECAPTCHA field in order for a donor to make a gift online. This type of verification essentially requires that a human being type in an ever-changing code in order to finalize a gift. However, this approach can cause donors who have difficulty reading the CAPTCHA or RECAPTCHA code to simply leave the page without donating.

In the end, every organization must carefully weigh the pros and cons of setting up front-end security that may confuse or frustrate donors, and balance their security needs with concerns related to donor relations.


How Nonprofits Can Avoid Online Credit Card Fraud 

A Few Good Methods for Processing Credit Cards

Payment Processing in Pictures

5 Tips to Help Merchants Avoid Credit Card Fraud

Filed in Fraud,Scam No Responses yet

Lame spam of the day: do you get a lot of spam?

This came as a comment on my blog.  I had to smile at a spammer complaining about spam.  It included a link to a page that seems to be selling dental implants, but I didn't explore it.

Author: Reno Nevada

Hi, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar
one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam responses?

If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can advise?
I get so much lately it's driving me insane so any help is very much appreciated.

Filed in Spam No Responses yet

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