i on Fundraising Technology: Integrating Your Web Site and Database for Greater Donor Engagement
Technology, properly applied, can be a great enabler. But having glimpsed the possibilities, the challenges of achieving it can be frustrating to fundraisers, who want to provide their supporters with a smarter online experience.
One such possibility is the seamless integration of your Web site with your donor database. By having a Web site that can speak to the database, you can open up many possibilities for improved engagement. For example, a Web site that can recognize and get information on its visitors from the database can present tailor-made homepages, and offer content that is relevant to specific donors based on the projects they have supported in the past and their interests. This enables us to treat donors as individuals, and thus, increase our chances of greater engagement and deepened relationships.
Integrating the Web site and the database also makes us more efficient; the donors effectively take on the administrative burden of maintaining their own records on the database, albeit through an interface that is designed for consumers, not office workers. This means less time spent by staff maintaining database records and more time spent on more strategic activities.
We can learn a lot about donors’ interests by what pages they visit online and their participation in any online forum you may have — all of which can go back into the database to inform even more precise targeting in the future.
But according to a recent nonprofit technology survey conducted by Advanced Solutions International, there are significant challenges that prevent seamless system integration from being a reality for most nonprofits. Approximately 60 percent of respondents stated that integration of their database systems was an important or very important challenge; consequently, it was no surprise that some three-quarters of nonprofits surveyed said that their database and their Web site were not integrated.
So, how can it be achieved?
Some have tried to import data from the database into the Web site and vice versa. On the face of it, this seems to be a relatively low-cost, if somewhat low-tech way of achieving the solution. However, it is notoriously difficult to keep both systems in sync, and there is always a "lag" between an update being made online and it being imported into the donor database. So if donors make any changes to their addresses online, while others make changes to their records from the office, the two changes are in conflict when the synchronization is attempted, and often one change is dropped as a result.
A better level of integration is made possible when the database offers what is known as a Web service. This is a piece of software that runs on the database server and acts as a gateway — offering database functionality to your Web developers. Thus, the developers can create Web pages that dynamically interact with the database.
Better still is a combined Web site and database solution. Content management systems that incorporate the database as content enable you to build Web sites that naturally contain database functionality, whether for donors or for staff use. It’s one system, so it’s always up to date, and your donors will appreciate the efficiency gains you achieve as a result.
Robin Fisk is senior charity technology specialist at ASI.