A Database So We'll Never Have to Retype Again
September 5, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Give me your best invitation/list/contact/event management software suggestions. My employer hosts numerous events every year. Most are political, and seek to raise money or garner support. All require complex invitation lists, based on affiliation or past attendance at similar events. Do you know of any very user-friendly list management software that will create contact lists based on this kind of criteria?

To date, we’ve been using Excel (with brief excursions into Constant Contacts and Access, neither of which worked) and doing a lot of retyping, cutting, pasting, correcting, merging, sorting, etc., all of which is a waste of time and resources, and makes already error-prone contact lists even more so.

What we need is a database with a superfriendly (e.g. not Excel or anything number-biased or that looks at all "codey") list or event management system, where we can type once, and then sort, print, exclude, add on, remind, and thank, all on numerous version-controlled lists that we can flexibly tag.

The software should be compatible with Microsoft Suite/365, and allow us to download or upload from Excel and Outlook contacts (if at all possible). And it must allow for some flexibility with tags, notes, labels, and categories, etc. Ideally, the software would be reasonably old, well-tested, and well-supported, too.

I’ve done a lot of looking on the Web, and mostly I see lots of start-up-type software, aimed at organizations planning massive conferences. What we need is ideally more time-tested that that. It's also so discreet I haven't been able to find it myself. Have you?

Appreciatively, as always, Mefites!
posted by Violet Blue to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't personally recommend the event management module as I never used it, but I found Raiser's Edge to be very useful for managing and importing lists, linking people together, tagging and labeling, etc. It can be linked to Word and used to generate emails.

The customer support is very good. I used the chat help function countless times and was never let down.

I will say it requires some training to use effectively, but not a ton.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:31 AM on September 5, 2014

It sounds like you need a CRM system (client relationship management)

We have been using Avidian Prophet at my job. It can be expensive, but it uses the idea of Outlook contact cards so you can create reports, mail merges, and stuff like that.

We also use constant contact for sending out our event invites. I like the tagging available in that, but it does require that setup to get you started. I have not used the event or social share part of it, I just tag or add people to multiple contact lists as needed.
posted by comicgirl001 at 11:34 AM on September 5, 2014

https://highrisehq.com/ ?
posted by slater at 11:49 AM on September 5, 2014

You don't need list management software, you need a CRM or more specifically a DRM - Donor Relationship Management tool.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2014

We use Raiser's Edge at work. It's very expensive and requires quite a bit of training before you can use it successfully. Having said that, though, it's very powerful, and many non-profits swear by it. I think it cost us $150,000 -- but we purchased some other packages as part of the deal, so Raiser's Edge on its own would probably be less expensive.
posted by alex1965 at 1:52 PM on September 5, 2014

You definitely want a CRM. There are a lot of options. All cost money or time/expertise. How large is your list? How many users need to access the CRM? Different options are priced on different models (users, contacts, etc).

My first look would be Nationbuilder, as it is aimed at political orgs, but it might be limiting in some ways if it doesn't quite match up with what you need. It is cheap if your list isn't too big.

Consider CiviCRM (free, event management is fairly good, but budget plenty for tech support).

Neither has easy integration with Office or otherwise makes it easy to create customs letters, etc (you will need to export a CSV). You may have to consider a more expensive solution if this is critical for you.
posted by ssg at 5:08 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, like other folks have said, you're looking at a CRM. There are a lot of options, and it's going to take some thinking to get one that fits you.

My org is in the process of (god willing) getting off of the beast that is Kintera Sphere, a Blackbaud product initially developed for friends-asking-friends campaigns (e.g. AIDS Walk sort of stuff where friends sponsor other friends). Due to the ever-distant horizon of non-profit infrastructure funding, I've spent about three years going to conferences specifically to figure out what we'll need to get off of Kintera, which is probably the worst CMS out there. (I'm not even sure that they'll still sell it to you.)

Why didn't Constant Contact or Access work for you? I know a little about CC, but I don't know much about Access.

For political stuff, the two big ones are Nation Builder and Blue State Digital, but both of them emphasize things like mobilization, which it doesn't sound like you need.

I would recommend against CiviCRM based on what you said about your dislike of code — while there's a variety of modules out there with varying levels of UI, it's really a better solution if you need a really customizable platform and don't mind getting into the guts — it's less like Tumblr, more like Drupal.

Do you need this to integrate with a CMS (i.e. your website)?
posted by klangklangston at 8:13 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

try TechSoup. They have whitepapers and the like on CRMs and can hook you up with a consultant who will evaluate what you need and recommend a package much better and cheaper than trying to do it yourselves. It's not so much the initial cost you have to consider, but cost over 3-5 years of ownership plus the training time and efficiency, and an increase in functions. This is the kind of thing that can make work way better or far worse and is worth figuring out well.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:58 PM on September 5, 2014

Via TechSoup but without the annoying registration IdealWare is requiring: An analysis of donor management tools.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:15 AM on September 6, 2014

My suspicion is that you won't find a super-friendly, easy-to-use, works-perfectly-right-out-of-the-box system that will allow you to do everything you need to do (i.e., "[create] complex invitation lists, based on affiliation or past attendance at similar events"). CRMs tend to be complex and require a fair bit of set-up and training before you can use them.
posted by alex1965 at 10:42 AM on September 6, 2014

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