When Technology Trumps Philanthropy

When Technology Trumps Philanthropy

This entry to the One Post Challenge is from Valerie, an Alumni Relations Associate at a major university.

By Valerie.

Gone are the days of keeping track of donors on 3 x 5 cards and marking return envelopes on the side with a red swipe of the marker to know that it is the “ABC” appeal (although I heard someone say nary a year ago that they did that!).  Computers are here, we have databases, printers, the web and the ability to track, analyze and reach people in ways that were not possible a decade or more ago.

Yet, I find that with all this technology, if the IT department is left in the driver’s seat, it can hinder marketing efforts rather than help them.  What is “convenient” or makes sense technologically is not always best for Development or – more importantly – the donor.

Two examples have happened recently that illustrate this constant struggle.

In every online marketing class I have taken, it has been emphasized that the donor must be engaged to, well, DONATE first before asking them all sorts of superfluous questions such as “How did you hear about us?” “When did you graduate?” “Does your company have a matching gift program?” and so on.  Therefore, when I redesigned the online giving form for simplicity, I asked the donor for their amount and credit card information first.  Once this has been entered, they are much less likely to disengage – they will fill out the entire form.  (I also reduced the number of overall questions from the previous form.)

Scrolling endlessly is also a no-no, so page 1 is money – amount, credit card – & fund designation, page 2 (next) is donor name, & contact information (next) and page 3 is extras that few people fill out, such as matching, tribute, etc. (submit).

I’ve been informed by the IT department that our particular software doesn’t like placing the credit card information on page 1, so they’d prefer to move it to page 3.  It CAN be on page 1, but it’s DIFFICULT to do, so they’d prefer that each of my online donor forms just have it on page 3.

I’ve explained my reasons, but have been told that “the programming/software makes it difficult…”

Likewise, a different IT person doesn’t care for my requests for multiple redirects (which goes to these many forms).

So that I can track responses to multiple appeals, I have asked for redirects such as


I have been told that this “has to stop” because “it’s creating too many folders” on the website.  The alternative I was given is that I could have as many redirects as I want…under one folder: the “Donate” folder, which would give me the following options:


When I tried in vain to explain that it has to be “marketable and memorable” to the donor and can’t go on and on, I was informed that “We can’t have this many folders on the website.”

So, accommodating the software’s preferences appears to trump the donor’s preferences?  This is how we came up with voicemail that says, “If you want ________, press eighteen…”


  1. David Noble says:

    This is a common problem, where the “business” people and the “technical” people need to collaborate. In an ideal situation, the technical people estimate the cost and risk of implementation and the business people set priorities and decide what gets implemented, taking into account the cost and risk. In some cases, getting good estimates might require spending some extra time doing investigation or experimentation. For those situations, the business side needs to decide whether or not it’s worth the time to figure that out.

    It sounds like a few different things could be happening in the donor form scenarios:

    1. The time to implement the desired solution exceeds the amount that IT expects would be acceptable from a business perspective.
    2. IT knows they don’t have the resources to provide the desired solution.
    3. IT doesn’t have a good idea how much extra time would be required, possibly because they don’t know how to do it within the existing system.
    4. IT people are stupid buttheads.

    While #4 is always a possibility, it might be worth figuring out of something like #1 – #3 is happening. Is the cost of doing it right definitely prohibitive? Would doing the forms right would mean that some higher priority project couldn’t get done? Is the number of folders a problem because it requires a risky or time-consuming procedure to create redirects or folders at the top level? Or are there already thousands of entries in the top level, which can have a measurable impact on system performance. Unless the root problem really is laziness, it sounds like there’s a communication gap.

    Why does so much software suck? Most cases can be boiled down to a few root causes:

    A. Basic communication problems.
    B. Technical people making business decisions, and vice versa.
    C. Technical people not having sufficient time, people, or money to build a good solution.
    D. Technical people not having the skills or knowledge to build a good solution.

    Looking at that list of obstacles, it’s amazing any good software gets written at all! It’s more difficult and expensive than a lot of people realize. Especially when software tools and building blocks have been created in contexts with the same set of obstacles.

  2. Suzy says:

    Good post and great response. I have said for years that our organization doesn’t have a tech problem, we just need a translator between our tech people and our program people. Neither side is able to get across to the other what each needs for the relationship to be successful.

    Now, can someone blog a piece on that?