Technology, strategy and features — considerations when choosing donor management software
The right donor database software will streamline your organization's communication, both internally and with the general public. It'll enable you to easily track multiple fundraising streams, automate spreadsheets and increase organizational efficiency. But selecting the right software can feel overwhelming. How do you choose the right program for your organization?
Whether you're struggling to select the right software — or are tired of battling your current overly complicated system — use the tips below to get started.
Map your nonprofit's donor management software strategy
How do you currently use technology? An organization that relies on regional direct mailing campaigns, for example, will have entirely different technology needs than a foundation focused solely on grant applications.
Also think of your technology goals. For example:
- Short-term goals. Do you have other major (planned) technology purchases over the next year? Can you afford to pay more up front for software or will you need to budget carefully to add a monthly subscription? Though it's tempting to plan for growth you hope will happen someday, it's more effective to aim for software that's useful to your organization right now.
- Long-term goals. Are you planning to triple in size over the next decade? Will you be hiring one or two employees or hundreds who'll all need computers and software? Larger organizations might want to spend more up front for a sophisticated program while organizations without much liquid capital might want to spread technology costs over the next few years.
Donor management software features you need
Before you start looking up donor database software, take the time to consider what your organization actually needs. Do you need software that'll easily generate graphs? Do you have an extensive database that needs multiple levels of marketing strategy and extra server support?
Make sure to consider needs both inside and outside the organization, such as:
- Reporting capabilities. Do you need a program that'll let you pull out specific, actionable information? Once a year or twenty times a day?
- Accounting functionality. Depending on the specifics of your nonprofit, you might need a customized system to track various financial streams or a program that easily tracks revenue on an accrual basis.
- Customizations. If you expect multiple customizations, ask for a price breakdown to make sure you don't end up spending big to fix a small problem. You might also consult an experienced web programmer for an accurate estimate on the work you need done.
- Compatibility with other systems. If you'll need to link your donor database with another system, pick software that will "play nicely" with both your current programs and any future upgrades you might be planning.
Consider cost when selecting donor management software
What's your budget? Database software comes in a range of prices — everything from micro-monthly subscription fees to highly-customized systems that require a large initial payment. Will it make more sense for you to be charged based on number of internal users or number of newsletter subscribers? Consider both what you'll need now and what you'll need down the road.
As you consider key benefits and drawbacks of database software options, remember to pick a program that can meet your specific needs. The most expensive monthly subscription in the world is a waste of money if you're using only 10 percent of the features. Do you need the security of an established (often more expensive) program or would you save money by choosing open source software and hiring a freelance developer?
Donor management software demos — do them
Once you've narrowed down your required features, request product demos. You'll quickly discover what works for your organization today — and what to budget for in the future.
TechSoup: A few good donor management systems by Eric Leland
Network for Good: Ten common mistakes in selecting donor databases (and how to avoid them) by Robert Weiner (2008)
Nonprofit Hub: Finding the right donor database for your nonprofit by Lyndsey Hrabik