How to Choose the Best Donor Management Software

Businesswomen working at computer in office
•••

 Hero Images/Getty Images

Keeping track of donors is essential for nonprofits. It keeps the lines of communication open and helps you connect with your supporters. It’s a lot of information to manage well. One of the best solutions for a nonprofit is a donor management software program.

If you’re using a paper ledger, a spreadsheet, or other basic software to manage your donor information, it's beyond time for an upgrade.

Donor Management Software

Donor management software (sometimes referred to as constituent relationship management or a CRM tool) allows you to track your supporters. It helps you organize, analyze, and strategize how you communicate with anyone who has donated to or otherwise supported your organization.

Some systems are more or less robust than others, with different features and interfaces, but they all have some of the same donor management tools in common. These typically include:

  • Contact information
  • Donation history
  • Segmentation and tagging
  • Automated messaging
  • Contact metrics

Segmenting and tagging your contact lists allows you to target different types of donors for the most appropriate messaging.

Choosing the Right Donor Management Software

Looking online at all the possible choices, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed. Below are a few factors to help you find the right tool for your nonprofit:

  • Capacity: The easiest place to start your search is by considering the size of your donor list. Some donor software management tools are designed for small nonprofits or start-ups. Some are built to handle global organizations. If you’re starting from scratch, it can be tempting to go for what appears to be the biggest and best. However, those extra features and advanced tools can lead to overwhelming instead of helping you.
    Consider both the current size of your nonprofit and where you hope to be in the next few years. Ideally, your donor management system is one that can grow with you.
  • Features: There are some essential features that any good donor management software will be able to handle: maintaining contact information, tracking donation histories, and reporting engagement histories. These help you see who your donors are, when (and how much) they’re donating, and whether (or how) they respond to your communication.
    From there, there are any number of additional features and helpful tools that may be available. It’s good to start with an idea of your perfect software: what are all of the things you wish your donor management software could do?
    You won’t get everything, but this will help narrow the search. Is it essential for you to segment your database? What are the most important metrics you want to be able to measure? Do you need access for one person on your team, or one hundred? Who will be using the software, volunteers or staff? All the fancy functions won’t matter much if the system is too complicated for most people to use.
  • Demonstration: As you consider what suite of features may or may not be helpful, the best way to help you decide is to see it in action. Most vendors provide a demo so you and your team can see how it works. A demonstration is particularly helpful if your current system is quite simple, or if segmenting and tagging seem utterly foreign.
    Donor management software demonstrations are often the quickest way to imagine how a tool can directly benefit your organization. It can help you see precisely how a CRM can help improve your operations and promote engagement with your donors.
  • Testimonials: Testimonials can be gold when shopping for a CRM. Request feedback from current or past clients of a vendor you’re considering. You’ll get insight into the types of organizations a vendor has worked with before, how satisfied their customers are, and how transparent and communicative they are.
    You can also learn what other customers are most passionate about: maybe you’re most excited about the data reporting features, but everyone else is talking about automation. That feedback can help you target your questions and your search.
  • Cost: Sometimes, choosing a software service comes down to cost. Picking a donor management software won’t be any different. The perfect CRM ever won’t be very helpful if your organization can’t afford it. However, remember this is an investment. A suitable donor management software will save you time, help you be more efficient and effective in your communication, and help you better connect with your donor base.
    Get clear on what your costs cover and whether there are added fees for support and training, or service upgrades. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about pricing packages. As with many software products, there may be discounts for longer-term contracts (such as a 10 percent savings if you sign up for a full year, rather than paying month to month) or free trial periods.
    While these considerations will help you choose the best tool for you, it also helps to know which companies are best-known for their software.

    Leading Names in the Donor Management Industry

    • Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT: A cloud-based fundraising and donor management system, Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT is explicitly designed for nonprofits and social good organizations. With data and analytics tools to help you make communication decisions, this software can help you reach new donors and engage more effectively with your existing network.
    • Bloomerang: Bloomerang designed a user-friendly database with a modern interface to help nonprofits increase revenue and decrease donor loss. This cloud-based software allows nonprofits to manage volunteers, sponsors, and grantors in addition to donors. It also combines online giving capability with email marketing and social media brand monitoring for a more comprehensive management system.
    • DonorPerfect: The donor management software from DonorPerfect can enhance your organization’s relationship with your recurring donors, that smaller segment of supporters who provide the most reliable revenue month to month. This CRM supports donor retention and engagement as well as communications, receipting, volunteer management, and even event registration.
    • Fundly CRM: The Fundly CRM combines donor management, fundraising, event, and membership tools all in one. In addition to donor management ability, some packages also include event ticketing, grant management, and integration with other software tools you may be using.
    • Salsa Labs: Salsa Labs designed its CRM tool to combine your fundraising tools, donor data, and communications in one system. Built-in reporting and dashboard analytics features help you quickly determine how to improve engagement with donors. Salsa’s software also provides custom field and deduplication features to tailor and streamline your databases.

    These CRM providers are only a few of what’s available. A good rule of thumb is to ask first among your peer organizations about what they use and why. Then check out a couple of good sources online, such as TechSoup, that specializes in guiding smaller nonprofits to low-cost software and Idealware, a consultancy that researches tech topics for nonprofits.

    Better Management for Better Results

    Investing in donor management software makes engagement with your donors so much easier. It’s a must do for any aspiring nonprofit.

    Before jumping into a decision, though, give some serious thought to what you want out of a CRM tool.

    Do your research, ask plenty of questions, and always test out the software before hitting “Buy.” A suitable donor management solution will increase your efficiency, reduce confusion and create more meaningful relationships with your supporters, sponsors, and volunteers.