How to Choose the Right Donor Management Software for Nonprofits

For nonprofits—of the 501c3 variety especially—properly managing your donations, the life of each donation, and your donors themselves is absolutely critical to the success of your organization and the advancement of your mission.
This, by extension, means that choosing your donor management software is not a task to be taken lightly; to really determine which software package is the best fit for your nonprofit, you’ll need to perform a detailed evaluation, not just a high-level comparison (“eenie-meenie-miney-mo” never did anyone any good here).
After serving the DC nonprofit community on a strategic consulting level for almost 25 years, you can imagine that we’ve taken part in our fair share of software evaluation projects. As a result, we’ve become quite familiar with how to analyze a particular solution, and how to determine whether or not it may be a good fit for the organization in question.
To help you through the evaluation process, we’ve put together a list of some of the most important features to consider, along with some questions you can ask the software vendors along the way.

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What to look for in a donor management software package

To make sure that you select the right solution for your organization, here are some of the most common features to consider. As you work through the list, they key is to determine whether that particular feature is a must-have, whether you would prefer it but could do without it, or whether it makes no difference one way or the other. Take a look:

  • CRM & Contact Management. Can the software track meeting notes and communications? Can you search within the program based on fields such as name and organization? Beyond tracking relationships, can you track donations from specific contacts within an organization? If they leave that organization, can their information be moved fluidly?
  • Tags. Can you tag contacts as Donor, Vendor, Supporter, or Constituent? Only one of these? Several?
  • Event Tracking & Management. Will the software track who has registered and attended certain events? Can the software itself manage invitations and registration, or will you need to integrate with another platform? How seamless is that integration?
  • Outbound Communications. Can you send newsletters and thank you letters from the system?
  • Website Integration. Will donors be able to transfer funds or update their own profiles through your website?
  • Accounting Integration. Will it integrate with your existing accounting solution?
  • Mobile Access. Can you use the software from mobile devices? To what extent?
  • Email Integration. Will the software integrate with your email platform? Only partially?
  • Reporting. Is there a way to pull reports on mailing lists? Gift distribution? Event registrants vs attendees? Annual statements?
  • Dashboard. What does the interface look like? Is it easy to navigate?
  • Hosting. From where is the software hosted? From a secure datacenter? From the provider’s offices?
  • Support. If you run into trouble using the software, what are your options? Can you access a support team by phone or email? What are their hours?
  • Training. What kind of training does the provider offer to you and your staff? Any ongoing group training?
  • Conversion Planning & Support. How—precisely—will you get from your current situation and into your new solution? How long will the implementation process take?
  • Cost & Pricing Structure. What will you actually need to invest in this solution? Where might you incur additional charges (i.e. data retrieval or support)? Will you need to buy a license to run the software, or will you have a monthly subscription to the service?

One way to approach this is to create a chart (or "matrix") with the factors that are most important to you, write out what your ideal solution would look like, and record how the different solutions stack up. Have the providers run demos for your decision-makers. Get a feel for what it would be like to use the solution in practice, not just in theory.
If it all seems a bit overwhelming to you, don’t worry: there are plenty of resources out there that can work with you to manage the selection process, and facilitate implementation once you decide on a solution.
It may mean an additional investment for you in the short-term, but in the long run, the efficiencies that will flow naturally out of a solid solution will more than make up for it.

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Topics: nonprofits, projects, review, reviews, selection, software