What is a Donor Database?
Also known as a constituent relationship management database, a donor database is a software solution that houses the most important information you have about your donors. Many donor database solutions offer a wide array of other useful features, such as analytics and automatic messaging.
Why is Donor Database Software Important?
A donor database is more than just a digital file folder — it’s a way to save your staff time and bring your supporters closer to your nonprofit. With communication and reporting functionalities, donor database software helps you make your nonprofit operations smoother.
Does Your Nonprofit Need a Donor Database?
Unless you have an unusually small number of donors, a nonprofit donor database will save you time. If you’ve ever taken 10 minutes to look up a donor’s contact information, volunteer history, or average gift size, then a donor management system will change the way you operate.
What Data Should I Add to a Donor Database?
Key Donor Data Points
Understanding your donor’s job role and where they work is critical to evaluating giving opportunities. Your donor may have access to corporate social responsibility programs, such as matching gifts, volunteer grants, and sponsorships that your organization is not yet using.
In addition to knowing what corporate giving opportunities are available, knowing more about your donor’s job title can help you make decisions about which donors have the potential to increase their giving down the line.
A current email address is one of your most valuable tools for donor communication, so it’s vital to make sure you have up-to-date information on each of your donors.
Email is one of the most cost-effective ways to reach your donors with volunteer opportunities, donation appeals, and updates on your organization’s work.
If it’s been a while since you last confirmed your supporters’ emails, or if you never gathered that information in the first place, a data append service can help you fill in any gaps.
Getting accurate telephone numbers is important to stay in touch with your supporters. Increasingly, nonprofits are connecting with audiences via text.
Connecting with your supporters over the phone can be a way to cultivate donors with more frequent touchpoints. Additionally, knowing their area code can give you an idea of where your donors live for segmented outreach.
Lastly, a database of supporter phone numbers opens up possibilities for different styles of fundraisers, like call-to-action texts or telefundraising.
Knowing where your supporters are located is invaluable for organizations looking to segment outreach, but keeping track of that information can be tricky. About 12 percent of people change their address each year.
Direct mail is a favorite fundraising strategy for many nonprofits, but the cost of misdelivered mail can be high. Not only are you missing out on potential donations, but you’ve also lost the cost of materials and postage. Identifying your donors’ physical location can also help you segment communications, such as if you’re planning local volunteer events or if supporters in a certain region have an issue on the ballot that affects your organization.
If you have another means of contact (such as email) you can send out an annual survey to keep your donors’ addresses up-to-date, but if you lose track of some donors, services such as address appends can help you fill in those gaps.
Date of Birth
Your supporter’s demographics are some of the most basic information about them. Knowing your supporters’ age can help you segment your communications to improve your relationship with your constituents. For example, you can automate birthday wishes to go out on your donor’s birthday, or more broadly target communications to certain age groups (like targeting Gen Z supporters on social media).
Understanding your supporter’s age can also help with your fundraising efforts. Demographic data can give you an idea of which donors may have the potential to give at higher levels (for example, someone in their mid-forties is more likely to be financially well-off than someone who is 18). Additionally, knowing your donors’ birthdays can help you take advantage of the ever-popular social media birthday fundraiser.
Elements of Donor Databases
Common Features of Donor Database Systems
You need one centralized location to house the important details about your donors, from their birthdays to their payment information to their history with your organization. Donor profiles organize all this information, including predetermined and custom fields.
When you use a donor database to track your communications, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting whether you already invited that one major donor to your event. Plus, you can segment your supporter base to send more targeted, effective donation requests.
Automation and Scheduling
Whether it’s a periodic reminder to update payment information or an automatic thank-you message for a donation to your annual fund, your donor database software can make sure the right people receive the right message at the right time.
Data, Analytics, and Reporting
All donation management software should store data about how your donors have given and engaged with your communications in the past. Some will help you understand how this information can make your operations better in the future by producing reports.
Accepting donations is a cornerstone of your nonprofit’s operations, and it doesn’t take complex financial software to do it. Some donor databases will facilitate payment processing and funds allocation, then combine those records with your donor profiles.
Custom Fields and Hierarchy
We know that no two nonprofits are the same, especially when it comes to the supporter information that they need to store. You can reflect the reality of your organizational structure by setting custom fields and hierarchies for your donor profiles.
Benefits of Using Donor Database Software
Purchasing a Donor Database
Considerations Before Buying a Nonprofit Donor Database
Number of Constituents Supported
How many donors do you have? As you grow in the next few years, how many will you gain? How much information do you need to enter for those donors? Make sure that the donor database you choose has the capacity to handle your full supporter base.
Also, don’t forget that many donor databases are priced based on the number of constituents they can store. Make sure you’re purchasing a donor database that meets your capacity and your budget.
Not every nonprofit will need the same features in its donor database software. Take stock of the tasks that your staff spends too much time on, then look for software that can help you automate them.
You should also look into to how a good donor management system can expand with your organization in the future. If you don’t need a specific reporting feature right now, for example, consider whether you might need it later as your nonprofit grows.
Budget and Staff Availability
There’s no need to break the bank for a donor database. You might need to look for fewer features or lower capacity to accommodate a lower budget. And budget goes both ways — just because you can afford an all-inclusive solution doesn’t mean you need it, and it might actually overcomplicate your operations.
Take into account the time you have available, not just the money. If a donor database will take too much of your staff’s time to learn, then you should look for a simpler solution.
The information you know about your donors is valuable to you, but you’re not the only one. Your donors trust you with their information. You owe it to them to keep that information safe.
You might not be able to find out from a website how a donor database provider keeps their data safe. It’s worth it to request a call to ask about security, and to ask other nonprofits about their own experiences with the product.
Common Donor Management Software Pitfalls to Avoid
User Profiles and Permissions
Chances are good that more than one person at your nonprofit will need to use your donation management software. Don’t forget to ask the software provider how many user profiles you can create and if the price affects that number.
And also remember that it’s good security practice to restrict access from some users. Not everyone needs administrative access to view or modify your most sensitive information.
Price and Customization
The price listed on the website isn’t always what you end up paying, and one of the major culprits of a price hike is customization.
If you’re asking for a customized solution, be prepared for the price tag. Many nonprofits will find that it’s worth a little more to get a software solution build precisely for their needs, but just make sure you talk this over with your team before signing the contract.
Referrals and Outside Opinions
It’s good consumer practice to read online reviews before making any purchase. You should definitely read reviews of any software you’re considering.
As you read, remember that companies with extremely good or bad experiences are the most motivated to post. Ask the provider for testimonials, and be sure to also ask around yourself.
Implementing Your New Donor Database
Demos and Trials
Will you get to use the donor database on a demo or trial basis before committing to a long-term contract? What kind of support will be available to you for that time? What will it cost you to initiate a trial period or cancel a demo?
Support and Training
Especially if you don’t have a technical team on staff, will your donor database software provider send a team to train you? Can you reach someone on the phone if something goes wrong after initial onboarding?
What other software solutions does your nonprofit rely on? Will you need to integrate them with your new donor management system, and is that even possible? Could you replace your current software with features that come built into a database?
If you’re not keeping your other software solutions, how will you move the information you need over to your new donor database? How long will that process take? Will you need access to your records in the meantime?
As your organization grows, will your donor database have the ability to grow with it? Can you add constituent capacity or additional features when you need them? What kind of pricing increase would that involve?
How complicated is your donor database system to use? How hard is it to teach a staff member to use? Do you have written or video training materials? Is there one staff member designated as the point person for questions about the software?
Additional Donor Database Resources
Donor Data Management: A Quick Guide for Nonprofits
So you have a healthy, full donor database — what should you do with the data in it? How do you keep it up to date and leverage it for your organization?
Learn how to collect and organize your donor data to power up your fundraising.