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How To Choose a Donor Data Management Software

Donor Blog

Choosing a new donor management software is a lot like walking into the ice cream shop. Just when you think you’ve finally figured out what you want and have chosen your flavor from the endless rows of creamy tins, you’re forced to consider toppings and all of the many combinations of toppings and let’s not even get started with the syrups and fudges and sprinkles.

Phew. It can be downright overwhelming—overwhelming enough to just walk out the door and forget about the ice cream altogether. Sounds a lot like choosing a donor management software, doesn’t it? But before you walk out the door (or close the screen) on your search, give us a few minutes to ease your mind.  

When it comes to choosing a new donor management software, it’s all about asking the right questions. And if you don’t know what questions to ask in the first place, then you’re already starting off behind the rest of the gang. So let’s walk through this together. 

Below we’ve put together 5 overarching areas that you should always ask about when choosing a new software. Once you have those answered, then you can move on to the more nuanced and detailed ones.

 Let’s do this.

Price & Ice Cream Shops

Money is a big deal when it comes to choosing your software—it’s a lot like choosing which ice cream shop to visit. Do you opt for the cheap Dairy Queen or treat yourself to the artisan shop down the street?

For the right price, you can find the best possible software available. But let’s be honest, it’s not very often that nonprofit and ministry pockets are lined with the kind of cash it takes to grab on to those glorious high-rise software giants. So before you even start looking, evaluate your budget and how much you can afford.

After you figure out your maximum budget, determine what kind of wiggle room you can allow in the event that you stumble across a brilliant solution that is just a little outside your price range. But don’t just list numbers, actually do the hard work of evaluating your entire budget and figuring out where you can make cuts, if needed. After you finalize your price, you can start your search. But here’s just one more tip for you on price—now that you know what your budget is, don’t even tempt yourself by checking out options that are clearly out of your price range. Stick to your budget and limit your search to match it.

Users & Cone Size

You’re inside the shop. The next decision you face is whether to go small or big with your bowl (or cone) of ice cream.

When considering how large you need your software to be, it’s not enough to just look at the donors you have in place right now. Instead, you have to figure out what your growth potential is. For instance, let’s say you get a software that can only support 50,000 donors and two years down the road, you’ve grown to have 75,000 donors on your list. What will you do then?   

Another important question to consider is whether or not the software that you are looking into supports growth. Spend some time analyzing how much growth you’ve seen in the past year, five years and ten years. Then use that data to project what your numbers might look like in the next 1-10 years. Alter your software search accordingly and make sure you pick one that can grow with you so that you aren’t left out in the cold when you do experience a sudden growth spike. 

Functionality & Flavors

Here comes the fun part: choosing which ice cream flavors you want to put in your cone or bowl.

Functionality is perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider when choosing a new donor management software. If you have a current software, take some time to consider what it’s doing for you right now. Perhaps you plan, coordinate and execute all of your email marketing through it. Maybe you even organize events through it. Start by taking stock of everything that your current software does for you and list whether those items are needs or wants. Additionally, talk to your employees who work in the software on a daily basis. What are their complaints? Note their needs and wants and consider them through your search. After all, a big software change takes the greatest toll on them and happy employees make your job easier!   

And just like you would in an ice cream shop, ask for samples along the way. A software demo is the perfect way to get a look inside the tools that you are considering. Take notes along the way so that you can compare to any other demos you request.  

Add-Ons & Toppings

You’re moving down the ice cream line to the toppings and syrups and sprinkles. It’s time to enhance your ice cream.

Throughout your software search, you also have to consider any kind of special programs that you currently offer to your donors and what kind of functionality you need in order to continue to offer them in a smooth and easy-to-use manner. Here are just a few of the items you should consider:

  • Do you have international giving? If so, you must make sure that whatever software you’re investigating supports that in a seamless way.
  • What special giving opportunities do you currently have in place (or would be interested in offering at some point) that you need to replicate in the new software? For instance, do you offer sponsorships of any kind, do you ever do pledges? Make sure that the new software is able to support these programs in a similar fashion to what you currently have so that you don’t disrupt the donation process for current donors.
  • How easy is the software to manage? Ask about the type of training they offer and whether or not support is available even after training has been completed. Remember, happy employees = good days for you.

Reputation & The Yelp Review

The last, but oh so important, step of the process. Was the ice cream any good?

At the end of all your research, you have to ask yourself, do I trust this organization? What does their history tell you about them? If you think you’ve found the perfect fit, take some time to make sure that they are a good partner for your vision and mission. One way that you can answer this question is to ask for client referrals, testimonials or evidence of their current client base. Do some research on the organizations that the company is currently supporting and figure out if you fit in with them. You can even ask to be put in touch with some of their clients to ask those clients’ their honest opinions on their experiences with the company and the software.

Remember, in choosing a new donor management software, you aren’t just making a one-time transaction; you’re preparing to enter into a long-term relationship with a company that will be providing one of the most valuable services available to your organization—the management of your donors.

So grab an ice cream cone and let the search begin. And we happen to think our donor software is pretty great. Why not start your search with us?

(This post was originally published on in January 2016.)