Choosing and using a donor management system – Part 2

The complaints associated with using technology to support fundraising are many and varied. Unfortunately the “human factor” plays a large role in how well a specific database or tool performs. We touched on a few of these in part one of this series. These include taking the time to evaluate your organization’s technology needs, evaluating how a system integrates with existing hardware; data security; support costs; and correctly estimating start-up, conversion, maintenance, training and staff-related costs.

It is easier to blame technology than to assess human capacity. As with many aspects of infrastructure, the wish is for the challenge to be addressed quickly, inexpensively, and “once and for all.” But that is not always a good long-term perspective. Here’s an alternative: consider the following guidance from Ashley Harper. We asked her a few questions that can help you improve your “human factor.”

Saad&Shaw: What are the dos and don’ts when it comes to managing a donor management system?

It’s easier to blame technology than to assess human capacity. But that’s not a winning strategy. Learn how to improve the “human factor”Harper: As with any important institutional knowledge, more than one person should understand how to use the system, and processes should be standardized, documented, and adopted by all who use the system. One development professional told me that his boss used to say, “If you don’t document a conversation with a donor in the system, it didn’t happen.” If a donor management system has been working well, think twice about letting a new staff person talk you into converting to a system they prefer or are familiar with. However, an investment in proper training for staff will almost always be worth the cost.

Saad&Shaw: What do you consider the “average life” of a donor management system to be? (time period of usefulness before needing to upgrade or buy a new one)

Harper: On average nonprofits are assessing their database systems every two to three years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are making a change that often. Unless there are significant needs that the current system cannot meet or vendor support issues, there is no reason to go through a database conversion.

Saad&Shaw: Who are the people within a nonprofit who should have input into the decision of which system to purchase?

Harper: Ideally, everyone that interacts with the database will have some say in the decision. The buy-in this creates will help when it comes to staff training and use of the new product. Ideally, a team should be assembled with one person leading the team and being the main liaison with the consultant and/or vendor. The team could include one representative from each department that will use the system, with the director of development being the team leader. The complexity and depth of the system will indicate the members needed. For example, if volunteers will be included in the system along with donors, staff members who enter volunteer data should be represented on the team.

Learn more from Harper:

Resources: The following links provide information that can help you make the right decision for your organization.

WEBSITES – Helping Nonprofits Make Smart Technology Decisions – Equipping change makers with transformative technology solutions – Nonprofit technology network A Fundraising & Social Media Blog for Nonprofits

Advancement Services: Enhancing Fundraising SuccessA how-to guide on how advancement services is the essential infrastructure holding the development effort together – Helps nonprofit and educational organizations make informed, strategic decisions about Advancement Services and the use of technology for fundraising

Beth Kanter’s Blog – How Connected Nonprofits Leverage Networks and Data for Social Change


Choosing the right donor management system (includes downloadable comparison chart)

Donor management – articles and blog posts from Idealware

Buying fundraising software – questions answered from DonorSearch

Top Donation Management Software Products

10 Common Mistakes in Selecting Donor Databases

A Consumers’ Guide to Low-Cost Donor Management Systems

On a Cloud: New Grants Management Options for the 21st Century

Copyright 2017 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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