Choosing and using a donor management system – Part 1

Technology makes the world go round. And that includes the world of fundraising. The complaints related to fundraising technology are many and varied. Some people complain they can’t produce “simple” reports requested by management. Others are vexed by the stand-alone nature of a product. Integrating with accounting is a common complaint, as is the frustration that arises when trying to reconcile fundraising data with that recorded by accounting. A common question – with a complex answer – arises: “What type of donor database should we be using?”

In an attempt to shed some light on the situation we reached out to Ashley Harper, former Director of Grants and Initiatives at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. Reflecting on her experience with the foundation, she shared that a common request was for funding to purchase and implement donor management tools. She has learned a lot about the good, the bad and the ugly as it relates to this topic. With this interview we share her insights with you.

Saad&Shaw: At what point in its life-cycle should a nonprofit look to purchase or upgrade their donor management system?

Choosing and using a donor management system - part one

Ashley Harper

Ashley Harper: If developing donors is important to the organization, a system should be implemented as soon as that process begins. There are some very inexpensive cloud-based systems that cost little to nothing up front and can get you started on the right foot. Upgrading should become a priority if the current system is going to become obsolete or unsupported, when a deeper analysis of donor data becomes necessary but is unavailable in the current system, or when it becomes important to upgrade to a system that can manage additional types of constituents in the same system.

Saad&Shaw: What are the key factors in selecting a data management system?

Harper: Like many decisions, choosing a donor management system should start with the end in mind. What outputs does your organization need from the system? Pulling that data easily should be priority number one. Additional basic considerations include the following:

  • Is the new system compatible with the existing hardware?
  • What kind of support will the vendor offer and at what cost?
  • What are the estimated costs of initial set-up, data clean-up and conversion, system implementation, staff training, customization, and annual maintenance and licensing fees?
  • Is the data secure?
  • How does the system integrate with other programs such as email management systems, survey programs, etc.?
  • We will share more of Harper’s insights in next week’s column. As we end this column we want you to think about the role that technology can play within your organization. It is important to view technology as an asset that can leverage your relationships and increase your friendraising and fundraising. When you want to grow your fundraising, the technology you use will play a major role in helping you determine how to proceed and who to invite to give and provided leadership.


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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