Blog Home   >   Ten things to consider when selecting donor management software

Ten things to consider when selecting donor management software

If you’ve been using spreadsheets, file folders and accounting software to manage your donor records, you may be considering switching to donor management software. 

While these systems can be a great tool for your nonprofit, there are a variety of things worth considering before jumping in.

  1. Start with your purpose in mind. Are you looking for a tool to track individual donors, foundations or corporate sponsors? Do you need support with capital campaigns or event management? Would you like the platform to allow for recurring giving? What regular reporting do you require? Before you consider any options, think about why you need this tool and what success looks like in the future. 

  2. Integration with your other systems. You may have accounting software, an email marketing system and a database that manages those who benefit from your mission and programs. Do you need your donor management system to integrate with these or are you comfortable with them being separate? 

  3. Cybersecurity and data access. Imagine telling your donors that their personal information has been compromised. This is something you obviously want to avoid, however, you are putting your trust in a third party to keep this information safe. Will your donor management system provide adequate levels of cybersecurity? Internally you may desire a system that allows for various levels of permissions to access data. Can your new system provide full access for a staff member who manages your financials while limiting your volunteer board treasurer to “view only” permissions? Would you like the system to be accessible from anywhere on any device? This is also a good time to Ramp Up Your Cybersecurity. 

  4. Data backup. What are the protocols for moments when you lose power or internet access? How might you access backup data if a third-party system is down? Will financial data be stored for the appropriate amount of time to meet legal requirements? When shopping for a provider, be sure to ask these questions. 

  5. Pricing Considerations. Cost control plays a significant role in operating a nonprofit and picking a donor management system is no exception. Be sure to find out about one-time startup fees as well as ongoing subscription costs. Will these costs change after a certain time period? What happens to cost if your donor base grows significantly? How long is your agreement period and are there penalties for leaving early? Additionally, are there any payment processing fees assessed for processing donations or event ticket sales? 

  6. Reference Checks. You wouldn’t hire a fundraiser without checking references, so why wouldn’t you do the same due diligence with your fundraising software? Donor management systems should provide you with references during the sales process. However, you may want to check with your nonprofit’s affinity groups to see what systems organizations of a similar type and size t are using. Ask them what they like about their system and what they would change if they could. 

  7. Onboarding. Onboarding with a new donor management system can be tedious and time consuming. Be sure to ask if the new system will handle most of the data migration or if you will have to spend significant time cleaning up your historic data before they will import it. Will there be costs associated with data cleanup and import? What can be customized and what cannot be changed? 

  8. Training and customer service. You will need a lot of assistance with your new tool, especially in the first few months of use. Check to find out if the system offers dedicated customer service for new clients and what fees might be associated with this service. You may be offered a set number of free hours as part of your onboarding package or charged per hour. Does the system offer training videos and webinars? While most of your training will be needed in the first 1-3 months, you can expect to need minor ongoing support throughout your use of the system. 

  9. Involve your stakeholders and take your time. Take your time with making this important decision and be sure you have buy-in from anyone who will be using the system. While your staff involved with fundraising might be using the system most, will any program staff or volunteers need access? If so, consider getting their input in the decision-making process. Even the best tools do not add value to your organization if they aren’t being used properly. 

  10. Take it for a test drive. Guided demonstrations and sales webinars can be insightful, but there is nothing quite like trying it for yourself. Many donor management systems can offer demo accounts that allow you to utilize the system on your own for a limited amount of time. Take advantage of this and share with your staff who will be using the system. Taking a test drive can help build a list of questions that you’ll want to ask a salesperson before making any decisions. 

 To access additional information, resources, tips and more for nonprofit and human services organizations, visit