Why Your Fundraising Program Needs a Donor Management System

How does it feel when a friend asks about your vacation to Arizona, but you went to Maine? Or when someone calls your child the wrong name? No big deal? These slips bother me a little. On the flip side, I’m always impressed when people – especially those who don’t know me well – get all the details right. Thinking about your fundraising, would you rather your donors were bothered or impressed?


Fundraising – and especially major gift fundraising – is all about relationships. You want to make sure you’re saying the right thing at the right time to the right people. A donor management system, i.e. donor database, can help you do just that. If your organization hasn’t done so yet, here are 3 great reasons to invest in a donor management system.

1. Organized Storage

You need a place to store information about your contributors that’s easy to access. At a basic level, you’ll want to keep track of:  a donor’s contact information, gift details (amount, date, purpose, form of payment), communications between development staff and donors and relationships between donors, prospects and organizations.

Two types of lists or reports your system should be able to generate: 1) reports of all gifts given (for a timeframe or specific project), and 2) mail merge lists to use for batch mailings or direct mail campaigns. Organized storage of each individual donor’s information AND a simple reporting function that allows you to analyze larger trends among your donor base as a whole, are the two main selling points of a donor management system.

Lots of nonprofits start out trying to manage donor information in Excel or Access. This may work for a while, but don’t plan on it for the long term. Here’s a good article on why the DIY approach to donor data management causes headaches from the get-go.

2. Time Savings

Your or your staff’s time is too valuable to spend hunting through unorganized paper files for simple things like a donor’s phone number or email address. And don’t get me started on folders stuffed with copies of old donation checks!

Without a donor tracking system you’re unable to analyze big-picture histories or trends among your donors, which may mean missing out on key opportunities. Rather than spending your time down in the weeds, find a system that manages information for you. Then you can focus on USING that information to build relationships and recruit support for your organization.

3. Growth Readiness

Any chance that something will change at your nonprofit in the next year? Most nonprofits I know regularly experience change – adding new programs, retiring old ones, shifting strategies and taking advantage of new opportunities. A system to manage your donor information will position your development office to keep pace with all of these exciting changes.

Intelligence you gain from analyzing your donors’ habits and preferences might even be the genesis of some organizational changes. But you’ll have a hard time gathering this intelligence or adding new fundraising strategies to your shop without a backbone system to keep straight those ever-growing amounts of data.

A Word About Budget

Don’t hold your organization back by claiming you don’t have a budget for this. Getting your donor info right is too important, especially for major gifts work. Donor management software has been around for a while and there are providers at all levels.

As a place to start, Idealware summarizes A Few Good Donor Management Systems. Another system worth mentioning is Bloomerang, which focuses on donor retention and helping you to improve this key indicator of donor loyalty. The bottom line is to do your research and choose the system that works for your organization – one size does not fit all!

If you already have a donor management system but can’t decide if you need a new one, Idealware’s workbook walks you through a step-by-step decision-making process.

What’s your greatest need in terms of donor information management? Tell us in the Comments box how you’re meeting it.

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