Donor Database: A Buyer’s Guide to Choose the Best Software

Wendy Levine
May 11, 2020

Donor Database: Choosing the Best Software - A Buyer's Guide

Donor database software provides nonprofit organizations with the ability to track every important piece of information about their donors, and also about volunteers and other supporters.  This information is critical for today's nonprofits that need to communicate effectively across multiple channels - often with limited resources.

A good nonprofit CRM system will allow you to segment supporters effectively and optimize your communication strategies, engagement, and fundraising.  Therefore, selecting the best nonprofit CRM system for your nonprofit is an important project that should be given serious consideration and effort.   

1) Why is it important to have a donor database?

2) What are the essential features for your donor database?

3) How do you choose a donor database for your nonprofit?

4) What is the best donor database for nonprofits?


Why is it important to have a donor database?

Donor database software is a critical tool for today's nonprofit organizations.  The information stored in donor database systems can be used to target and personalize the right messages to the right supporters, identify potential major donors, evaluate the success of fundraising campaigns, and more.   While standard CRM systems will track some of this information, it is important for a nonprofit to use a nonprofit CRM, or donor database, system.  The systems provide the ability to easily manage the data that is specifically important to nonprofit organizations, thereby allowing the organization to:

Personalize Communications

Personal information is the basic information stored by donor database systems and standard CRM software alike.  Information such as name and email address will allow you to communicate effectively with your donors, while personalizing bulk emails.  Tracking customized information that is important to your organization will allow for richer personal communications.   Depending on your mission, it may be important to track whether the donor has children, which church they belong to, or whether they are a cat or dog person!

Group similar donors in order to create targeted messaging

Demographic information stored in donor database software is used to group similar donors together in order to target messaging appropriately.  Demographic data can include such information as age, gender, socio-economic status, and education level - and is usually collected over time as an organization develops a relationship with the donor.  This information is invaluable in building groups of donors with like qualities that you can message together.  For example, you may send more formal written letters to your older donors - and only communicate via email with your younger donors. 

Customized the timing and request amounts in donation appeals

A complete record of a donor's giving history will guide you in your future requests.  If a donor regularly gives in December, then the holiday or end-of-year appeal letter that they receive will recognize their previous donations and make it simple for them to give again in the same manner they have in the past.  The message to a one-time donor or one that gives sporadically would be completely different.  Consider using past donation amounts, along with demographic data, to create dynamic ask arrays that can be tailored for each individual donor.

Build stronger relationships

While sometimes difficult to determine, a donor's motivation and interests can truly be the most important information in building meaningful, long lasting relationships.  This data usually needs to be stored in notes or custom fields in your donor database, as it is extremely specific to each organization.  For example, a nonprofit that supports medical research may want to track donors who have lost loved-ones to the condition that the organization is fighting.  That information can be used to reach out personally to donors on the anniversary of their loved-one's death - not to ask for a donation, but to offer support and build a strong relationship with the donor.

What are the essential features for your donor database?

A donor database stores the information most critical to a nonprofit organization.  So when evaluating systems, focus on the core functionality to ensure that you can track and display the data most important to your organization.

Key Personal and Demographic Data

All Nonprofit donor databases will store key information about your supporters, such as name and address, but look carefully at how that information is stored and how easily it is to view and update this information.  A good donor database system will have an intuitive user interface that allows your staff and volunteers to quickly and easily enter a new supporter record, find the supporter information they need, and update existing information.

Custom Fields

No donor database will come ready with every field your organization needs.  It should be easy for you to set up custom fields to track unique information, without needing to involve a software expert or pay for additional services.  Be sure that you are aware of any restrictions on creating these fields as well.  Is there a limit to the number of custom fields you can create?  Can custom fields be of any type and store text, dates, numbers, etc.?

Easy to view data by supporter and by campaign

Tracking all of the supporter information you need is important, but being able to view that data in ways that support decision making is just as important.  Think through the questions that you need answers to every day, and then take a look at how those questions would be answered in the donor database software you are evaluating.  Can you easily view a timeline of activity for a specific supporter?  Can you quickly see the status of a current fundraising campaign and compare it to past campaigns?

Export and Integration Capabilities

While a donor database is central to your organization - most organizations will require additional software to manage email campaigns, handle events, launch advocacy campaigns, and so much more.  Some organizations will use marketing automation systems, like Salsa Engage, that integrate natively to their donor database to handle many of these needs.  However, it is very common to have specific integration requirements that are not handled standardly by your donor database system.  For example, you may use online auction software for an event or have a board member that wants to analyze data in their own reporting tool.

Be sure that your donor database system has the ability to export data into standard formats, such as comma-delimited files (CSV).  Many systems also integrate through tools such as Zapier, which provides access to any other system using that tool as well.

How do you choose a donor database for your nonprofit?

Selecting new software can take time, especially if you are looking for something as central to your organization as donor database software.  Follow these steps for a thorough selection process:

  1. Select a project sponsor.  The sponsor may be your Executive Director, a Board member, or other individual with the knowledge and ability to keep the project focused on the right priorities.  
  2. Put together a project team consisting of 2-10 people who represent those who will be managing and using the system.  
  3. Develop a project plan and timeline consisting of project goals, milestones, and tasks.
  4. Identify the requirements that are most important to you, including unique requirements that other nonprofit organizations may not have and features that are most important.  Try to stay away from functionality that all donor database systems will have and focus on those features that are critical for your organization.
  5. Last, but not least, determine a budget range.  This can help to narrow down your list early in the process.

Read more about managing a software selection process.

What is the best donor database for nonprofits?

When evaluating donor database systems, consider Salsa CRM.  Salsa CRM is trusted by thousands of nonprofit organizations to store and manage their critical donor information.  The Salsa CRM solution includes:

Rich Donor Profiles

Salsa CRM's donor profiles include all of the standard information you will need to track donor information, family relationships, and more.  Unlimited custom fields give you the ability to track anything else!

Donation Tracking of Online and Offline Donations

Salsa CRM is known for its ability to track both online and offline donations.

Direct Mail Management

Salsa CRM manages direct mail programs by printing the letters, labels, and bar codes needed.

Standard and Customized Reports and Dashboards

Use our standard reports to view everything from campaign statistics to donor "LYBUNT" reports.  Smart dashboards make viewing campaign and donor-specific information easy.  Users can also create their own views and reports using any field in the system.

Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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