The right donor management software can make a big difference in your ability to raise funds. We asked six different nonprofit technology experts about donor management software that have worked well for their nonprofit colleagues.
The holiday season is upon us again, and soon you’ll need to prepare another end-of-the-year appeal – pulling together your contact and contributions information to identify the right people to receive your message. If this scenario gives you nightmares about wading through unfriendly databases, email programs, spreadsheets, and dated campaign lists, perhaps it’s time to think about a new software package.
The right donor management software can help you easily create just the right, targeted lists to ensure each of your constituents gets a message in a way that will encourage their support – and make a big difference in your ability to raise funds. Good software can help you understand each of your donors, and segment, analyze, and communicate to groups of supporters. But which software package should you use? We asked six different nonprofit technology experts about donor management software that have worked well for their nonprofit colleagues. Pulling from their experience, we combined their advice below to provide information about a few tools that may work well for you.
Start by Understanding Your Own Needs
Understand how you work with donors
Donor information is often detailed and includes complex relationships. Capturing, storing, and retrieving this information effectively requires a clear understanding of your typical procedures. Look at how you engage prospects, and how you encourage them to commit further. Consider the information you would like to collect, and how you would like to retrieve this information later for analysis and communications. Focus on your outputs – what combination of donor information do you need to produce for reports, mail merges, or exports?
Think through your numbers
Many software vendors base their pricing on the number of staff members who will be using the system, and/or the number of supporter records you have. Consider both your current situation and where you hope to be over the next few years.
Consider your resources
Make sure you have a clear understanding of the resources you can devote to purchasing and sustaining a new system. How much money can you commit up front, and over time? How much time does your staff have to setup, learn, and maintain a new donor management system over the long term? What are the strengths and limitations of your current technology infrastructure? The implementation of donor management software is challenging for many nonprofits, and you might benefit from implementation support from the vendor or an experienced third-party consultant, particularly if you plan to move data from an old system into your new package.
Script what you’d like to see in software packages
Using all of this information, create a list of what you’d like to see when evaluating possible software solutions. Many vendors prefer to give brief and sweeping descriptions of the features they offer, rather than the nitty-gritty you need to make a careful choice. Ask to see a demo of how the tool will support your core needs, rather than just asking whether they do – or try to get access to try out the software for yourself.
Once you have a sense of what you’re looking for, what software packages should you consider? Read on!
For Small Organizations That Are Short on Resources
If your nonprofit is particularly short on cash and staffing resources, hosted online tools might be a good choice. These packages, which are available to your users over the internet for a monthly fee, are built to work “out-of-the-box” without a large upfront investment, and are typically fairly easy to learn. As the vendor hosts the actual software, your organization doesn’t need to worry about software upgrades, backups, or other maintenance functions, and your staff can access the system from anywhere they have internet access. These hosted tools often integrate more naturally with online services, such as online donations, address verification, zip code lookups and more. It’s particularly important to estimate how much you expect your donor base to grow over time when selecting one of these packages, as they can get considerably more expensive than other solutions for organizations with a big donor list.
eTapestry offers a solid hosted donor management solution based on basic contact management, donor profiling, segmentation, and emailing. It can also be expanded with additional modules to provide features including ecommerce, Microsoft Outlook integration, segmented gift management and more. Blackbaud, the makers of the Raiser’s Edge fundraising solution, recently purchased eTapestry. Blackbaud has said that it will continue to support and enhance eTapestry, but it is important to keep up to date with their plans if you adopt this solution.Pricing is based on the number of donor records, the number of staff members who can access it at one time, and on optional modules and services. It is free for the first 500 records and one user at a time, or eligible nonprofits and libraries can request a one year license donation for up to 1000 records through TechSoup Stock. However, the costs can get quite expensive quickly if you have lots of donor records, multiple users or modules, so check out the price list carefully. Assess your growth plan prior to adopting eTapestry, and consider whether the pricing makes sense for where you plan to be in a few years.
Donor Perfect Online (www.donorperfect.com)
DonorPerfect has offered traditional locally installed software for many years, but in the last few years they have put much of their energy into their newer hosted product. DonorPerfect Online compares closely to eTapestry in several respects. It has a cleaner, more straightforward appearance than eTapestry, which can help make it easier to navigate. There are more features integrated into Donor Perfect Online in its base offering; however its base price is higher. DonorPerfect offers a level of customization during the setup phase, which can help to tailor the system to match particular needs. DonorPefect has some differences in features, such as automatic electronic funds transfers for pledges – be sure to test drive the system to understand if the right combination of features is available. Donor Perfect also can get costly quickly depending on the users, records and customization you require, so be sure to plan your requirements and budget carefully prior to choosing this package.
Neon by Z2 Systems (www.z2systems.com)
Z2 Systems is a relatively new a hosted solution that is quite broad in functionality. In addition to managing donor information and payment data, it also offers advanced constituent management including tracking individuals, organizations, and relationships, and managing volunteers. Among the other features are membership management, blast emailing and tracking, integrated website management, online donation processing, event registration, an online store and more.
The Databank (www.thedatabank.com)
The Databank is a hosted system that is similar in many ways to Z2 Neon, but with more of a focus on advocacy/campaign management. Features include donor, advocacy, volunteer, voter, event management and more. The breadth and depth of the feature set requires some time to configure and learn before organizations are up and running. Similar to other tools in this class, the user interface is minimalist making it a less cluttered system to navigate through. The Databank does not provide many predefined reports, instead offering the ability for nonprofits to customize their own – increasing flexibility, but requiring additional setup from the organization.
Lower Cost Installed Systems
As a more traditional route, there are a variety of systems that are installed on your organization’s server or an individual’s desktop. These systems require someone with basic technical know-how to get them installed, create backups of the data over time, and install updates as required. Instead of “renting” a hosted online database, your organization owns an installed database – which involves a bigger investment up front, but often reduces the cost over the lifetime of the system. These systems are typically priced by user rather than the number of donor records, making the pricing friendlier as an organization grows. With an installed system, your organization also has physical possession of the data, which can be important to organizations who have controversial missions and, particularly, those that need to be concerned about subpoenas.
Exceed Basic by Telosa (www.telosa.com)
This is a locally installed Microsoft Windows based system. Exceed Basic is focused on donor management, and provides several key features out of the box, including tracking for a variety of payments (simple donations, pledges, memberships, memorial, honor gifts and more), Microsoft Outlook and Quickbooks integration, remote access and more. Exceed uses the term “accounts” to track your donors – in Basic, each account can have up to two individuals, providing basic householding functionality. It is easy to upgrade and migrate your data to the more advanced Premier version, making this a nice option for organizations seeking a longer term solution that grows with them. One license with very limited support is available retail for $499 or for the $299 admin fee through TechSoup Stock (more comprehensive support is available for an extra fee); Telosa also provides a hosted version of the software for a monthly fee.
GiftWorks by Mission Research (www.giftworksconnect.com)
GiftWorks takes a wider view of “donors,” considering every supporter you have as part of your donor base. As such, GiftWorks does not offer quite the depth of Exceed Basic’s donor tracking functionality, but instead provides an easier interface for finding lists of your supporters and messaging them. GiftWorks helps track a variety of payments similar to Telosa, as well as easy tracking of other interactions you have with your donors. In general, GiftWorks is easier to use out-of-the-box than Telosa, and offers a different combination of information tracking, as well as integration with Quickbooks. GiftWorks costs $399 per license for the Standard version, or $699 for the Premier version, which adds additional user security, custom fields, seasonal address management and other features. A volunteer module can be added to the cost of any license for an additional $199. Through TechSoup Stock, eligible nonprofits with an annual budget let than $25,000 can receive the Standard edition for a $25 admin fee, while organizations with a budget up to $50,000 annually can pay a $99 admin fee.
More Advanced Solutions
These solutions have more expansive donor profiling, reporting and analysis that begin to support the needs of experienced fundraising professionals. They require more time and resources to implement, learn, and support but can in return offer a greater depth and breadth of capabilities.
Exceed Premier by Telosa (www.telosa.com)
Premier is a big step up from Exceed Basic with a relatively painless upgrade, making it an especially attractive path for users of Exceed Basic. As with Basic, the Premier software is a locally installed solution. Like in Basic, the Premier package tracks “accounts” (households), but allows the addition of unlimited individuals to an account. The premier package offers support for Electronic Funds Transfer, expanded membership and events management, online donations integration and more. It provides support for both tracking grant seeking and grant making, a relatively unique offering for a product at this price point. As Premier is not a hosted product, its interface to your online donation systems and event registration systems may be weaker, and should be carefully evaluated if these are important for your organization. Pricing starts at $2095 per license for up to 2500 accounts (households), or $3095 for unlimited accounts, with support and expanded modules additional. Alternatively, Telosa provides a hosted version of the software for a monthly fee.
Fundraising 50 by Sage (www.sagenonprofit.com/products/fundraising/)
Sage Fundraising 50 (formerly Paradigm) offers mid-level support for contact and donor management, as well as a number of other modules which can be added. The interface is unusual, with an index card feel which may appeal to fundraisers with little software experience. Pricing is often customized to particular organizations by resellers, but is generally in the same range as Exceed Premier.
Salesforce is a hosted solution that offers a framework for managing all kinds of constituent data. Nonprofits can take advantage of the free “Nonprofit Template” to gain out of the box support for prospecting and converting “leads” into “donors.” Salesforce has powerful features to allow users to find specific groups of constituents, email them, and track these interactions. Most nonprofits do not find all their critical needs met with Saleforce on installation, but can build expansive solutions to manage their specific donor fields, payments, events, memberships and more – often working with a consultant – as the platform is very flexible and modular. There is a growing community of users and developers – in both the nonprofit and corporate worlds – that have created hundreds of free and at-cost plug-ins for Salesforce that you can evaluate and choose to integrate with your system. Nonprofits looking to have a more integrated approach to constituent and donor management and those who have unique and changing needs may find Salesforce a good fit. Saleforce offers up to 10 licenses for free to 501(c)(3) nonprofits through its foundation. This is a great savings, but nonprofits should expect to allocate several thousand dollars to implement the right configuration to meet their needs.
For Larger Organizations
These systems are targeted to larger organizations with advanced fundraising campaigns requiring deep donor profiling, segmentation, and analysis. All of these products cost well above $10k to get started. These vendors offer more wide ranging and comprehensive solutions, to provide a solution for most if not all their advanced information management needs.
Raiser’s Edge by Blackbaud (www.blackbaud.com)
Blackbaud is seeking to be an all-inclusive solution for nonprofit information management. This is the 1000 pound gorilla of the donor management sector, with powerful fundraising functionality. Raiser’s Edge may stand out if you have a need for advanced accounting integration, or integration with school data systems, as they have a suite of tools to support this; however, this type of integration may require purchasing their expensive API. Blackbaud tools offer powerful business intelligence analysis tools enabling users to construct a wide array of complex segmentation and report this out for analysis and review. More recently, Blackbaud has launched its NetCommunity platform, offering integrated web management, along with advanced email management, events, and online campaign integration.
Fundraising 100 by Sage (www.sagenonprofit.com/products/fundraising/)
Sage Fundraising 100 (formerly GT Pro) offers full support for constituent and donor management, business analysis reporting, events, volunteer management, endowments, and the list goes on. Fundraising 100 has a strong import tool, allowing for an undo which can be a huge time saver given how complex imports often are when at this level of software. As Sage is a large software company offering a wide array of tools centering on financial and constituent management, ranging from ACT! to PeachTree accounting, numerous funds and business management systems, Sage Fundraising 100 may allow tighter integration across other packages in their product line.
Donor2’s reputation is in its powerful and flexible reporting, and the accessibility of its support services. Donor2 is a much smaller company than either Sage or Raiser’s Edge which creates a more personal support environment. Unlike Blackbaud or Sage, Donor2 has not been heading toward the all-encompassing web/net community platform, but remains focused on donor, membership, with additional support for volunteer management, events and more. Donor2 does also offer a human resources and financial information tracking system, as well as an integrated solution targeted specifically for managing YMCA organization programs and processes.
There are a number of additional fundraising software packages suitable for large, national nonprofit organizations, such as Amergent, PIDI, ROI Solutions, Sage Millenium, Sungard Higher Education, and Team approach by Target Software (recently acquired by Blackbaud). At this level, the packages are often targeted toward specific verticals (such as university fundraising) or functions (i.e. direct mail or benchmarking). At this level of investment – likely $100,000 to $1,000,000 or more – you should certainly look beyond this article. Ask peer organizations what they are using or consider hiring an expert familiar with your domain to help you with a software selection process.
Finding a System that Works for You
How do you choose? As we mentioned, the only way is by understanding your own needs, and comparing them to the available tools. On the one hand, don’t assume that a more powerful system will work better for you. An overcomplicated system will just be harder for your staff to use – it’s a waste of your time and money if you don’t need advanced features. On the other, it’s important to invest the money to buy a system that will effectively support your processes.
After all, a system that improves the effectiveness of your fundraising might pay for itself in the long run – and it can certainly help to reduce your nightmares about preparing for this year’s annual appeal!
For More Information
Ten Common Mistakes in Selecting Donor Databases (and how to avoid them)
An overview of considerations in planning and conducting a search for a donor database.
Great collection of fundraising systems, comparisons, and industry articles.
A large collection of resources about database systems – including donor databases.
Thanks to TechSoup for their financial support of this article, as well as to the nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice, and other help:
- Steve Birnbaum, Jacobson Consulting Applications
- Eric Leland, FivePaths
- Shawn Michael, TACS/ NPower Oregon
- Patrick Shaw, NPower Seattle
- Dan Shenk-Evans, Community IT Innovators (CITI)
- Robert Weiner, Robert L. Weiner Consulting