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Free Toolkit for Selecting Donor Management Software

Lori Halley 14 July 2008 0 comments

Selecting a donor management system is a big decision for any nonprofit. The right software can go a long way in helping you manage and retain those vital donor relationships — but moving to a new system calls for an investment of both time and money. The software selection you make now will affect the work of your organization for some time. How do you choose which donor management software will be right for your nonprofit?

NPower Seattle logoNPower Seattle, with the cooperation of a number of Seattle nonprofit organizations and the support of Verizon, has produced a free toolkit to help nonprofit organizations with the task of choosing software for managing donors.

The Donor Management Toolkit Book comprises an “interactive and practical guide” set out as a 4-step software selection process:


Assess your use of current technology and set technology goals that support your overall mission.

To ensure that the software you choose will meet the needs of your organization, you must have a clear picture of what those needs are. This step asks you to assess four areas: Strategic Plans (including your organization’s overall strategic plan, fundraising plan, and strategic technology plan), Current Technology, Processes, and People. Checklists are provided in each of these areas.


Prioritize your non-profit’s needs and determine the software features your organization will benefit from.

“Take a minute to think about all those little technology daydreams that would make life in fund development easier," the toolkit suggests. "Would you like to access donor reports via your Blackberry on your way to a meeting? Does easy import and export of data make you feel more secure? To some, a system that assists with membership and tracks volunteer interests sounds like heaven.”

Work through your wishlist — along with the lists of your organization's key staff — to assign priorities to each item. Think about which features your organization needs to have, which features would be nice to have, and which features you can do without. Checklists provided in the toolkit are designed to help with this process. A number of vendors and software packages will be quickly eliminated by this step, resulting in a short list of software and vendors for you to consider, and a clear picture of your needs will emerge.


Decide which software packages best meet your needs.

Request information and software demonstrations from the vendors on your list of favorite providers. As well, ask about the availability and cost of in-house support to help you through the implementation and training. What provisions are made for software upgrades? What is the company’s track record for customer support?

“For best responses,” the toolkit advises, ”avoid sending a simple checklist; instead, provide open-ended questions” about the software, the company, and the company’s experience in working with nonprofits.

For a better sense of how a particular donor management system will benefit your organization, ask your peers about their experiences with the vendor and the product, both during implementation and after sale. Although each organization will, of course, have different needs and goals, a software demo from another nonprofit (as well as from the vendor) can help you to make a more confident choice.

4. ACT

Act on your decision and implement the new system.

Before switching to a new system, you’ll need to take the time to clean your existing data — mapping old fields to new, correcting errors, deleting unnecessary data, etc. — to avoid bringing any old problems or duplicate data into the new system. The toolkit recommends appointing one person to be responsible for data quality, creating new reports, and defining security, as well as a database administrator who can add new users, perform backups, and so on.

Schedule the switch for a non-critical time in your funding cycle, and do start training early so that all users can become familiar with the new system before it’s pressed into service.

Additional Resources

The toolkit includes 3 case studies of Seattle nonprofit organizations — Operational Emergency Center (OEC), Casa Latina, and Arts Corps — that NPower has recently assisted with donor management software selection. Their stories help to illustrate the 4-step process outlined in the toolkit and show how it works in the field.

In addition, detailed worksheets, tables, and checklists are provided:

  • Sample Major Donor Process Map
  • Blank Major Donor Process Map
  • Organizational Process Map Table
  • Sample Functional Requirements Table
  • Blank Functional Requirements Table
  • Features Checklist
  • Links to Online Resources
  • Additional Articles Online

Download the Donor Management Toolkit workbook and companion resources (free PDF publications) from NPowerSeattle.org, or email info@npowerseattle.org to request a free CD version.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 14 July 2008 at 5:24 PM
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