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Nonprofit Donor Databases: The Ultimate Guide

38 min read
November 10, 2022
Abby Jarvis

What’s a donor database? What do they do? When do you need one? How do you choose the right one?

If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, you’re in the right place! This article will cover everything you need to know about donor databases. If you’re looking for something specific, use these links to jump to the sections you want to read.

  1. Do I need a donor database? (plus a handy donor database spreadsheet template)
  2. What is a nonprofit donor database? 
  3. Why do organizations use donor databases?
  4. How can a nonprofit CRM help me?
  5. What should a donor database include?
  6. 7 ways to use a nonprofit donor database
  7. Common concerns when shopping for a new donor database
  8. Questions to discuss with your team before buying a nonprofit CRM
  9. Questions to ask your CRM vendors
  10. What to expect when buying a donor database

Let’s get started!

Do I Need a Donor Database?

Before we dig into the ins and outs of donor databases, let’s answer the most important question first: Do you even need one?

Value of Donor Databases

Donor databases and nonprofit CRMs (we’ll get into the difference in a little bit) are invaluable tools for most nonprofit organizations today. 

With the right tool, you can efficiently manage nearly every aspect of your nonprofit—from fundraising campaigns, collecting donations, payment reconciliation, reporting, email and donor communications, and marketing. The software can save your organization valuable time, provide robust insights, and allow you to develop more meaningful relationships with your supporters. 

Not Ready for a Donor Database Tool

However, if you’re a new organization or only have a small number of donors to track, you may not need a donor database yet. If you’re comfortable manually tracking donor information and giving history, and your team has the bandwidth for it, it may not be time to invest in this type of software. 

Other instances wherein you might not need a donor database:

  • Your organization gets most of its funding from grants or service fees, which you track using other software
  • You don’t have the budget to purchase donor management software
  • You have a good system in place that lets you track supporters’ activities outside of a dedicated donor database tool

Donor Database Templates

Many fledgling nonprofits use an easily-accessible program like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to track their donors’ information. Those are great, low-cost solutions for organizations that only need to manage a limited number of records. 

If you decide to use a spreadsheet system to keep track of your donors, it’s important to start implementing good data-tracking practices now. Collecting clean data, ensuring records stay up to date, and staying consistent with when and how you enter donor data in your spreadsheet will help in a couple of ways.

One, it will make managing data and interacting with supporters easier in the short term: Getting your donors’ names and addresses correct, using the proper salutation every time, and avoiding duplicate communications are easier when you have consistent data. And, two, migrating your donor data into a CRM when you’re ready to upgrade will be easier if your spreadsheet is well-maintained.

For nonprofits that aren’t yet ready for a donor database, we created this handy donor database spreadsheet. When you’ve outgrown the spreadsheet system and are ready for a donor database solution, your data will be nicely formatted and ready to migrate into your new tool.

What Is a Nonprofit Donor Database?

A donor database is a type of software nonprofits can use to track donor data and manage relationships with supporters. Many donor databases include tools to streamline the other core nonprofit functions. For example, online donation forms, fundraising campaigns, membership enrollment and renewal features, email services, and event management are all available in our robust donor database tool—Neon CRM.

People use different terms to talk about donor databases, which can get confusing, but we’ll explain. Common names for this type of software include:

  • Nonprofit CRM (CRM stands for customer relationship management)
  • Donor management software
  • Donor relationship management software
  • Constituent management database

There’s a reason there are so many names for this type of software: Nonprofits use these tools to support lots of different activities and programs! As a general rule, a “donor database” accommodates donor data collection. You use a donor database to collect and manage things like donor contact information, giving history, payment methods, and communication preferences.

When you can see all of that information, you can more easily understand the different ways your supporters currently engage with your nonprofit. That data can also help you do things like identify potential major donors, re-engage lapsed donors, see how your donor and volunteer bases overlap, and much more.

This is an illustration that’s designed to represent how the different types of supporters in your donor database overlap and flow into each other. It shows our One Bunch Character, Ace, fishing in a pond. The pond is fed by a stream, and the different parts of the pond and the surrounding ecosystem are labeled with different types of donors and other supporters.
Donors don’t often fit neatly in a single category. They lapse, they come back, they make different types of gifts, they volunteer—and a nonprofit donor database can help you understand every part of their journey.

Products referred to as “nonprofit CRMs” generally include donor database tools and additional functionality to track other kinds of support. Robust nonprofit CRMs may include tools for:

  • Online fundraising
  • Membership management
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising
  • Event registration
  • Volunteer management
  • Communication tools
  • Website services
  • Other constituent management and engagement tools
  • Integrations with a variety of other platforms

So, to recap:

  • A donor database helps you track and manage donors’ information. 
  • A basic nonprofit CRM helps you track and manage donors’ information and supporters who interact with your organization in other ways. 
  • A robust CRM can help you do all of that, plus host online campaigns, manage fundraising events, automate email communications, and even more.

Why Do Organizations Use Donor Databases?

Relationships between a nonprofit and its donors can be complex, and donor databases make tracking and managing those relationships easier. You can use a CRM to track donations, of course, but it can also track other forms of engagement, like volunteering or hosting a peer-to-peer campaign so you can paint a picture of the individuals who support your cause.

Starting from when a donor makes their first donation, you’ll be able to track when they gave, what program they supported, and how much they gave. As they continue to engage with you, their account may include other details. As you learn information, you can track things like where they work, when they volunteer, the appeals they respond to, and even their relationships with other donors in your network. 

For example, look at the left-hand navigation in the screenshot from Neon CRM below. You can see all of the sections you can fill out with donor information. And, when it comes to relationships, we can see that Dorothy is connected to several other donors through work or personal relationships.

As you collect information about your constituents, you’ll understand who your donors are, what they’re passionate about, and even how they’re connected to each other.

How Can a Nonprofit CRM Help Me?

It’s simple: A donor database can help you build relationships that will inspire supporters to stay involved with your nonprofit for years to come. 

When you can easily track and view a donor’s history with your organization, you can acknowledge their individual relationship with your nonprofit and your mission. When you do that, they’re more likely to continue to support your cause. 

Read on for more details about how a CRM can help you build meaningful donor relationships through collecting information, sending tailored messages, having clean data, and saving your staff’s time so they can focus on something other than manual data entry.

1. Build Robust Donor Profiles

Your organization has probably accrued lots of data about your donors. But, if you’re like most nonprofits, that data is in a few different places. Your online fundraising software, event management platform, email service, volunteer management program, and other software all contain invaluable donor data. If those platforms don’t share information back and forth with each other, it’s hard to get a complete picture of how each of your supporters engages with you. That’s where a CRM comes in.

For example, Sarah is a monthly donor. Her donations are processed through your online fundraising platform. In December, she buys a ticket to your year-end gala through your events management software, then uses your membership management tool to buy a membership to your facility as a gift for a friend.

Your supporters’ accounts show all the different ways they support you, whether they’ve purchased a membership, made a donation, attended an event, or done something else.

If you can’t compile information about Sarah’s activity from each of those sources, it will be hard for you to paint a complete picture of your donor—someone who’s so passionate about your cause that she gives on a monthly basis, attends your events, and shares her love for your organization with her friends or family.

2. Drive Higher Engagement

When you understand your donors’ behavior, it’s easier for you to send relevant content to different groups or “segments” of your audience. Your donor database can help. When you track your donors’ interactions with you, you can send them updates and appeals you know will resonate with them. 

A donor who gives to your capital campaign will probably be interested in different updates than a donor who gives to your summer school program—a good CRM will make it easy to send the right updates to the right groups of donors. And, when donors receive updates they find interesting, they’re more likely to open, read, and act upon your messaging.

3. Maintain Clean Data to Prevent Mistakes

Have you ever gotten a letter in the mail and noticed your name was misspelled? Or have you ever made a donation only to discover your partner’s name is in the thank-you card instead of yours? Maybe you’ve had two staff members get their wires crossed and send different communications to a single supporter. 

A donor database can help you avoid similar mistakes. Connecting your CRM to the different platforms you use for fundraising and other activities will ensure your data is up-to-date, accurate, and easy to use. That will make it easier for you and your staff to avoid mistakes like misspellings or incorrect salutations.

Look for a donor database that includes tools you can use to manage duplicates, edit missing or incorrect information, and generally maintain your donors’ data.

4. Save Staff’s Time

Manually moving information from one platform to another, entering data by hand, and updating endless spreadsheets take up lots of time. A CRM can help reduce or eliminate that work.

When you connect your different tools to your donor database, you can set up automatic data syncs that update your database on a regular basis. You may even be able to find a CRM that includes fundraising features, event management options, and other engagement tools built in—in those circumstances, you wouldn’t even have to set up and maintain that integration. However you sync your data, doing so will save time you can use to further your mission.

What Should a Nonprofit Donor Database Include?

Donor databases help you connect with your supporters, improve engagement, and send more effective fundraising appeals. But what features do they include? And how can those features make you more successful?

Not all nonprofit CRMs are equal, and the tools your organization needs will impact which CRM is right for you. 

Which CRM is right for me?

Take this 6-question quiz to get a customized list of CRM vendors that will best fit your nonprofit based on your budget, size, and functionality needs. 

Below this text, a big yellow button says "Get Your Results." Beside it, an illustration depicts a serene-looking man looking at a laptop.
Which CRM is right for me? Take this 6-question quiz to get a customized list of CRM vendors that will best fit your nonprofit based on your budget, size, and functionality needs. Below this text, a big yellow button says "Get Your Results." Beside it, an illustration depicts a serene-looking man looking at a laptop.

9 Key Features to Look For in a CRM 

As you consider which database will be right for your organization, you’ll discover that different solutions include a variety of different tools. Here are nine key tools you’ll want to look for.

1. Comprehensive Supporter Accounts

Your CRM will help you track all of your donor data. Build your donors’ accounts with biographical information, donation history, and other forms of support and engagement. With Neon CRM, you can even add custom fields to record information unique to your organization. When you have a donor meeting or want to address different segments of your donor base, your supporters’ accounts will help you prepare.

2. Relationships, Households, and Employer Information

Track your donors’ relationships for deeper insights into how your base is connected. Group supporters by household to keep track of combined contributions, event attendance, memberships, and more. Next time you meet with one of your donors, you’ll have a complete understanding of how they, their families, and even their friends and coworkers are connected to your cause.

You can also track donors’ employment information, which can help you identify potential corporate sponsors, plan outreach to local businesses, and understand where you can spend time building relationships with potential donors.

3. Donation Forms and Fundraising Tools

Some CRMs include fundraising tools in addition to the core donor management features. This allows you to process different types of donations, including pledges, recurring gifts, and one-time donations. 

Look for a tool that gives you the option of creating an unlimited number of donation forms (and the accompanying automated receipts) so you can support multiple campaigns at once.

Your donor database should include tools you can use to create mobile-friendly donation forms, process gifts, and connect with your donors.

Learn how to create donation forms that strengthen your donor relationships with the webinar below.

4. Ticketing, Registration, and Volunteers for Events

In addition to fundraising tools, look for a CRM that can also support your fundraising events. You should be able to build custom event registration forms, create different ticket packages for your attendees, and easily move your event registrants’ information into their donor accounts. Your donor database should also be able to assign and oversee tasks to your volunteers during the event itself.

5. Custom Forms

Many donor databases offer the option to build custom forms. Look for a platform that supports  unlimited custom donation and event forms, but look for other kinds of forms, too. Petitions, membership enrollment and renewal forms, and volunteer forms are all important features you may see included in donor databases.

Ideally, your forms should be branded to match your organization’s look and feel so they seamlessly integrate into your website. When looking at the forms supported by your CRM, make sure they’re mobile responsive so donors can easily make a gift whether they’re on a mobile or desktop.

6. Scheduling & Automation Tools

Most CRMs include tools you can use to create outreach and communication schedules. Add notes and reminders to constituent accounts and alert staff members when it’s time to perform important tasks and duties. You may also be able to automate email communications or workflows. 

For example, you could create an automated workflow that sends a new donor a series of emails, adds an outreach task to your director’s to-do list, and schedules a follow-up call for three weeks after their gift.

Learn more about how to welcome new donors with our guide, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Welcome Email Series.

7. Prospecting Tools

Donor databases usually include some prospecting tools. Features range from simple ones—like the ability to identify donors who may be willing to increase their financial support—to more powerful tools, like the ability to identify donors that have a high net worth, live in affluent communities, or have given in a major gifts capacity to another organization. Use these tools to identify potential major gift opportunities or even potential legacy donors.

Prospecting tools will help you identify donors who may be able to give at a higher capacity.

8. Email Communication Tools

Send mass emails and create automated messages and drip campaigns for different groups of donors. Your donor database should include the capability to schedule emails to automatically send once supporters take certain actions. You should also be able to segment your donor lists based on their accounts to ensure your outreach is always relevant.

9. Reporting & Analytics

Since all of your constituent data (and potentially your communications and appeals) is tracked in your CRM, you should be able to run reports on practically anything. Get a high-level overview of your supporters’ giving habits, measure email marketing analytics, and compare your different campaigns and events. You can also use advanced reporting and analytics to get specific, granular insights into your base, like which supporters have donated to different campaigns, who may have a higher giving capacity, and more.

Considering Bloomerang? Click on this image to take a peek at a head-to-head comparison and see which option is best for you.
Considering Bloomerang? Click on this image to take a peek at a head-to-head comparison and see which option is best for you.

7 Ways to Use a Nonprofit Donor Database

Knowing the features included in your CRM is important, but it’s even more important to understand how you can use your donor database to optimize your fundraising, marketing, and outreach strategies, as well as internal operations. 

Here are some of the practical ways your software can increase your efficiency, ROI, and fundraising revenue.

1. Manage Campaign Communications

Any annual campaign includes multiple appeals, communication on different channels, and ongoing conversations with your supporters. Your donor database will centralize all your donor data, which will make planning your campaign easier. 

Use the data to determine donors’ preferences, create segments based on those preferences, and then send them with personalized communications. Since your CRM also includes email marketing and social sharing features, your outreach will be much more efficient, too. You can create and automate drip email campaigns, manage multiple donation forms, build and send receipts and thank-you messaging, and more—all in one place.

2. Support Major Gifts and Planned Giving Campaigns

Both major gifts fundraising and planned giving programs depend heavily on your donor’s affinity toward your organization. You can use your donor database to gain insights into your donors’ passions and giving capacities, then start cultivating relationships with donors who are most likely to give. If your platform includes wealth screening and prospect research services, identifying potential major donors will be even easier.

3. Process Online Donations

You can use your donor database to set up unique donation forms for various campaigns. You can create pages for your general donation form, capital campaigns, recurring donation appeals—the possibilities are endless. Since your donation forms are managed in your CRM, you don’t have to worry about manually moving your donor data from your online fundraising platform to your donor database.

This is a screenshot of an online donation form created in Neon CRM.
Many donor databases also include tools for building donation pages and donation forms, processing donations, and sending receipts to donors.

4. Host and Manage Fundraising Events

Since your database contains supporter demographic information, you can come up with unique event ideas you know will appeal to your donors. For example, organizations with an older donor base could choose to run an auction or gala, while more family-oriented organizations might opt for a field day or street carnival. 

Once you’ve settled on your ideal fundraising event, your CRM will make it easy for you to automate email campaigns that send invitations to different segments of donors and keep them posted about the event. You can also build event registration forms that allow attendees and volunteers to sign up online. 

Since your event registration is handled by your donor management tool, your guest list is automatically compiled in one place. That list will also include details about their registration, which will make it easy to check in your attendees on the day of the event.

If your event involves volunteers, it’s easy to create a complementary volunteer signup form in Neon CRM. Both your event registrants and your volunteers’ involvement will appear in constituents’ accounts in your donor database.

5. Manage Volunteer Efforts

You can use your donor database for more than keeping up with donors! You can track data and oversee the efforts of all types of constituents. This can be especially useful for organizing staff and volunteer efforts.

Since all your constituent data is stored centrally, you can get an idea of volunteers’ interests and skills, then assign them to roles that play to their strengths. You can track those constituent actions in the system, then look back to see how different people have interacted with your organization in the past. Use that information to make future volunteer recruitment even more effective.

6. Manage Your Membership Program

If your nonprofit runs membership programs, a CRM with membership management tools will be a huge help. Look for a solution that includes membership enrollment forms, communications tools you can use to segment and talk to different constituencies, tools for alerting people when their membership is due to expire, and automation tools that can simplify the tasks associated with managing a membership program.

Look for a solution that will help you build complete accounts for your members, including any donations, volunteer activities, and other interactions they have outside their role as a member.

This is a screenshot of a membership enrollment form created using Neon CRM.
Creating membership forms, capturing member information, and communicating with constituents are all important functions you might want to look for in a CRM.

7. Support Your Accounting Team

Accounting is much more straightforward when you use a CRM. All donations—both online and off—are recorded centrally. That means you’ll be able to see exactly how much money your organization is taking in on a daily basis.

This helps ensure you’re reaching your fundraising goals, but it also simplifies your accounting processes. You’ll be able to use your reporting tools to generate financial reports in a matter of minutes. And, since donation tracking occurs in real-time, you can be confident you’re getting the most accurate and up-to-date information possible.

Your donor database may also support integrations with popular accounting software platforms like QuickBooks. If that’s the case, you may be able to skip reporting entirely; financial data will automatically sync to your accounting software so your records are always up to date.

In addition to detailed reporting functions, a good donor database should include tools or integrations you can use to integrate with your other programs, including bookkeeping or accounting software.

Common Concerns When Shopping For a New Donor Database

Buying a donor database is a big deal. In addition to the fact that a CRM is a critical tool for multiple activities, it can also represent a significant financial investment. But shopping for a database shouldn’t be a stressful process! Here’s a rundown of some of the most common concerns and how to address each one.

The Concern: Data Migration Will Be a Huge Hassle

The Reality: Migrating data between systems can be complicated, but with preparation and the right vendor support, it can be easier. 

Although we’re not going to sit here and tell you that your data transfer will be easy, per se, it’s not really as bad as it may seem. Your software vendor will help your organization assess its data and determine the best way to transfer it. If it turns out that your data transfer will be especially complicated, your vendor will provide a consultant to help you with the process or even do it for you.

The Concern: My Board Won’t Give Me Approval

The Reality: Although convincing your board will take some effort, it’s definitely possible.

Many nonprofit staff are open to the idea of switching to a nonprofit CRM, but worry that they’ll spend hours searching for the right solution only to be thwarted by the board. Because you and your staff are so close to your organization’s operations, it’s much easier for you to see exactly why software is an excellent investment.

Your board, on the other hand, has a little more distance. Although convincing your board will take some effort, it’s definitely not impossible. It’s important to keep in mind that your board is on your side. They also want what’s best for your organization. If you’ve done your research and can show them that purchasing a donor database will really benefit your organization, there’s no reason they shouldn’t give you the buy-in.

The Concern: CRM Software Is Too Expensive

The Reality: Most vendors offer many price packages so all organizations can reap the benefits of a streamlined donor database.

The single biggest obstacle faced by most organizations during their search for a donor database is cost. Any robust donor database will be a significant investment. Notice how we used the word “investment” and not “cost?” Although purchasing a database will require a significant expense up front, the right solution should bring you a big return down the line.

Not only will you be making more money from your improved fundraising efforts, you’ll also be saving a lot of the time and money staff would be spending completing tasks software can do for you. Plus, most vendors offer many price packages so all organizations, big and small, can enjoy the benefits of a donor database.

Questions to Discuss With Your Team Before Buying a Nonprofit CRM

Buying the perfect CRM for your organization is easier when you and the rest of your team agree on what tools and features you’ll need. Here are some questions to discuss with your organization before you choose a platform. 

Is a Donor Database The Right Choice for Us?

There are many types of fundraising software out there that were designed to help nonprofits. Before you shop for a donor database, it’s important to determine that it’s really the best solution to meet your needs. Most organizations will benefit from a donor database in one way or another. That said, if you’re looking for something to help you with a very specific initiative, another software solution might be more appropriate. If you only need a bookkeeping program, for example, a donor database may not be the best tool for you.

What Does Our Organization Want to Change?

If you’re shopping for a new donor database, it’s probably because your organization wants to change something about its current operations or try something new. Before you start researching potential CRMs, sit down and really think about what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.

When you have your needs at the forefront of your mind, it will be much easier to clearly articulate them to potential vendors. That will help them recommend the right solution, alert you to any obstacles you might face, and suggest specific tools and strategies you can use to reach your goals.

How Do We Currently Manage Our Data?

As you evaluate different donor database tools, your vendors will ask you where and how you’re currently storing donor data. This will help them evaluate the best way to import your existing data into your new tool. Determine all the platforms you’re currently using, evaluate how you’ve formatted or organized your data, and identify which records you’ll need to bring into your new database.

Having a grasp on how your organization is currently managing your constituents’ information will help ensure your transition into a new CRM will go as smoothly as possible.

Before you start researching donor databases for your nonprofit, take the time to think through your current needs and your future goals.

How Many Records Do We Have?

Pricing for many donor database platforms is based on the number of constituent accounts a nonprofit needs to manage. Other systems—including Neon CRM—are priced by the revenue a nonprofit earns. Understanding how many constituents your software needs to accommodate can help you choose the best platform for you, especially if you’re considering a donor database that charges by records. Be sure to account for donors, volunteers, members, and other types of supporters. 

It’s also worth having a conversation about the number of records you want to have. You’ll want to look for an option that can accommodate your current activities while giving you room to grow. That platform that would cost you $99 right now may end up being too costly as you grow your supporter base and accumulate more constituent accounts.

How Will We Support Our Constituents?

Generally, your nonprofit CRM should help you gain deeper insight into your donors and make it easier to build relationships with them. Think about what programs, outreach, and communication activities you’ll want to integrate with your donor database to support your constituents.

If one of your goals is to send more personalized communications to different supporter groups, you’ll want to look for a platform that supports email targeting and segmentation. If you’re working toward growing your membership program, you’ll want to weed out potential solutions that don’t include membership management tools. 

Which Staff Members Will Use The Software?

Some donor databases include a limited number of licenses with the option to purchase more for a set fee. Think about all of the staff members who will need to use your donor database. Be sure to consider your growth plans, too! If you’re a small team that doesn’t plan to hire any time soon, a handful of licenses should be plenty. If you’re actively growing, look for solutions that offer an unlimited number of licenses or plan to purchase additional seats in the future. 

Do We Need to Integrate Third-Party Platforms?

One of the greatest advantages of nonprofit CRMs is that they’re highly customizable. Because they’re designed to fit an organization’s unique needs, your donor database will probably include lots of features and functionality.

But every nonprofit uses a different set of tools to support their activities, so you may need to integrate your donor database with other tools or platforms. Double check that your potential solution can integrate with any third-party platforms you currently use.

If you prefer to use MailChimp for your email communications, for example, you’ll want to make sure your CRM can integrate with that tool. If it doesn’t, you’ll have two options: You can switch to another email platform, or you can look for a solution that will suit your current activities.

Is The Board On Board?

You don’t want to get all the way through the buying process just to realize your board won’t give you the buy-in. Before you get to the final stages, you should pitch the idea of purchasing your donor database to your board. If you need a little help, many vendors have resources available to help nonprofit staff members convince their boards. You won’t be able to make the purchase if your board isn’t on board. Make sure you have the buy-in from the beginning so you’re not shopping in vain.

Questions to Ask Your CRM Vendors

Keep these questions handy as you prepare for discovery calls, software demos, and the trial process. You’ll probably want to include questions that aren’t listed here—and that’s okay! No two organizations are the same, and anyone you speak with should be prepared to answer even the most specific questions.

Ask lots of questions while you search for the perfect donor database. Anyone you speak to should be able to help you work through questions, concerns, or ideas you have about how you’d like to use their platform.

What Functions Are Included In The Software?

Remember, your donor database should be able to do more than just collect donors’ information. It should also enable you to give your donors and other constituents an excellent experience with your organization every time they interact with you.

Ask your vendor what specific features and functionalities are included in their database aside from data collection. Can it support your fundraising activities, or would you need to purchase additional fundraising tools? Will you be able to manage events in your CRM, or will you need to integrate with another event management platform? Answering this question will help you make sure you choose the platform that will suit your organization’s needs both now and in the future.

What Information Can We Track?

One of the main benefits of donor databases is their powerful reporting capabilities. But, in order to run specific reports, your software needs to be able to track the data you want. Think about what kinds of reports your organization will want to generate. Do you want to track your donor retention rate? Your donation form conversion rates? The number of donors who also buy your merchandise? Can the platform you’re evaluating accommodate custom fields?

Having a grasp on the type of data you want to collect, track, and report on will be important during the buying process.

Is The Platform Secure?

Your software will be full of important constituent data, and some of that data will include sensitive information. Your donor database should have the proper security precautions in place to adequately protect this data. Make sure you ask your vendor about security! Any platform you evaluate should be PCI compliant and should be able to share details about how they keep you, your data, and your donors safe.

How Much Does Your Product Cost?

Nonprofit CRMs come in all shapes and sizes … and price points. Since many platforms can support different add-ons, extra features, additional training, and other tools, it can be tricky to figure out exactly what the tools you want to buy will cost. Even the price of the same base functions can vary drastically from organization to organization. That’s why it’s important to make sure you know exactly how much a solution will cost before you get to the contract stage.

While most vendors will list their basic price packages on their websites, it’s important to emphasize that these usually don’t include additional add-ons. The price listed on a vendor’s website generally accounts for the number of available user licenses, the number of constituent accounts, and the core set of features included in the platform. However, there can be many other costs that factor into the price, such as:

  • Payment processing fees for fundraising tools
  • Integrations, expansions, and add-ons
  • Training and maintenance
  • Expenses associated with updating your software as technology evolves

Ask your vendor to spell out all of the costs for you so you can make sure the solution you need falls within your budget.

What Other Nonprofits Use Your Software?

Your relationship with your vendor won’t end the moment you sign the contract. They’ll also help with setting up your account and maintaining it for years to come. Working with a helpful vendor will be an important part of your success.

One of the best ways to determine if a platform and the vendor are right for you is to ask about other organizations that use their services. If possible, ask specifically about their clients that are similar to you. This will help you gauge their experience with organizations like yours, and you can also get an idea about how a platform can help you grow. If you see that a particular donor database has helped support similar organizations, there’s a good chance it can help you succeed, too.

Ask your vendor if they can share client stories or provide references for you, or check out a potential vendor’s profiles on third-party review sites. There’s no better way to learn what another organization thinks of its donor database than to hear it directly from them.

What to Expect When Buying a Donor Database

Starting a new process can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know what to expect. The same jitters associated with buying a new car or making a major purchase can also pop up when you’re shopping for a CRM. Here’s what to expect as you talk with vendors about their products and evaluate whether they’re the best fit for you.

1. The Initial Contact

The buying process starts with you! Once you’ve decided you’re interested in a donor database and have considered your needs and goals, the next step is to contact a few vendors. Submit a demo request on your chosen vendors’ websites, or pick up the phone and give them a call. They’ll probably ask a few questions about you. Expect to provide some basic information like your name, your organization’s name, your location, and the best way to contact you.

2. The Discovery Call

During your initial conversation with your vendor, they’ll usually ask to schedule a call with you to learn more about your organization and your needs. The length of these calls will vary based on the number of questions you have and the complexity of your current donor data management system.

Expect to spend around 15 minutes on this call, but build a little wiggle room into your schedule if you have lots of questions or have an exceptionally complicated dataset. During the discovery call, your vendor will probably suggest a specific tool or solution that’s the best fit for your organization, and they’ll work with you to find a time to schedule a demonstration of the database.

When you get a demo of a donor database tool, be ready to ask lots of questions. This is an ideal opportunity to get specific information about how a platform can support your goals and see how the tools will work for you.

3. The Demo Call

Now it’s time to see your potential donor database in action! Your vendor will walk you through a demo that will give you a feel for the CRM’s interface. Since the demo is typically held live, the sales team member you talk to can tailor the demonstration to your nonprofit’s needs and highlight the features that will be most helpful to you. Don’t hesitate to ask questions! In the next section, you’ll find a number of different questions you can ask during this portion of the process.

If possible, get key stakeholders involved with the demo. Your development staff or development director, bookkeeper, executive director, and even board members may be interested in seeing the tools in action. Including multiple people who will use the tool in different ways will help you ensure you ask important questions during the call. 

4. The Trial and Comparison Process

Some platforms provide free trials or self-guided tours you can use to get a feel for how you’ll use their solution on a day-to-day basis. During your demo call, ask your contact for any opportunities to play around with their platform. This is the best time to compare the donor database solutions you’ve evaluated. Try making a list of pros and cons for each platform you’re considering. Make sure others at your organization are involved in this process!

5. The Data Review

Once you’ve found the perfect donor database for your organization, it’s time to work with your chosen vendor to start the data migration process. At this stage, you’ll provide them with your current data in full, which they’ll use to run a data analysis. Depending on how difficult the data migration process will be, your vendor will determine if your organization can handle it alone or if you’ll need the full or partial help of a consultant. 

6. The Signing

You’ve found a donor database you love and have a plan for transferring your data to your new tool. It’s time to make it official! Your vendor will provide you with a formal contract—all you have to do is read and sign!

7. Training and Onboarding

Once you’ve signed your contract and migrated your data into your new platform, you’re ready to start launching campaigns. Right?

Maybe! Depending on your comfort level with your new tool, it’s probably a good idea to get some training from your new platform’s support team.

As you get your account set up and your data in a usable state, take advantage of any educational opportunities available to you. Support articles and walkthrough videos are a great place to start and are commonly available from most donor database providers. Other companies may also offer onboarding courses that walk you through the ins and outs of their platform, and many service providers offer webinars and workshops that focus on specific functionalities.

If you’re dealing with a large data set or want personalized help, you may want to consider springing for dedicated one-on-one training or coaching.

8. Success!

You’ve found the perfect CRM, migrated your data, and learned how to use your new system. You’re ready to go! Your new tool will make it easier for you to track your constituents, communicate with different groups of supporters, run more effective campaigns, and move steadily toward your goals.

Popular Nonprofit Donor Databases

So you know what nonprofit donor databases do, why you need one, and questions to ask when looking for the perfect solution for your organization. But there are lots of different options out there—which is the best one for you?

Here’s a roundup of six popular nonprofit donor databases, plus some information about why they might work well for you. If you’re interested in learning more about each of these options, this section also includes a link to an in-depth look at each of these platforms.

Neon CRM

We’re biased, but we like this one. Neon CRM is built with small to midsize nonprofits in mind, but it’s designed to grow with you. The platform includes important features like a donor database, built-in fundraising tools, communications features, workflow automations, features for managing events and volunteers, and more. Our pricing model is based on your revenue, not the number of contacts in your database.

Raiser’s Edge

This Blackbaud product has been around for a long time, and it’s a fairly powerful system with a complex feature set. This is a common solution for large nonprofits that can both afford the platform and can dedicate staff time to learning and managing the system.


The Bloomerang system is well known for being easy to learn, which makes it a popular choice for growing nonprofits. The suite of tools in Bloomerang is fairly simple, which makes it a good option for organizations that have straightforward fundraising needs. Like most CRMs, Bloomerang’s pricing structure is based on the number of accounts in your donor database. If you go with Bloomerang, keep an eye on how many records you have!


If your organization can dedicate enough staff time to learning and managing a donor database, DonorPerfect and its emphasis on fundraising may make it a good fit for you. It’s got a ton of fundraising and reporting features, so keep in mind that there may be a learning curve as you get your system up and running.

Network for Good

Network for Good—now part of the Bonterra family of products—is a well-established CRM. If your organization focuses primarily on fundraising and donor management, it might be a good fit for you. If you need to manage volunteers, run a membership program, or handle more complex campaigns, make sure you ask questions about how it can help you do so.

Little Green Light

If you’re a small nonprofit and have staff that are comfortable learning new platforms on their own, Little Green Light could be a good option for you. This is a fairly simple solution with a pricing structure based on the number of records in your donor database.

Want to learn more about each of these solutions? Check out our nonprofit CRM comparison!

Looking for a Donor Database? Neon CRM Is Here to Help

Whether you’re looking for your first donor database or need a full-featured CRM that can accommodate multiple types of constituents, Neon CRM can help you meet your goals. Thousands of nonprofits of all shapes, sizes, and missions use our tools to create communities of supporters that make a real difference in the world. Every tool in the system is designed to help you grow.

If you’re ready to use a nonprofit CRM, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact our sales team for a discovery call or join a group demo for a no-pressure look at our platform. If you’re not ready yet, we hope you love our donor database spreadsheet template—we’ll be here when it’s time to upgrade.

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