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Do You Need a New Donor Management System?

A step-by-step decision-making workbook

By: Laura S. Quinn, Andrea Berry, Chris Bernard, and Molly Ahearn

March 15, 2011

This article is courtesy of Idealware, which provides candid information to help nonprofits choose effective software. For more articles and reviews, go to

Without an effective system to track donors and other constituents, you can spend too much time just trying to figure out who to contact and miss out on many fundraising opportunities.

Most organizations have some kind of database to track all the different kinds of people they work with, but is it the right one? Maybe you’ve had doubts about your current system for a while, but were reluctant to change.

Don’t be — just because your organization has been using it for years doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

But switching to a new system can be a difficult choice — often, you've come to know the weaknesses and quirks of your current system, and the other systems seem shiny and full-featured in comparison. It can also be time consuming, and sometimes costly, to evaluate new systems, to move data from one system to another, and to allow staff time to learn the new system. It’s not something to do on a whim, or in an effort to find a mythical "perfect system."

So how do you know if you should switch, or stick with what you have? This workbook will walk you through the process of assessing your needs, comparing them to what you have, and determining the benefits — and the costs — of moving. It doesn’t include everything you’ll need to assess your needs and pick a new system — instead, it concentrates just on the title question: Do you need a new donor management system?

Through the course of the workbook, you’ll think through where you’re going with your donor management strategy, and then what you need and what you have in terms of donor management features. You’ll then consider your needs a little more broadly — how integrated should your system be with online features? Should it track constituents other than donors? You’ll look at your system’s ease of use, and how your training, support, and process can impact that. You’ll then wrap up by talking with your vendor or a consultant to confirm that your system really doesn’t do the things you think it can’t, and then make your final decision.

Ready to get started? Dive in!