Nonprofit Donor Database: FAQs and Features to Look For

This quick guide reviews what nonprofits need to know about donor databases.

When it comes to nonprofit software solutions, a donor database is among the most important. Donor databases help nonprofits organize supporter data, keep track of donor interactions and personalize donor outreach.

In this guide, we’ll cover a few commonly asked questions about donor databases:

  • What is a donor database?
  • Can I use spreadsheets to track my donors?
  • How does a donor database benefit nonprofits?
  • How can I use donor data to connect with my donors?
  • Is there free donor database software?
  • What features should I look for in a donor database?
  • How should I choose a donor database?
  • What are other types of nonprofit databases?

What is a donor database?

A donor database is the software system or central hub that nonprofits use to store and track donor information. This information includes everything from their contact information and giving history to their interests and past involvement with the organization.

Nonprofits might use spreadsheets or CRM software, also known as donor management software, to manage their donor database.

Can I use spreadsheets to track my donors?

Spreadsheets can be used in place of a donor database, but updating and maintaining these sheets will require more time and energy than using a database. And, spreadsheets are more prone to human error. Databases allow users to manipulate large amounts of data at once and find the information they need easily through search queries.

Whether or not your nonprofit is ready to move away from spreadsheets and toward a database will depend on your organization’s size and specific needs. To help make your decision, review Bloomerang’s guide to choosing your first donor database. This resource includes more information about the benefits of a donor database and how to make the most of your database.

How does a donor database benefit nonprofits?

Donor databases benefit nonprofits by keeping all the information they need in one place. Databases for nonprofits are outfitted with tools that help with every aspect of running an effective organization.

A donor database helps you track key information about your contacts. Ultimately, you can use this information to build genuine relationships with your donors.

Beyond basic contact information, additional information stored in your donor database might include donors’ birthdays or anniversaries, name(s) of their spouses or children, communication preferences, employment information, passion projects within the organization, why or how they give and even their giving patterns. This kind of data will help you understand your donors better and communicate with them in a way that appeals to their interests.

Successful fundraising requires fostering strong, meaningful ties with those who believe in your mission. The act of giving is a natural outcome of relationship building; meaningful gifts rarely come from strangers. People are more inclined to give and continue giving when they feel closer to your organization.

How can I use donor data to connect with my donors?

So, how can you put your donor data to work to actively improve donor relationships? Let’s take a look at a specific example.

Let’s say you have a donor named Melody Michaels. You create a donor profile for Melody in your donor database and fill it with a variety of information, including her birthday, employment information and past volunteer history.

On her birthday, you send Melody a happy birthday email letting her know you’re thinking of her. Later, you review her employment data and see that Melody is eligible for a matching gift through her job at Verizon. After Melody donates to your Giving Tuesday campaign, you thank her for the gift and send her information about applying for a matching gift through her employer. Lastly, you send messages thanking Melody for her past volunteer work and showing her how your organization uses donations to fund supplies for volunteer opportunities.

As you can see, you can personalize each interaction your nonprofit has with Melody simply using the information you’ve collected about her in your donor database.

Remember to keep donor database best practices in mind to ensure your database stays clean, organized and easy to use. These best practices include only tracking information that’s most relevant to your campaigns and regularly auditing your database to remove or correct errors.

Is there free donor database software?

Those looking for a low-cost way to take their operation online may be interested in free donor database software. However, a free donor database will likely only cover a growing organization’s basic needs (including general donor management and data storage) and may still require the use of spreadsheets.

Also, some free packages may be more comprehensive but require a preliminary software investment to gain access to nonprofit-specific tools. For example, Salesforce offers a free Nonprofit Success Pack, but only for organizations with an existing Salesforce account. Free database software often also lacks the custom-tailored customer support of other platforms and will likely require some time and attention from an IT expert.

What features should I look for in a donor database?

You should ensure the donor database you invest in offers the features you need to track and report on donor data effectively. At a minimum, your donor database should include these features:

  • Donor profiles. Donor profiles are the contacts within your donor database that store information such as donors’ full names, titles, giving histories, birthdays, personal connections to other donors or staff members and other relevant data.
  • Segmentation tools. These include the filters you can apply to your donor database that allow you to create donor groups and develop targeted communications for each segment.
  • Donor timeline and interaction history. Knowing exactly how and when donors have interacted with your organization in the past is key to building genuine relationships. With a donor timeline, you can view each supporter’s past engagement, including donations, volunteer involvement, event attendance and other interactions.
  • Integrations. Your donor database should be able to integrate with other software platforms you’re already using. This might include your email marketing platform, event management system and accounting software. Integrations ensure seamless data transfers between these platforms and your donor database software.

Top-of-the-line donor databases go above and beyond with specialized features that help automate data-tracking processes and supplement your internal data with additional information. For example, Bloomerang’s robust donor database software includes the basic features listed above and additional helpful tools like:

  • Interactive dashboard. Bloomerang offers an interactive dashboard to gain a bird’s-eye view of the state of your donor management efforts. This dashboard allows you to view your donor retention rate, measure your campaign success and track incoming donations in real time.
  • Wealth screening. Bloomerang partners with DonorSearch, a trusted wealth-screening provider, to offer a Generosity Score for each supporter. This score reveals how likely a donor is to submit a major gift. You can use this metric to identify the major gift prospects that your organization should build relationships with.
  • Engagement meter. The engagement meter assesses how engaged each supporter is based on their past interactions with your nonprofit, including donating, volunteering and engaging with your marketing campaigns. Your most important major donor prospects will be those who exhibit high generosity and engagement scores.
  • Nightly data updates. Bloomerang offers automatic nightly data updates, including updates for birthday and address information. Having accurate birthday and address information allows you to create donor segments based on birth year and ensure your direct mail outreach is going to the right homes.

These features will allow you to identify hidden fundraising potential within your existing supporter base, personalize your marketing outreach and continue making the best use of the software solutions you already have.

How should I choose a donor database?

Choosing the right donor database system for your nonprofit takes time and consideration. Follow these steps to find the best system to fit your needs:

  1. Create a list of must-have and nice-to-have features. Define the features you absolutely need from your donor database and the ones that would be nice to have but aren’t essentials. When narrowing down your options, make sure your top choices offer all of your must-haves and several of your nice-to-haves.
  2. Request demos. Before making your final decision, request demos from each of your top options to see what the platforms look like in action. Make sure the staff members who will use your database the most can participate in the demos since their input will be especially valuable to the decision-making process.
  3. Consider your budget. Eliminate any options from your list that exceed your budget—these options will not lead to a high ROI.  Also, it’s often worthwhile to look for a solution that offers a sliding payment scale based on the size of your organization. That way, the solution will grow alongside your nonprofit as you add more contacts to your database.
  4. Assess support services. When transitioning to a new donor database system, you’ll need to migrate your data from your old system to your new one. Many donor management solutions offer professional support services to ensure your data transfers properly. Also, look for a provider that offers coaching and support services to help you make the most of your database.

Review our donor database buyer’s guide if you need more tips to help choose your first donor management software. Our guide also reviews top donor database options to help kick off the research process.

What are other types of nonprofit databases?

Donor databases aren’t the only types of nonprofit databases available. It’s helpful to look for a donor database that offers these additional databases already built-in or one that integrates with the other databases your nonprofit is already using. Let’s take a quick look at a few additional types of databases your organization could benefit from.

Volunteer database

Volunteer databases are the foundation of effective volunteer management. Volunteer databases offer tools for recruiting, training, scheduling, retaining and communicating with volunteers.

Membership database

Membership databases make it easy for organizations to sell and manage memberships. Nonprofits can create membership portals where members can view exclusive updates from the organization’s work or update their membership information.

Fundraising database

Fundraising databases serve essentially the same functions as other nonprofit databases. They allow organizations to create fundraising campaigns, plan promotional materials, collect donor information and process payment information.

Matching gift database

Matching gift databases enable donors to search for gift matching information by providing a database of companies that have gift matching programs. Matching gift databases also make it possible for donors to submit matching gifts using the forms and instructions provided by the database.

The bottom line

Nonprofit and donor databases are essential for organizations looking to thrive in the digital world. Databases make it easy for organizations to perform necessary functions like collecting donor information, accepting donations and sending donor communications.

Review these additional resources for more information on donor management processes and software: