The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

8 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Donor Management System

8 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Donor Management System

Donor management system (DMS) software allows nonprofits to put their donor data to work and manage fundraising and communications from one location. Ultimately, a DMS gives nonprofits the ability to learn what’s important to their donors, deliver a better donor experience, increase donations, and operate more efficiently with reduced costs. 

Choosing a Donor Management System

All DMS software tools have basic traits in common. But they vary widely when it comes to functionality and ease of use. Choosing the right software for your nonprofit can be tricky. Every nonprofit has unique needs, and you want to be sure that the software you pick will be simple to use, provide comprehensive insight into your donors’ giving activity and priorities, and enable you to plan campaigns effectively. To help you as you’re evaluating the options, here are eight questions to ask when choosing a donor management system for your organization. 

1) Should we purchase an all-in-one DMS or mix and match providers?

All-in-one systems are easy to use because the functions are all designed to work together. Additionally, your data will be kept consistent and up-to-date because it’s housed in one central location. Workflows are simplified, and upgrades are easy. However, depending on the functionality your organization needs, you may not be able to find an integrated system that has it all. In that case, you should be able to integrate additional software to expand capability. Some all-in-ones offer simple integrations via APIs, so look for one that makes integration easy.

2) Have we considered the process of data migration and import?

Not all DMS systems handle data migration and import the same way. In fact, some have difficult and costly migration and import processes. Find out what the processes require and if there is a fee involved. You’ll also want to see how much help the vendor offers, and if this help comes with a separate price tag. Ask questions like how long the process will take and what protections they have in place to ensure your data is not at risk. 

3) Are we taking precautions with respect to data security?

Speaking of data being protected, no matter which provider you go with, you’ll want to have your donor data backed up in a secure location. Don’t keep this data on unsecured laptops or servers, as this makes your organization vulnerable. Look for a cloud solution with strong system controls.

4) Have we evaluated the overall viability of each DMS provider?

You need confidence that the vendor you choose will be around for the long term. The potential pitfalls are many for companies that aren’t well established or that don’t have experience with nonprofits. Startup software companies often run into cash flow problems, customer service issues, and other hurdles that sometimes result in a shutdown. Other software companies may have strong histories but lack an understanding of needs specific to nonprofits, meaning they’re unable to customize the software to your needs sufficiently. 

For each vendor you’re considering, look at how long they’ve been in business, what existing customers have to say about their happiness with them, whether they’re updating the product regularly and adding new features, and whether their product is built for nonprofits.

5) How easily can we track data in the DMS and take action based on it?

You need to be able to quickly and easily see donor information, track how your campaigns are performing, and find out if your communications are effective. You should be able to create visual reports and use your data to improve your campaigns and donor stewardship program.

6) Does the DMS integrate with the other tools we need to use?

If your nonprofit relies on other software functions that are outside what’s typically included in a DMS, your DMS will need to integrate with the other software you use. Be sure that integrations are offered and that they’re easy to set up. Find out if additional integrations create duplicate data or other problems, and ask if there are fees involved in setting up additional integrations.

7) What is the pricing plan and structure?

Unfortunately, hidden fees for training, data import, and other services are common. Ask about additional fees up front. Look for pricing structures that are clear and transparent. You don’t want to be surprised by charges based on confusing pricing tiers. Also, make sure that the pricing structure is flexible. Your DMS should grow with you, since your needs will expand in the future. 

8) What about customer service?

You should be able to get help when you need it, via a method that’s convenient for you — including phone, email, and chat. Find out if you can get answers in a reasonable amount of time. Ideally, the provider will assign a point person to help you onboard and get going in the new DMS. You should also have access to training or coaching opportunities to help you get the most out of the system, without being charged extra for training.

A DMS is a powerful tool that will help you streamline operations and boost revenue, but you’ll only be able to get top results with a DMS that’s suited to your specific needs. Asking these questions will give you a clear picture of what each vendor can do for you, and where each falls short. Taking your time to evaluate your options thoroughly will give you confidence that you’ve made the best choice. 

Want to learn more about how a DMS can help your organization and what to look for in a DMS? Read our Buyer’s Guide to Nonprofit DMS Software.

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About This Blog

Carrie Saracini
Content Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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