The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

What to Look for in a Donor Management System (and Why)

What to Look for in a Donor Management System (and Why)

A donor management system (DMS) helps you collect, organize, and use your donor data more effectively while automating repeated tasks associated with fundraising. With a DMS, your nonprofit can operate more efficiently and increase revenue through more strategically-crafted campaigns.

What to Look for in a DMS

All donor management systems are not created equal. Functionality varies widely from one DMS to another. Some DMS systems primarily serve as databases, while others allow you to create and run multi-channel fundraising campaigns from the software. Ease of use varies as well. To streamline your processes as much as possible and get the most out of the software you choose, here’s what to look for in a donor management system.

Insight Capabilities

  • Robust Dashboard — Being able to see the information you need at a glance will save time you’d otherwise spend creating unique reports. You should be able to configure the dashboard to show the data you most often access.
  • Real-Time Activity Feed — In addition to a customizable dashboard, you’ll want to see a feed that reports activity happening in real-time. This is especially important when running time-based fundraising campaigns.
  • Robust Contact Profiles with Custom Fields — The more you know about your donors, the better able you’ll be to customize and personalize your communications. Contact profiles should allow you to easily add information and later sort and segment by a wide variety of criteria. You’ll also want to be able to create custom fields to add data that is unique to your organization.
  • Householding and Relationships — It’s helpful to know which donors are related and who knows who. You can use these relationships to better target constituents.

Automation Capabilities

  • Duplicate Prevention and Merging — Donors have multiple email addresses and phone numbers, so it’s easy to end up with duplicates if your DMS can’t identify and merge duplicate records.
  • Simple Query Builder and Segmentation — It should be simple and quick to find the data you need in your DMS, and just as easy to create segmented lists. 
  • Task Management and Reminders — One of the most beneficial functions of a DMS is organizing your team’s tasks and automatically sending reminders to the individuals assigned to each task. Task management ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.

Campaign Building and Management Capabilities

  • Donation Page Builder — With peer-to-peer fundraising being so popular and effective, it’s essential to have donation pages that your fundraising partners can customize. Your DMS can make it simple to create a master design that’s easy for your partners to tailor. Having your donation pages as part of your DMS means that all the data and donations that come in through these pages are automatically recorded and easily searchable.
  • Custom Forms — You’ll want the ability to create custom forms for use on your donation pages and website pages.
  • Send and Track Email Blasts — Sure, you can always use a separate email service, but having this functionality built into your DMS allows you to collect all associated data in your DMS. You can easily create reports that show which emails were the most opened, which links were the most popular in a given email, and how much money was generated from each email.
  • Mail Merge and Direct Mail — Easily create offline communications with data in your DMS by using the mail merge and direct mail functionality.
  • Bulk Text Messaging — Communicate with your donors whatever way they find most appealing, including text messaging.
  • Text-to-Give — You can make it easy for donors to give at special events by offering text-to-give. Your DMS can set up text-to-give campaigns, including numbers, and track all of the data and gifts associated with each campaign. 
  • Campaign Management and Pledge Management — Easily create, run, and analyze campaigns from your DMS. Track pledges and send reminders to constituents.
  • Accessible via Mobile Devices — Today’s teams are always seeking to optimize their productivity, often working on the go. If your DMS isn’t easy to use on smartphones and tablets, your staff will be frustrated.

These capabilities all work together to help your organization run more smoothly, get better results from your fundraising efforts, and retain donors for the long term. While you can certainly benefit from a DMS that’s less robust, you’ll likely find yourself wishing for additional functionality, especially as your organization grows. A good vendor will offer these capabilities at an affordable cost, with tiered pricing levels that grow with you — and won’t charge additional fees for training and setup.  

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

Amanda Khoury
Marketing Manager

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

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