5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Donor Tracking Software

Jeff Gordy

On a good day, fundraising can be hard.

There’s so much to learn and stay on top of, and if you’re trying to do it without a software to track donations and donors, it’s much worse.

For those thinking of getting their first donor-tracking tool (and those thinking of switching), we’ll cover the top five questions to ask to make sure you’re getting the right one for you:

  1. Who’s using the software?
  2. What do we need to track?
  3. What’s our budget?
  4. What support will we need?
  5. What do other users think about the tool?

Let’s get started!

1. Who’s using the software?

The obvious answer is the person doing the data entry, but will that be you or possibly someone else in finance? Or maybe it’s going to be a volunteer who is “good with computers.”

Think about who will be using the software and what their skills are. You may even want to have them participate in the evaluation process to get their input.

Also, think about if there’s anyone else (Executive Director, Board Chair, Fundraising Committee Chair, etc.) who might need access just to look up information. Will the system let you set up different kinds of users, such as some who can enter or change info and others who can only look?

It might be helpful if you have someone who needs access to view the data, but doesn’t need to be able to make any updates.

2. What do we need to track?

Start by making a list of the kinds of information you’d like to get out of your new software. This will help you determine the kinds of data you need to record and store within the tool.

First, you’ll need donor names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers. You’ll also need giving info like gift date, reason for the gift (campaign code), how the gift was made (check, cash, credit card, etc.), and which thank-you letter was sent.

Beyond that, what else do you want to track? Do you want to be able to see who is connected to other donors (siblings, parent/child, employer/employee, etc.)? Will you need to track volunteers (their work preferences and hours they’ve worked)? What about event ticket sales? Crowdfunding results? Memberships? Which emails they’ve opened?

Once you have a good idea on exactly what you want to track, you can easily evaluate the software to see if it can track those things and if so, how it does it. You can even pull sample reports to see what they look like and if they’re customizable.

3. What’s our budget?

This is an obviously important question, but with a couple of subtleties like:

  • How much do you want to spend on the software?
  • Do you want to pay once and own the tool, or are you willing to pay a lower amount as a monthly fee?
  • Are you willing to pay an extra fee up front to have the company migrate your data from whatever you’re using now into the new software?
  • Will your team need training or can you figure it out yourself?

It’s important to review your budget to see how much you can spend on a new software before you start shopping around.

4. What support will we need?

There are even more questions to consider after you get the software like:

  • How much help will you need getting it up and running?
  • Will you need help setting up the funding codes and custom fields?
  • Have you thought through how you’ll tag and categorize people into groups so you can easily pull lists of people for mailings and outreach?

Knowing what your current techie capabilities are and aren’t will help you determine how much help you’ll need, which will impact your training cost, both initially and ongoing.

Once your new software is in place and you’re using it, you will then need further clarification on a few things. What does tech support look like? Does the company offer phone support or an online chat? Is it free or do you have to pay for it? How fast can you get your question answered?

These are questions you need to answer before you choose a software, because they will impact your cost and the usability of the tool.

Many donor-tracking software companies offer an online knowledge base where you can search for answers as you need them. They also offer lots of webinars to help you better learn to use the tool.

As you’re evaluating the tools, see what the company offers during the time you’re ramping up your software and also what they offer as ongoing training and support.

5. What do other users think of the tool?

It’s always a good idea to find out what other users think about the software.

You can usually get some great insight from current users by asking the company for referrals or better yet, asking in your network who is using the tool and what they think about it.

Find out what they like and what they don’t like about it. Have they run into anything where they’re stuck trying to get a report to work for them? Are they having trouble with any of the features?

Sometimes their problems will become your problems down the road and it’s good to know about them ahead of time before you buy.

Ultimately, it’s up to you which software to choose. They all have similarities and they’re all just a little different.

Really, it’s like buying a car — it depends on which features are most important to you. You can buy a car because it gets great gas mileage, or because it has a powerful engine, or because it just looks cool. It’s the same thing with a donor-tracking software.

Get clear about what you want it to do, then go test drive a few to see what you like. If you buy one you like, you’ll be more likely to dig in and use it, and that’s the most important thing.

Sandy Rees Headshot


This post comes to us from Sandy Rees, the founder and Chief Encouragement Officer at Get Fully Funded. Sandy and her team help nonprofits become game-changers through developing sustainable fundraising strategies.

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