7 Steps to Choosing Donor Management Software

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So we all know that the right donor management software can save your nonprofit time and money, bring in more donations, and walk your dog when you’re too comfortable to get out of bed in the morning.

If all that sounds a little too good to be true, it is.

DMS can’t walk your dog yet, and before you can begin to reap all of its benefits, you have to do some serious legwork to find the software that is just right for your organization.

7 steps choosing donor management

If you take a look at your options, it can seem like there are too many to choose from. The good news is that the abundance of choices makes it more likely that you will find the solution that fits your unique set of needs. The bad news is finding the perfect match takes work.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to show you how:

1. Consider your desired functionality

Research common features of donor management software online, and be sure to consider your needs, your budget, and the limitations of your operation. Do you have a full development team handling tens of thousands of constituents or a couple of staff members wearing what seem like tens of thousands of hats? Don’t pay for features you’re not going to be able to use.

2. Consult a directory

Start making a long list of donor management products that fit the criteria you determined in step 1. Be sure to pay special attention to customer reviews, and even ask your peers what products have worked for them. Remember that there are no bad ideas in donor management software brainstorming, so don’t be afraid to cast a wide net.

3. Make a scorecard

Consult your fundraisers to get an idea of what software functionality would best aid their efforts. Make an ordered list of priorities and use this as a consistent evaluation method and a way to keep notes. If most of your fundraising is done online, then be sure to rank website integration high on your list. Similarly, if you’re looking to capitalize on peer to peer fundraising, be sure to note ease of use.

4. Set up demos and/or free trials with your top contenders

Schedule live demos or download free trials for your top contenders and invite your staff to participate. Remember to have everyone take notes–after a couple of demos they can all blend together. On that note, free trials and demos are time consuming, but remember they are vital to making an informed decision. Buying software without first completing a demo or free trial would be like deciding to move to San Francisco after seeing a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.

5. Ask questions

Be sure to ask representatives from each software company you demo about the next couple of scheduled updates. With Millennial donors growing in number, you’re going to need a software solution that is constantly updating to keep their interest. Also, be sure to ask about bug fixes, implementation schedules, training, and any other hot-topic items specific to your organization. The responsiveness of your sales representative should be helpful in indicating their company’s level of customer support.

6. Wrap up, analyze costs, and make decisions

Bring employees back together to discuss scores, and make sure you have all of your questions answered. Itemize the projected cost for software, training, configuration, and support over the next three years. Software is an investment, and you want to be sure to select a product that can grow with your organization. Add these totals up and then calculate your average annual and monthly cost. This will help you find the best value.

7. Negotiate

Identify costs and deliverables, and work with your chosen vendor to settle on a fair price. Be sure to ask about fees, licensing, updates, and add-ons. Also, be conscious of the time of year and month when you decide to sign a contract, because you may get a better deal at specific times. Software vendors tend to offer promotions toward the end of the month and quarter in order to meet sales quotas. Many nonprofits also gear up their donation season around the holidays, so you may get a better offer if you purchase during this busy time while other organizations are too preoccupied to even be thinking about new software. You won’t have it fully implemented in time for the holiday season this year, but next year you’ll be ahead of the curve!

It’s a long road to finding the perfect donor management software, but, once you’ve found that just right solution, you’ll be glad you did. So will your staff, your fundraisers, your donors, and (one day) even your dog. If you need any help along the way, head over to Capterra’s directory of donor management software to compare options and receive free software guidance.

Looking for software? Check out Capterra's list of the best software solutions.

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About the Author

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Tiare Dunlap

Tiare Dunlap is a Software Analyst for Capterra, a company that loves connecting buyers and sellers of business software. She specializes in software for non-profits. When she’s not covering the industry, you can find her fidgeting, playing tennis, or reading (most likely on the metro--it's a long commute).

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