Choosing donor management software is a lot like planning a vacation. It’s a long process that involves balancing your needs and desires with the limits of your budget. The decision making process can be stressful and overwhelming, but when you’re finally stretched out on that beach (or staring at an elegant and clean interface that holds all of your data) you can rest assured that all of your hard work has paid off.
Beginning your search can be daunting, so it’s important to start off on the right foot. Ideally, what you want to do is get the best vacation possible for the best value. Don’t start by thinking you can only afford a weekend trip or you’ll limit your choices prematurely. Start with what you really want and see what’s possible. You’d hate yourself if you found out you could have had that 5-night trip to Paris for only a little more than what you settled for.
Like vacations, donor management software solutions can be broken up into a few general price categories for comparison. Think of them as geographic regions. Every product that fits into the category isn’t exactly the same, but they have similar features and price points. Use the guide below to compare “regions” and help you make an informed decision that fits your desires…and your budget.
Going with a free system is like taking a staycation. Sure, these solutions are free and effective, but it will take a little work to reap the benefits.
- Allow organizations to create an up to date list of donors and their donation history.
- With many of these solutions, donors can update their own information online.
- Online payment processing is available, but it’s far from the top of the line.
Who buys these?
The buyers in this category are split:
- They can be very small organizations without too much to manage, or
- Tech savvy organizations with little money to spend but the necessary time and skills to dedicate to getting packages up, running, and fully configured.
- Wild Apricot offers a free (ad-supported) version for up to 50 members. After 50 members the cost varies depending on the number of contacts you hold, going up to $200/month for over 15,000 members.
- There are other free products out there without a limit on membership. These products require some serious “tech know-how” on your organization’s part to configure and implement.
Price Range: Free
Example product that offers a free trial: Wild Apricot
Lower End Solutions
These are like travelling within your state. It gets the job done, but you might not be completely floored with the end result.
- These products are built to work “out of the box” without a large up-front investment and should require little to no training to learn.
- Hosted tools tend to be less expensive since they usually don’t charge for upgrades, backups, or other maintenance.
- Some of the basic functions are contact management, donor profiling, segmentation, and emailing.
Who buys these?
- Smaller organizations that don’t need to manage a lot of donors (less than a few thousand) or don’t have a complex fundraising process.
- For organizations that fit this profile, events don’t make up a huge part of fundraising efforts and a tight budget influences all technology related decisions.
- Many of these packages offer optional ‘modules’ at an extra cost. In some cases these modules cover volunteer management, online payments, website integration, segmented management, and outlook integration.
Price Range: Around $200-400 per month (often depending on membership)
Product example with free trial: Charity Master
Like domestic travel, these types of systems are affordable and effective.
- These solutions offer more expansive donor profiling, reporting and analysis that begin to support the needs of experienced fundraising professionals.
- Advanced functions include tracking individuals, organizations, and relationships, as well as managing volunteers.
- You’ll also find certain products in this range with strong email blasting and tracking, integrated website management, and integrated online payment processing.
Who buys these?
- Organizations that do a lot of fundraising and also interact with event registrants, program participants, constituents, and more.
- Organizations that need something highly configurable could also benefit from these solutions. In this case, a more advanced system will let you track custom interactions and tailor the workflow to help you streamline operations.
- These generally require more time and resources to implement, learn, and support but can offer a greater depth and variety of capabilities.
- With solutions in the more advanced area, you begin to see a lot of crossover with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.
- Donor Management systems and CRMs offer much of the same functionality but differ in the groups they focus on.
- There’s a difference between CRM systems and others that track just donors and have little functionality to support event attendees, volunteers, members or other constituents.
- More systems are shifting focus to track all different kinds of constituents in one place.
Price Range: $300-800/month plus possible set up or support fees
Product Example with Free Trial: Donor Perfect
High End Solutions
Making a sizable investment in software is like taking a grand tour of Europe or a jaunt through East Asia. You have to be willing to spend the money and have a pretty solid idea of what you’re looking for to make them work.
- More complex features and functions on the large scale.
- Due to the size of the organizations that use them, products are often geared towards highly specific verticals (like hospital fundraising) or functions (like direct mail or benchmarking).
Who buys these?
- National nonprofit organizations with money to spend and highly specific, large-scale needs.
- They require more time and resources to implement, often meaning a big budget and an in-house IT staff.
Price Range: $100,000 to $1,000,000 or more
You’re not going to find too many free trials in this area, but it couldn’t hurt to ask!
The best way to choose donation software is to understand your own needs and try to match those with the available tools. Just like you wouldn’t plan a discounted trip to New Orleans in August if you couldn’t stand humidity, don’t let price be the only factor you consider. Keep an eye on balancing your budget with your desires.
Similarly, don’t assume that the most complex system will work the best for you; over complicated software could just be harder for you and your staff to use. That’s a waste of time and money if you don’t need such advanced features.
Also remember that software is an investment, so don’t just think about what you need now, anticipate what you will need in the future.