All About Donor Management: Building a Nonprofit Donor Database You Can Depend On

April 17, 2021
10 minutes

No matter the size of your nonprofit or the focus of your cause, there’s something that all organizations have in common: they have donors—and therefore have to consider donor management. In other words, every nonprofit worth its salt needs to keep detailed records of its donors (including volunteers) by building a powerful donor database.

Most nonprofits have good relationships with their donors and make them a priority, and some recognize that having a big-picture donor strategy is critical, but regardless of where you’re at in this journey, there are some clear do’s and don’ts to consider.

We’ve put together a donor management guide that provides nonprofits of all sizes a list of essential tips for thriving when it comes to growing your donor base, keeping them happy, and improving all the technical and reporting bits that make this possible. If you’re struggling to figure out how to keep your donors engaged or you want to take things to the next level, we’ve got you covered.

What exactly is donor management?

The concept sounds easy enough (you know, managing your donors…), but actually putting a donor management system into place is not as simple as it seems. Each nonprofit will have its own ideas when it comes to how to approach this, but there are a few key things to keep in mind. First, you’ll want to keep detailed records of who your donors are, where they live, how much they’ve contributed, and how often. Easy enough with an Excel spreadsheet when you’re small, but it can get sticky very quickly. 

Depending on the structure of your organization, it might be smart to track where funds are allocated, especially if you have multiple campaigns happening at once. Donors may not always be forthcoming with their personal information, so whatever you can gather and retain from them will prove to be useful in the long run (and anything you can do to put them at ease is important). Even with the fastest data entry fingers and the prettiest spreadsheet, you’re probably going to find that you want a better solution before long.

‍‍Consider your donor management software

If you were to describe what your current donor database looks like, how would that portrayal go? Do you currently cross-check information across multiple spreadsheets? How many tabs and documents do you have to open to figure out how to contact a donor and see their donation history? 36% of nonprofit organizations struggle to collate donor information, and as a result, they find themselves losing important data through institutional memory loss.

Now imagine this: you sit down at your computer and open one program that contains everything you need to oversee your donor management.

It would be a flood of relief to have access to tidy and useful donor management software, right?

Good news: you already have that access!

A donation management system like this may sound advanced, but it’s actually simpler than a spreadsheet. And it won’t cost you any extra since you’ve just signed up for a Funraise Free account.

A nonprofit donor management system that works for you

The donor management tools built into Funraise are intuitive and help you track and nurture donor relationships. From one simple platform, you've got access to everything below. But hey, just to warn you, some of this stuff is exclusive to our paid product. So if you see something you want but don't have, hit us up so we can talk features.

Track donor retention rates

Cultivate recurring donors by seeing which donors your development staff needs to reconnect with or when donors are dropping off. As a reminder, recurring donations are reliable and consistent, which allows your organization to plan and budget more effectively. Plus, according to one study, the average monthly donor gives almost six times as much as a one-time donor over the course of a year. Come back, LYBUNTY!

See donation history

View donation histories by month or year and also by individual donor or household.

Review all of your donors in one place

Get a clear view of the big picture! Pinpoint who makes up the bulk of your donor base and where your org can grow. Then, use the information you have to be smart about how you’re interacting with your donors. Who used to donate regularly but has fallen out of contact? Who has upped their contributions lately and might be a good candidate for more personalized outreach? 

Organize your donor database

Make it easy for your development staff to see who to nurture. Create and manage donation levels and segment donor portfolios.

Create workflows for development staff

This is a biggie, and one of Funraise's favorite features. The best part: no more guessing games about where to put staff energy, cuz it all flows where it's needed.

Track supporter data

Easily access, edit, and manage donor data including interactions, emails, household info, subscriptions, and a lot more. All in one place!

Filter donors based on demographics

Create handy reports to get the data down-low on who supports your nonprofit, track donation activity, and debrief after events and campaigns. You can keep things basic and segment donors into local and non-local contributors or target your marketing efforts based on age. Or you can segment your donor data based on how frequently people contribute, allowing you to see where you need to increase your engagement efforts.

Keep track of donor communications

Log and track donor interactions, including emails and social media engagement. Make note of coffee dates, high fives, and fist bumps, if you want! And, of course, track those all-important thank you’s.

Automate what you can

Offload some of your more tedious workflows and free up time for your team to work on things that actually require a human touch (and that they actually enjoy). 

Best of all, when you create lists or reports in Funraise you can save them. That means finding information quickly and easily for grant applications and meetings. Impromptu strategic planning meeting? No problem, you've got reports on donors on transactions ready to go. Or you can apply filters and quickly create reports while you're meeting. Plus, it’s all saved in the same place, so any team member can access the information if needed.

Funraise is so stoked to have you; our donation management software is ready to transform your fundraising experience.

Useful Tips on How to Manage Your Nonprofit's Donor Data

Now you know all about what you can do with a great donor CMS like Funraise. But how do you make the most of that valuable data? Your donor base and volunteers breathe life into your organization. They keep your lights on, provide all the hands necessary to handle your fun runs and bake sales, and help support your mission. The more you know about them, the better chance you have at cultivating flourishing relationships. So, what exactly should you know about these people? 

You may think all you need is a name and email address. While that’s a good start, there’s so much more to discover about your donors! If you aren’t doing it already, this is a good time to consider starting some prospect research. 

There are many characteristics you’ll want to know about your donors:

  1. Biographical and contact information
  2. Connections to your organization
  3. Connections to other nonprofit organizations
  4. Business and education connections
  5. Wealth indicators
  6. Social media or online presences
  7. Family and personal information

While this might seem like a lot, with a good system for managing contacts and a bit of care, you can streamline donor data to save time on fundraising efforts and nourish genuine donor relationships. Time to transform your donor relationships from boring to brilliant. Let’s get started!

A mockup of address lines in pink with a silhouette.

1. Biographical and contact information

This is the first step toward collecting useful donor data because it’s the simplest! Your organization probably already does this by collecting names and email addresses to track involvement. 

What else should you be collecting?

  • Name 
  • Age 
  • Salutation (Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Mx., Dr., etc.) 
  • Birthday 
  • Home address or PO box 
  • Email address 
  • Phone number

With this information, you’ll be able to contact your supporters no matter how you’re conducting your current campaign. Phone-a-thon? Direct mail campaign? Benefit dinner? No problem! 

These details also help you segment donors. Segmenting just means dividing your whole population of donors by things like age, marital status, region, or level of giving. Segmentation allows you to tailor campaigns to specific people, optimize your communication strategy, and increase campaign efficiency. 

The most important thing about this group of data points is keeping it updated! A disconnected phone or old street address is useless, resulting in wasted time and money during campaigns. Consider an annual ‘contact information update’ drive - just email or call your constituents to see if their information has changed.  As a bonus, this also keeps your organization top of mind.

blue lines on a white grid lead to a heart.

2. Their connections to your organization

Consider this embarrassing situation: you call a potential donor and start explaining your mission, only to have them inform you they’ve been a dedicated donor and volunteer for over three years! Uhhh, oops. 

This situation would make you feel uninformed and make them feel unappreciated. By managing your donor data in a clear and updated manner, this won’t happen to you. In each donor profile, keep track of these key data points:

  • Their history of volunteer work for your nonprofit. 
  • Their previous donations to your group, tracking the recency, frequency, and monetary value of their gifts. 
  • Their history of attendance at your events. 
  • Any other information about their involvement. Are they a board member? Are they a business owner who partnered with you in the past?

Knowing this information keeps you in the loop on their involvement with your organization. This data also allows you to track their patterns of engagement. 

For instance, can you rely on them during the winter season, but they tend to be out of town in the summer? Then, let them know about upcoming autumn or winter events! Have they previously contributed the same amount every year, but you haven’t heard from them this year? Call them and let them know you appreciate their past gifts and want to follow up. 

By understanding what these donors have done for your organization in the past, you can make them feel acknowledged and appreciated, and therefore more willing to continue working with your nonprofit.

Different colored lines represent different nonprofits connecting with donors' hearts.

3. Connections to other nonprofits or fundraising organizations

Another important tidbit to track is your donors' philanthropic history with other nonprofits. How does this help your organization? It can be beneficial in a few ways. 

First, here’s what to look for:

  • Contributions to other nonprofit organizations 
  • The recency, frequency, and monetary value of those contributions 
  • Contributions to any political organizations like parties or campaigns

This information helps you understand both your donor's giving capacity and motivation. 

If your donor gives frequently to organizations focusing on environmental protection or animal welfare, use that knowledge to lead your next conversation with them. Demonstrate how your organization’s mission aligns with their values. Their contributions to political campaigns can help in the same way. 

Finally, by knowing the last time they gave, the number of times they’ve given, and the amount they’ve donated, you can optimize your donation requests. 

Recency indicates they’re still passionate about the causes they're donating to and are open to supporting your mission. Frequency indicates they might be willing to sign up for a recurring gift. Monetary amount is useful in a few ways. First, it allows you to understand a donor’s giving capacity. Different people contribute in different ways: some with time and effort as a volunteer, and some in a financial capacity through donations. 

Large donations indicate a habit of financial support. Knowing how much they’ve given in the past is useful because you can ask for that same amount, removing the guesswork on their behalf. By analyzing their history, you can ensure to reach donors who are most connected to the heart of your cause.

Yellow and blue lines on a grid lead from donors to businesses to schools.

4. Business and education connections

When learning about your donors, it's helpful to know where they went to school and where they currently work. 

First, it allows you to encourage your donors to leverage connections among their social networks. Maybe you have a few donors who all went to the same school. Your organization could reach out to them about doing a school-specific campaign, where members can fundraise among their school friends for your cause. 

If you know their alma mater, you can also use this information to inform your seating charts at any charity events you might hold! Encouraging your donors to make personal connections with other donors is a great way to ensure they remain engaged with your organization

Knowing where your donors and volunteers work is also an important part of understanding them. Why is this?

  1. If you have a lot of donors who work for the same employer, you could reach out to the employer about a partnership, sponsorship, or other connection. 
  2. You can research your community’s employers’ matching gifts policy, potentially doubling the impact of their donation. 
  3. You can learn if your donors are eligible for volunteer work grants, where an employer will give money to a nonprofit based on the number of hours their employee worked for that nonprofit. 
  4. Being aware of your donors’ educational networks and business affiliations allows you to make those connections work for your organization.
Green lines on a grid indicate money coming in and out.

5. Their wealth indicators

Knowing your donors’ wealth indicators is a great way to maximize your fundraising ability. 

First, what is a wealth indicator? These indicators can include:

  • Real estate ownership 
  • Vehicle ownership 
  • Boat ownership 
  • Stock ownership

Okay, so a few of your donors might live in a fancy house, or occasionally escape to a cabin in the mountains. What does this have to do with your organization? 

While the cabin might be just a cabin, it does indicate a certain level of financial wealth. Knowing your donors are at this level empowers you to make more effective fundraising requests by understanding which donors have the potential to make a major gift. 

By tracking these indicators, you can more effectively plan your fundraising efforts by identifying who to ask for lower-level gifts, mid-level gifts, and major gifts.

An orange cell phone with yellow wifi waves.

6. Their social media or online presence

If your organization is hip to the times, it probably has its own Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram alongside a traditional website. You might even have someone on your team who plans your posts and tweets. So what do you need your donors’ social media handles for? 

Following someone on social media is the first step in getting to know them. By knowing what your supporters talk about online, you can better understand their priorities and values. 

Second, you can ensure you’re communicating with your constituents across the board. Many companies nowadays interact with their customers via social media regarding anything from product control to applying for jobs. Why shouldn’t you? 

If you’re engaged with your supporters on social media, they'll be more engaged with you. They can be encouraged to use your hashtags, share your events, and spread your message! 

Finally, everyone likes to feel acknowledged and appreciated. Give donors a #shoutout if they come to your events, participate in volunteer days, or otherwise support your cause.

pink and purple lines lead between purple happy faces on a white grid.

7. Their family and personal information

Our last tip on the important types of donor information to collect seems a little strange, but we promise it’ll pay off. Your organization should try to collect personal information about your donors! 

This can include anything, and we mean anything:

  • Wedding anniversary 
  • Children, and their names and ages 
  • Pets 
  • Hobbies or special interests

Their birthday, which you likely already collected, can also be classified as a useful piece of personal information! This knowledge gives you the opportunity to build genuine connections with your donors! They’ve proven their passion for your cause by giving their time and money to your organization. 

Your team should work to include them in your organization’s family. Use this information to make your supporters feel included and loved. 

Is it a donor’s birthday? Shoot them a short but sincere email, or stick a postcard in the mail! Same goes for an anniversary. Personally reach out and invite donors to events you think they would be specifically interested in, like walkathons if they’re avid exercisers, or a dog day if they’re pet-friendly! 

Getting to know your donors on a personal level may seem unusual, but it is a great way to keep them engaged with your organization as well as make your organization a fully integrated part of the community. 

People, from your staff members to the regular volunteers to the recurring donors, are the backbone of any nonprofit. While you and your team know how much you appreciate the people you work with, make sure they know as well.

This list might seem daunting, but once you break all these pieces down, it’s really quite easy to implement in your nonprofit.  Collecting this information will benefit your organization, from optimizing your fundraising asks to improving the relationship between your group and the community. There are so many ways to stay involved and engaged with your donors, so don’t let this list be the end of your search. 

Safeguarding Your Nonprofit’s Donor Data

Now that you’re fully on top of your donor management, you have one more thing to do: ensure all that juicy data stays safe and sound! Pretty much every day you’re faced with the dreaded online query asking for your full name, email address, phone number, and your first-born child’s social security number. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the gist. 

In September of 2017, when a major credit reporting agency announced a massive, widespread security breach, the personal information of millions of consumers was compromised. More than just a minor “oops,” this massive security breach left these consumers vulnerable to identity theft. The crowning blow? These same individuals (143 million of them) had, for the most part, not even voluntarily surrendered this information.

As a nonprofit, you’re not just asking for donations—you’re asking for information to understand who your donors are, where they live, why they care about your mission, and the likelihood that they'll continue supporting your cause over the long term.

Recognizing donation patterns is key to the longevity of your organization. So, how do you create the trust necessary for your supporters to share their information?

Transparency is key

For starters, be upfront with your donors about why you need their data and how it’s being used. Transparency is key when it comes to the sort of information you’re soliciting from your supporters. How to accomplish this? Simple: add a privacy policy that is clearly outlined in plain language on your donation page. You can write your own or use a nifty online tool like Shopify to generate a privacy policy for you. And, because we don’t want to engage our supporters in an online scavenger hunt (as fun as that might be), the privacy policy should be easy to spot on your organization’s website.

Your donors aren't commodities

Next, we know nonprofits are in the same boat as they work together to achieve great things, but trading or selling donor information to other organizations is a surefire way to lose donors’ trust. If your supporters feel their information is being passed around like ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, it might lead them to believe their passion for your cause—the very same passion that prompted them to take action—has been cheapened and commodified. This is why keeping your nonprofit’s donor data not-for-profit actually pays off, because you’re preserving trust in the relationship. If you really want to connect your donors with other like-minded organizations you think they might care about, just ask for permission first—simple as that!

The one time it's cool to keep it complex

And while transparency with your donors is vital, the security of your own internal systems is equally paramount. In an age of unanticipated Google data breaches and scores of websites urging you to change your password at every turn, having robust donor data protection is more important than ever. Some measures you can take include:

  • Securing your systems. Having strong internal security policies like requiring your team to have those intricate numbers-and-symbols-and-“Oh dear, was that a capital T?” passwords that are nearly impossible to remember is key. The easiest, safest, and best way to ensure internal credential security is a password vault like LastPass. P.S. LastPass has an amazing tool for generating really, really complex passwords.
  • Utilizing multi-factor authentication to protect those newly-complex passwords at all costs. Want to ensure the person logging into your system is who they say they are? Google Authenticator is a quick app that generates a random code that gets sent to your device and voila—you’re in!
  • Masking your donors’ identities (if applicable). Does your organization have a sensitive mission with a high number of donors who prefer anonymity? You might want to give those supporters the option to mask their identities... and then make sure to uphold that anonymity when storing their data.

We know some of these tips might seem pretty basic, but you wouldn't allow someone to simply walk into your office and start using your systems. So don't make it easy to stroll into your digital environment. Likewise, don’t write down passwords, turn your computer off when you leave the office, and if you have to share computers amongst colleagues or volunteers, set up individual user accounts for each team member.

While it’s true there are many painstaking measures we can take to secure our data, privacy is a progressively eroding notion… a bygone thing of the past, if you will. Your phone might as well be a you-shaped pinpoint on a map, while your up-to-the-minute social media accounts are chronicling the latest in “What I did at 3:57 PM on Tuesday the 3rd.” Because we live in a world where technology is constantly advancing and our personal data is always up for grabs, one very massive entity has officially put its foot down on a much larger, more legal scale.

Choose Funraise

No, seriously. While no one is immune to online transaction fraud, Funraise offers several strategies to mitigate the risk.

  • Rate Limiting and IP Banning
  • Machine Learning Fraud Prevention
  • Google reCaptcha
  • Gateway-level Fraud Prevention
  • Human Monitoring

This may sound like a list of nonsense words, but it represents a small army of people and tools protecting your organization from fraudulent transactions—when you choose Funraise, that's the kind of support you can expect.

One small step for privacy, one giant leap for humankind

...or at least the 50% of the population with internet access, which is still about 3.2 billion people.

In May of 2018, the European Union implemented the GDPR—short for General Data Protection Regulation—a groundbreaking law that requires protection of all EU citizens’ personal data. This regulation brings together data privacy regulations across Europe and requires all companies within the EU, as well as companies outside of the EU that handle the data of individuals located within the EU, to comply, protecting sensitive details like an individual’s name, home address, health records, income data, and more.

While many U.S. companies with EU customers (meaning almost any company that operates online!) are now required to follow suit and comply with this regulation, the million-dollar question is: Will this pave the way for U.S. regulations protecting our personal information? And, will this simply breed new and more advanced ways to seize our precious user data? Only time will tell… meanwhile, keep your data under metaphorical lock and key.

Donor Management FAQs:

Why is donor management so important?

Your donors are your most valuable asset. If you want to keep track of them and foster those super important relationships, you’ll need to stay on top of your data. Good donor management allows you to do just that.

And what’s a donor management system?

It’s a system that helps you organize and track all of your donor information in one handy-dandy place (in the cloud).

Why do I need a donor management system?

We get it; you love Excel. But a good donor management system is so much less cumbersome than 50 tabs and 600 pages of donor notes. A donor management system lets you track everything in one place, easily and intuitively. Plus, you can automate communications, manage workflows, and more.

Why should I choose Funraise for all my donor management needs?

Didn’t you read this article?! So. Many. Reasons. You can organize donor data, view everyone’s donation history, track donor retention, segment your donors, and safeguard all that precious data. All in one place. And you can get started for free. C’mon!

So, wait, is that it? Did you take all the steps in our Let's Get Digital! series? Oh, dang! You're digital, now, buddy! If you need a reminder, though, here are the other articles in the series.

Download Funraise's Let's Get Digital! A Guide to Becoming a Digital Nonprofit

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