Six Keys to Choosing a New Donor Database

I’m often asked for recommendations for what donor database an organization should use. Sometimes it is a small organization that has never had a donor database. More often now, it is an organization frustrated with their existing system.

Based on our experience, considering these six factors before you even start shopping can make all the difference: 
  1. What do you need the system to do? Have you thought out and documented your system requirements? For example, what data must be tracked? What functionality would help you do your development and outreach work? What reports would help you track and manage your efforts?
  2. What are the gaps? What is frustrating the users and others who need information from the database? What are the perceived gaps that are not allowing you to do your development work effectively? What is missing from the system?
  3. Is the current system REALLY unable to meet your needs? Migrating to a new system is hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort to get the database set up; clean up the data; import the data into the new system; and receive training. If the existing system can potentially work, it might be a better solution.
  4. Is it a training issue? Are the staff using the system trained in its functionality? Could (additional) training help them use the system more effectively?
  5. Is it a data consistency issue? Is the data being entered consistently for all donors, prospects, and gifts? Are data standards documented and communicated to all system users? If not, the best systems will not function as needed.
  6. Have you done your research? Finally, if a new system is truly the best option, I recommend they review Idealware’s Consumers Guide to Low-Cost Donor Management Systems first. This report, updated by Idealware this year, provides detailed information and comparison data about dozens of donor management systems. It also describes functionality that donor management systems should provide. This very thorough document – which can be downloaded for free after submitting your email address – is my go-to guide for any organization considering a new system.
Written by Kevin Martone. Kevin is the Technology Program Manager with JCamp 180. His focus area is in applying technology (database management, communications) to support fundraising and outreach efforts. Kevin leads JTEC (JCamp 180 Training in Effective Communications) and co-leads Data2Donors, a program to help camps prioritize their database for improved Alumni outreach and fundraising.

Who we are: JCamp 180 is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF). Our goal is to significantly enhance the long-term effectiveness of nonprofit Jewish camps in North America. To meet this goal, we provide affiliated Jewish camps with consulting services, annual conferences, shared resources, professional development, and matching grant opportunities. Find more at