Nonprofit Database Software: The Complete FAQ Guide w/ Tips

Get started with our nonprofit database software today.

Keeping track of each and every one of your nonprofit supporters can be a full-time job—especially as your organization continues to grow. Luckily, however, continuously improved nonprofit database software can provide you with the resources you need to streamline these processes and focus on what’s most important: your mission.

At GivingMail, we provide nonprofits and other fundraising organizations with the tools they need to raise more in the most effective ways possible. Specifically, we focus on direct mail and nonprofit database software, and how they work together to form a fully-optimized tech toolkit.

To assist your organization in strategic fundraising and donor management practices, we’ve put together this educational guide. We’ll share all you need to know about nonprofit database software by answering the following frequently asked questions:

Are you ready to learn more about maximizing your fundraising and donor relationship practices with a top-tier nonprofit database? Let’s dive in!

What is a nonprofit database?

What is a nonprofit database?

A nonprofit database is a particular type of nonprofit software that houses a wealth of data concerning your supporters and their engagement history with your organization. You might have heard this resource go by a few other names, including:

  • Donor management software
  • Constituent relationship management (CRM) system
  • Donor database
  • Nonprofit supporter database
  • Donor relationship management software

Regardless of what you call it, the overarching functions remain the same—tracking donor relationships, storing pertinent information, and providing valuable insights into your long-term nonprofit supporters.

Why does my organization need a nonprofit database?

Why does my organization need a nonprofit database?

Nonprofit database software equips organizations with the tools they need to streamline all sorts of critical day-to-day operations. While smaller nonprofits might be able to handle these processes with a manual or piecemeal solution (such as an Excel spreadsheet), growing organizations rely on their expanding tech stack to keep up with the increased need. 

Let’s discuss the four key benefits of an effective nonprofit database software solution:

Fundraising

Whether your organization is choosing to fundraise online or in-person, through traditional channels like direct mail or modern alternatives like social media, a comprehensive nonprofit database can elevate your strategy to the next level. 

By creating and sending off carefully crafted donation appeals to a number of strategically curated donor segments, you can increase the chances that recipients take your desired next steps and submit a donation. That means more fundraising revenue for your nonprofit going towards directly pursuing your mission. This specificity is empowered by the information in your nonprofit database.

Donor relations

An effective nonprofit database can help your organization manage personal relationships with each supporter with an automated yet customizable process. 

Donors like to know that your relationships with them goes deeper than a financial transaction—and it should. With your nonprofit database, you can carefully track each interaction with donors. Then you can be sure to consistently thank donors for their contributions and keep them updated on current progress toward your goals. That way, each donor can get a better sense of your organization and feel like an integral part of the team.

Marketing

A significant part of nonprofit fundraising is getting the word out about your organization’s efforts. After all, you can’t expect a steady stream of fundraising revenue if no one knows about your ongoing campaign!

By leveraging your nonprofit database as a marketing tool, you’ll be able to sync up your donor outreach strategy and ensure a single, optimized message is in use—even across multiple channels. This way, you can send out automated emails and donation requests, as well as collect data from various marketing solutions to improve your outreach efforts going forward.

Analytics

How can you continuously improve your fundraising efforts if you have no way of collecting and analyzing your existing fundraising data? With a nonprofit database, you can gather valuable data, house it in an easily navigable system, and analyze it to draw valuable conclusions.

Top software providers include an array of ready-made reports along with customizable, easy-to-use drag-and-drop ones. This way, you can make sure you’re pulling the right data points that you need to get a full picture of your current standing and make improvements as you go.

What is the best nonprofit database software?

What is the best nonprofit database software?

Now you understand the purpose behind a nonprofit database, but you’re left with the question of choosing the right software for your organization. Whether you’re looking to invest in your first-ever database software or simply upgrade to a more comprehensive choice, there are a number of important factors that can impact that choice. 

Here are some key characteristics to keep in mind when considering any nonprofit software:

Standout features

While most nonprofit databases include similar features (the previously mentioned fundraising, donor relations, marketing, and analytics), there are a few that will stand out from the rest. For example, you might want to look out for a database that incorporates direct mail fundraising in your overall strategy, rather than one that prioritizes digital-only engagement. 

Additionally, event planning and ticketing functionality can bring your fundraising to the next level by streamlining the fundraising event management process (both in-person and virtual). Then, make sure you can view and manage financial information, including automated invoicing for donation transactions.

Usability

You might think of usability as key only for your donor-facing software, such as your online donation page. However, user experience matters just as much for your own team members working in the back-end of your solutions as the donors in the front-end.

All the features in the world won’t mean much for your nonprofit database if your team can’t figure out how to use them. In other words, make sure you choose a database software that leverages an intuitive and easy-to-use interface so that you can effectively make the most of every feature offered.

Affordability

Affordability is often a significant contributing factor in any nonprofit’s software buying decision—even more so for new and smaller organizations with tighter budgets. However, a nonprofit database, like any software, is an investment; meaning you have to spend money to earn money.

While free solutions certainly exist, their functionality is often limited, and growing organizations typically outpace these providers very quickly. However, if that’s all you can afford at the time being, free and low-cost databases can offer you a good place to start.

Our advice is to locate a nonprofit database solution that gives you the biggest bang for your buck. While you’ll likely pay a monthly or annual fee for the software, the increased features and scalability make the price point worth it in the long run.

Scalability

The scalability of a solution is a key consideration when making any sort of technological investment. Your nonprofit database is no different.

Even if you have only 100 donor records now, it’s a good idea to search for a nonprofit database that can easily handle multiple thousands as your network of support continues to grow. Otherwise, you’ll have to continually search for a new solution to house your expanding data, as well as handle migration from one system to the next.

Our favorite nonprofit database takes all of the above into consideration to provide a comprehensive solution for organizations of all shapes and sizes. With a provider like GivingMail CRM, you can initiate, pursue, and maintain lifelong relationships with the key supporters that drive your mission.

How can I make the most of my nonprofit database?

How can I make the most of my nonprofit database?

Regardless of the nonprofit database software you land on, there are a few best practices and tried-and-true tips to help you maximize your chosen database’s potential. Specifically, we at GivingMail recommend that you incorporate the following strategies into your nonprofit database strategy:

Integrate with your other nonprofit software.

As a growing organization, you likely rely on an array of different software solutions to help you streamline daily processes. If your other software solutions are not fully or easily integrable with each other, you’ll likely spend a ton of time manually transferring data from one system to another. Not only is this a huge waste of your team’s limited resources, but it also leads to higher frequencies of error and ultimately dirty data (more on that later).

That’s why it’s always a good idea to look for software providers that boast multiple integrations with a host of different verticals. For example, you can integrate your nonprofit database with your fundraising, marketing and communications, and accounting solutions to create a comprehensive system that functions as a whole. Then, you won’t have to spend time transferring new donor data from your online donation forms to your nonprofit database. It’s handled automatically!

Build out comprehensive supporter profiles.

Your nonprofit database is likely made up of hundreds or thousands of supporters. While it can certainly be used to get a birds-eye view of your donor network as a whole, it’s also a fantastic way to collect and utilize more detailed personal information about an individual. 

Here’s an example of how your supporter profiles might look:

Here's an example of a donor profile in a nonprofit database.

With a detailed donor profile such as this one, the user has access to some valuable insights concerning this individual and their relationship to your organization. To start off, you have some basic contact information including the donor’s full name, phone number, email, and home address. Then, the profile includes pertinent information describing the nature of the engagement by noting that this individual is an active supporter and volunteer, as well as both a major donor and a monthly recurring contributor.

As your relationship with a supporter continues to build, it’s a good idea to continue adding new and updated information. For example, you might find out that an individual prefers to be addressed by a nickname or an alternative name rather than their legal name. Be sure to include that information on their profile so that you can address them how they like going forward.

Additionally, you can include random tidbits of information such as their birthday or pet’s name to include in communications going forward. For example, you could send a personalized birthday card! This type of data allows you to go above and beyond in donor engagement and help you build lifelong relationships that go further than the donor’s wallet.

Track relationships between donors and households.

In most CRMs (GivingMail included), a household with multiple donors will typically be counted as a single record. That means, instead of having separate donor profiles for Mr. and Mrs. Doe (who both support your nonprofit), they’ll be combined into one detailed record. 

However, some of your supporters will likely have personal relationships with each other, yet are considered different entities by your donor database. For instance, Mr. and Mrs. Doe’s daughter, Maria, and her husband, Carl, also give to your organization. Although the two couples will be organized as separate donor records, it’s a good idea to track these relationships (such as in the “notes” section of your donor profiles) for a more comprehensive look at your network of support.

Collect and leverage donors’ employer information. 

Among other pertinent information collected and stored in your nonprofit database, one piece of data that’s critical to prioritize is your donors’ employers. Not only can knowing your supporters’ employer information give you a better estimate of their salary (which can help inform your fundraising asks), but you also might be able to determine whether their donations are eligible for matching gifts.

By working with dedicated matching gift software, you can scan your nonprofit database and its previously collected employer information to get a better idea of which donations can be matched. Then, inform your donors of your findings by sending a matching gift request letter or email and encourage them to follow up with suggested next steps.

Implement targeted donation appeals based on previous engagement.

By now, you likely know that no two donors are alike. By acknowledging key differences in your supporter network, you can ensure that your fundraising appeals differ as well. For example, by taking characteristics of each donor into consideration (such as their motivation for giving, average gift size, frequency of donations, giving method, etc.), you can set your organization up for higher levels of fundraising success.

For example, imagine you have a dedicated donor named John. John routinely responds to direct mail fundraising appeals by sending a check back to your organization, while he tends to ignore requests for donations made via email or text. He typically chooses the highest donation amount listed in your appeal (i.e. if you ask for gifts of $10, $25, or $50, he’ll choose $50. If you ask for gifts of $50, $100, or $200, he’ll choose $200).

If you’re going to implement a targeted donation appeal based on John’s previous engagement, you might note two things: he prefers direct mail appeals over digital alternatives, and he will typically opt for the highest suggested donation. That means, as you continue to steward your relationship with John, your main fundraising channel should be direct mail, and you should focus on continually upping your donation asks.

Seek out major donors.

Did you know that for most nonprofits, more than 88% of total dollars raised comes from their top 12% of donors? While individual small and mid-sized gifts are certainly appreciated, if you’re not already investing in strategic major gift fundraising, you’re likely missing out on a significant chunk of revenue.

So how do you locate and cultivate relationships with these top donors? Those with the highest potential are probably already in your nonprofit database! By conducting an in-depth analysis of your existing supporters, you’re likely to discover a number of prospective major donors lying in wait.

For example, GivingMail CRM includes a third-party integration with DonorSearch, the industry-leading provider of wealth screening and prospect research software. By analyzing past giving, stock ownership, real estate and business affiliations, and nonprofit involvement, you can get a better look at potential donors and their ability and affinity to give. This way, you’ll start with a solid understanding of each prospect and whether they’re likely to become a major donor for your organization.

Manage staff, volunteers, and event attendees—not just donors.

Any nonprofit is made up of a number of significant supporters, and not all of them are your traditional donors. When organizations choose to focus exclusively on cultivating and managing donor relationships, they tend to miss out on critical support from volunteers, event attendees, members, employees, and more—all because they might not fall into the typical donor mold.

Instead, we recommend that you use your nonprofit database to track relationships and manage engagements with all of your supporters. Then, you can build off your existing contacts and even encourage your volunteers and members to make the leap to donors, too. And even if they don’t, it’s important to recognize and communicate the value of other types of support that these individuals continuously offer your organization.

Maintain effective data hygiene practices.

As with any comprehensive source of data, your nonprofit database should be kept clean and tidy to ensure maximized success. After all, effective data hygiene practices lead to more error-free data and, in this case, better fundraising, donor relations, marketing, and analytics (as previously mentioned). 

When it comes to nonprofit databases, “dirty” or “unclean” data might refer to duplicate records, outdated details, incomplete fields, or otherwise incorrect information about your supporters. When you reduce these errors, you increase the likelihood that your fundraising appeals and other donor communications make their way to the intended recipient and result in your intended behavior.


Investing in a comprehensive nonprofit database is one of the best things you can do to scale up your organization and bring your overall operations to the next level. Hopefully, the answers to these questions have provided you with a solid foundation of knowledge to build off when making your future database-buying decisions. Good luck!

For more information on effective fundraising resources and tips, check out our other educational resources:

Get started with our nonprofit database software today.

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