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Top 5 Features Your Nonprofit Needs in a Donor Management Platform

Your nonprofit needs donor management software that provides powerful insights into supporters’ engagement, plus opportunities to maximize your impact.

Eric Ressler
April 15, 2021
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Your social impact organization has a lot of moving parts to manage on a daily basis. To do this, you may oscillate between multiple software programs or Excel spreadsheets to complete vital tasks like recording donor activities or organizing email list segmentation.

Many nonprofit organizations struggle to keep their information organized, streamlined, and accessible to all team members — let alone usable for strategic insights. But there is a solution.

Implementing donor management software or a donor engagement platform (sometimes called a CRM) for your nonprofit can make all the difference in your pursuit to effect long-lasting, widespread change in a digital-first world. Not only that, but it can save you time bouncing back and forth between software platforms and Excel sheets — and keep valuable information from falling through the cracks.

From your digital hub and action center to your volunteer requests, a donor engagement platform connects and manages all of your nonprofit’s data. The right system gives you a 360-degree view of your entire ecosystem, from your donor relationships to every digital channel you use for engaging with supporters. This allows your systems to talk to each other and make connections.

Here’s what you need to know about selecting a donor engagement platform — and the crucial features your nonprofit needs to support your endeavors as a digital-first organization.

The Key to Choosing the Best CRM for Your Nonprofit

Your donor engagement platform will affect every level of your organization. That means it’s up to you to involve all key stakeholders in the platform selection process.

To get started, work with your team to determine what your organization might need from an all-in-one donor management platform.

Donor management platforms like EveryAction and Salesforce are good places to start your search. They are well known for helping nonprofits maximize their impact by giving valuable insights into donors, volunteers, and supporters.

Here are important details to consider when you’re doing your donor management platform research.

  • Make sure it feels user-friendly for you and your team. You should be able to get a feel for this during an introductory demo. You can also always ask to play around in the platform yourself. This is where involving other stakeholders is especially important. While there will be a learning curve for all options, your team needs to feel great about using the system you ultimately choose. If you struggle with getting team buy-in, you might feel like you’ve wasted your time, money, and energy. Many platforms will have helpful knowledge bases, active user communities troubleshooting questions, and certification courses for users to develop skills – ask about these when you are assessing the right fit for you.

  • Choose a system that integrates with all of your existing digital tools. Audit your digital tools. Do you have a payment platform that you use to process donations? What about event ticketing software, an SMS tool, or e-mail builder? While a solid donor management system may be able to replace all of these features for you, you may not be able to transition your entire digital toolkit right away. Make sure the system you choose can receive data from all digital channels your supporters engage with. Otherwise, valuable data might be scattered across several platforms. Your donor management system won’t be the source of truth, which is vital for your team’s buy-in and its effectiveness to you as a tool.

  • Plan for a consulting team to help with setup, integrations, and customizations for your organization. Most systems will be readymade for your use. But you might have custom needs that go beyond what a system has out of the box, like a unique volunteer program or an intricate membership program. Many platforms will recommend vetted implementation partners who can tailor the environment to your needs. While you’re exploring different systems, make sure to explain your needs to the sales representative. As this will cost extra time and money, consider what customizations your team can make on their own and what you’ll leave up to the pros.

  • Look for a system that releases new features on a quarterly cadence and continually updates the software. Your platform should evolve as tech evolves. Take a look at recent updates on their blog. Sign up for their newsletter. The best systems should show that they pay attention to you, their nonprofit users. If you’re not seeing this, it may mean that they don’t prioritize nonprofits, don’t have an engaged support team, or might not be a fit for your specific needs. It’s a good sign if their updates make you think “I was just thinking about how that feature would help us!”

  • Don’t go with an unknown system. Find a system that other nonprofits in your sector are buzzing about. Consider reaching out to a few colleagues in the space to see what their organization uses. You can also ask the sales representative to share a list with you of similar organizations that use their tool. This is just one more way to confirm that the system is well-tested and respected for other people like you.

Finding the right platform for your organization requires research and thoughtful planning. Find the option that fits your wishlist. But keep an eye to the future, and make sure that your platform will grow with you in the next five to ten years for your organization.

Selecting the right platform is just the first step of many. After that comes integration, implementation, and training before you can start reaping the benefits. Implementing a new system may be a heavy lift for your team initially. But knowing this ahead of time allows you to set expectations and allot enough time for proper planning.


5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Donor Engagement Platform

Your ability to reach supporters, communicate vital information, and spur action is critical for the success of your mission. These days, you can mobilize your supporters and drive action in a multitude of ways.

That’s why it’s imperative that your donor engagement platform connects every aspect of your digital and real world presence in one place. And while the first thing to look for in a donor engagement platform is its ability to seamlessly connect all your digital assets, that’s just the beginning.

Here are the other top five features your nonprofit will need to make the most of your platform for your organization.


  1. 1.
    Communication and outreach. Connection with your supporters is vital, and you need to be able to reach those who care about your cause in targeted ways. Take stock of the current channels you use to connect with your supporters. Your donor management software might offer its own e-mail builder, SMS text platform, or social media analytics manager. If you’re an advocacy organization, it may even offer tools that empower your supporters to e-mail their elected officials, phone their representatives, or sign petitions. You should aim to centralize as much outbound communication as you can in your system. Get the most out of the data you’re collecting and make this tool a true one-stop-shop for you and your team.

  2. 2.
    Robust analytics. You don’t know how well your organization is reaching supporters (and therefore spurring action) unless you have the analytics to tell you. At a minimum, you need your system to be able to:

    - Build custom reports, Monitor trends around giving
    - Track time spent volunteering
    - See your audience and email list growth
    - Follow the size (and acquisition and retention) of your membership
    - And finally, track your revenue

    Analytics tied to your campaigns can tell you what worked with your supporters, what didn’t, and who was engaged or not engaged. You can see who the most active people are in your community – those at the top of the engagement pyramid – and learn from their journey with you, replicating it for others.

    If you don’t consider yourself a data nerd, don’t worry. Think about what an ideal experience might look like from one of your supporters – perhaps beginning with a follow on social media and ending with them donating, signing up for an action, or becoming a volunteer. Start there. Then, explore what metrics might be tied to each of these actions, and how your system can report on who is doing what. Make sure your system can report on every action your organization cares about when you assess your impact. Otherwise, the insights you gather won’t enable your organization to reach its full potential.
  3. 3.
    Streamlined forms. In order to collect donations, membership payments, and supporter information, you need clean, streamlined forms. Many forms come standard with certain platforms, but you should be able to style them to fit your brand. Salesforce and EveryAction offer an implementation consultant to help with project management and customization (like brand styling). But beware: These customizations don’t come cheap. Ideally, your platform has flexible and user-friendly forms.

    If your forms aren’t easy for supporters to fill out, they are much less likely to convert. If the forms you’re asking supporters to fill out aren’t intuitive, they will get frustrated by the friction and be more apt to leave your site altogether.

    Clean, organized forms not only make it easier for your supporters to engage with your organization, but they also make things easier on your team to keep information digitized instead of slogging through data entry from paper forms.
  4. 4.
    Powerful donation processing. Your fundraising portfolio is critical to your organization’s ability to drive change. The platform your nonprofit uses must be able to fully reflect your organization’s fundraising portfolio all in one place — and be the source of truth.

    Most platforms have the ability to alert you to funding opportunities with specific tools that give you insight into your major donors’ actions (such as clicking on a campaign email). Add-on tools like Wealth Engine show you invaluable personal data about the giving history and demographic information so you better target your asks to potential large-dollar donors. Finally, if you can track grant applications and opportunities for fundraising through your donor engagement platform, all the better.
  5. 5.
    List segmentation and management. The pressure is on for your nonprofit to reach the right audience. Your most effective message is the targeted one. Therefore, list segmentation and management are key to getting the most out of your communications. The good news is that nearly every donor management system allows for custom profile fields for you to track everything from giving history to tracking more personal details, like the issues they care about or their kids’ names.

    Being able to track your supporters’ details fosters ongoing relationships, which in turn fosters a deeper commitment to your cause. You can use this detailed data to target your email lists, real world asks, and deliver powerful insights through reporting.

It’s Always a Good Time to Get a Donor Engagement Platform

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to go all in on a new donor engagement platform (or update your existing one) think about this: If you won the lottery tomorrow, left your job, and went backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail, would your organization lose critical relationship information, donor history, or process knowledge? If so, it’s time to start your research.

Implementing a robust, intuitive donor engagement platform for your organization can be a complete game changer when it comes to efficiency, streamlined information, strategic insights, and so much more. But most importantly, a powerful donor engagement platform gives your organization the valuable insights it needs to maximize impact — and put you that much closer to realizing your nonprofit’s vision.


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