Fundraising & Development

It’s time to ditch the spreadsheet as your donor database

August 9, 2021 Nonprofits Decoded Team
Donor database donor profile illustration

Let’s face it, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets wasn’t meant to be a donor database for your nonprofit. It’s time to find a real solution to give you better control of your fundraising strategy and donor relationships.

Learn how donor database software can help you reach your fundraising and development goals and provide better insights into your base of supporters.

Using spreadsheets instead of a donor database for your nonprofit?

While spreadsheets are a valuable tool in your efforts to track and record donor data for your nonprofit, using them puts you at a distinct disadvantage. Spreadsheets are a simple way to remain organized, but they limit how useful they can be.

They tend to be extremely manual in how individual donor data is recorded and stored and lack the benefits of automation and purposeful design that a donor database or donor management software can provide.

What’s a donor database?

A donor database, or donor Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, is designed to help your nonprofit keep track of a donor’s information.

They automate your data collection and group it into easily sortable, relevant categories for your perusal. They typically have several main features that will prove invaluable to your organization.

The Basics of Donor Databases

Donor profiles

Customizable donor profiles are where all of the information that you have collected on your donors is stored. This includes personal information such as contact information, records of any donor outreach, and donation history, all viewable on a convenient page of your donor database.

These profiles can also contain donor interactions, wealth insights, retention rates, and monthly giving.

Robust communication tools

A well-designed donor database will have connectivity capabilities for communication platforms such as email, direct mail, or social media accounts. You can use these lists to reach specific groups or drill-downs based on whatever criteria you determine to be relevant. Your CRM can also remind you when to reach out if you have not done so recently, driving engagement and hopefully growth!

Fundraising dashboards

Your donor CRM can also serve as fundraising software, allowing you to put together reports on different fundraising efforts and campaigns and group the results in neat packages. You can easily look at the data and fine-tune your efforts if you determine certain strategies are not working well for you.

How could my nonprofit organization benefit from using a donor database solution?

Switching from a spreadsheet to a true donor database or CRM can greatly impact the quality and quantity of the data your organization has access to and will help drive targeted fundraising efforts.

These programs offer many advantages over traditional methods of tracking and recording donor data:

Automation and workflows

One of the primary benefits of a nonprofit donor database is that it will give you more time back in your day through automation.

A donor database will do the work of collecting and categorizing donor information for you, freeing up time for you and your team. Automation also reduces the chance that a staff member will input incorrect data or misplace a decimal when entering donor information.

Having workflows built directly into your donor database, such as donation tracking or major gifts, allows you to track progress and gather data for future evaluation easily. With automated workflows, you can choose what happens to your data when you receive it. You can set up email marketing campaigns with only a few clicks, summon specific groups of donor data, and see where your team is with any given task. Using a donor database drives efficiency for the organization while preparing you for future growth.

More data points in your donor profiles

Automating your data collection process with a donor database not only reduces the chance for human error but also allows you to collect more data overall to work with. While your spreadsheet may have recorded obvious information like name, address, phone number, and an email address, a donor database or CRM will typically store much more information.

It will store giving history, interaction data, birthdays, marital status, occupation, income level, additional donor history, social media profiles, giving patterns, and other interests. Every one of these data points allows you to create specialized fundraising campaigns that can speak directly to a specific type of person. These details can be used to create more effective donor outreach campaigns, and having insights into donor history can be valuable to predicting future donation timing and amounts.

What’s a donor worth? Calculate your nonprofit donor retention rate with this guide, plus view tips on how to increase it.

Data and metrics to back up decision making

No matter what information you’re interested in reviewing to make data-driven decisions, it’s at your fingertips. Instead of having to gather data from several spreadsheets and compile it into a useful data set, you can open up the reporting tab of your donor database and start generating reports.

With the ability to create custom reports, your nonprofit will be able to make data-driven decisions. You will be able to see what has worked in the past and what has not. You will be able to determine where you went wrong in a previous donor outreach campaign and fix any mistakes you may have made.

Quickly generating reports on data that previously would have taken a lot of time and effort lets you and your team focus on what’s important. All of the information you could ever want, and more, is conveniently stored in one place with a donor CRM.

Data Security

A good database won’t just store your donors’ names and addresses; it’ll actually encrypt their private information, making sure no unauthorized parties see what you’ve got under wraps.

Of course, a spreadsheet doesn’t have true encryption or security, so key data and possibly even financial information may be stored in plain text.

Are there advantages to using a spreadsheet?

Not really, no!

The primary advantage of using a spreadsheet is that it may be easier for you to set up and understand initially if you have a very low volume of donors. Despite this, we’d highly recommend exploring your options for donor databases. Once you’ve settled on a database, please take a few hours to learn how to set up your database properly and learn what functionality it possesses. Once you have your database up and running, it’s hard to overstate how much time it will save you and the amount of functionality you will gain.

Even if it takes you a month to learn the ins and outs of your new donor database or CRM, the initial time investment will pay for itself many times over. Every time you generate a new report, you perform a task that could have taken you hours to complete manually. Automation will make your life easier, even if it seems complicated at first glance.

What does a donor management solution cost?

The other primary reason that people use spreadsheets over a donor database is that spreadsheets are free. However, there are many free or low-cost donor database solutions that will give you incredible functionality without spending a lot of money.

Options like NeonOne, Kindful, Bloomerang and Donor Perfect start around $100 a month for 1,000 constituent records. From there, the pricing scales based on the size of your data and the feature set.

So take a look at your options and turbo boost your fundraising efforts today!