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How to Keep Good Records about Donors to Your Nonprofit

Before it starts to raise money, you need to set up a system for keeping timely records on all of your nonprofit’s donors. This system usually is a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or a specialized electronic database, but it can even be as simple as a handwritten card file and datebook. For foundation grants, such a system can help you remember deadlines for applying for grants and submitting final reports.

For individual donors, a good records system can help you keep information up-to-date about when and how you’ve contacted them, who in the organization knows them, how and why they gave their gifts, and whether you promised them any special recognition or invitations when they contributed. Recording their spouses’ and children’s names, their interests, their business affiliations, and any other pertinent personal information also is worthwhile.

If you decide to use an electronic database system to manage your donor records, you can choose a program that focuses specifically on fundraising, or you can keep track of every connection you have with anyone and everyone, including clients, ticket buyers, professional peers, donors, and volunteers.

Specialized fundraising software can really increase your efficiency in record keeping, but be careful when you choose your program because it can be quite costly. Consider the purchase price, setup charges, and availability of technical backup support. For example, open source software may not charge you to download and use their software, but they also may not provide consistent technical support if you run into problems.

You can find reviews and articles to help you choose among different kinds of donor, member, and constituent management systems at Idealware. To help you start your search, here’s a quick look at some of your options:

  • CivicCRM is available license-free to nonprofits. Although it’s an excellent tool, you’ll likely need someone with technology skills to set it up for you. It integrates easily with Drupal and Joomla content management systems.

  • DonorPerfect focuses on donors but has some support for members, volunteers, and other contacts. It offers an online version for a reasonable monthly fee.

  • eBase is a good, inexpensive option. This program runs on FileMaker Pro, but you don’t need FileMaker unless you want to customize eBase.

  • eTapestry offers a 30-day free trial for trying out its system. You can subscribe at different levels and prices based on your estimated number of donor records. (The basic service accommodates up to 1,000 records.) eTapestry is aimed primarily at managing donors.

  • GiftWorks is a reasonably priced software option with a reputation for being easy to use. It’s primarily designed to track gifts and donors.

  • Salesforce.com offers a high-end product for free to nonprofits with up to ten users. Salesforce offers a growing body of features for tracking donors and other constituents.

After you choose the system that’s right for your organization, check out Techsoup.org to see if you can find it at a discounted price.

Initially, when you urgently need grants and gifts to start up your organization, keeping good records may seem to be a time-wasting activity, but in the long run, thorough records allow you to raise more money. You can start with a simple approach and upgrade it over time, but every time you shift to a new system, make sure you invest time in the change.

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