Posted by Jay Wilkinson

I get asked the question often, “What should we look for in donor database tools?” I believe there are three crucial elements that you need. All good donor database tools worth your time and money will include:

1. A dashboard.
This allows you to see how things are going at a glance. You’ve probably heard the old axiom, “We manage what we measure.” A dashboard allows everyone in your organization, including staff and board members, to see exactly what you’re measuring, so they in turn can manage it. Of course, not everyone can log in and see important donor data—that’s not what I’m referring to. But they can see things like how your organization is progressing toward a particular goal, and this can make a big difference in getting everyone on board and rallying around your objective.

2. The ability to measure engagement.
Let’s say someone registers for an event on our website. In an ideal world, we don’t want to have to go to our donor database tool and enter that information again, right? We want everything to connect and show up automatically that this person registered for that particular event. Or let’s say we send someone an email and she opens it, or maybe forwards it to someone else—that’s another element of engagement. Or maybe he makes a donation and we want to measure that against his last year’s donation.

There are donor database tools available that allow us to track these things, and that’s what I’m talking about when I say “measuring engagement.” We should be able to look any time at a donor profile and see how engaged that particular donor is—that kind of functionality is necessary in good donor database tools.

3. Integration with your website.
Basically this means that your donor database and website should talk to each other. In order for that to happen, it needs to be cloud-based—and cloud-based means that everything is housed on the internet so you can access your database through your laptop, your smartphone or your tablet, regardless of where you are. It shouldn’t be installed on a computer in the corner of an office somewhere. When we install software on some remote computer, no one ever accesses it, the tool becomes useless and it defeats the purpose of having a donor database tool that allows you to track engagement. If you have your donor database tool and your website working together, it truly moves the needle and makes a difference for an organization.