Donor Tracking Systems

Donor tracking systems are a lot like spouses or teenaged children.  Can’t live with them….well, you know that song.  Nevertheless, it is true.  Without adequate information on your donors, you can’t appropriately steward them, and you probably won’t solicit them in the most effective way—for them.

The right tracking system really can help you to raise more money with less stress and anxiety.  It can help you to identify those likely larger donors who tend to get lost in the shuffle and alert you to potential donor problems.  But what donor tracking system?  Which is the right one?  And how should it best be used?

Those are questions my clients and students area always asking me—and I don’t have a great answer.  My credentials as a donor database guru are thin.  It’s been years since I actually used one and what I knew then has no relevance to what the databases look like now.

This may make me look a lot like you—which may be the best credential ever.

All I know is that if I were looking at a donor tracking system, there are a few things that—with my fundraiser’s mind and limited admin skills—I’d be concerned about.

  1. I would want a system with a track record.  I’ve purchased too many systems that were great—until they stopped being supported.  That meant I was either stuck with an increasingly antiquated system OR I had to change systems.
  2. I want one that was created for fundraising purposes.  Yes, I know a lot of people use things like SalesForce and say they are good.  In my experience, they cannot give you the information you need in the way you need it.  They were created for a totally different purpose and while they can be adapted—somewhat—you will be hard-pressed to get the reports you need.
  3. Reports—what a great segue!  I would want a system that has built in reports that will slice and dice my donor list in many ways.  I know I could query and get exactly what I want—but I am a fundraiser, not a database person and I want to run reports on the fly and get pretty close to what I need.
  4. Ease of data entry.  I want screens that are pretty self-explanatory.  If I am entering checks, for example, I want to immediately understand whether “Date” refers to today’s or the date the gift was made. 
  5. I want great—not just good, really great—customer service.  I want to know that the organization is interested in me after the sale as much as they are before I sign the contract.
  6. I want to easily be able to import (and export!) information.  I don’t want to have to retype in every contact and all the information from whatever system I’m using. 
  7. If there are multiple people doing entries, I want some way that I—the manager of it all—can vet what has been entered in an efficient and effective way.
  8. When I’m entering new names in the system, I want a way that the system checks to see if there are likely matches already in the system.  It really irritates me when there is Joe Smith, J Smith, Mr. and Mrs. J Smith, Joseph get the picture, all at the same address in the database and it takes precisely the correct query to discover it all. 
  9. I want a system that is scalable.  That is, small as we might be now, we plan on growing.  I want to have—and pay for—a system that matches my needs now, and can grow with me in the future.

10. This used to be where I would say, “I want it online” but now that almost everything is in the cloud, I’ll assume that you are only considering software that you can access from wherever you are.  Now I will add the caveat that I want to be able to access most information on whatever device I may be using.  I’ve too often been out and about and realize that I (a) don’t have my donor’s contact information and/or (b) I can’t remember some pertinent piece of information.  Being able to call up that record on my smart phone or tablet would be heaven.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter