The Importance of a Unified Database For Your Nonprofit

For many nonprofits, a donor database is only used as a tool to keep track of past donations and create tax receipts. However, when nonprofits take advantage of the various features a unified system can bring them, the database becomes so much more useful. Specifically, nonprofits should invest in a comprehensive Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software to manage current donors, conduct inclusive outreach, and create custom reports.

Not only will a CRM system allow you to store practical information about your donors, but it will also track all of your other contacts, including relationships with volunteers, board members, suppliers, employees, grantmakers, partners, and more.

Of course, there is a wide range of CRM solutions available for nonprofits, and the platform you choose can deeply influence your ability to collect donations and your team’s day-to-day operations. To help make this decision, let’s review what to look for in a CRM and what to avoid.


Your CRM is the heart of your nonprofit’s technology stack. A comprehensive CRM is your donor database, housing profiles for all of your contacts. These profiles will include critical information such as their name, contact information, engagement history, communication preferences, and any other relevant data.

This data can be used to create segmented communication lists, create personalized messages, track your strategies’ effectiveness among different donor groups, and more. Some nonprofits may even be interested in a CRM and website integration to allow a smoother flow of information between their website and donor database; this may look like having an automatically-updated list of recent donors publicly displayed on their website.

Ultimately, each CRM solution specializes in different features, but any solution you invest in should provide robust relationship management and analytics tools.

Constituent Relationship Management

Your donor profiles shouldn’t be static after your first contact with a donor. Rather, these profiles are dynamic relationships that should be updated as supporters move through their donor journeys: this involves tracking when you communicate with donors, how donors respond to communications, if any follow up is needed, and who on your team is tasked with overseeing that follow up.

Comprehensive donor profiles can help you create more personalized messages for individual, or groups of donors. For instance, use your CRM software to create tags, or another form of designation, that highlight supporters belonging to separate groups, such as long-time donors, donors who have also volunteered, recurring donors, new donors, and others. By segmenting your donors, your organization is able to get a high-level overview of each donor at a glance.

Analytics, Statistics, and Prospecting

A comprehensive donor database allows you to make data-driven decisions about your supporters. Your CRM software should allow you to take a deeper look at your donors with features such as:

  • Reports. Along with managing individual donors, your database should also allow you to view analytical reports revealing the overall state of your nonprofit’s donations and fundraising. Invest in a CRM that allows you to build custom reports, ensuring you can compare the exact data you need to get relevant insights for your fundraising.
  • Long-term data tracking. For major and planned donors, your nonprofit will likely have years- or decades-long relationships with them. Your CRM should be set up to track their data over these long periods, providing your major and planned giving officers with the information they need to cultivate relationships smoothly.
  • Prospecting. Depending on your CRM, you may need to invest in a separate donor prospecting database to get key information about your donors’ wealth indicators. However, without add-ons, your CRM should still allow you to take note of which donors know each other and their place of employment if they have shared a work email with you in the past.

Growing nonprofits often find themselves with several disconnected tools that require manual data migrations. This situation can make it difficult for nonprofits to create comprehensive reports: if your nonprofit is facing challenges like this, it is time to begin looking into a unified nonprofit CRM.

Mistakes to Avoid

Neglecting Security

Data breaches do happen, and a donors’ trust in your nonprofit will likely take a serious hit if their information is stolen. When researching CRMs, explore their security features, including:

  • Permission settings. Along with external threats, your nonprofit can protect against internal mishaps by using your CRM’s administrative permissions to determine who at your organization can access and edit your data.
  • Security update cadence. Most CRMs will regularly provide updates your nonprofit can download to keep your platform safe against new security threats. Cloud-based CRMs can make this process even more efficient by automatically updating your platform to keep it secure at all times.
  • Payment processors. If your CRM has a built-in payment processor, a payment processor app, or an add-on you intend to use, look into its fraud protection capabilities. Ensure the payment processor is PCI-compliant, along with other basic features you may need, such as the ability to accept multiple payment methods.

These steps can go a long way toward protecting your donors’ data, but your nonprofit should still have a plan in place for the event of a data breach. This will allow you to act quickly, reassure affected supporters, and minimize potential damage.

Not Planning Ahead

While nonprofits can change donor databases, doing so will likely require a significant investment of your time and resources. As such, when selecting a nonprofit CRM, ensure you’re taking both your immediate and potential future needs into account.

Assess CRMs on their ability to grow and adapt with your nonprofit. For example, organizations using Salesforce will easily be able to download new apps for nonprofits as their needs change. Or, if the nonprofit grows significantly and needs additional seats in their CRM, they can purchase additional licenses to increase their capacity.

If your nonprofit does need assistance switching CRMs or determining which CRM is the right solution for you, consider partnering with a nonprofit CRM consultant who can offer professional expertise on your current tech tools to guide your plans for the future.


By using a unified donor database, you’ll be able to store all of your contacts in one central location and get in touch with them easily. Plus, by using one system, you won’t need to worry about migrating data, data silos, or inconsistent data across multiple platforms.

Save yourself time, money, and frustration by investing in a reliable, scalable CRM software that will not only improve your workflow but boost your fundraising and marketing team to better target specific audiences and build new leads.

Reach out to Phil to continue the conversation.