5-Steps to choosing a new supporter database



Rarely is a database met with 100% satisfaction  from its users or from any one organization. Those with the highest contentment tend to be high capacity organizations who have the resources and ability to customize systems to best fit their needs.

Even with such capacity, it is important to carefully consider your organization’s needs and assess which systems will most support those needs. The matrix depicted above only describes trends based on engagement and capacity, but there may be other factors at play that could affect your choice. Ultimately, the right database for your organization can only be determined by your organization’s culture, needs and engagement priorities.

The Nature Trust of New Brunswick (NTNB) recently decided that in order to scale up their engagement and communications efforts, they were going to need to shift from the outdated system they were using--a hodgepodge of programs to track donors, volunteers, and contacts. They wanted a system that would fit all their needs, communicate with their financial program, and be accessible to all staff across the organization. They were also working toward scaling up engagement in a key program areas, and wanted to track that engagement more effectively.

This process for the NTNB began by conducting a thorough audit of their communications, contacts management and engagement needs. The review had input across the organization including from staff and key volunteers. It created a criteria list, or needs assessment, for what they needed in a Contacts Management System.  This helped them define what their core needs were and how they could prioritize databases based on their ability to meet those needs.

In total, they assessed 12 systems (see a summary of their review here) and eventually narrowed down the candidates to three finalists: Salesforce, NationBuilder and Raiser’s Edge. In the end, they opted for Salesforce due to its flexibility and ability to be customized to fit their needs. They also had the good fortune of a very supportive Salesforce team in New Brunswick that offered some fantastic training and onboarding support at minimal cost.

The NTNB’s review is one of the more thorough that I’ve seen. It represents an example of an organization taking this decision very seriously and covering its bases to ensure they make the best decision for their organization. Databases are an investment and when they are functioning well, they can make for a much smoother day-to-day operation.


Part 1 - The Database Matrix

Part 2 - Why use a database anyway?

Part 3 - 5-Steps for choosing your new supporter database

Part 4 - Before deciding on a new database...

Part 5 - Setting up for success: integration, staff buy-in, training.

Part 6 - But we are volunteer run with little capacity - what do we do?

Part 7 - Your database and communication workflows