Whether you’re looking for a platform to collect fundraising data, automate marketing messages, or simply streamline giving for donors, choosing the right fundraising software is critical to your nonprofit’s ability to raise support.

If you’re not sure how to start your search or what to look for, this guide is for you! Let’s review the five steps to shopping for fundraising software to help your nonprofit find the perfect solution.

1. List out must-have features

To kick off your search, you’ll need a clear understanding of what you’re looking for in fundraising software. When it comes to choosing one platform over another, a specific list of must-have features and priorities will serve as guidelines for your software selection.

CharityEngine’s guide to nonprofit CRMs recommends asking the following questions:

  • What are my biggest goals? Perhaps they’re tied to fundraising, but goals can also be set for new donors, new sustainers, and donor and sustainer retention rates.
  • What does my nonprofit look like? Understand how many contacts you have (based on a hygienic database), know how many campaigns you want to run each year, determine how often you will send emails, and know your revenue. Each of these data points will help you choose the right system, and ensure you’re not paying for duplicate records or unrealistic fundraising expectations.
  • What are my most important upcoming initiatives? It’s crucial to consider how you will execute your planned campaigns and match them to the functionality you’ll need in your new system. Advocacy, events, and peer-to-peer modules might be important, as well as email automation or mass text capabilities.
  • How many data sources will be involved in a migration? Many times, nonprofits will have stuck systems together to meet their needs. You might have a database, email software, event software, and a payment processor. Knowing where your data sources are will help you estimate costs and will ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

The fundraising software you buy will affect all communities in a nonprofit ecosystem, from the board of directors to staff members to donors and volunteers. If you ask them to weigh in on what features they’d like to see in new fundraising software, you’ll have an easier time implementing it, and it’s more likely you’ll purchase a system that will benefit your organization as a whole.

2. Set a budget

Ideally, your nonprofit already has a budget in place to guide its fundraising and spending. To maintain financial security when investing in high-quality fundraising software, you must set an exact limit for the amount you’ll be able to spend.

When setting this limit, don’t forget about the extra costs added to the listed price of fundraising software. Depending on the provider, you may also have to account for:

  • Training fees
  • Payment processing fees
  • Data migration fees
  • Support fees after the software is implemented
  • Upgrade fees for new features

Your investment in fundraising software should be well-balanced since free software options typically offer fewer features, and expensive platforms may not fit your budget. Foundation Group’s guide to bookkeeping recommends aligning your spending with the reasonable expectations you’ve set for your nonprofit’s financial goals. This way, you’ll have access to much-needed fundraising tools while keeping your revenue on track.

3. Research fundraising software

Equipped with a shopping list and budget, you’re ready to start researching your options! Compile a list of fundraising software solutions, including any relevant details or notes about the software that might affect your decision. For example, you might consider:

  • How is pricing structured? Some systems are priced on revenue and others on contacts. If your nonprofit is primarily focused on grants, you’ll have higher revenue and fewer contacts, so you might want to look for a system priced on contacts.
  • What type of campaigns will you run? If you are planning events or peer-to-peer campaigns, you’ll want to ensure those modules are included in the software.
  • Can the system scale with your growth? Don’t look at a vendor that has clients just like you. Look for a vendor with clients at the level you hope to grow so you know the software has been tested with higher volume and more demands.
  • What does support look like? After implementation, expect to have questions pop up. Consider whether the vendor offers a help center, a chat feature, or support tickets. Does that support cost extra?
  • How often is software updated? Companies will sometimes discontinue support rather than sunset a system, which can have disastrous effects on a nonprofit. To remain a successful fundraiser, you need current, if not cutting-edge, tech. Make sure your vendor is committed to staying at the forefront of the market.

As you compile your list, keep an open mind to innovative fundraising features or capabilities. The world of digital fundraising is ever-changing, and you’ll want to use a platform that can adapt to consistently engage your audience.

4. Narrow down your options

While keeping an open mind when creating your initial list is helpful, you’ll need to get pickier and start narrowing down your options.

For starters, look at reviews from the fundraising software provider’s website to find out what other users enjoy about the software. Look for third-party reviews or ask colleagues in your industry for their input to get an impartial perspective.

You can also connect directly with the fundraising software provider to get more information about the platform and support team. Ask questions such as:

  • How does this tool make donating more convenient?
  • What results have your clients seen?
  • What factors will make the price increase or decrease?
  • What happens if I want to add functionality to the platform, such as adding an auction module?

If available, request demos of the platforms you’re interested in and connect with the provider to determine which software best fits your nonprofit. Don’t worry if you’re asking for a lot of demos. Until you see the software in action, you won’t know whether it’s a good fit!

5. Make a selection

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s time to choose your nonprofit fundraising software. Take all of your notes and experiences with the software into consideration as you compare your final options and make a decision.

Talk to the team and ensure that the contract they’re preparing matches your needs and expectations. Inquire about the handoff from sales to implementation. Who do you call if you have a question?

Once you’re in the hands of implementation, be prepared to help the team install the software in a way that will serve you best. Ask if training is included, both live and through a help center with articles and videos.

Clearly understand your post-implementation support options. When something isn’t working the way you want, you might not have three business days to wait for a response from the vendor! Ensure there are levels of support, from resources you can use to solve problems to a real person who can help.

While you can always switch fundraising software platforms, it’s a luxury to find the right fit the first time around. This is why choosing a scalable, flexible solution is critical to ensuring the solution will grow as your nonprofit grows. When you want to try new fundraising initiatives, you’ll want the features at your fingertips.

Nonprofits exist to make the world a better place, and with the right fundraising software, your impact will be magnified.