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Donor Databases: Can You Ever Make A Change?

Donor Databses:  Can You Ever Make A Change?

By Rhen Hoehn, Director of Marketing

Every so often, it becomes necessary for a nonprofit to abandon their existing donor database system and move to a new one. 


The existing system may be too complicated for staff to use, or perhaps it's not sophisticated enough to keep up with the growing organization’s needs. The customer service may be poor, the pricing may be going up too fast, or it may just be an outdated system. 


Whatever the reason, when it comes time to change systems, there are a few things to consider.


It doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think

Most database companies now have an onboarding team who will manage the data migration for you. 


If the thought of capturing all of your donor information and moving it over to a new system feels daunting, there is no need to worry. You can absolutely request that the technical aspects of the process be handled for you.


You should start looking sooner than you might expect 

The first step in making the transition, assuming your current database is a cloud-based subscription system, is to review the contract with your existing database provider. 


The first item to check in the contract is its expiration date. Some database contracts are set with two-year or three-year terms, so take note of when yours ends.


Second, look for contract termination requirements. The contract may require a written notice of termination 45 days or more before the expiration date of the contract. If notice is not received before that time, the contract will automatically renew. 


With these dates in mind, it is wise to start talking with new database providers 4 to 6 months ahead of your cutoff date. 


Leave 1 to 2 months for research and live demos with database sales reps. Once a new database has been selected, you will want to have 3 to 4 months for data planning, migration, testing, and approval before you lose access to the old database.


There are some potential hang-ups to consider

If you are moving a large amount of data, issues are probably going to pop up. Some that we have seen more frequently include:

  • Summaries of data being transferred, rather than full data
  • Accidental deletion of certain records
  • Titles getting jumbled


Let’s look at each of these:

  • Summaries of Data vs. Full Data

If the new database company will be moving the data for you, clarify how they will be moving it. Will they be taking a summary of a donor’s giving history, or moving each individual donation record over? 


Knowing that a donor has given $1,000 to the organization is not as helpful as knowing whether they gave that $1,000 as a one time gift 10 years ago, or as ten $100 gifts over the last 10 years, or as a $10 per month recurring gift over the last 100 months. 


Make sure you are getting the full giving history moved over for each donor, not just a summary.


  • Accidental Deletion of Records

Most systems are pretty good at avoiding this problem these days, but the one situation where we see this become a problem is when the organization has many parents and their children listed as constituents, and some share the same name.


For example, a campus ministry may have a recent graduate, John Smith Jr., and his father, John Smith Sr., who is also an alumnus, both listed. They may get tagged as duplicates, and one of them deleted.


  • Titles Getting Jumbled

If there are constituents with uncommon titles in your system, they may not map over to the new system correctly. This most often happens with military titles.


Thus, the moral of the story is this:  YES!  With proper research and preparation, you can change your donor database to a new one.  It may come with some challenges, but if you're patient and prepared, you can absolutely make a successful switch. 



If the time has come for your organization to move to a new database, the great news is that there are now many options to pick from. To help you pick the right system for your organization, Petrus Development has created a free guide, “Choosing a Database.” Click HERE for free access to this helpful resource.



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