How To Build & Use an Effective Database to Grow Your Nonprofit

Updated May 30, 2023
Kevin McGrath
Written byKevin McGrath
Zachary Ace Aiuppa
Edited byZachary Ace Aiuppa
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Since their inception, nonprofits have leveraged relationships to further their cause. No matter it's goals, a nonprofit's mission typically rests on the involvement and generosity of others. In the past, nonprofits relied on community events or word-of-mouth to recruit like-minded individuals, but modern nonprofits' efforts have increasingly gone digital.

Thanks to databases, nonprofits can connect with and motivate past, present, and future volunteers and donors. If you are operating a nonprofit and have not yet started building a database of essential people associated with your organization, you should start now. Nonprofits that build an effective database are more successful at fundraising and, ultimately, fulfilling their mission. Keep reading to learn more about what these nonprofit databases are, how to build one of your own, and how to use it to grow your nonprofit.

What Is a Nonprofit Database?

At its most basic, a database is a collection of important contacts at your organization. This could include information on volunteers, donors, members, and past fundraising efforts. However, an in-depth database will go far beyond basic contact information like phone numbers and addresses. It will also help track and store information on individuals' past interactions, donations, and communications with your organization.

 Data that could be included in a nonprofit database includes:

Contact info

  • Address

  • Phone number

  • Email address

  • Social media profiles


  • Age

  • Gender

  • Marital status

  • Household income

  • Interests

  • Occupation


  • Number of years as a donor

  • Gift amount

  • Frequency of giving

  • Patterns in giving


  • Event attendance

  • Emails received and open rates

  • Website visits

  • Direct mail responses

Why Data Matters to Nonprofits

While building and maintaining databases may sound overly technical, the truth is they have become essential for any organization. Regardless of your nonprofit's size or mission, collecting information and properly managing it in a database will help your team develop short and long-term strategies that improve everything your nonprofit does. From communication and reporting to motivating your team and volunteers, database management has quickly become a must-have for nearly every nonprofit.

Types of Nonprofit Databases

The types and complexities of individual databases will depend on a nonprofit's size, needs, and intended use. When mapping out the future of your nonprofit's database, it may be helpful to focus on gathering data for the following subsets.

Volunteer Database

If your nonprofit uses volunteers to accomplish its mission, consider developing a complete volunteer database. Once your data is gathered, you can more effectively recruit, train, schedule, and communicate with your volunteers.

Membership Database

Does your nonprofit offer memberships? The right membership database will help you organize, track, and update your member information. Member databases can also help deepen membership engagement and communication by helping automate membership drives or sending out personalized messages for membership anniversaries, birthdays, and more.

Donor & Fundraising Database

Donor databases that focus on fundraising efforts will help you better track donations over time and can even help you predict future contributions based on past behaviors of individual donors. Collecting this critical data can streamline your fundraising campaigns, store payment information, and help you fine-tune future endeavors.

Ways Nonprofits Use Their Databases

As nearly every aspect of running a nonprofit has gone digital, keeping track of essential relationships is no different. Properly collecting, maintaining, and using a database can help a nonprofit:

  • Cultivate prospective donors

  • Maintain relationships with existing donors

  • Gain insight into donor behavior

  • Reach new communities and audiences

  • Build more meaningful relationships

  • Organize fundraising campaigns

  • Increase donations

  • Expand reach

Tools for Database Management

While many nonprofit databases start in a simple spreadsheet, as your data grows, you should look for more sophisticated tools to help manage your database. Many of these tools also offer integration for the mail marketing, payment processing, and event management software your nonprofits are likely already using.

Donor database software, or customer relationship management (CRM) systems, as it's known in the for-profit world, will help you organize your data, make it searchable, and give you reporting on key performance indicators. Using the right CRM will help streamline your data and make it accessible across the organization, helping get your team, volunteers, and donors on the same page quickly and effortlessly.

While these management systems can be costly, some may offer discounts for qualifying nonprofits. Some popular CRMs for nonprofits include:

  • Salesforce

  • Salsa

  • Neon CRM

  • Bloomerang

  • EveryAction

Tips For Getting Started With Your Data Collection

Useful databases require accurate and reliable information. To get started, your organization should put some best practices in place, including:

  • Store your data in one central location (a single spreadsheet, CRM, or other software)

  • Develop and train staff to use standard formatting and naming conventions

  • Define the types of information you will need to collect

  • Develop donor categories

  • Think through exceptions to a rule

  • Properly train staff on data collection and input

  • Regularly review your data and procedures

Don't Wait to Start Your Database

Starting a thorough database from day one can be the foundation of any successful organization, including nonprofits. With the right planning and tools, your organization can develop, manage, and grow your database to accomplish its mission by building stronger relationships with staff, volunteers, donors, and the communities it serves. Over time, as your data grows, you will continue to gain valuable insight into fundraising efforts and how your organization has truly made a difference for the people and places it works so hard to help.

More Tips & Advice for Running a Nonprofit

Ramping up your nonprofit fundraising efforts by effectively using a database is a huge win for any nonprofit, but it's vital to ensure all donations are tidy and legal. Learn how to deftly navigate this maze of red tape by reading our article "Corporate Giving: How to Keep Your Nonprofit Compliant."

Swift Filings is here to help your nonprofit go to the next level. Whether you are just starting out or have already formed your 501(c)(3), we have the tools and training your organization needs to grow.

Originally published on October 24, 2022, and last edited on May 30, 2023.

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