Open Source Donor Management Systems: Know Your Options

Submitted by Brett on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 8:10am

Eric Leland, Five Paths, Laura Quinn, Idealware, Chris Bernard, italics media

Donors are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. You need them to survive. But how do you manage all the information about their giving along with all the personal details that are key to maintaining successful relationships, all for a price that won’t break your bank?

A donor management system is sometimes called a fundraising system or a donor database. At its most basic level, it’s a system that manages information about donors and gifts so you can understand how much you’ve raised, keep track of all the useful information you know about your donors, manage mailings, emails and campaigns, and print reports on all this information.

There are a huge number of systems available, ranging from the basic to those that offer all sorts of additional features and functionality. Costs vary as well -- and there are even some Free and Open Source options. In our free report, "A Consumers Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems", we take a look specifically at 33 lower cost systems, but here, let's take a quick look at four of the FOSS options.

CiviCRM
by Social Source Foundation

CiviCRM offers basic functionality for donations, as well as a number of other constituent interactions, but very little in the way of reporting. It’s straightforward to add a donation, and to receipt it via email, but you’ll need to know if a donation corresponds to a pledge prior to entering it, and you need to export the data in order to mail-merge a thank you or other letter.

The system has support for a number of different interactions, including a strong event module, and you can see a useful summary of each constituent’s relationships and activities. However, there are no reports at all, just queries that can be exported to Excel -- though the system ships with some prepackaged queries to support common lists, like lapsed donors.

The system integrates tightly with common Web site content management systems with online payment and form-building functionality, like Drupal and Joomla. You’ll need someone familiar with installing and configuring open source systems on a Web server in order to get you up and running.

If you’re looking for tight donor and constituent integration with a Web site, this may be a good option, but otherwise you may find the reporting and analysis layer lacking.

Metrix
by Fund for the City of New York

A free, open source installed system with a Microsoft Access interface and SQL Server back-end, Metrix is flexible and reasonably powerful, but includes few donor-centric features out of the box.

The system is based around a central constituent record, with a configurable “interactions portal.” Some basic interactions -- such as ones to support program attendance, events, pledges, payments, communications (mailings, email blasts, phone calls) and membership -- are included with the base product, but many organizations will want to spend time (or money to hire a consultant) to configure the system further to better support more robust functionality.

Letters are produced by exporting and mail-merging in a different system; there is no integrated communications. The overall interface is well laid-out, but a complex array of fields makes it a bit difficult to learn. It’s strong in querying and generating exports to Excel, but there aren’t any standard reports, so getting information out requires mastery of the query tool or the creation of custom reports using the native Access reporting tool.

There’s community support for the basic product, or The Fund for the City of New York offers a setup and support package.

Orange Leap MPX

by Orange Leap

Formerly known as MPower, the open source Orange Leap provides useful functionality for tracking gifts and donor information, email and custom fields, with strong support for mail-merging letters and accounting controls. Querying and reporting are also particular strengths.

The system doesn’t support any online payments out-of-the-box, but an API would allow a programmer to integrate this or other functionalities. It’s a powerful system that is more complex than most we reviewed, but it does a reasonably good job of arranging fields and screens in intuitive ways. If you use the installed version, access to the source code allows any qualified programmer to make modifications.

The vendor provides a version that both is installed on your local server and made available via terminal services to your desktop PCs, which is free to download (not including the cost of the server itself), or $1,188 per user per year for Orange Leap support, training and feature updates from the community. It also offers a hosted version for $1,668 per user per year, including support.

You can see our detailed review of Orange Leap MPX in our separate Detailed Reviews of Low Cost Donor Management Systems report.

Organizers Database (ODB)
by the Organizers’ Collaborative

This open source system is free for anyone to download, easy to install and provides useful features for organizing groups -- it automatically parses street numbers from addresses so you can build a walk list ordered by street names, for example -- as well as some nice support for membership organizations.

In a number of places the system relies on codes rather than easy-to-read phrases (for example, “Act A1P1” might mean “Actions=Advisory board, Press expert”) that will be easier for experienced system users than novices to decipher, though there’s often rollover text to help you translate. There’s a quick copy-and-paste method for email addresses, but no ability to mail merge into emails, and no integrated support for online payments.

The system runs well on older computers. Installation is a breeze, but with so many potential options, you may want to hire a consultant or have the Organizers’ Collaborative set it up for you.