Category: New Software

Internal Assessment: Donor Management Software Conversion

Like all good projects, a donor management software conversion should begin with a thorough analysis of your fundraising departments needs, goals and resources. In fact, an Internal Assessment should be conducted prior to seriously considering conversion, since a rigorously honest assessment may find a software conversion isn’t the best solution for your fundraising department at this time.

Donor record structure for an individual and spouse

Though it’s considered best practice for each individual in your file to have his or her own record with a relationship link to a spouse or children, organizations will sometimes record both a donor and a spouse on the same record. This is called a “compound” record.

In an example of a compound record, Jan Reese would be recorded as the Donor, and Joe Reese as the Spouse. All gifts, addresses, emails and notes would be associated with that one, compound record. Whereas, when using a “household” record structure, Jan Reese and Joe Reese would each have their own record, but share a Household Record through relationship links. In a householded record the gifts, addresses, emails and notes would be attributed to a specific individual, and can be reported on the individual record level, or as a combined household.

Organizations migrating out of Access or a similar, simple system that doesn’t offer the household option might opt to retain their existing compound-record structure when migrating because (a) “splitting” records requires a more complicated, multi-step import process at migration, and (b) splitting records might increase the costs of a subscription if the package pricing is tied to the number of records. However, there are significant advantages to changing the record structure from a “compound” record to the Householded structure.

1. File Screenings: NCOA and Wealth Data screenings are more effective if records have a clear First and Last Name field associated with each address. Don’t worry, Addressee and Salutation names can be managed just as simply in split records as in a single record, as can mailing options to protect against inadvertently sending multiple pieces to a single household.

2. Email: Most software requires users to define a single email to be used in mass email efforts. When using a compound record structure, an organization can send to only one email. Using a Householded structure, each household member has the option of receiving emails or opting out.

3. Gift Credit: Having a clearly defined head of household simplifies tax acknowledgement and gift receipting procedures. While each gift can be attributed to the specific individual (which simplifies tax acknowledgement and gift receipting procedures), donation reports can show the combined giving for a household.

4. Major Donor Management: Cultivation and solicitation activities can be specifically directed at the decision-maker in a household when one spouse is the primary donor, or customized for each spouse when each has different philanthropic interests or relationship with with the organization–such as a board member or volunteer.

5. Changes in Households: Maintaining individual records makes it easier to correctly capture changes in a household’s structure, such as a deceased spouse, divorce, or a child leaving the home.

6. Universality: Only a few of the more robust software products support single-record householding, but virtually all of them support an individual record structure.

Donor Perfect provides users with the optional Spouse Name fields on the primary record, so it can support a single-record household, but the software is ultimately designed for an individual record structure.

 Raisers Edge (i) requires two separate records–one as the primary constituent (called head of household) the other as the Spouse, which can be a full constituent with all fields and functionality activated, or remain a simple relationship with limited field functionality and searchability. The spouse relationship is a unique relationship in RE, and there are designated Spouse Address and Contact fields.

eTapestry, requires an individual record householding structure.

GiftWorks provides the illusion of supporting a single-record household structure, but really it doesn’t. Instead, it has a very flexible record naming process that doesn’t require a Last Name field and thus allows users to create compound display names (Jan and Joe Rees) without defining either a First or Last Name. For this software product in particular, it is very important to have a clear data entry protocol for creating new donor household records.

Salesforce very rigidly supports only individual records using household relationships.


If you elect to change householding structure when purchasing a new software product, consider doing so while in your current software. It will be easier to use processes and fields you are familiar with, it will be easier to proof changes, and the process may require significant record-by-record decision making which is better done prior to contracting new services. The main decisions to be made are which spouse will be head of household, and will the Spouse record be a full constituent by default, or remain a simple Relationship record (or Affiliate Donor).

For an overview of the file splitting process view Splitting Records: Parse Display Names in excel, and re-import complete data which steps users through an Excel process for splitting name fields.


Questions or Comments?