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Understanding Custom Questions, Custom Fields, and Merge Fields
Understanding Custom Questions, Custom Fields, and Merge Fields

What are custom questions and custom fields and when should I use them?

Updated over a week ago

Donor Management was created with some standard fields that are common to most donors (i.e. contact details, date of birth, gender) and donations (i.e. amount, date, payment method).  

However, there are times when you may need the ability to track a piece of information that is specific to your organization. You can track this information internally through our "custom fields," which can be found on either contact records or donation records (depending on what information you're collecting!).

You can also ask "custom questions" on your Everyday Giving Pages, and let the donor provide you with responses at the time that they make a donation. Those custom questions can then, in turn, be used as custom fields in Donor Management, and help track that information that you've collected about your donor.

Additionally, some fields of information within Donor Management can be used as "merge fields," which allow you to further personalize your communications by including individualized details about each donor. These fields let you add certain information, like a donor's name, directly into the messages that they receive from your organization.

Custom Fields

What is a custom field?

A custom field is a field that you can create that doesn't already exist within Donor Management that you'd like to be able to track and use for more accurate outreach, personalization, and segmentation.

What would a custom field be used for?

Custom fields are typically used to track meaningful information that's outside of the typical "by the numbers" information being captured. Common custom fields can include:

  • Cause or Program Affiliation -what programs or program elements most interest the donor.

    A children's organization may have donors interested in sports, music, or academic enrichment - but perhaps not all three. Similarly, an organization serving the unhoused community may, in addition to programming, have an advocacy arm - which some donors may have a strong interest in, while others may not be interested in pursuing.

  • Relationship Affiliation - how the donor became part of your organization's community.

    This can be helpful in tracking if a donor was introduced to your organization through a board member, a specific event or program, or through volunteering. It can also help track chapter or membership affiliation if your organization has multiple locations or chapters, but the information is streamlined into a single instance of Donor Management.

  • Timeframe Affiliation - what events a donor has attended or "entrance date" for items like memberships.

  • Motivation - what motivated a donor to give.

How do I create a custom field in Donor Management?

To create a custom field, you'll want to click on the "Settings" button in the left-hand navigation of Donor Management. You then should be able to select "Custom Fields" from the available dropdown options.

You'll then want to choose either a "contact" custom field, or a "giving" custom field.

Contact custom fields appear on each contact record directly, and are most commonly used to track information about a specific donor - like motivation or volunteer status.

Giving custom fields appear on each donation record, and are most commonly used to track information about certain donations - such as if a certain board member was indirectly responsible for that donation.

Not seeing the option to select "Settings" or "Custom Fields?" You might not have the correct admin level to access that part of Donor Management. You can learn more about the various admin account levels here.

Custom Questions

What is a custom question?

A custom question is a question that you can create directly in Fundraising Pages and then place on an Everyday Giving Page for your donors to answer during the checkout process.

Where will my donors see these custom questions on my Everyday Giving Page?

Questions will be asked in a second step of the donation checkout process, after the donor has selected an amount (and any other required fields on that page).

Where can I access my donor's responses to custom questions?

When you create a new custom question for your Everyday Giving pages, it also will create a corresponding custom field on each donation record in Donor Management. You can then view the responses on the donation record in Donor Management.

You can also filter on your custom fields on both the "Contacts" and "Giving" pages, and custom fields can be included in any data exports you perform. This means you can filter for a specific response (or any responses) to those custom questions in Donor Management as well.

What if my question is about the contact, not the donation?

If you created a new custom question from your Everyday Giving page, and you prefer it to be attached to the contact record and not the donation, you can update that directly in Donor Management.

From the Dashboard, you'll want to click on the "Settings" option in the left-hand navigation options, and select "Custom Fields" from the dropdown options that appear.

You'll then be able to edit the custom field that corresponds to your custom question directly from this page. There should be an option available to change a "giving" custom field to a "contact" custom field.

Please note that if you make this change to a custom field after responses have been collected, Donor Management will take the response from the most recent donation and move that response to the associated contact record instead.

What if you already have a custom field created in Donor Management that you want to use on your Everyday Giving Page as a custom question?

If you've already set up custom fields on your contact or donation records in Donor Management, you have the ability to use any of those fields on your Everyday Giving Page as well.

We recommend first making sure that the custom field's name is "donor friendly" - if not, you can edit the field and change the "Question Label" to whatever question you're looking to ask your donors. You should then be able to locate that corresponding custom question on your Everyday Giving pages.

Additionally, the "Internal Nickname" will be used on the contact record or donor record and in any of your filtering or reporting from Donor Management, so be mindful of this when trying to locate or compare responses.

Merge Fields

What is a merge field?

We’ve mentioned using “merge fields” in your acknowledgements to customize and personalize your messages to donors – but what exactly are they, and how can you use them?

Merge fields are certain text “codes” that, when inserted into the text of your communications, will automatically be replaced by specific information that’s unique to a donor, or donation.

For example, the merge field “First name” added to an email communication would automatically add your donor’s first name in place of that merge field. That way, the letter is addressed directly to the donor without having to type each detail out individually.

How can I add a merge field to my communication?

When editing your acknowledgements, you should see a “Merge Fields” button included within the text editing options.

If you click on that button, you should see a drop-down list of all the available merge fields you can add to your message.

Just click so your cursor is blinking in the space where you’d like to insert the merge field. Then, click on the “Merge Fields” button and select the correct merge field – it'll automatically be added to the text.

What do merge fields look like within a communication's draft?

Once added to your document, a merge field will look like this within your text:


If you were to use a merge field in a sentence, it would look something like this in your draft:

Dear *|FIRST_NAME|* ,

Thank you for your donation amount of *|LAST_DONATION_AMOUNT|* ON *LAST_DONATED_AT|* .

You’ll want to be sure that there is at least one space between the merge field and any other words or punctuation – otherwise, the merge field won’t work correctly.

Once you click “Save” in your acknowledgement, you should immediately see what information is being pulled in by each merge field. (If not, you can always download a PDF copy, or send yourself a test email to see how the merge fields will be used.)

Why aren't some merge fields showing up in my communication?

Some merge fields are only available in certain communication tools, and may not be available within others.

For example, "donation date" or "donation amount" are only available in individual acknowledgement-style communications; they aren't available as options within email blasts.

What happens if I include a merge field, but that field is currently blank for a donor?

That depends on what merge field you're trying to use. In most cases, it'll simply be left blank if there's nothing listed in the individual contact's field.

However, there are some special circumstances that substitute certain details in, when necessary. These include:

  • If the merge field *|INFORMAL_GREETING|* is used, and it's blank for a contact, *|FIRST_NAME|* will be used instead.

  • If the merge field *|FORMAL_GREETING|* is used, and it's blank for a contact, *|FULL_NAME|* will be used instead.

  • If the merge field *|HOUSEHOLD_NAME|* is used, and it's blank for a contact, *|FULL_NAME|* will be used instead.

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