Your nonprofit has a website. And, you have an email list. You have social media accounts, too, ready to put out great content to promote your organization and cause. You’re all set and ready to do some good in the world, right? Well… no, not quite. Before you start promoting your programs, cultivating a donor base, or working with those you wish to help, you need one last thing: a CRM system.
What is a CRM?
A CRM, or Constituent Relationship Management system, is a database that holds detailed information about your donations and donors, supporters, funders, members, and more.
The Benefits of Having a CRM
Strictly speaking, you don’t need such a system for your nonprofit to operate. But, having one in place can make a world of difference to how well your org runs. Many small or new nonprofits rely on manual tools, like Excel spreadsheets, to keep track of donations, contact information, and more, but this has numerous drawbacks, including potential data loss if the files are corrupted, deleted, or lost; the time required to manually maintain these documents; and limitations on how you can sort and view the data. A CRM, however, provides a number of important benefits, including:
Most CRMs save data to the cloud, meaning that your data is routinely backed up and, very importantly, not saved on any local office machines. While not 100% “safe” (let’s get serious — nothing is, really!) storing your organization’s data in a CRM is infinitely safer than any manual method.
Most CRMs can integrate seamlessly with your organization’s website. Website users can add themselves to your database via donation, sign-up, and advocacy forms, cutting down significantly on the amount of manual list maintenance you and your staff need to do. Many CRMs also offer their own internal mass email systems, or integrate with email marketing services like Constant Contact or MailChimp, meaning that your email list is always up to date and current.
The “we’ll keep it all in Excel!” method of data management might work quite well at first, while your nonprofit is small, but sooner or later even the best maintained spreadsheet will become unwieldy and unusable. Having a good CRM in place from the start (or, as soon as possible) promotes growth by ensuring that your growth isn’t hampered by your finite ability to manually maintain a list. Sure, managing 100 names in a spreadsheet is doable, but what about 1,000? Or 10,000?
Most importantly, CRMs allow you to really use your organization’s data by making donations, people, and other information searchable by numerous parameters and criteria. Imagine the power of being able to segment your supporter list based on location, or based on past donation amount, or program interest, all with just a few clicks? You could tailor your outreach, programs, donation asks, and more to the right audiences within your larger list. You could better evaluate what messaging and outreach works to prompt donations, actions, sign-ups, and what doesn’t work. You could really use your data, and that is a game-changer.
How to Choose the Right CRM
There are CRMs out there for every size organization and for every budget. The trick is in knowing the right questions to ask to find the right system for your organization. Here are a few:
What CRM features do we need now?
This is the first question to ask. What functionality do you really need? Nearly every nonprofit will need donation functionality, at the very least, but beyond that you might also want mass email functionality, advanced donation tools like peer-to-peer fundraising capabilities, advocacy functionality if your organization calls on supporters to contact their lawmakers or sign petitions, or maybe a system for managing memberships… These are just some of the features CRMs commonly offer, and it’s important to be honest about what functionality your organization really needs and wants. You don’t want to pay for something you don’t plan to use, but you also don’t want to fall short of what you really need.
What CRM features will we need later?
In addition to thinking about what your organization needs now, what features and functionality do you expect to need in the future? Maybe you don’t need peer-to-peer fundraising capabilities now, but you might want that ability in a year or two. Maybe you don’t offer memberships now, but it’s something you want to roll out in the coming year. When evaluating CRMs, be sure to keep an eye to the future, too. Many CRMs allow you to on-board features and modules one by one, as you need them, meaning that you can purchase a system that has, for instance, ten tools available in total, but only initially use (and pay for) three or four. As you grow, you can on-board additional tools without a lot of hassle and without having to find a new system.
What is our budget?
CRMs are available at any price range, from systems that are free to ones that cost thousands of dollars per month. Most CRMs are priced according to database list size “buckets,” meaning that you pay $A for 0 – 1,000 database contact records, $B for 1,001 – 5,000 contact records, $C for 5,001 – 10,000 contact records, and so on, with the price increasing as your database grows. Many also start out free, with that initial 0 – 500 contacts “bucket” free to use. Don’t necessarily just jump to a free or nearly free option – evaluate the cost alongside what your organization needs in terms of functionality, both now and going forward.
How tech-savvy are we?
CRMs are built to be user-friendly, but sometimes setting up the system – and customizing it to your specific needs – can require some technical skills. You may need to hire someone to help with this process, if there is no one on staff who could handle it, so that is something to also factor into your budget and considerations.
Ultimately, securing a good CRM for your nonprofit is worth the time and cost involved. Having a CRM ensures that you have the infrastructure in place to be successful, grow, and further your mission.