Now more than ever, the customer relationship management (CRM) system you use could make or break your ability to scale your mission and meet your ambitious fundraising goals. A CRM platform plays a key role in helping nonprofits better organize data, manage their donor and supporter relationships more effectively, and achieve more efficient and successful fundraising.
Many nonprofits slowly realize as they grow that manually exporting and importing data is a process that leaves much to be desired. Many rely on systems that don’t speak to one another. For example, they may manually export donor records from their online fundraising tool and import them into their email marketing platform. This may happen once a week, once a month, or even less often than that. Not only does it create more of a burden on staff to perform additional work outside of their core job function — work that could lead to human error — but it limits the organization’s ability to communicate with supporters in a timely manner.
Many nonprofits also rely on manual Excel spreadsheets as their de facto CRM. Needless to say, this just doesn’t cut it anymore. For example, if a colleague has already opened an Excel file, then everyone else remains in the “read only” view while they need to add data. This hampers productivity and increases the likelihood of valuable data and touch points in donor relations being forgotten or lost. Also, Excel — or Google Sheets — does not allow you to easily follow the evolution of a contact, making it harder to provide a truly holistic experience every time you deal with the contact.
Besides failing to streamline donor relations through the most up-to-date, complete and reliable information, antiquated software can leave staff discouraged. Moreover, Excel has been called “the worst CRM system in the world” — do you really want to expose your workers to this, with technology being a primary reason people quit their jobs?
Instead, you need to get to a place where technology is seen as an ally, not an adversary. This begins with picking the right one — and in this case, the right CRM. Here are some tips for achieving success.
Know Your Budget
CRM-related costs can quickly spiral out of control, so knowing and keeping to your budget is very important. There’s a lot to consider. How many users do you need to support? Many CRMs offer multiple CRM packages to accommodate varying numbers of users who can access the system, so survey your staff to find out who exactly is planning on using it.
You also need to consider how many donors (and prospective donors) will be supported in the system, because this too can affect pricing. Remember the goal is to grow your donor and supporter base so make sure to leave some wiggle room in your budget to accommodate growth.
Determine What Features Are Most Important
Along with surveying your staff to get a sense of how many users you’ll have, you need to get a sense of what features they want most in a CRM system. If relevant, make sure you get input from different organizational departments. Maybe the features you need most are those supporting event management, such as automating marketing to donors and supporters for events, and even tracking their activity at the events. Maybe it’s strong messaging automation capabilities, or integration with accounting systems. Maybe it’s all these and a lot of things in between.
Of course, no CRM can do everything, but you’ll want to make sure your most essential needs are covered because integrations can be costly and time-consuming. You may consider working with a consultant who can guide you through the decision-making process. If integrations are necessary, ensure that your nonprofit CRM supports fluid integrations with the third-party platforms you need to achieve the perfect solution. Data sources, including member community sites, online meeting tools, advertising platforms, applicant tracking systems, private label social media networks, webinar providers and staff email services, working in conjunction with each other is critical.
Commit to Data Quality
CRM software can be a powerful tool, but only if the work is put in upfront to format and input clean, high quality data. This could end up being the most time consuming piece of the entire project, but consider the alternative: If you simply import the current data, which may have been exported from a number of systems, you will end up with a different set of fields for each data source, a cluttered set of records and the same “data silos” you dealt with before — just with a new interface.
But it’s not only about messy data. Poor quality information can mean sending inappropriate donation appeals or overwhelming individuals with communications. Data quality may require some upfront investment, but usually this is far less than the losses that can be incurred. Remember that the CRM system becomes the single source of truth, the database of record, for your entire organization to be more efficient and accurate. When CRM data is not clean, data feeding other integrated systems can quickly become polluted, and AI and big data initiatives will be based on unreliable data. When migrating donor data from a pre-existing CRM or Excel remember that high-quality data beats fancy algorithms anytime. Whether you enlist the help of the CRM vendor or you do it yourself, it is critical to determine what data should and shouldn’t be included.
Consider Necessary Setup, Maintenance and Training
It is critical to know what additional support you are going to need before you engage a vendor. Are you going to need a lot of help with setup? While some vendors will take a hands-off approach to nonprofit CRM setup, other vendors will guide you through data transfer or offer consulting services. Some might even complete the process for you in full. Of course, there will be routine updates to the system. If you have an IT staff, you may need less ongoing vendor support, but if you don’t, you’ll likely need more support.
Also, what kind of training do you need? Customized in-person training and detailed documentation can be more expensive than generalized video training, but tends to offer a more thorough approach. Again, when selecting a vendor, you need to consider what you need and what you can afford.
Donor attrition rates can be scary. For every 100 donors acquired, only 25 will renew next year. Maintaining a positive donor and supporter experience is key to keeping your nonprofit alive and able to continue its mission successfully. CRMs can deliver a ton of value toward this end, but they can quickly become a costly, unmanageable, unusable Frankenstein if they’re not selected and implemented properly.
When selected and configured properly, CRMs bring donors and supporters closer and make action effortless, giving your staff more time back in their day. It’s definitely worth the extra upfront due diligence to select and implement a CRM system in the right way — one that ultimately pays dividends for your team and your donation opportunities.
Luke Dringoli first worked in the private sector with brands like Unilever, Dodge, Lexus, USA Network and STARZ where he used technology to forge connections and build digital communities. Now, as senior marketing technology director at Media Cause, Luke works with nonprofits and organizations, such as United Nations Development Programme, Stand Up to Cancer and Center for American Progress, to use technology — the right mix of platforms, integrations, and tracking solutions — to achieve more impact. There are few things he enjoys more than helping his clients realize that technology can give them back time in their day — instead of taking away from it.