After the RFP: How to Choose the Best Donor Management CRM
Even if you’re going through an exhaustive request for proposal process, there’s more to evaluating a donor management CRM than looking at a company’s written answers to a list of features, functions and use cases.
Take a look at a previous RFP and its responses. Do the answers communicate what your team really wanted to know? Chances are, not exactly. Most vendors are not going to provide a critical self-assessment of whether they meet your needs — instead, they’ll always position their solutions in the best possible light. Often, you really don’t know how well the product is going to meet your needs until you see some detailed customized demos and have several in-depth discussions.
As a vital part of your nonprofit’s tech stack, your CRM requires sufficient evaluation before you invest. Here are four post-RFP strategies to help ensure that you select the best donor management CRM for your organization.
Ask to View Multiple Real-Life, Highly Detailed Use Cases
For the demo, give detailed specifications of use cases in advance. In other words, don’t just ask the vendor to “show me an online donation.”
Instead, ask the vendor: “Show me an online donation that has a recurring option, a tribute option and an employer-match search. Then, show me exactly what information is stored in the constituent record and available for reporting. Show me how their incoming data shows the campaign and appeal associated with the donation, and show me the acknowledgment letter. Oh, and run that donor through wealth screening, and show me the results.”
Every department can probably offer at least a few real-life scenarios that will make it easier for vendors to prove their mettle.
As a starting point, development staff will want to see every aspect of creating, managing and tracking omnichannel campaigns. The finance team will want to make sure that the donor management CRM can act as a subsidiary ledger to the GL through direct integration or an automated export/import process.
Major gifts and planned giving officers should want to see every action that occurs. And executives will want powerful reporting and analytical data, including custom dashboards, that communicate the most important data in an easy-to-understand visual format.
To ensure fair comparisons, share the same scenarios with every vendor that makes it past the proposal stage.
Drill Down Into Discovery and Implementation
Most nonprofits include some information about their data conversion needs, business rules and financial requirements in the RFP. Fewer create RFPs that include a complete and detailed list of current business rules, staff roles, unique campaign requirements, legacy processes, etc.
Even if you can’t work the detailed information into the RFP because of timing, your team can spend the weeks between releasing the RFP and the proposal deadline putting together as much real-life process information as possible to ensure the demo speaks to your unique requirements.
Make sure you understand every step of the vendors’ implementation planning for your new donor management CRM. What are your team’s responsibilities? What are theirs? Will they give you planning documents to guide you through business discovery in a way that makes it easy to map your processes to the new solution?
By the time you’re interviewing vendors and watching demos, you should have:
- Gathered detailed information about your data conversion requirements.
- Mapped out your current business rules and workflows.
- Compiled a list of financial/reporting requirements.
The more business discovery you can do before hiring a vendor, the easier it will be for all parties to fully understand the scope and depth of the implementation. As a result, you and the vendor can spend more time looking for ways to automate and streamline those processes instead of trying to identify them during onboarding.
Get the Truth About Training and Support
This is another area where you’ll want to ask detailed questions about the type, scope and depth of onboarding training, the transition from training to regular support, and the truth about what happens after the sales cycle and implementation ends, when your organization enters the “support zone.”
Even if you asked about support availability in the RFP, it’s crucial to revisit the issue when you’re speaking to the vendor in person. Will your team have a named support professional or account manager? Can you easily reach a person who knows your organization during business hours, or do you start with a tier-one support person reading off a script?
Or — even worse — do you have to jump through hoops with a chatbot just to earn the privilege of delivering your question about a mission-critical system to a human? (By the way, vendors, people really hate help chatbots.)
How about after business hours? Is there a more expensive premium tier of support? Is the vendor so interested in upselling premium support that the non-premium support is slow to respond?
In the long run, your nonprofit may be happier and most effective with a somewhat more expensive system that offers personalized support than a less expensive “utility” system. But in all cases, you should be absolutely certain that you understand exactly the support levels and features that the vendor is offering.
Once your implementation is complete and your account is transferred to support, they’ll be your lifeline for new features as well. Definitely ask forward-thinking questions about how they handle documentation, training and support for new features.
Is the Product Roadmap Flexible?
The vendor’s roadmap will likely show what they plan to build over the next several years… but plans can and do change.
Fundraising and fundraising technologies — like all business processes and supporting software — are occasionally disrupted. Sometimes the disruption is a new kind of engagement medium. For example, no one tweeted their legislators in 2005 (or tweeted at all) — and sometimes disruption is the result of something external like, say, the coronavirus pandemic.
The right vendor for your organization will have a product roadmap…and more. Ask each vendor how they adapt the roadmap for their donor management CRM to address unexpected disruptions.
They should be happy to give examples of how they pivoted the development of features or integrations to support new technologies, new fundraising channels and/or changing economic and operation conditions. Further, they should be able to articulate a philosophy and approach for handling unexpected changes and conditions to ensure that your fundraising remains as efficient and successful as possible.
No matter how comprehensive your RFP, selecting the ideal donor management CRM requires your team to plan and manage the following selection rounds with the same or greater amount of detail and thoughtfulness as the RPF itself.
Elissa K. Miller, M.Ed. is Doubleknot’s communications director. As the former development director for a regional nonprofit, she’s passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations harness new technologies to streamline operations and support their missions.