Working for a nonprofit organization can be an exciting and rewarding role, and many nonprofit employees and volunteers are passionate about their work and their mission.
But nonprofits have so many different things to stay on top of, often with minimal staff and a tight budget. So anything that helps keep information, donors, events, and fundraising organized and efficient makes a big difference.
Customer relationship management software (CRM) can do all that and more. There are numerous options out there, some designed specifically for the needs of nonprofits. Because there are so many programs to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start or what to look for. Read on for all the information you'll need to find the best solution for you.
What is CRM software?
Also known as constituent relationship management software or a donor management system, a CRM program is a comprehensive way for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations to keep track of their customers and contacts, conduct data analysis, track donations, and generate custom reports.
Some programs even use the data to uncover actionable insights about new sources of donors and best practices in marketing and fundraising campaigns.
While some programs are targeted at both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, other CRM programs are specifically for nonprofits and have features like integration with donation pages to help raise money, manage volunteers and event registrations, and run advocacy campaigns.
Using a nonprofit CRM program, organizations can make sure that all of their information is in one easy-to-access place and use analytics tools to organize donor information, identify trends in giving, and make recommendations for increased donor retention, leading to better overall program management.
Benefits of nonprofit CRM software
Most nonprofit organizations are already trying to do many things on a tight budget. Making sure they maximize the benefit of their donors and supporters is key to carrying out the mission of the organization.
CRM software is designed to help manage data, improve efficiency, and simplify daily operations, reducing the time and effort needed from the organization's staff.
Many organizations use general database programs, but dedicated CRM software—specially designed with features for nonprofit organizations—can provide the kind of tools that are targeted to help nonprofits grow and thrive.
Improved customer service
With so much donor data to manage, many nonprofits struggle with updating contact records, keeping the donor database current, and pulling together all the details for effective event management. When you need to reference information quickly—whether it's for a donor, volunteer, or event attendee—the best CRM program for you will help ensure that you can respond to requests right away.
There are many things that go into running a nonprofit that happen on a regular basis—from fundraising campaigns to annual reports. Many CRMs provide automation tools to help make the process more simple and efficient.
Whether it's reaching out to volunteers and donors to update their contact details or generating reports about event registration, many common tasks can happen with the click of a button. You can even set up reminders to make thank-you calls to reinforce donor relationships and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Actionable analytics and reporting
Your nonprofit has many files, maybe spread across dozens of different software platforms, including your email platform, online fundraising platform, and project management program. With the best CRM for you, you will have all of your important info at your fingertips.
Your CRM software can run reports to help you identify your underutilized donors and create new donor profiles. The most feature-packed nonprofit CRM programs can also show visual representations of your organization, such as donor pyramids and donor lifecycles. This helps you assess your organization’s health and potential quickly and easily.
More efficient processes
Whenever you are working at an organization, time is crucial. Some tasks that require daily work may be time-consuming and tedious—not the best use of your limited resources!
Automated processes help reduce the amount of effort you spend doing mundane jobs like updating donor data or overseeing contact management. Process integration between systems also enables better internal communication, reducing time lost on low-impact tasks.
The right CRM program comes with all the features needed to focus on information needs specific to nonprofits, like donor addresses and donation history. Being able to pull up relevant data easily means that you can target your fundraising efforts more efficiently.
Increased donor retention
All nonprofits know that it's more efficient to keep donors than to find new ones. Nonprofit CRM programs know this too and have a donor management system designed to help maximize those relationships and take advantage of fundraising tools to keep donors happy, engaged, and giving.
Centralized data across the organization
Making sure all of your organization's most important data is in one place and accessible by everyone who needs it makes decisions easier and helps prevent missed opportunities. When data is scattered among different systems, it becomes harder for a team to collaborate.
Nonprofit CRM systems operate by gathering information in one place or linking together programs you already use to make sure that everyone has access to the most current data.
Common features of CRM software for nonprofit organizations
While every nonprofit CRM program is different, there are some features that are common to most of them and that you may want to consider when researching CRM solutions.
Tracking and reporting
Any organization that relies on donors needs good reporting features. Keeping track of contact records and donations is just the first step.
Many CRM programs also offer robust data segmentation and further insights into demographic data to help you intelligently determine your best path forward. You can customize your own reports specific to your organization's needs or use one of the preprogrammed reports that many software programs provide.
Fundraising is often the most time-consuming part of running a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit CRM programs are designed with numerous fundraising tools to help identify and reach out to potential donors and conduct prospect research. Built-in features of the software might include tools for online fundraising, campaign management, and even payment processing. More funds means more opportunities to fulfill your nonprofit's core mission.
The key to building and maintaining good relationships with supporters is good communication. A nonprofit CRM program that helps increase efficient communication processes by generating reminders, having a robust social media presence, and helping to keep contact management up to date can ensure better relationships with everyone.
Donor management is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Certain supporters may need more information than others or more personal attention. Being able to access all your donor information in one place and track contacts will improve your donor relationships.
In addition, programs designed for nonprofits can help you plan the best times to reach out to donors and the best approach to bring in the most successful returns, taking the guesswork out of dealing with donors.
Support and training
Many CRM programs can be complex. Finding one that offers user support and training on new features will help ensure that you're able to get the most out of the program, even if your organization doesn't have its own internal IT department.
Your nonprofit may have several types of programs you use for everything from payment processing to creating direct mail campaigns. Nonprofit CRM programs can bring all of that information together—either within the program itself, or by integrating with other programs like an email marketing platform you use for tasks like social media or event management.
Finding a CRM that works for your nonprofit
There are a number of things to consider when looking for the right CRM for nonprofit organizations. The wide variety of options can be overwhelming, but this also means that the best nonprofit CRM software for your organization is out there, with the key features you need.
Cloud vs. on-premise?
CRM programs can either be based in the cloud and accessed via an internet connection or can be installed directly on your computer system. Figuring out the right setup for you may be a matter of cost, staff, and your organization's needs.
Systems based on a marketing cloud or service cloud allow the user to access data anywhere at any time via the internet without the need for a big IT team for maintenance or updates. On-premise programs often have higher up-front costs, but may be more economical in the long run since they tend to have lower (or no) monthly subscription fees.
Both types often include mobile apps that allow you to access information and update donor records even when away from the office.
Does it offer the features you need?
Every nonprofit organization is different, just like every nonprofit CRM software program is different. Before you start the search, think about what features would make the most sense for you.
Do you have a large donor base? For many large nonprofits, their list of past and potential donors can run into the millions! If that's your organization, choosing a nonprofit CRM with robust donor database support is key to making sure every donor is managed appropriately.
Does your organization hold fundraising events? Many CRM programs have event planning features that can track ticket sales, help with auction management, and create to-do lists to make sure everything gets done.
If your organization relies heavily on volunteers, some CRM programs are especially good at helping recruit volunteers and coordinating volunteer management.
Knowing exactly what you need before you start comparing programs will save you time and keep you from being overwhelmed by options.
Does the cost fit your organization's budget?
All nonprofits are budget conscious. After all, the less money spent on administration and fundraising, the more is available to hire staff and run programs. Researching not only the features of nonprofit CRMs but also the costs can help you make sure you're getting the best value.
Typically nonprofit software provides three subscription models to businesses: a unique license, monthly subscription fee, or annual fee. The best choice for you will depend on the size of your organization, the features offered (there may be different features at different subscription tiers), and the number of users who will need access to the program. Each user may require a separate license, so make sure you understand the nonprofit CRM cost structure before you make a decision.
What kind of support does the software company provide?
Like any organization, the companies that produce nonprofit CRM software are concerned with their own customer relationships. That means they want to provide a good product and keep you happy long-term.
Understanding what support they provide for the software, how often it's updated, and how they can help your staff use the program most effectively is important. Because CRM programs offer so many features, it can take some time to get to know all of them and understand how to use them best. Help from the company making the program can be key to getting you up and running.
Ten popular CRM software options
There are many options out there for CRM software. We've listed a few here, including a bit of information about each, to give you a place to start.
In addition to creating websites and email marketing campaigns, Mailchimp has a solution for nonprofit management—Mailchimp's CRM software, which can keep your nonprofit organized and connected.
Mailchimp offers the ability to customize how you categorize your contacts to make your marketing and communication outreach as targeted and productive as possible. Other features include A/B testing, which allows you to try different versions of subject lines and design to see what gets the best response, and dynamic content so you can use a single email template and create personalized messages for each type of audience.
Keela is a CRM program specifically geared toward nonprofit organizations. Keela has focused heavily on developing effective nonprofit fundraising and marketing tools and offers fundraising, email marketing, data management, reporting, and project management tools. While Keela is a powerful program, it may not be the best choice for volunteer-driven groups who cannot take advantage of Keela's full functionality.
Nutshell is a cloud-based program with mobile apps for Android and iPhone. It's not designed specifically for nonprofits, but has plenty of features that work well for them like task automation for emails.
Salesforce's Nonprofit Cloud program is designed with your issues in mind, making donor outreach, project management, and other nonprofit needs simple. It also offers the first 10 subscriptions free to nonprofits.
Fundly has particularly robust Facebook integration so you can get your message out to as many people as possible and it specializes in crowdfunding. It also has features that allow you to track grant applications.
6. Raiser's Edge NXT
Raiser's Edge NXT is a cloud-based program that has a wide range of features and is optimized for large nonprofits. It also has mobile apps and while its functionality can be somewhat complex, organizations with large donor bases may find it the perfect solution.
Built specifically for nonprofits and their needs, Kindful has a particular focus on online fundraising. If you accept online donations and want all the data to sync seamlessly with your organization's database, this might be a good choice for you.
MonkeyPod knows that as your organization grows your needs change too. It adds new features and updates every week and encourages users to contribute ideas and feedback to make the program as useful for the whole nonprofit community as possible.
9. Trail Blazer
Trail Blazer has features for nonprofits in general, but also includes specific tools for political campaigns. If your organization's mission is related to politics, you may find their phone banking and grassroots advocacy tools especially useful.
If cost is a concern, check out CiviCRM. The software is open source, so it's totally free. And it has built-in or custom report capabilities.
How to make the most of your nonprofit CRM software
Once you've researched the nonprofit CRMs available and invested in the best nonprofit CRM program for you, you'll want to maximize the program's potential for donor management, database integration, and everything else.
Learn how to use the program
Nonprofit CRM programs can be powerful, but all of those features—like fundraising tools, the ability to track donations, and donor management—can be overwhelming at first. Before jumping in, take time to make sure everyone who will be using the program is familiar with its key features, knows how to access the information they need like donor data and analytic tools, and can make the most of all of the nonprofit CRM features.
Set up your data in a way that makes sense for your organization
Just like every organization has a different mission, each one uses data in a different way. If your focus is more on peer-to-peer fundraising than major donors, you'll want to make that the focus of how you use the CRM software. If your organization is membership based, then membership management and communication may be more important than donor engagement or other tools.
Integrate with other programs
It's unlikely that your CRM software will be the only program that your organization will use. Make sure you take the time to set up all of the features that will let you use the program most effectively, integrating it with any other programs you use for volunteer management, social media, or event management.
Watch for software updates
Any good program will always be looking for ways to improve the product. If the nonprofit CRM software you choose adds features, updates ways to analyze data, or introduces even more workflow automation features, you want to know about it!
Whether you need to learn how to use the new features or update the software itself, staying up to date means you can take full advantage of all the key features of the program and all the CRM solutions it offers.
Once you find the right CRM program for your organization, getting started with its reporting features, donor management tools, and fundraising campaign management will help you make your nonprofit organization as effective as it can be!