All About CRMs

Assess Your Needs

Select a Product

Can’t We All Get Along?

Think of your nonprofit’s fundraising CRM (Customer Relationship Management software) as both “container” and “tool.” While you can use it to simply record donations and produce reports, it can also be used more comprehensively to identify and analyze new sources of funding, cultivate and deepen relationships, grow and communicate with your audiences, manage events and programs, evaluate participation and other service outcomes, and set fundraising goals. Your CRM can be a strategic partner for more than simply fundraising.
To demystify the CRM selection and implementation process, Plan A Advisors partnered with Jeffrey Leib Consulting for this “how to” series.

All About CRMs: Assess Your Needs – 1st in a series of 6

What does your nonprofit need from a CRM? Beyond basic database management and fundraising functions, your CRM can do a whole lot for you. Features differ between products, so you will want to select one best suited to your nonprofit’s needs. If you rely heavily on marketing, you’ll want to look to products that have invested in building email tools or have an integration with an industry-standard third-party product, such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp. If your nonprofit has scheduled programs like classes or tours, be sure to look for software that can manage registrations and isn’t limited to fundraising events. If you rely heavily on direct mail, look for a CRM offering in-depth reporting that includes solicitation tracking, responses, and goals (and, if possible, expenses to give gross/net insights). If there’s a capital campaign on the horizon, seek a product that helps you move prospects through the cultivation cycle using moves management features and with accessible storage for donor analytics and wealth data.
What’ll it cost? CRMs have up-front costs for initial software licenses, software customization and configuration, ongoing licensing and maintenance fees, and the personnel to keep it running effectively and productively. Keep in mind that most systems calibrate their fees to the number of records in your system, rather than the number of users. As your record count grows over time, so too will your fees. You can expect to pay between $49 – $500/month for up to 5,000 records, depending on the sophistication of the CRM. Know that terms and prices, in most cases, are negotiable so don’t be afraid to ask your preferred vendor for a concession – especially towards the end of a quarter when they’re working to meet sales quotas. You can also ask to spread high first-year costs over the life of an initial three-to-five-year contract. Note: Your CRM vendor collects fees for credit card transactions they process; don’t forget to calculate these projected costs in your totals; anywhere from 1.5-3.5%.
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All About CRMs: Select a Product – 2nd in a series of 6

Compare products. Catalog the features you think you need. Create a worksheet for side-by-side comparison of the CRM software you are considering. (Here’s a sample.) Use Capterra to compare features and read user reviews of popular CRM choices. Reach out to other nonprofits that use the software you are considering, including both references a vendor submits, and others you may be aware of through your network of colleagues. In some cases, particular products are designed for specific fields such as education, healthcare and legal services, and therefore include unique features (e.g., enhanced security for HIPAA compliance or weekly registration options for day camps). Catalog desired features that are “musts” vs. “nice to have” and let your salesperson work up a quote. Compare the experience that the user can expect with one product versus another. Each vendor can also demonstrate the way their CRM produces reports using criteria you’ve set to meet your needs. (Make your request complex to see how the vendor responds.) Compare the kind of support that’s offered – which can be a big differentiator. And never take “yes” for an answer; always have vendors demonstrate functionality rather than make promises.
Select your vendor. Choosing your next CRM is high stakes. Your up-front investment can be significant; there are ongoing costs for licensing, maintenance, and staffing; and your contract represents a long-term liability on your balance sheet. Ask for a free trial before making your pick. Whichever CRM you choose, your solution should be adaptable to future needs as your nonprofit’s CRM use increases and your operations become more sophisticated.
Commonly used CRM products for nonprofits today include Raiser’s Edge, Neon, Bloomerang, Little Green Light, Network for Good, SalesForce, Salsa and CIVI CRM, among many others.
Up next in All About CRMs: Can’t We All Get Along?


All About CRMs: Can’t We All Get Along? – 3rd in a series of 6

Integrations. You’ll want your CRM to “talk to” other software used by your nonprofit. Smaller vendors tend to invest in integrations with industry standard third-party software such as QuickBooks, Eventbrite, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact. Smaller companies also tend to be compatible with ecosystems like Zapier, that allow for integration between your CRM and many widely used third-party solutions. Some bigger players tend to promote “walled garden” products by facilitating integrations with their own companion solutions. While this ensures tight end-to-end control of your data, and a single point-of-contact, the products they offer can be expensive, require specialized knowledge, and may even be inferior to popular third-party solutions already on the market. The bigger players do, however, offer APIs for custom integrations (“Application Programming Interface”: a digital key that allows two applications to communicate with one another to access data).
Scenario Testing. “Open platform” or “walled garden” solution? Decide what’s best for your nonprofit by testing various scenarios to compare, feature by feature, integrated single-vendor software with CRMs that easily integrate compatible third-party software. Think about your nonprofit’s capacity to manage multiple systems (software oversight, separate contracts, separate support, etc.). For third-party integrations, understand up front how data feeds back into your CRM. Test “use-case scenarios” to see how a product can meet a specific need such as reports demonstrating year-over-year fundraising metrics, queries on cumulative giving using a variety of parameters or filters, organizing moves in the CRM as well as in Outlook, or the ability to reforecast modified goals without losing an original forecast. Accept concessions; no single product can do everything you want and need it to.
Up next in All About CRMs: Spend Money to Make Money