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Why You Need a CRM for Your Nonprofit – and How to Choose the Best One



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Okay, so the headline is a little misleading – you don’t strictly need a CRM for your nonprofit. What you do need is some kind of database management system, and it’s very possible that a CRM might be it.

books on nonprofit marketing CRM with man staring up at the word CRM, surrounded by A LOT of options. You need a CRM for your nonprofit, and you need to know how to choose the best one.

Hold on. Rewind.

What is a CRM, anyway? The term is everywhere, everyone wants to sell you one, and lots of articles (like this one) keep telling you it’s a necessity. But what is it?

CRM stands for “customer relationship management.” Any software that brands itself a CRM has one basic purpose: to help you keep track and – you guessed it! – manage the relationships you have with your donors, volunteers, funders, etc.

Which is the best CRM for my nonprofit?

Lists of “the best CRMs for nonprofits” are easy to find, and they frequently change based on new software contenders or newly-introduced features to existing platforms. And if you work from those lists only, you might be tempted to pay more for features you’ll never use.

Or, even worse, shell out cash for what becomes nothing more than an expensive browser bookmark.

The best CRM for your nonprofit is the one you’ll actually use.

So let’s talk about what goes into choosing the best fundraising software or CRM for your nonprofit:

1. Understand why you need more than a spreadsheet.

From organizing your contacts and transactions to staying on top of your touchpoints, a CRM can do much more for you than your average spreadsheet. Regular reports and data security are other added benefits.

2. Know the difference between software types.

Maybe you need and will use the full functionality of a CRM – or maybe you’ll be better suited to simple fundraising software or a donor management platform. Get a sense of what each of these categories typically includes.

3. Know what you need.

What tasks take you a lot of time to complete? Are you doing the same things, over and over? Think about what it would look like to have them automated. What about the information you’re always struggling to find? Can a software system help you stay organized?

4. Figure out your budget beforehand.

Keep in mind that cost is a given for all platforms; even free or low-cost services will include payment processing fees. What can you afford annually? Monthly? If there are extra costs for training or data migration, can you cover them comfortably?

Start with these four tips, and you are on your way to figuring out the best way to manage your relationships with your donors, funders, and volunteers! Let us know how it goes!