8 minute read

We’ve been trying hard lately to convince people that CRMs do more than track customers. They are not the exclusive domain of corporate sales and marketing. That’s why we prefer to call them XRMs, where the X stands for any variable you want to track. But if you’re not a math person, that pseudonym may make you uneasy.

Let’s stick with CRM, but make it stand for Constituent Relationship Management. Everybody has constituents, especially nonprofits!

Why Does My Nonprofit Need a CRM?

If you are an executive director reading this and you don’t have one, stop reading and buy one already! Joking, obviously, but seriously, you probably need one. 

A CRM is a nonprofit’s single most valuable asset, second only to the people that make the place special.  If you have great people working for a great cause, you need a great CRM. They are no longer just tools to store leads, donations and donor info. Today’s CRM is an enterprise-level development platform capable of running an entire nonprofit. 

In the past, if you wanted a piece of software to do what a modern CRM is capable of, it had to be a completely custom build. It cost millions and could take years to get it exactly where you wanted it. Now, in 95% of cases, CRMs cost a fraction of that. To use a construction analogy, a CRM is like buying a prefab home. It comes with the walls and roof pre-built. Sure, you still need to sit with an architect and interior designer to decide how many bedrooms, what types of faucets and furnishings, etc. You have to make it your own, but a big chunk of the work is already done for you. And the really cool thing about this house is that, as your family grows, the walls move and expand to accommodate. It is virtually impossible to outgrow a modern CRM. Your organization will likely reach a point where it needs to build and integrate some custom pieces. But the point is: CRM gives you an amazing start.

A CRM will help you keep detailed records of everyone in your universe – all your constituents. That includes staff and board, volunteers, people you serve, people who attend your events, corporate sponsors, individual sponsors, everyone. What types of information can you collect? Contact info, employer, family, hobbies, donation history, shoe size, anything and everything. Best of all, a CRM automates the process of keeping your records up to date. Just think how much time and effort (which both translate into money) that will save your staff.

What Can I Do With All This Data?

People say knowledge is power, but knowledge is worthless without action.  Here’s how to put your CRM (and all the constituent information it holds) into action:

1. Automate, Especially Email

That’s right. Time to take even more of that mindless, repetitive work off your overworked staff. Use your CRM to create, distribute and collect online forms. Use it to process donations. It can track pledges, online gifts, even offline in-kind donations. Nothing ever gets lost in the shuffle because the system puts a date and time stamp on every action.

Email automation is going to change your life. Your CRM will pay for itself with that one feature alone. CRMs make it easy to segment your contact list. Have an event coming up? Send an email invite only to people living within a 50-mile radius. After the event, automatically fire off a thank you just to those who attended. Remind folks to renew their membership a month before it expires. Send out perfectly timed birthday greetings to everyone!

2. Get Strategic

Automating gets your staff off the hamster wheel. No more running to stay in place. Now they can tackle strategic fundraising initiatives. And yes, CRMs make planning and executing those easier too. With all your constituent data at their fingertips, your team can more readily identify fundraising opportunities. Then, email automation builds the campaign for you.

Here’s an example: You know you could be getting more out of employer match programs, but how do you figure out which employers offer them? Tell your CRM to send an email to donors employed by companies with over $30MM in revenue. Ask them if they know whether their employers match donations: “It’s an easy way to double the impact of your gift. We can help you apply!” Go ahead and include a call-to-action button. It’s fun, engaging and it gets results.

3. Report

CRMs provide incredible reporting capabilities. They can also be easily tied to external reporting tools like Tableau and Power BI so you can see at a glance exactly where you are to goal and who is doing what to further the mission. 

Annual reports become a snap. No need to dig for the numbers; they’re all right there. End-of-the-year charitable giving summaries? Generate and email to each donor with the push of a button. Grant reporting? Let’s just say you’ll never have to pull another all-nighter to make the deadline.

BUY . . . But Beware!

If you let the CRM revolution pass you by, you will get left behind. CRMs give you a lot of bang for your buck. As technology sector spends go, you’re pretty much guaranteed a strong ROI. Just make sure you choose your partner wisely.

A Nonprofit-CRM-in-a-box may seem like the economical, easy way to go, but every organization’s needs are different. What happens when you need a custom integration with your accounting software? Can your vendor do that? If you do require custom enhancements, how much will they cost, and who ends up owning the intellectual property?

As I said way back at the beginning, if you play your cards right, your CRM can be your nonprofit’s single biggest asset. Protect your investment. If you go with a vendor who just builds what you need on top of whatever major enterprise platform (think Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle) they’re affiliated with, you paid for the customization, but it doesn’t belong to you. In fact, they can turn around and sell your innovation to lots of other organizations.

If you partner with a vendor neutral technology consultant, you own all your customizations and configurations. They are yours to keep, no matter what happens to the vendor, the consultant or your business relationship. And if anybody makes money off the brilliant new business process you had built, it’s you!


About Mike

Mike Correnti is all about nonprofits: “If you’re passionate about a charitable cause, I’m gonna help you!”

He helps by leveraging technology to bring organizations up to speed. Mike’s theory is that nonprofits should embrace smart business practices. Don’t be afraid of profit because, when you’re a nonprofit, “profit” just means you get to help more people.

Mike’s affinity for nonprofits was born out of personal tragedy. When he and his wife Jessica lost Baby Maggie two years ago, the staff of Johns Hopkins’ Pediatric Palliative Care did everything possible to make the worst day of the couple’s life as therapeutic and nurturing as it could be. Since then, Mike and Jessica have raised over $20,000 to benefit the pediatric palliative care team and create Maggie’s Run, a memorial disc golf course at Druid Hill Park. “The more we accomplish in her name, the easier it is to cope,” he says. 

When Mike’s not nurturing nonprofits or loving on his family, he’s strumming the classics on his guitar, teaching disc golf clinics, or playing a round on Maggie’s Run.