Choosing a CRM That's Right for Your Organization

Choosing CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software can be overwhelming. Whether you are a small organization transitioning out of your Excel spreadsheets and into software for the first time, or a larger organization on the hunt for a new product, there are many important factors to consider.

To help get your thoughts about the process in order, we’ve created a handy checklist of some of the most essential factors to consider when making this all-important decision.

1. Basic Functionality

You should be able to assess this quickly by asking the question: Who are your constituents and how do you interact with them? That is, will the individuals going into this system strictly be donors and prospects? Or, are you an organization that also needs your CRM to sell tickets or products? Some systems are targeted at donor tracking only, while others have a sales component built-in that will help you track the overlap between those who make charitable contributions and those who buy your product.

It’s also important to analyze what types of success metrics a CRM can measure and store. By measuring engagement, giving potential, and goal progression metrics and featuring them alongside your donor database, CRM can give you key insights into your fundraising process.

2. Baseline Cost

Obviously this is a no-brainer in terms of any software purchase or subscription, but it can be made slightly more complicated based on the different pricing structures offered by CRM providers. Some offer tiered pricing based on the number of constituent records you plan to create, whereas others are based on the number of users in your office that will need to access the system. Calculate your annual cost accordingly—if your organization is in a growth phase, make a plan to upgrade your service to keep up with your growing needs. Remember that your nonprofit will likely be using this software extensively every day, so don’t skimp on features you could use unless it is absolutely necessary.

3. Integrations

Do you also send emails through tools like MailChimp? Do you use a third-party ticket vendor? What about your accounting software? Many of the CRMs on the market will integrate with these services for you, but you have to be on the look-out for where those integrations are pre-built and where they will have to be customized to your needs. Software integrations can save you time and effort by instantly exporting donor database information to be used in the other facets of your fundraising strategy. You will find a list of integrations and supported software on most CRM brand websites—use this resource to determine if the program’s software integrations will meet your organization’s needs.

4. Tech Support

Yes, some of these software companies charge for tech support. While googling is a valid option for resolving several small-scale questions and issues with the software, sometimes you may just need to have a human on the other end of the line. Make sure you know up front what is available to you before you end up too far down the line with a product you’re struggling to manage.

Now, when considering what level of tech support you want and need, make sure to keep in mind the data conversion process required to get your system up and running. Whether you are simply uploading your data from an Excel spreadsheet or need to transition out of another CRM, be sure to find out how much and what kind of support the company will provide, and how long they expect the process to take!

5. Last but not least, The Cloud

That’s right, more and more you have to choose between a software package that is hosted on your server, or a cloud-based system. Some companies even provide both, so you can decide which plan is best for you. There are pros and cons to both, but if you’re operating as a lean organization with a small staff, using a cloud-based platform can seriously alleviate the stress that can come with managing the functionality of your own server. Cloud-based storage also drastically decreases the risk of data loss and takes some of the data management weight off your organization and puts it on your CRM’s servers.

Above all else, the best advice we can give as you embark on this process is to maintain an open dialogue with your team. There are a lot of great options out there. Be realistic about your needs and your staff capacity to manage them and you can’t go wrong.