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How to Choose CRM Software for Your Nonprofit: A Complete Guide

By: Cassandra Steele, online fundraising and digital marketing communications professional. 

Nonprofit CRM software is the key to unlocking your nonprofit’s most important asset: your data. A nonprofit CRM will not only store your data, but allow you to access key features like reports and queries, track donation history, and so much more.  

There are so many options out there, which can make it overwhelming to choose a nonprofit CRM. It’s hard to know where to begin, but an organized process will keep you on track! 

This guide will give you concrete steps to follow to explore your options and choose your nonprofit CRM software.

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Step 1: Form a Selection Committee

The first step you should take in choosing your nonprofit CRM is to gather a selection committee. This is a big job and dividing the work up among multiple people will make it easier to decide what your needs are and help share in the research.

This is one of the most important steps. Here are some things to consider:

  • All of your departments or teams need something different from the nonprofit CRM software that you’re going to use
  • Don’t make this big decision in a silo, your nonprofit CRM affects every facet of your nonprofit so make sure everyone is involved
  • A selection committee will give you access to each person’s experience and knowledge of nonprofit CRM software
  • Ensure your staff have the opportunity to weigh in on the nonprofit CRM that you choose and that they feel heard

Tips for putting together your selection committee:

 

Keep it as small as possible. You’ve probably heard the saying about too many cooks in the kitchen, just because you need to involve every team that doesn’t mean you need to involve every member of the team.

  • Ask 1-2 people from that department or team to join and represent the interests of their whole team.
  • It will be their job to keep their team up to date and report back to the committee with their feedback or questions.

Clearly define roles if someone is there to represent finance then that is the insight they should be bringing.

Assign a project manager to make sure the process goes forward, follows a timeline and stays organized.

  • This person will organize all of the demos and discussion meetings and collect evaluations from the full committee.

Teams to invite to the selection committee:

  • Revenue development/Fundraising
  • Events
  • Finance
  • IT and Data management
  • Volunteer management

Depending on how large your nonprofit is you may not have all of these departments, or some of your teams may be cross functional fulfilling two or more of the areas below. As long as you cover all of your bases with your committee you will be ready to make a decision together.

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Step 2: Determine Your Needs

There are many nonprofit CRM software options on the market, and not every one will be a good fit for your nonprofit. 

Some nonprofit CRMs offer very tailored tools and functions, while some are designed to be very customizable, like Sumac CRM which has many customization and add-on options.

In order to know which CRM software is right for your nonprofit, you first need to understand your nonprofit’s needs.

 

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Make sure you undergo this part of the process with your whole selection committee so you understand the needs of every department. Ask each member to send their specific needs to your project manager and that person will compile those into a consolidated document.

Needs to consider:

  • Features. What data do you need the CRM to hold, which features do you absolutely need? Features include things like:
    • Reports and analytics functions
    • Queries and which criteria you can use to filter data
    • Integrations with other systems like your financial software or online platforms
    • Importing and exporting, or how you will get your data in and out of your nonprofit’s CRM
  • Constituent records. How many do you have and which constituent types you need to record? Are their specific fields you need constituent records to capture?
  • Customization. Will an out of the box nonprofit CRM software be adequate, or will you need specific customizations to suit your needs?
  • Training and support for staff. Will you need or want ongoing training opportunities for staff? How much technical support will your staff need as they use the CRM?
  • Number of unique users. How many users will need to access your nonprofit CRM and will you need different levels of access or permissions for different user types?
  • Data hosting and security. Are you looking for a cloud based solution? What data policies does your organization have that may affect your nonprofit CRM choice?

Defining your needs also includes your budget. Make sure you go into the process with a concrete idea of how much you can spend on a nonprofit CRM. This way you will always have this top of mind and you won’t fall in love with a software that you can’t afford.

But that being said, don’t let the budget blind you – don’t sign on to a CRM that won’t meet all of your needs because it’s cheap!

Think long term

When you’ve listed your needs for right now, think about what you might need in a few years. Your nonprofit CRM is a tool you’ll want to use for the long term, it’s not something you want to switch repeatedly after just a few years as you outgrow it.

Of course, it’s impossible to know exactly what you’ll need in the future, but having a rough idea will help you pick a nonprofit CRM that’s right for right now and will help your nonprofit grow.

  • Will you have more constituents in the future, will this cost you more?
  • Will you need more user accounts in the future? Will you need different levels of access for these new users?
  • Will you want some advanced reporting and predictive analytics to improve revenue development?
  • Will you want integration with online marketing and email marketing tools, if that’s not something you need now.

Prioritize your needs and wants

Once you have your basic needs down it’s time to list some of the features that you want, but can live without. These things aren’t necessities, but they’ll make your life easier or help you grow faster.

Make sure you clearly understand what’s a need to have and what’s a nice to have. If you focus too much on the wants you might find a nonprofit CRM that looks great only to find out once it’s too late that it’s missing something crucial for your nonprofit.

While you’re prioritizing, flag any nice to haves that you are willing to pay more for if you have a bit of extra budget and define what that extra budget would be. For example, are you willing to pay a bit more if it means getting a nonprofit CRM that has a lot of automation built in.

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Step 3: Develop an Evaluation Tool

Remember the grading rubrics from when you were in school? Create a similar document to score each CRM vendor based on your needs. This will help you evaluate all the vendors equally and compare quickly and efficiently with your selection committee.

In addition to scoring based on your needs decided on in Step 2, you should also include:

  • Usability. You’ll want something that is intuitive and user friendly for your staff.
  • Customer service tech support. Will you be able to contact someone easily if you need assistance and how quickly will they respond? Some nonprofit CRM software vendors also offer learning opportunities and resources to their clients like webinars and online content.
  • Vendor reliability. You can get an idea of vendor reliability by reading reviews and comments on websites like Capterra, talking to your industry peers, or requesting references from vendors.
  • Security. Privacy, security, and ownership are all important to consider when purchasing a new nonprofit CRM, because it’s going to be housing your constituent’s personal information and giving history.

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Step 4: Research Solutions

Once you’ve got an evaluation tool ready, the researching can begin. Start by casting a wide net. Look into a variety of nonprofit CRM software at the beginning to create a short list of CRMs to consider more seriously.

Make a list of nonprofit CRMs to research by:

  • Asking your selection committee for suggestions
  • Using a search engine like Google
  • Ask connections at other organizations what nonprofit CRM software they are using or have used in the past

You can add to your research by checking out NTEN and Idealware’s Consumers Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems. This guide reviews and evaluates several low-cost nonprofit CRMs.

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Step 5: Get Demos 

Invite your short listed candidates to give a demonstration of their nonprofit CRM software. Demo presentations give you the opportunity to see the nonprofit CRM in action. This will help you see first hand if the CRM offers the features your nonprofit needs.

Here are some tips for a successful demo:

  • Have a list of the features you want to see presented. This way you won’t forget any of your must haves during the presentation.
  • Include your selection committee so they can see the full demo and ask questions.
  • Evaluate afterwards. Ask each member of your committee to fill out an evaluation right after the demo while it is fresh.

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Step 6: Choose Your Nonprofit CRM

Meet with your selection committee

Once all of the demo presentations are complete hold a meeting with your selection committee to discuss and share their evaluations. The goal of this meeting is to make a decision on which nonprofit CRM you will choose.

Make sure your discussions revolve around the standardized evaluation tool because it will help you:

Keep your needs in sight. Avoid getting pulled into discussions that aren’t as important as your prioritized list of needs, like the way a system looks vs. how it functions.

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Make a decision if you cannot reach consensus. You may not be able to sign on to everyone’s top choice, but if you choose a nonprofit CRM that matches your priorities you will have a system that meets everyone’s needs.

Prioritize the right factors. Nonprofit CRM vendors may offer you special deals or a signing bonus when they know they are competing for your business. Everyone loves a deal and it can be a good opportunity to access additional features or special pricing, but don’t sacrifice your needs for a flashy deal.

Contact all of your shortlist candidates

Before you contact your selected nonprofit CRM vendor with the good news, follow-up with each of your unsuccessful shortlisted candidates. These vendors are going to follow up with you anyway, don’t leave them hanging. You can turn some bad news into a positive conversation.

  • Tell them why. Be upfront about your evaluations and if they couldn’t deliver on a specific need.
  • End on a positive note. If they’re professional, which they probably will be, they won’t make you feel bad and will be gracious and understanding. It’s just business and not personal afterall!
  • Don’t burn a bridge! Just because that CRM wasn’t right for you doesn’t mean this isn’t a valuable connection for you and for your organization.

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Step 7: Transitions and Next Steps

Congratulations, you’ve secured your new nonprofit CRM! It’s time to transition to the new system and incorporate it into your daily activities.

  • Get a detailed transition plan from your nonprofit CRM vendor including a timeline
  • Work with your new partner on any customizations your nonprofit needs
  • Begin any internal steps you have to take to set your nonprofit up for success
  • Set up training sessions with your staff so they will be experts in using the new system
  • Keep your eye out for new automations and innovations that your team can integrate as your working knowledge of your nonprofit CRM develops

Choosing a nonprofit CRM is a big decision, and it can feel overwhelming. This new tool is going to help you store, track, and get the most out of your data. The steps in this guide will help you choose the best nonprofit CRM software to help your nonprofit find success and growth for years and years to come.


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