5 Ways to Enhance Your Membership Renewal Letter

5 Ways to Enhance Your Membership Renewal Letter

For nonprofits with membership programs, retention is everything. No matter how engaging or profitable your membership program is, if you can’t convince members to come back year after year, you’ll never achieve true progress or growth.

Luckily, there’s one oft-overlooked aspect of the member stewardship game that you can leverage to maximize your retention rates and supercharge your membership program. We’re talking about the ever-so-crucial membership renewal letter.

Though you might perceive these pesky communications as necessary evils, there is a way to ensure your renewal letters are more than just a requirement. They’re a way to engage your members and remind them of the value of the membership experience (while asking for a donation in the form of a membership fee).

In fact, if you follow our tips, you might even start to enjoy the renewal process—and more importantly, so will your members!

We’ll help you take your member renewal letters from okay to amazing in just 5 simple steps:

  1. Get personal.
  2. Take your members down memory lane.
  3. Understand the urgency.
  4. Stay gracious.
  5. Don’t forget the details.

Let’s begin!

Get personal

1. Get personal.

More than likely, you’ll utilize your membership management software to help you create and send large batches of renewal letters. Because these communications are often automated (or aided by your database), it’s easy to get lost in the transaction and forget to include a human touch.

Even though it’s an easy mistake, this error is more fatal than you might think!

For nonprofit organizations, your members are your most dedicated constituents. Not only do they give on a recurring basis and participate in engagement activities, but they set themselves apart by actually identifying themselves as part of your organization.

Since your members are so deeply invested in your nonprofit, it’s important to show the same level of respect and appreciation for them. By interacting with members in a personal way, you’re showing them that they’re not just a face in a crowd—they’re valued on an individual level! 

You should make your letter as personal as possible by including:

  • An accurate, friendly greeting. You should know your members well enough not to refer to them as “Dear Member,” so call them by their (correct!) first name. Use your database to ensure accuracy, and always double check to make sure the right letter is going to the right person.
  • A personable tone. This letter is more than just a formal invoice of members’ dues, so don’t fall into the trap of taking a transactional approach. Let your members know that you’re excited to have them contribute for another year, not just to receive their money!
  • A short handwritten note. If possible, have your membership director add a brief handwritten note to the end of the renewal letter. Especially if you’re a local organization or have interacted personally with this member before, adding a personal touch can go a long way.

When you use your member renewal letter as an opportunity to remind your members how much you care about them, you’ll be much more likely to see eager renewals.

The point is: Don’t treat your members like they’re nothing more than their membership fees. Show them you value them by crafting a letter that’s personal and friendly, and you’re sure to see your retention rates soar.

Take your members down memory lane

2. Take your members down memory lane.

Before you launch into a request, take a paragraph to remind your members how far their membership fees have gone to further your organization’s cause and enrich their lives since their last renewal.

Look at it this way: your members have other expenses too, and they likely can’t afford to shell out membership fees for an organization that hasn’t given them their money’s worth. If they can’t remember what last year’s dues paid for, they definitely won’t see the point in signing up for another go-round! 

To prevent that from happening, spend some time briefly recapping the value of their membership. If member stewardship has been a priority (and we hope that it has!), you’ll have no issue coming up with a highlight reel of all your membership program has done (and all your members have done for your membership program).

You might want to remind your members of any (or all) of the following:

  • Impact on your cause or community. Did you raise a record amount for your charity’s mission? Perhaps your members’ volunteer efforts had a radical effect on your community. Whatever the case, your nonprofit probably accomplished a lot last year with the help of your devoted members, so let them know you couldn’t do it without them.
  • Member engagement activities. One of the strongest benefits to membership programs is the community they naturally foster. Your events and programs have likely worked to develop a supportive group of like-minded individuals, so make sure this benefit is at the front of your members’ minds.
  • Services and opportunities. Does your membership program offer exclusive content or services for members? Don’t let them forget! Whether you had an educational speaker at your member get-together or hosted a conference, remind your donors how much your organization has helped them learn and grow this year.

You don’t want to spend too much time celebrating the past year’s successes (that’s what your year-end newsletter is for), but you do want to make your rationale clear: your members can’t get the experience of this membership program anywhere else!

The point is: Take some time to help your members recall the value of your membership program. By briefly going over the impact of your program, you’ll have no problem recruiting them for another year.

Understand the urgency

3. Understand the urgency.

As much fun as it is to rehash old times, you can’t avoid the purpose of your letter for long. By the second or third paragraph, it’s time to ask your members to renew their membership.

At this point in the letter, we can’t stress enough the importance of being to-the-point. If membership dues have increased since the last renewal period, tell your members directly. If you want to ask them to upgrade their membership level, quickly explain why and how. If you’re too vague, your members might think you’re hiding something from them, so just be clear from the start.

While you don’t want to be curt, you do want to stress that this is a matter best handled as soon as possible. When members feel they can put off their renewal for a later date, it increases the odds that they won’t ever get around to renewing—and you can’t let that happen! 

Encourage your members to act sooner rather than later by using the following strategies:

  • Include your application form. Take away the guesswork by including a link to your membership application, or a paper copy if your renewal letters are sent by mail. For the best results, make sure your form is user-friendly and well-designed. (Take a look at this article to learn how to optimize your application form!)
  • Make renewals easy. Membership management software can streamline the renewal process for both you and your members. Depending on your provider, you might even be able to include an automated renewal option on your application form or your website’s member portal.
  • Incentivize early renewal. If you’re having a hard time securing early or even on-time renewals, it might be time to up the ante. Though not realistic for every organization, providing benefits for those who take immediate action can seriously pay off. Consider offering a discount if members renew within two weeks of receiving their first renewal letter.

Don’t let your members lapse due to forgetfulness; convince them to secure another year’s involvement as soon as they receive their letter!

For more on requesting donations through letters, check out this post!

The point is: Get to the point quickly and make the pitch your members have been waiting for. Ask for their renewal in a direct, positive way, and make sure the renewal process is easy enough for them to complete on the spot.

Stay gracious

4. Stay gracious.

Remember the bottom line here: your members make your membership program possible. Without their contributions and involvement, you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, so show them your gratitude as you ask for their renewal.

Throughout your letter, write with a tone of respect and thankfulness. Don’t ever be demanding!

Moreover, you might consider the following thank-you protocol for both your letter and the follow-up:

  • Close your letter with sincerity. Gratefulness should be the last thing your members see in their member renewal letters. Don’t overdo it (and risk cheesiness), but do include a sincere line to reiterate how appreciative you are as you close your letter.
  • Keep communication open. By failing to include follow-up details for your organization, you’re assuming your members will renew without question. On the contrary, make sure they’re aware that your team is eager to answer any and all of their questions by providing relevant contact information, including a specific point person on your team.
  • Send a thank-you note. Instead of only automating an acknowledgement or receipt, you should send your member a personalized thank-you note as soon as possible. An email is fine, but a handwritten note from your membership director or a board member can reiterate your personal connection to your members.

Gratitude during the renewal period is a major step toward member retention in the long run. Start on the right foot this membership term by proving to your members how much you value them (and avoiding tricky membership engagement mistakes along the way).

The point is: You can’t thank your members enough for what they do for your organization, but you can certainly try! Be gracious throughout your letter and always follow up personally as soon as you can.

Don't forget the details

5. Don’t forget the details.

We can’t talk about effective membership renewal letters without discussing at least a few technical details!

The smallest elements can push your letter to the next level, so let’s break down a few key technical components you can’t ignore: 

  • Keep it concise. As you edit your letter with our tips in mind, you might see your letter growing and growing to include all the necessary elements. Keep in mind that your members are busy and don’t have time for long-winded letters! A page is plenty to get your message across, but definitely don’t got over a 2-page limit.
  • Be persistent. While we’ve only been referring to the membership renewal letter as a singular communication, don’t be fooled into thinking you can get away with sending only one request. Start sending renewal reminders as early as a few months before membership expiration. (Hint: your software can automate these reminders so you don’t have to keep up with them!)
  • Don’t forget lapsed members. Have some members who missed the renewal window? Don’t let them lapse without sending a final reminder. This can be a good time to provide incentives, especially for long-time members.

The point is: Don’t forget the minor details of your renewal letter, from timing to length. Be thoughtful as you review your letter, and your members will appreciate the attention to detail!


Member renewal letters don’t have to be a hassle, for you or your members. When you send a letter that’s engaging and sincere, your members will notice (and they’ll be excited to sign up for another year!).

Need a little extra help crafting your letter? Check out this guide from Neon!

And for more on membership programs, check out these additional resources:

 

Swimming Pool

11 Refreshing Summer Fundraising Ideas

Let’s be honest, asking people for money is difficult.  Really, really difficult.

What’s even worse?  Asking grumpy people for money.

Donors are much more receptive to asks when they are in good moods. Whodathunkit?

So take advantage of the happiest season of the year — summer!

Summer is a great time to engage with donors. The sun is shining, the weather is good, and daylight lasts forever.

It is a season that beckons people outside, so heed the call.

Skinny-top-CTAs-for-Fundly

Use these suggestions to capitalize on the summer season and get your community outside and donating!

#1 HOST A BLOCK PARTY

A block party is a one-stop shop for summer fun.  The endless summer nights provide the perfect backdrop for a community gathering that benefits your cause!

Block Parties are what you make them so the vibe and atmosphere will be up to you.

Consider organizing some extra fundraising events to incorporate into the block party and maximize your donations.

I would suggest getting some competition brewing with a watermelon eating contest and a cook-off.

Watermelon is the perfect summer fruit, refreshing and healthy.  Donors won’t feel guilty about stuffing their faces with watermelon.

Watermelons

Messy enough to provide a visual badge of honor for those who compete, your contest will be a highlight of the block party.

For those who find the competitive eating world unappealing give them the option of competitive cooking.  A cook-off is a great complement to any block party.

Pick a summer classic, like apple pies, burgers, or chili, and get people cooking!

You can have party guests vote using a secret ballot or appoint a judging panel.  Just have fun with it!

Look into getting a local chef or cooking supply shop to donate cooking lessons or a gift card to the winner.

Keep the party going late into the night and let your cause reap the financial rewards.

#2 HOST A POOL PARTY

Is a block party not cool enough for you in those hot summer months?  Make it a pool party instead.  Problem solved!

Pool parties are pretty straight forward.  Have pool?  Will party.

Just make sure you have your safety bases covered with licensed lifeguards.

Your pool party can be as extravagant as your heart desires.  Set up carnival like games near the pool.  Have a party-wide round of Marco Polo.  Sell snacks from a concessions stand.

#3 ORGANIZE A WATER BALLOON FIGHT

Kids will join in for the fun of it and adults will join in for the nostalgia-fun of it.  Establish a designated fight-zone, register competitors, and sell water balloons.

You could even make it a tournament with teams competing for a coveted prize…glory!

#4 COORDINATE A CAR WASH

Car washes are a fundraising standby for a reason.  They’re a great way to raise money with little event cost.

They are also an excellent opportunity to expand awareness of your organization.

Make sure your car wash has plenty of signage stating what the proceeds are going towards.  You might even want to print off some flyers or brochures to give those who participate additional info on your cause.

#5 HOST A FISH FRY OR BARBEQUE

BBQ Hamburgers

For this event you’ll have a crew of volunteers and staff manning the grill or fryers.  Set up a method of ordering (online, via the phone, in person) and provide made-to-order food.

Your establishment can be take-out style or you can set up some outdoor seating.

Get kitschy if you go the eat-in route, and don’t forget the quintessential summer items like picnic tablecloths and funky plates.

#6 RUN A WALK-A-THON, BIKE-A-THON, OR SWIM-A-THON

Pick whichever of the three you think your community will be most interested and you’ll be off to the races.

Charge a small registration fee and have your participants gather sponsorships for distance walked, biked, or swam.

#7 HOST A WINE TASTING

Find an outdoor venue, get wine donated from local shops, and invite your supporters who are 21+ to pay a minor fee to participate.

People will jump at the chance to sample wine while feeling charitable.

#8 CATER A DINER OR HOST A GALA OUTDOORS

Take advantage of the beautiful weather and bring your higher-end events outside.  For example, you could host a garden ball at your community’s botanical gardens.

#9 RUN A SUMMER GOLF TOURNAMENT

Golf Cart

Golf tournaments can be very lucrative.  Partner with a local golf course and solicit your corporate sponsors and donors to buy spots in the tournament.  Make a whole day of it!  Start with breakfast and finish with a dinner and silent auction.

#10 ORGANIZE AN OUTDOOR CONCERT

Outdoor concerts are summer staples.  It doesn’t matter who the main attraction is, whether its Beyoncé or your cousin Al’s neighborhood band.

A benefit concert is all about having fun and raising money.

#11 COORDINATE A SUMMER FILM SERIES

Reserve a venue, like a park space, for 4 or 5 separate nights.  Then pick out a movie for each reserved day that an entire family can enjoy.

Title your series, something like “June Movie Mondays,” and start rolling.

Make sure to advertise and let people know what the ticket sales are accomplishing.  You could even sell theater concessions to create an authentic movie-going experience.

For more great information, check out our list of summer camp fundraising ideas! 

Once you’ve executed a great summer fundraiser, make sure your organization is fully prepared to keep those hard earned donors.

Click here to learn more about donor retention.

And click here to learn more about donor segmentation.

Donors have more time and energy to get involved in their communities during their summers.  Cement your nonprofit’s community presence by making a big fundraising push this summer. Go forth and conquer the season!

Click here to download our free fundraising software checklist.

Black and White Place Setting

The Fundraiser’s Guide to Managing Monthly or Recurring Donors

Have you ever had something be a total letdown the second time around?

Imagine that you eat at an amazing restaurant.  The host is friendly.  The server is the perfect balance of personable and knowledgeable.  The food is beyond tasty.  Even the bathroom has cool sinks!

Fast forward a month.  You’ve waited as long as you can.  The day of your return to foodie heaven is upon you and you’re like a kid on Halloween.

Then the unthinkable happens, you hate it.

The host loses your reservation.  Your waiter has an “I might spit in your food vibe.”  Your steak is overcooked.  And, you slip on a wet floor in the bathroom.

Don’t put your monthly and recurring donors through this psychological torture.

Guarantee that the great stewardship that brought them back to donate a second time happens during each and every experience. 

What’s the best way to keep donors happy and returning?

Exemplary monthly and recurring donor program management. 

Monthly and recurring donor programs are great ways to improve yearly fundraising for nonprofits.

They provide consistency in a world of financial uncertainty.

To help your fundraising process, here’s an outlined 6 step guide to boosting monthly and recurring donor management proficiency.

STEP #1 PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

Plan as much as you can in advance and save yourself major effort down the road.

Truly think through how your program will work when establishing it.

Ask yourself:

  • Who will manage the process?
  • What communications will donors receive after sign-up?
  • What thank-yous will you send donors?
  • What will be the suggested pledge amounts?
  • How are you going to be communicating with participants?
  • What will the communications say?

If that list seems extensive, it is because it is.  And it is likely that even more questions will come up in the pilot stage of your program.

Address these planning questions early and thoroughly. 

The more you know about the ins and outs of your program, the better equipped you will be to run it.  You might need a monthly gift team, or you might be able to allocate duties to existing staff.

The only way to know is to plan.  Then plan some more.

STEP #2 AUTOMATE THE GIVING PROCESS

If you have the capability of automating any part of this process, do it!

The rewards of a monthly/recurring giving program are plenty, but running one is not without its difficulties — one of which is the time it’ll take your staff to execute.

This step is when having a well-chosen CRM comes in handy.

A great CRM software (like NonProfitEasy) has a pledge function within the donation process.  This can save staff time and increase donor engagement.

A CRM can also identify expired cards, flag denied cards, and process recurring payments.

It’s important to have a good CRM in your corner, and this step is just one example (of many) why.

STEP #3 CONNECT THE PROGRAM TO SOMETHING CONCRETE

People like certainty when giving their money.

Donors who know what their money is accomplishing feel more secure in their decisions to give.

Give a few examples of what certain pledge amounts equate to in terms of mission fulfillment.

For instance:

  • $5 monthly pledge = the training for a new volunteer
  • $10 monthly pledge = school supplies for a kindergartner

And so on and so on.

Solidifying the donation trail does more than comfort your donors, it can incentivize them.

If I’m a donor and I see that for just $5 I can help your organization train more volunteers, I’d sacrifice the funds I’d spend on one fancy coffee drink.

It is hard to say no to guaranteed results.

STEP #4 HIGHLIGHT MONTHLY GIVING

Do you know what frustrates me?  Whispering.  If you want me to know what you’re saying you have to make sure I can hear you.

Donors won’t know about monthly giving if you don’t noticeably tell them about it.  They won’t learn through osmosis.

Take advantage of your organization’s preexisting communications portals to let your people know about the programs in place.

Use social media platforms, newsletters, director’s letters to donors, etc.

Vary how you address your prospects and donors about the program.

In one correspondence explicitly outline the details of monthly giving.  In another choose a monthly donor to recognize and then briefly discuss how others could get involved.

By showcasing the benefits of monthly giving, you make it clear to the donor why you’re asking them for something other than a typical donation. By making your intentions clear, it helps both your organization and potential donors who are ready to give.

STEP #5 BRAND THE MONTHLY GIVING PROGRAM

Make monthly giving appealing by branding it as an exclusive club.

Name it what you want, but just make sure you treat the donors who participate like members.

The branding as an elite group can only go so far if you don’t back it up with some legitimate rewards.

Offer members-only rewards and giveaways from time to time. A little money spent will go a long way towards growing that recurring donor base.

STEP #6 PROVIDE STEP-UP OPPORTUNITIES

This step applies to the handling of one-time, intermittent, and monthly donors.

With care and attention to donor relationships, ask your donors to step-up their giving practices.

Effective donor segmentation will be a huge asset in this process.  The better you know these donors, the more successful your asks will be.

For one-time and intermittent donors this ask will be about getting them to transition onto your monthly giving platform.

Send specific communications geared towards one-time or intermittent donors that offer an upgrade to your recently branded monthly giving program.

For those already involved in the program, wait a relatively lengthy period of time, make sure the donor is committed to the giving program, and then ask him to up his monthly pledge.

These asks won’t be about getting huge increases but pledge bumps across many monthly donors.

Don’t forget that your loyal monthly donors are prime candidates for major gift donations.

Members of your monthly giving club have already demonstrated a vested interest in financially contributing to your cause.

There’s a good chance they’d be willing to make the jump to a large gift if the funds were available and the opportunity was presented.

This is all about giving people as many opportunities as possible to join the recurring donation crew.

Donor retention should be a goal of any nonprofit. 

With monthly and recurring donor programs in place, you’ll be on your way to successful donor retention.

Want to see how a  CRM can help run your monthly giving program.  Try a free NonProfitEasy demo today.

Schedule a demo with NonProfitEasy today!

packed boxes on a street

How To Migrate Your Donor Database Like a Pro

One of the biggest challenges of purchasing a new CRM is migrating your donor data, but it is a necessary evil.

Data migration is time-consuming, often confusing, and somewhat frustrating.  However, it is extremely important given how crucial it is to have your donor data organized.

To save you some headache, we’ve outlined a series of great tips to help nonprofits make the transition from one database to another.

Tip #1: Clean Your Preexisting Donor Database

Imagine you’re moving houses in a month.  You don’t want to take every extra hairbrush and empty soda bottle when you move.

Just like moving is the ideal time for house-cleaning, data migrating is the ideal time for database cleaning.

Cleaning your database before the move will drastically improve your efficiency during the process.

Save time on the back end by ensuring that everything is organized on the front end.  Standardize your data as you clean and your database will be in great shape to make the transition.

Tip #2: Appoint a Project Manager

The migration process is hard enough without having too many cooks in the kitchen.

There are so many moving parts to migrating that having a point-person will simplify everything.  This person should create and implement a project plan, as well as design materials to update your various departments on what is happening.

Tip #3: Keep Your Various Departments in the Loop

This process will be a big transition for your organization and your staff.  Let each department (or individuals) in your nonprofit know the impact this change will have on them in the short term.

Think about the questions you may have to address:

  • Will the database be down for a few days?
  • Will the staff need training to access records?
  • How will data entry happen with the new system?
  • How will staff members interact with the software?

Having a clear plan in place with your employees will help smooth the transition as much as possible.

The better equipped your staff is to handle the change, the better they will be able to perform their jobs in the interim.  It is paramount that your departments are able to maintain great donor stewardship while undergoing this shift.

Tip #4: Find a Partner to Help

Chances are, you are going to need a partner to aide you in this process.  Many CRM companies (like FundlyCRM) will help you migrate your data and walk you through the process.  They might even provide migration templates.

Don’t be afraid of getting a partner involved earlier in the process.  CRM selection is a big decision and any assistance in the research and decision process should be welcome.

Tip #5: Prioritize Your Data

Chances are, your organization will have data it has to leave behind during the migration.  Before the process begins, rank your data on a scale from must have to would be nice to have to we no longer need.

For instance, your organization is going to need names and addresses for all of your donors.  Those details are must haves.

In your current database, you might have notes about a donor’s attendance at an event five years ago.  That is potentially helpful to know, but it isn’t nearly as necessary as names and addresses are.

Deciding to keep a piece of nice to have data is going to be a case by case situation.  In this case a good plan of action would be to set a time limit, maybe the past two years, and only keep the event attendance notes within that time limit.

Tip #6: Migrate in Stages

This is where the prioritization will be beneficial.  Take your must haves and migrate that data.  Now work with that data in the new CRM.  Use it so that you can test it.

It won’t take long to figure out if your must haves are sufficient.

Are you missing important information?  Figure out what is still needed, then migrate that data next.  Continue this process until your new database has all the data it needs to fully assist your staff in carrying out their duties.

For some organizations, migration will span numerous weeks or months.

The various migration stages are going to have a massive impact on the functionality of your organization and staff.  There will be a disruption.

The best way to reduce disruption is to have a detailed project plan.  The plan should outline the various stages and keep all involved educated about the whens and hows of the process.  Proper communication is a must.

Tip #7: Save a Backup

Be prepared for a worst case scenario.  It is always good to have a backup ready.  You backup your files in case of a computer crash, this tip follows the same principle.

Tip #8: Customize If Needed

Your new database will have a preset list of fields that you can migrate into.  These should be fairly standard, from addresses to phone numbers to emails.

Look at what data you have that doesn’t fit into the preset parameters and decide if it is worth customizing for.

For example, most databases have a space to list a donor and the donor’s spouse.  If your organization is a school though, you would probably have information on your donor’s child and his grade.  That would be something you might want to customize for.

Be forewarned, it is easier to decide what you want customized than it is to actually have the work done.

You likely won’t have the capacity to do the customizations in-house.  You’ll need to work with the CRM’s company to build out the specific custom modules you require.

Some customizations might be easy to do and your database software provider will have no issues helping you.

Others might take some major manipulation and, as a result, come at a cost.  It’ll be up to your organization to decide what is worth the money.

Tip #9: Address the Issue of Lapsed Donors

Your hoarding instincts might kick in here.  Lapsed donors aren’t necessarily permanently lapsed.  Performing an “interest test” is a good way to decide whom to leave behind in the migration.

For this “interest test” you will use your old database and segment out your lapsed donors.  From there you’ll want to determine who on that list still wants to be a part of your organization’s community.

To test your list send out some sort of traceable communication.  It could be whatever works for your nonprofit, be it a fundraising appeal or a newsletter email.

Those who respond to your communications come with you for the move, those who don’t get left with the old database.

Tip #10: Determine How Many Years of Data to Migrate

This number is going to vary from organization to organization.

Try to think of the furthest back you’ve gone in your data timeline with your current system.  4 years?  2 years?  That’s a good rule of thumb for how many years you should save.

It can be hard to let go of data, but it will be functionally beneficial in the long run.

Tip #11: Set a Timeline

Migration is time-consuming.  You should expect this.  That being said, set a realistic timeline and try your best to hold to it.

The timeline can be anything from 1 day to 3 weeks to 5 months.  The scope of the work involved is going to determine that number.

Once you have your set timeline though, establish a series of checkpoints to keep your team on track during the process.

Taking these steps will help make sure your data is primed and ready for as smooth a move as possible.

Just remember, this will be a taxing process, but well worth it.  The experience will feel arduous, but your new CRM will more than make up for its migration challenges by efficiently streamlining your fundraising efforts.

Schedule a demo with NonProfitEasy today!

Discover some game-changing tips that will help your organization find nonprofit CRM software that's the perfect fit.

8 Game-Changing Tips for Choosing a Nonprofit CRM

Request a free trial of Fundly CRM today!

Is your nonprofit still using an Excel document to manage donor data? If so, you’ve probably already caught on to the fact that this data management method can really hamper your fundraising success.

On the one hand, since all data has to be entered manually and there are no pre-set fields for your data sources, these documents are difficult to keep up-to-date and accurate. On the other, your data sources can’t work in conjunction with each other to give you the well-rounded insights into your donors that you need to craft the most effective stewardship strategies and fundraising appeals.

The bottom line: an Excel document cannot fit the needs of a growing and thriving nonprofit.

If your organization is tired of difficult data management, it’s time to start thinking about which nonprofit constituent relationship management software (CRM) will replace all of those pesky spreadsheets. (If you’d like to learn a little more about just what exactly CRM software is before diving in, check out this resource!)

We’ll cover 8 important factors to consider when choosing a CRM, including:

  1. Start with a strategy.
  2. Get input from different organizational departments.
  3. Determine how many staffers will need to use the system.
  4. Count constituents.
  5. Consider setup needs.
  6. Research integrations vs. built-in features.
  7. Evaluate communications requirements.
  8. Interview your vendor.

Let’s get down to shopping!

The first tip to choosing a nonprofit CRM is to start with an organization-unique strategy.

1. Start with a strategy.

CRM software is a complex and powerful tool. As such, it will be a significant investment for your nonprofit.

Think of it like you would shopping for a car. You wouldn’t just walk into a car dealership and hope to come out with the perfect fit when you haven’t even considered your needs. Instead, you would look into make, model, whether or not you need four-wheel drive, additional features like leather seats and Bluetooth audio, and so on.

Just like purchasing a car is a big decision, picking a CRM is one of the most important decisions your nonprofit will make. Seeing as your CRM will address all efforts from data management to online donations (and much more), the software you choose will really make or break your fundraising success.

Approach your decision with a well thought out strategy, and your organization will be able to rest easy knowing that your new CRM can fully address your needs.

Your strategy, of course, will depend on your organization’s unique goals and requirements. Here are a few key questions to ask so that you can prioritize what’s most important to you when shopping for software:

  • What about our operations do we hope to change by purchasing a CRM?
  • What’s our budget?
  • Aside from data management, what efforts will we be using our CRM for?
  • How much support will we need with CRM implementation and maintenance?

It can be helpful to survey staff members to create a well-rounded software wishlist. Which brings us to our next point…

Tip 2 to choosing a nonprofit CRM is to get input from all of the organizational departments who will be using the software.

2. Get input from different organizational departments.

Since CRM software addresses so many different aspects of fundraising, chances are that most staff members at your organization will be using it to inform their jobs!

That’s why it’s important to get feedback from different departments of your organization. Your CRM must be able to address universal organizational needs if you want to see the best results.

Survey your development team, your marketing staff, your event planning committee, your grant writers, etc. If you anticipate that an employee will be using the CRM, ask them what features and improvements they would like to see from the new software!

By making CRM selection a collective effort, you can ensure that your operations run smoothly and that everyone has the tools they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible.

Tip 3 to picking the perfect nonprofit CRM software is to determine the number of staff members who will be using it.

3. Determine how many staffers will need to use the system.

Surveying your staff will give you insight into another important consideration that must be made when shopping for CRM software: the number of people who will need to use the system.

If you aren’t that familiar with CRM software, this consideration might not be the most intuitive. However, it is of the utmost importance.

Many CRMs place a cap on the number of users who can access them. Most vendors offer multiple CRM packages to accommodate varying numbers of users, so you should certainly be able to find a solution that fits your needs. However, another important thing to consider is that the more users your CRM supports, the pricier the software is going to be.

Make sure you have a solid idea of how many staffers will be working with your software in advance so that you can buy software that fits both your staff and your budget.

Tip 4 for choosing nonprofit CRM software is to count the number of constituents who will be housed in the platform.

4. Count constituents.

Your staff members aren’t the only people you should be considering when purchasing CRM software. The software is called constituent relationship management software for a reason—because it houses your donors and other constituents!

Just like the price of CRM software can be influenced by number of users, it can also be influenced by the number of constituents it’s able to store. Some platforms have a pre-set number of users built into the cost, while others will charge you a small fee (for example, 1¢) per constituent profile.

Before you buy, get an accurate count of your current constituents. A few things to note here:

  1. Constituents aren’t just donors. They can also be volunteers, members, corporate sponsors, service recipients, and anyone else who has a hand in furthering your mission.
  2. Clean your current records before counting, and get rid of any constituent profiles that are no longer pertinent to your mission (a good rule of thumb is to delete records that have been inactive for 3 years). That way, you’re not wasting any money on profiles for constituents who are no longer contributing to your cause.
  3. Think ahead. You want your CRM to be able to grow with you. If you only purchase enough profiles to accommodate the constituents you have currently, you’ll have to purchase new software sooner rather than later. Leave yourself some room for growth!

By completing this step before you buy, you’re sure to end up with a scalable solution that can house all of your constituents comfortably for years to come.

Tip 5 for choosing nonprofit CRM software is to consider your organization's setup needs.

5. Consider setup needs.

Considering that you’ll be transferring a hefty amount of data between systems, the hard truth is that the CRM setup process will invariably be involved.

Luckily, some platforms make this process easier than others. While some vendors will take a hands-off approach to CRM setup, other vendors will guide you through data transfer with attentive consulting services (some might even complete the process in full!).

When it comes to setup needs, you should be considering two different factors:

  1. Compatibility of platforms. Depending on how they store data, some CRMs will be more compatible with your current data management system than others. Ask your vendor to walk you through the involvement of the process.
  2. Support. If you have an in-house IT department (or if you just happen to be particularly tech-savvy!), your organization might not need to invest in vendor setup services. Determine what you can manage, and go from there.

Ultimately, data migration is a difficult process. But if you think about it in advance, the process will be as hassle-free as possible!

Tip 6 for selecting the perfect nonprofit CRM is to research integrations vs. built-in features.

6. Research integrations vs. built-in features.

As we’ve pointed out throughout this post, CRMs are robust pieces of software. A powerful CRM can do most anything…but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can do it all.

Feature sets can vary drastically from CRM to CRM. For example, while one CRM might include intensive event management features, another might have only the most basic event planning capabilities.

While this variation may at first seem like a bad thing, it’s actually a positive. CRMs are highly flexible and customizable, enabling nonprofits of all shapes and sizes to find a solution that addresses their needs while still fitting into their budgets.

Your organization will likely be able to find CRM software that includes most of the capabilities you need (built-in features). However, in order to gain all of the features your organization wants, you might need to integrate.

Integrations occur when you incorporate outside platforms into your base CRM software. Here are just a few of many common nonprofit CRM integrations:

  • Your website.
  • Payment processing services.
  • Crowdfunding platforms.
  • Volunteer management software.
  • Event planning software.
  • Wealth screening services.

Integrating may sound great in theory, but the fact of the matter is that linking up two platforms can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. If integrations are necessary, make sure that your CRM supports fluid integrations with the third-party platforms you need to achieve the perfect solution.

Tip 7 for choosing a nonprofit CRM is to evaluate your communications requirements.

7. Evaluate communications requirements.

CRMs are an essential tool during every stage of donor-nonprofit relationship building. Excellent communication forms the foundation of these relationships and helps them thrive, so your organization must be able to communicate with donors efficiently and effectively.

As we touched on in the previous point, all CRMs possess various feature sets. Communications capabilities are no different.

For example, while one CRM might enable you to send emails directly from the platform, others might require the implementation of an outside tool to address this communication channel. While some CRMs might have advanced direct mail features (for example, the ability to auto-address envelopes and built-in word processing), others might lack direct mail features altogether.

Think through your communications needs before purchasing a new CRM. Here are a few questions to start you off on the right path:

  • How do you contact your donors? Email? Direct Mail? Social media?
  • During a campaign, what role will your CRM be playing upfront?
  • Should your CRM also be able to capture data on the back-end of a campaign?

The first question is fairly straightforward, but let’s unpack the second two a little bit more before moving on.

On the front-end: CRMs can speed up your outreach considerably. Your software can help you segment out different constituent groups, quickly personalize communications, and even automate campaigns so you never have to worry about striking the perfect timing. But it all depends on what features your CRM possesses!

On the back-end: CRMs can automate data collection from your campaigns and run analytics to help you hone your outreach down the line. But again, you’ll only be able to reap these benefits if you have the right feature set at your fingertips.

If communications are a large part of your efforts (and they are for most nonprofits), think long and hard about what capabilities you’ll need and how to implement them.

Tip 8 for finding the perfect nonprofit CRM is to interview your vendor of choice.

8. Interview your vendor.

CRM selection isn’t just about choosing the right software; it’s also about choosing the right vendor.

Your CRM vendor will be working closely with your organization throughout the entirety of your CRM’s lifetime. Aside from implementation, your vendor will play a large role in CRM training and upkeep, so it’s important that you and your vendor can work well together.

In other words, your vendor is essentially competing for an important role at your organization. Treat the selection process as carefully as you would a job interview.

Let’s look into two important vendor services—training and support—to help you zero in on the perfect partnership!

a.) CRM training

When it comes to learning your CRM, there are no better teachers than the people who actually built the software!

Most nonprofit CRM vendors offer training services to help nonprofits get to know their software. But, as with most aspects of CRM selection, your organization will have multiple options to consider.

Training usually takes one of two forms:

  • Generalized training. Generalized CRM training usually consists of watching a series of pre-recorded videos made by your vendor. This option usually costs little (if anything), but it also presents a major downside: since training isn’t specific to your organization, it won’t be tailored to your needs. You won’t have the opportunity to ask questions or focus in on certain modules.
  • Customized training. Customized training can take place on-site or over the computer, with your vendor giving you live lessons in your CRM. Customized training is excellent in that your organization will have a better grasp on how the software will work for you personally. However, the major downside here is that this type of training can be costly.

Whether or not customized training is worth the investment is entirely up to your organization. If your staff has never used CRM software before, then it might be worthwhile to allocate a little extra money toward training.

b.) IT support

You’ll be using your CRM software on a daily basis, which will naturally result in some wear and tear.

If your software ever encounters any technical difficulties, it’s crucial that they’re thoroughly addressed in a timely manner. The longer your software is down, the more likely it is that your fundraising will suffer.

If you have an IT department in-house, you may be able to get away with choosing a vendor who provides less comprehensive support. However, it can never hurt to have a back-up—especially if that back-up happens to be an expert in your software!

When deciding which vendor to work with, make sure to ask all of the necessary questions about maintenance, including:

  • How does our organization get in touch if we ever run into any problems?
  • When is support on call?
  • What’s the average turnaround time for software maintenance?
  • Does support cost extra, or are these services built into the base price?

If you’re still unsure about support after talking to your vendor, you can consult online reviews and talk to current users to gain a better idea of how well the vendor you’re considering actually responds in times of need. Ask your vendor to send you over some references!


We hope this article has helped you start off your search for the perfect nonprofit CRM. If you’re ready to start test-driving, make sure to sign up for a free trial of Fundly CRM today!

Request a free trial of Fundly CRM today!