Get Your Data in Order with a Nonprofit CRM

Demystifying Nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management Systems

What is a CRM you ask?

A CRM is a customer relationship management system, or for nonprofits, a constituent relationship management system.

Asked and answered. Get it now? Probably not.

Maybe you know about CRMs in terms of the corporate world, but don’t understand how they translate to the nonprofit sector.

Maybe you are entirely new to the whole concept and have no sense of what CRMs do.

Either way, worry not. You are in the right place!

From providing a working definition to detailing who uses CRMs, the aim here is to supply you with a solid foundation of knowledge on these systems, so you can be well-equipped to determine if a CRM is needed in your near fundraising future.

Definition of a Nonprofit CRM

Let’s backtrack a moment and discuss the breakdown of CRM initials that I mentioned earlier.

The ‘R’ and the ‘M’ always stand for relationship management.

The ‘C’ is where things will vary. In the commercial sector the ‘C’ represents customer because the company using the CRM is tracking data for people it provides goods and services for.

Nonprofits don’t provide goods and services, but rather garner support (from volunteers, donors, board members, etc.) in order to serve a cause or execute a philanthropic mission. Due to this, the ‘C’ in nonprofit CRMs stands for constituents. Any supporter or receiver of the nonprofit’s service is considered a constituent in a CRM system.

Let’s take a closer look at what a CRM actually is and does.

CRMs can be thought of as one of two options:

  1. a software
  2. a system

Option A: CRM as a software

When people say CRM software, they’re describing a singular, central software entity that stores, manages, and reports on all organizational data.

Does it sound too good to be true? That’s because it is.

A smaller organization may be able to get away with using one type of software with no outside tools, but that is not realistic for a larger nonprofit.

The correlation is simple. As a nonprofit grows, so too do its CRM needs.

A nonprofit that is constantly looking to acquire new donors, as well as upping its donor retention rates, won’t be satisfied with a one-dimensional CRM solution.

Which brings us to…

Option B: CRM as a system

This option takes the software and builds on it, adding on and increasing functionality.

Think about it this way. A single person buys a 2-bedroom home. This is plenty of space for her, she has a bedroom and a home-office. Two years later, she gets married. The space starts to feel smaller. Three years pass and she’s just had twins. The family has outgrown the space.

Instead of moving, since the house’s lot is big enough, the family has an addition built. Without having to handle a big move, the family’s house has evolved to their needs.

A CRM system can adapt and evolve to an organization’s needs, whereas a software is stuck in 2-bedroom house territory.

The system is a combination of numerous software that coordinates together to manage nonprofit data and fulfill organizational needs. A CRM system will include the baseline software as well as integrations and various other support tools.

The phrase ‘nonprofit data’ might seem vague, so let’s delve further into that while we discuss CRM function.

How does a CRM function in an organization?

A nonprofit CRM system should hold data on all constituents, including:

  • donors
  • volunteers
  • staff
  • board members
  • business affiliates
  • vendors
  • service recipients
  • event attendees

The details you acquire on each of these constituent types is going to vary depending on circumstance and depth of any existing interactions.

Generally speaking, a nonprofit donor database should have the following details stored and tracked:

  • donations
  • basic personal information on constituents (name, phone number, email, address)
  • volunteer hours
  • constituent communications notes
  • records on constituent past involvement with the organization

A nonprofit CRM will not only hold all of that data, but it puts it to good use.

Database capabilities are not standard across the industry, but many provide communication portals, donation tracking, event management, and much more. 

It is important to remember that not all CRMs allow for unlimited team access, some only offer a set number of seats. If you’re looking at a constituent management system that does not offer unlimited seats, you’ll have to determine how many employees need access and make sure that number at a minimum is met.

Keep in mind, that’s just one of the many questions you’ll have to address when looking to buy a CRM.

What organizations use a constituent relationship management system?

Briefly put, most organizations use one.

Even those organizations that don’t have a CRM explicitly, have to have some sort of data tracking system in place, like an excel sheet.

When nonprofits outgrow the excel sheet, they make the switch to CRMs.

Constituent relationship management software is used by nonprofits of varying sizes and types, such as:

Essentially, if you have a pool of donors, volunteers, and general supporters that you need to keep track of and effectively coordinate communications with, it is crucial to have a good nonprofit CRM in place. 

Commonly Used CRM terms

The terms constituent, software, and system have already been discussed at length, but there are a few more phrases that commonly arise in conversations surrounding CRMs that you should know.

  1. Donor Database — This is a blanket term that refers to a central location where all pertinent donor information is stored. A donor database can be anything from an excel sheet to a high-quality CRM.
  2. Campaign Creation — A CRM can help run a fundraising campaign from start to finish. It can start by sending out the emails and then conclude by automating the acknowledgments.
  3. Report Generation — Transparency is a nonprofit necessity. A CRM will efficiently create accurate reports for nonprofits to show donors, board members, the government, etc.

The second and third terms are part of CRMs’ overall capabilities.

Read our CRM guide to learn more. 

Nonprofit employees are perpetually busy, with responsibilities spread far and wide. Funding, time, and energy are all diminishing resources. A well-run nonprofit CRM is a game-changing tool. It can carry much of your staff’s busy work and then some, so that your team is freed up to carry out your organization’s mission.

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