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How to Choose the Right CRM for Your Nonprofit: 4 Tips

The Right CRM for your Nonprofit

In today's digital age, customer relationship management (CRM) software has become an indispensable tool for nonprofits. With the right solution, you can streamline operations, manage donor relationships, enhance communication, and amplify your impact. 

However, with so many CRM providers, how can you be sure you’re choosing the right one for your nonprofit? 

In this guide, we’ll provide four practical tips for navigating the complex landscape of CRM solutions. Whether you're looking to invest in a CRM for the first time or making an upgrade, these insights will help you choose a solution that aligns with your unique needs and goals.

1. Assess your needs.

Before choosing a CRM, assess your nonprofit’s current and future needs. That way, you can select a tailored solution that aligns with your operational requirements.

Here are a few tips for properly assessing and articulating your needs:

  • Interview staff from multiple departments: Schedule interviews with representatives from each department to understand their workflows, processes, and challenges. Ask open-ended questions to gather insights into how they use your CRM and what technology changes could help them improve efficiency. For instance, the event planning team might reveal a need for streamlined attendance tracking, while the program manager could emphasize the importance of robust donor management tools. 

  • Consider budget: The budget for a CRM system extends beyond just the initial purchase. It includes training, customization, ongoing maintenance, and potential upgrades. Review your finances to see how much you are willing and able to spend. 

  • Establish goals: Define clear, measurable goals that the new CRM should help accomplish, whether that be increasing donor engagement by a certain percentage, reducing response time to donor inquiries, or better managing social media campaigns.

If you need assistance throughout this process, consider working with a nonprofit technology consultant. They can help conduct your needs assessment process to identify functionalities that will address various stakeholders’ specific goals and challenges. 

2. Make a list of must-have features. 

Based on what you learned during your needs assessment, compile a list of your must-have features, which may include:

  • Built-in tools vs. customizability: Built-in tools allow you to hit the ground running with your new technology, whereas customizable features allow you to create custom fields, workflows, and reports that align with your nonprofit’s unique needs. 

  • Scalability: With a scalable CRM, you can seamlessly add new users, integrate additional modules or functionalities, and handle a large database of donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries. It ensures that your CRM can grow alongside your nonprofit, avoiding the need for costly and disruptive migrations to a new system in the future.

  • Integrations: Integrations connect your CRM to the other tools in your nonprofit’s technology stack, allowing information to flow smoothly between systems. For instance, you might integrate your website with your CRM to more easily capture visitors’ information and make data-informed decisions that enhance user experience.

Explore resources such as industry publications, case studies, and CRM buyer's guides to understand the features that are commonly recommended for nonprofits like yours. For instance, if your nonprofit frequently hosts virtual auctions, you might learn that you need automated features to streamline and enhance bidder engagement.

3. Research top providers. 

Take the time to research the top CRM platforms on the market through online reviews, referral lists, and trend reports. You might also benefit from reaching out to organizations in your network to gather their recommendations. For instance, do other nonprofits in the area use Blackbaud, Salesforce, or a lesser-known provider for their technology needs? 

Once you have a list of potential CRM solutions, use the following criteria to weigh your options:

  • Cost: Consider the CRM provider's pricing structure and whether it aligns with your nonprofit's budget. Evaluate whether the pricing is based on the number of users, features, or data storage. 

  • User-friendliness: Look for a provider that offers intuitive navigation, customizable dashboards, and an interface design that simplifies data entry and retrieval. There should also be access to customer support and training resources. 

  • Potential for growth: Evaluate the CRM provider's ability to scale as your nonprofit grows. Ensure that the system can handle increasing data volumes, user accounts, and interactions without compromising performance or requiring a disruptive migration to a new system.

If you’re still having trouble making a decision, attend webinars, demos, or conferences to get a firsthand look at each CRM system you’re considering in action. 

4. Consider the implementation process.

Implementing a new CRM can be an involved process with sales conversations potentially lasting weeks and development lasting months. When deciding between providers, ask questions about the implementation process, such as how much assistance you will need from a developer and what the CRM provider’s support services look like. 

Then, follow these tips for a smooth implementation process:

  • Plan for data migration. If your nonprofit already has existing donor or constituent data, work with the provider or a consultant to migrate the information to your new system. You should also plan to conduct proper data hygiene practices, such as cleaning, updating, and validating data, to ensure only accurate and effective data is migrated to your new CRM.

  • Set a realistic timeline. Develop a realistic implementation timeline and set milestones to track progress. For instance, if you’re hoping to get the CRM up and running before Giving Tuesday, you may need to begin implementation at least six months in advance in order to properly prepare for the year-end giving season.

  • Train your staff. Provide comprehensive training on how to complete tasks like data entry and how to utilize the system's features. Consider working with a consultant to plan and document your training, ensuring your team receives professional help. Additionally, look for a consultant who offers ongoing training services that allow you to schedule technology onboarding sessions for future employees.

As you implement your solution, monitor its performance and gather feedback from your staff. If the CRM isn’t meeting your organization's needs, work with a developer to make the necessary adjustments.

While these initial steps may seem time-consuming, the time saved, efficiencies gained, and improved constituent relationships will far outweigh the initial investment. So, embrace the opportunity to invest in a CRM that fuels your mission.


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