Pitch the Spreadsheets: 7 Tips for selecting a Nonprofit CRM

Spreadsheet nightmaresYou’ve been carefully tracking your donor’s data on meticulously organized Excel spreadsheets with military-like precision for years. They have become such an integral part of your job that you can’t fathom what you would do without these color-coded, alphabetically-organized, formulized rows and columns. Leaving your spreadsheets in the hands of someone else is enough to raise your stress level and your blood pressure. But the amount of data is getting overwhelming as your organization continues to grow and you realize that your tedious – yet cherished - methods are outdated.

It’s time for an upgrade to a constituent relationship management (CRM) system. Researching and purchasing a CRM for your nonprofit can be overwhelming. With so many solutions out there, how do you know you’re selecting the right one for your specific organization and mission? Below are seven tips that we hope will help you get on the right track toward choosing a CRM that will work with you.

  1. Collaborate with your team – This is a great first step to take before you embark on your CRM search. Will the software be used to track social actions? Volunteer hours? Event planning? Gifts? Your team may have certain expectations for the software, including integration and tracking capabilities. By getting together with everyone who will be using the software, you can get an idea of the types of functions your software should have.
  2. Determine customization – Unlike Microsoft Office or other software programs, a CRM isn’t an install-and-go situation. Many solutions require customization in order to fit the specific needs of an organization. This ensures that the software will work with the company, rather than the company having to conform to the software. When you begin researching CRMs, we recommend that you determine how much customization will be necessary. What do you intend to use the software for? What are some unique aspects of your organization that your software will have to correspond with?
  3. Examine where your data currently is – Before you decided to move to a CRM, where was your data being held? Many nonprofits store donor data in Excel spreadsheets, but no matter where your information is, it’s important to make sure that you can successfully import that data into your new CRM.
  4. Ask about integration capabilities – Your nonprofit may be running other programs in order to streamline your fundraising efforts and store information. These include programs for wealth screening, credit card processing, event sign-up and more. If you plan to continue using these programs, it’s important that you ask CRM providers about their integration capabilities to make sure that your new system will play well with your current programs.
  5. Define usability – Your new CRM will likely require some training, and some require more than others. You may want to determine how much time will be required for users of the CRM to learn the system, and whether some users will need more training than others. You’ll also want to explore the training methods used by the software provider. Will you need to attend webinars? Have software technicians come to your organization? Read a manual? Watch a demonstration? Attend a class?
  6. Establish a budget – The price of CRM solutions will vary from company to company, so you’ll need to determine what your budget for the project is. We recommend that you look into databases with growth potential so that you can start small and invest more as your organization continues to grow. This can help guarantee long-term use of the software.
  7. Decide where you want it – Today, everything is transitioning to the cloud, but it’s still important to check with CRM software providers about their different platform options. Whether you prefer to buy and install software into your system, host it in your own data center or have an outsourced company host it, we recommend that you ask your sales representatives what they offer.

Selecting the right software can be hard work, but the benefits of a great nonprofit CRM are worth the search. If you’re not already with us, we hope that your search will lead you to ResultsPlus and we look forward to talking with you!