Nonprofit CRM Software: A Crash Course and How to Use It

This guide explores the basics of nonprofit CRM software.

Every nonprofit starts the same way: a cause that inspires passion and a few people willing to pitch in to try to change something. Most nonprofits start with Excel spreadsheets because they’re a convenient, free way to list donors and members and keep track of who gave what

At some point, every nonprofit outgrows spreadsheets. It happens as your donor pool grows and your different campaigns take off—and good old Excel just can’t show you the data you need.

That’s when many nonprofits start considering technology solutions that can help them find new donors, manage and thank existing donors, and develop automation that makes it easy for a nonprofit to grow.

If you’re still a spreadsheet nonprofit, you’ll be amazed by how much the right technology – the right nonprofit CRM – can revolutionize your fundraising and donor management. In this guide, we will explain what we mean by nonprofit CRM software, share the features you’ll find invaluable, and clearly show you the value of investing in a nonprofit CRM.

Ready to dive in?

What is Nonprofit CRM Software?

The official definition of nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) software is that it’s a database in which nonprofits store and analyze donor data.

Those are some features of the software. But what are the benefits? The right nonprofit CRM can help you:

  • Manage all your donors. If you’re thinking this means it’s an address book, think again! A nonprofit CRM will, of course, show you your donors and their contact information, but it will also show you their giving history, their connections to other organizations and donors, your outreach history, and notes that will help you in future outreach. For example, if a donor says she can’t consider donating because her husband has surgery the following week, you note that in the CRM and set a reminder to call her in a week to check on her husband. This is nurturing your donors, and software can help you catch all the nuances and patterns to help you engage more.
  • Slice and dice data to help identify trends. When you can set metrics to track—such as email deliverability, donations, repeat donations, website conversions, etc.—and then request different reports using all that data, you get insights and trends you might otherwise miss. What if your fundraising emails that are sent on Saturdays get 50% more donations? Or if your donation page gets lots of traffic but few donations? This kind of data, easily pulled from a nonprofit CRM, gives you a roadmap to successful fundraising. Reporting and analytics with the right technology can change your fundraising landscape for the better.
  • Leverage AI. Artificial intelligence is becoming part of our daily lives, but some nonprofit CRMs adopted it a long time ago. What does this look like? Things like giving probability, which scans tens of thousands of data points and uses AI to tell you the day and time to contact a donor, plus what your ask should be. 
  • Automate, automate, automate! Routine tasks that take up a lot of human time can be easily automated with a CRM. Think about fundraising email sequences, event registration, and even campaign phone calls. There’s little your software can’t do, letting you and your staff focus on the things that need a human touch. 
  • Fundraise! Particularly with a CRM that has a bunch of native tools, it’s easy to branch out and try something new. Never launched a peer-to-peer campaign? It’s easy to start when the technology is built to support you. How about an auction? Event modules cover everything from ticket sales and registration to mobile bidding to seat assignments.

Ultimately, this tool will help your nonprofit plan its next steps in fundraising. For example, CharityEngine’s guide to sustained giving programs recommends using your CRM to identify sustainers in your donor base. That way, you can reach out with a compelling message about how their continual support impacts your organization.

Equipped with donor insight from your CRM, your nonprofit can appropriately craft outreach for its campaigns that will appeal to your audience.

What Features Should I Look for in CRM Software?

From marketing tools to accounting software, your nonprofit likely already invests in a variety of platforms to streamline your fundraising efforts. But once you know what your nonprofit needs from its CRM, you’ll have a better idea of what to look for from the various options available.

There are two approaches to fundraising software and features. There are a few excellent all-in-one nonprofit CRMs built with native tools, meaning everything from donor management to payment processing to direct mail, auctions, and events is possible without leaving the core software. There are many benefits to this, assuming the CRM has the features you want.

Or, if you have a list of features and an all-in-one system doesn’t cut it, you can use that as your engine and build a tech stack by integrating with third-party systems. The key is thinking about the features you want first, and then matching the nonprofit CRM to those features.

What are some features nonprofits need?

  • Donor and membership management and communications
  • Sustainer management
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Email automation
  • Fundraising modules
  • Online forms, like donation forms
  • Major gifts management

Regardless of the technology you choose, a nonprofit CRM can even further help your nonprofit streamline its numerous responsibilities. For the tasks that you delegate to another software solution, be sure your CRM integrates with your other tools, like your fundraising tools and payment processors

Benefits of Investing in a CRM

If your nonprofit is growing (which is usually the goal), at some point a nonprofit CRM will make it easier and more efficient for you to manage and engage donors and run intelligent, strategic fundraising campaigns. 

Which means raising more money for your cause. 

And while many nonprofits standardize their year-end giving campaigns, using technology to carry this methodology while leveraging donor data to make your request meaningful and personal means investing in a CRM is the way to go.

Especially when you use a CRM specifically designed for nonprofit organizations, you’ll be equipped with the tools and features needed to create lasting relationships with your donors.

Additionally, it can help streamline common daily activities, such as:

  • Donor outreach
  • Email sequences to nurture donors
  • Major gift solicitation
  • Donation form creation
  • Event registration

As you can see, the right nonprofit CRM will be more than just a database that stores information—it will work for you!

Don’t Forget to Do Your Research

It’s clear that nonprofit CRM software is an important tool for engaging your supporters and improving your fundraising strategies. Take your time when researching a solution and consider which software provider will best suit your nonprofit’s needs.

Look at the capabilities and features offered by different CRMs, and ask the companies for a software demo. Come to the meeting armed with a list of the features you want, and be sure to ask about implementation (how long does it take?), data migration (who has to do it?), and support (do they answer the phone?) to really check the compatibility with your nonprofit.

The right nonprofit CRM is worth waiting for. When you find it, you’ll have a fundraising partner who is intent on your success.