In recent years, nonprofits have realized the incredible role of technology in accomplishing their fundraising strategies. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have invested in technology to store data, plan and draft communications, and assign internal tasks. The introduction of social distancing and additional remote work to our regular lives has further emphasized the importance of technology implementation for nonprofits.
Nonprofit CRM software, in particular, is the cornerstone of any effective technology strategy. Therefore, finding the right solution to meet your nonprofit’s needs is a vital step in developing an effective and impactful strategy for your organization. But many nonprofits find this to be an incredible challenge.
Between navigating an overwhelming number of features, trying to prioritize your organization’s needs, and creating implementation plans, many nonprofits end up finding themselves lost in the various steps of the CRM selection process.
Here at Bloomerang, we have ample experience providing the software that nonprofits need to start building their tech strategies. We’ve gathered information from industry and tech experts to develop our own nonprofit CRM software. And from the advice that we’ve received from these important resources, we’ve created this step-by-step guide designed to help nonprofits tackle the CRM purchasing process. Here are the concepts we’ll cover:
- Why You Need Nonprofit CRM Software
- Top Nonprofit CRM Features to Look For
- Budgeting for Your Nonprofit CRM
- Steps to Find and Get Started With Your Nonprofit CRM
- The Best Nonprofit CRMs on the Market
Your nonprofit’s CRM will be the most influential software in your tech arsenal, so your team should be experts in how to pick the right platform as well as how to make it work once you have it. Let’s dive in!
Before you get started examining the different CRM options and determining which solution you should choose, your nonprofit needs to understand why you need one in the first place. Otherwise, you’re likely to get swept away in enticing jargon and risk choosing the wrong software.
Let’s start with a definition of the term.
What is a nonprofit CRM?
A nonprofit CRM (constituent relationship management software) is a software platform that houses and manages everything you know and love about your nonprofit’s supporters. From tracking conversations to donations and event registrations, every interaction you have with a supporter will be noted in your nonprofit CRM, also known as your donor database.
You may have heard of for-profit organizations also discussing the importance of CRM software, often Salesforce, Zoho, or other large name-brand solutions. The concept behind nonprofit and for-profit CRM software is fairly similar. Both host and sort data regarding important contact for organizational growth. However, while for-profits are generally using data to make sales, nonprofits have a different goal in mind: to develop relationships that will lead to donations.
Once you have information about your supporters’ interests, engagement histories, and past interactions with your organization, you can reach out on a more personal level to prioritize relationships. This is a form of stewardship that helps build donor retention and launch cultivation strategies.
One of the purposes of your nonprofit CRM is to develop relationships with your existing supporters to boost your nonprofit’s donor retention rate.
Donor retention is defined by how many donors continue giving to your nonprofit year after year.
It is significantly more difficult (and expensive) to acquire new donors than it is to retain your existing donors. Some studies show that it can actually cost 50% to 100% more dollars to acquire a new donor than the money you receive from them. If it costs $150 to acquire a donation of $100, your fundraising program could actually be losing money.
Retention ensures you keep the contributions in the positive. Let’s say it costs $20 to retain the $100 donor you acquired after your initial $150 investment to acquire them. When they contribute another $100, you’re $30 in the green instead of $50 in the red!
Some nonprofit CRM solutions (like Bloomerang) are designed specifically to help nonprofits retain more donors. Access to a dashboard that actively tracks your retention rate allows your team to keep it front and center for your entire team. Plus, donor engagement scores and supporter timelines help you develop further relationships to boost this metric over time.
Donation cultivation is another key reason nonprofits invest in their initial nonprofit CRM. This solution helps collect and organize data that can allow you to identify prospects for mid-tier and major donors, then develop relationships with those supporters, encouraging them to donate more over time.
Not only does your CRM allow you to identify prospects, but you can also track your relationships with them. Develop a cultivation strategy, then you can use your donor database to make sure you’re on track with the strategy activities.
We mentioned the importance of retention for nonprofit strategy and how your nonprofit CRM can help elevate your relationship strategies. Retention is largely supported by your stewardship strategy, something that is also powered by your nonprofit CRM.
When you steward your supporters, you essentially thank them for their involvement with your mission thus far. An immediate, automated appreciation letter can be set up from your nonprofit CRM, but you can also use the data in your system to take appreciation to the next level. From personalized phone calls to hand-written letters, leverage the information from your CRM to steward supporters, cultivating more support and completing the donation cycle.
Once you understand the purpose of your software, you can start distinguishing between different nonprofit CRMs and choose the one that’s the most appropriate for your organization’s needs.
The real difference between various CRM solutions is how each software solution facilitates and applies data. Different software solutions prioritize different features to help you apply donor data to various aspects of your strategy. Therefore, you also need to self-evaluate to decide what data applications of data your nonprofit most needs.
Start by examining your nonprofit and considering the needs you’re working to address by investing in a CRM solution. Create a list of the features that will help you accomplish your needs, then prioritize the list.
For instance, if you’re looking for software that will help you better identify major donors, you may look for a solution that pairs well with prospect research software. Or if you’re a small nonprofit simply looking for a way to store contact information, you may look for a scalable solution with more functionality that your nonprofit will grow into.
This list will help you during your search for nonprofit CRM software. You can rest assured you won’t be swept away with the bells and whistles of fancy solutions, prioritizing the things that will most help your organization.
We’re going to cover some of the common features that you’ll likely prioritize on your list. This will help you get started.
Use your CRM to automatically create donor profiles for supporters who contribute or interact with your nonprofit. These profiles should include relevant information based on your goals, such as contact information, interests, engagement history, and more.
You can then use the data in your donor profiles to create segments of supporters within your database. These segments are leveraged for more personalized marketing strategies that are also powered by your nonprofit CRM.
Your nonprofit CRM should include several marketing solutions (or integrations to ensure effective marketing strategies). You can leverage your donor segments to ensure all of your outreach efforts appeal to each donors’ interests, preferences, and gift potential.
Be sure your nonprofit CRM can create both:
- Letters and mailings. Design and save direct mail communication documents like solicitations and acknowledgments for quick fulfillment. Saving these in your CRM makes it easy to send them quickly when necessary.
- Attractive emails. Similar to direct mailings, make sure you can write and save templates for your nonprofit’s emails. This makes it easy to send information directly to the inboxes of your digitally-minded constituents.
As you create these outreach materials, you may also find use for communication audit features. For instance, the Ahern Audit runs the “you test” and grade level tests to make sure you keep your donors as the subject and write between a 6th- and 8th-grade reading level to ensure it’s skimmable.
A custom nonprofit dashboard will track your key performance indicators and present its findings front and center for your team. For example, Bloomerang’s dashboard data updates daily with your “retention wheel” so that you can get a good idea of how well you retain donors.
Your dashboard should essentially provide a high-level overview of your progress towards achieving your organization’s various goals, specifically the goals related to your fundraising strategy. Be sure you can customize the views on this dashboard so that you can keep track of the metrics most important to your organization.
Intentionally looking for software integrations will help streamline the activities your nonprofit staff must do daily. It’s especially important to streamline activities involving your CRM because manually entering data can take a lot of time and is subject to human error.
Look for CRM software that integrates with other commonly used solutions such as:
- Fundraising software like Qgiv, used to capture your nonprofit’s donations and event registrations.
- Marketing software like Mailchimp to help you streamline your email and direct mail strategies.
- Prospect research software like DonorSearch that helps you gather additional donor insights.
- Accounting software like Quickbooks to help record and track all financial transactions.
Intentionally connecting your software through smart integrations helps manage the transfer and storage of your organization’s data so you can leverage it for any nonprofit strategy.
Online Donation Pages
Create donation pages for your nonprofit’s online presence that will help you capture gifts and contributor information. Make sure that your donation pages offer suggested giving options, recurring donations, and customizable fields to collect important information.
When this information is connected or integrated with your nonprofit CRM, you can streamline the data you collect on your donation pages directly into the most relevant donor profiles.
Dr. Adrian Sargent came up with an algorithm that can measure a donor’s engagement level with a nonprofit. Look for a solution that takes this valuable research into consideration so that you know who is most engaged and who needs additional stewardship.
Bloomerang, for instance, uses “engagement scores” to measure supporters by a thermometer defining them as cold, cool, warm, hot, or on fire! These are defined by the frequency and recency of engagement factors such as donations, years of involvement, email subscriptions, inbound interactions, volunteer hours, social media interactions, and more.
A generosity score indicates the philanthropic giving potential for your donors. This feature provides insight into potential giving capacity, showing you who your prospective major and mid-tier donors are.
This score is powered by prospect research software, measuring publicly available financial data about your donors. For instance, supporters who own expensive real estate, hold lucrative stock holdings, and have contributed large amounts to other nonprofit or political organizations are more likely to contribute in large amounts to your organization.
Timelines give a visual representation of specific donors’ engagement. This way you can easily see when donors have given, volunteered, attended an event, or interacted in any other way with your organization chronologically without searching through cluttered lists. The feature provides further context into each individual donor engagement.
Plus, the best timeline features will also provide highlights of key interactions so that you don’t have to search through each engagement point to find the most important information. These highlights may include the lifetime value of the supporter, the number of years they’ve supported your mission, and the rate at which they’re increasing their donations.
Reports provide an in-depth view of your nonprofit’s progress toward various goals at your organization. Customized reporting features make it easy to create reports based on your specific goals and even to save report templates so that you can pull the same type of information from quarter to quarter. Then, you can compare data over time, allowing you to constantly find optimization opportunities for your various strategies.
Budgeting for Your Nonprofit CRM
When your team sits down to create a budget for your new nonprofit CRM, keep in mind that this software will quickly become the backbone of your organization. It’s where you’ll store fundraising information, donor data, and other key metrics. While the solution you choose shouldn’t break the bank, it is worth making an investment.
We can’t give your nonprofit specific numbers to say “this is how much you should pay for your software” because every organization has a different budget. But we can provide tips to help you make the most of your budget, no matter what it may be.
Our first tip: watch out for “free” fundraising software.
Free nonprofit CRM software does play a role in your purchasing decision. However, it’s not the one you might expect. If you ever invest in something that’s “free,” you should never expect that solution to stay free for long. If it is completely free, it’s likely that software won’t have the security features or functionality your nonprofit needs.
However, a free option can often be a good short-term solution because it allows your nonprofit to test software out before making an investment. Essentially, it’s a trial period during which you can make sure the features will fulfill your needs.
We also recommend the following tips to make the most of your initial nonprofit CRM budget:
- Invest in a scalable solution. Scalable solutions allow your nonprofit to choose a plan with the features you need at the moment for a lower price. Then, as you continue to grow, you can scale up the software to better meet your needs. It prevents you from migrating all of your data to a brand new solution every time you outgrow your current features. Because this migration process is expensive, you’ll save money in the long run by thinking ahead with a scalable solution now.
- Ensure the software pricing is clear. Unfortunately, many software providers try to hide fees regarding the implementation and training of the nonprofit CRM for your organization. Conduct ample research so that your organization knows exactly what is included in the purchase before you make it. In demos, you might ask about implementation or migration costs to be absolutely sure you know what’s coming.
- Ask about training resources for the solution. As your nonprofit grows and develops, you’ll need to continue training in order to ensure your software also reflects your needs. Look for a solution with ongoing training resources that will help you first set up your software and continue to learn as you use the solution.
Budgeting for nonprofits can be challenging for a number of reasons. But it’s worth the trouble when it comes to large investments in your CRM. Ultimately, ineffective budgeting upfront can lead to spending more funds down the line. For instance, if you were to act on budget alone and invest in a solution that doesn’t scale up, you’ll need to invest in another solution in a few years, spending time and funds to research, then even more to migrate your existing data.
3 Steps to Find and Get Started With Your Nonprofit CRM
Let’s review what we’ve developed already in order to help with the research and purchasing process for a nonprofit CRM. You have already created a list of prioritized features that you’d like to look for in your software and a software investment budget defining how much you can spend on your software.
Now, you can start researching specific solutions to determine the best solution for your nonprofit. This process requires you to take three major steps to ensure you find the right solution for your organization: conduct research to create an initial list of software, narrow down that list to make a selection, and create a timeline to implement the new software.
1. Conduct research to create an initial list of the best nonprofit CRM software available.
Cast a wide net when you start looking for the best nonprofit CRM for your organization. This is essentially the brainstorming phase of your search process. Develop your list of effective solutions by:
- Asking other nonprofits what solutions they use.
- Reading referrals from trusted nonprofit resources and software companies (hint: check out our referral section below!)
- Using search engines to find additional solutions and further expand your list.
As you’re going through these sites, take notes of the solutions you find that will meet your needs as defined by your list of feature priorities. But, also make sure to take notes on those that won’t meet your needs so that you can eliminate them from your list of contenders when you start narrowing down these options.
Why should you take note of those that won’t meet your needs? There are a lot of software solutions out there! It can get confusing searching through all of them and the last thing you want is to get confused down the line about why you chose not to invest in a certain solution.
Keep all of this information in a single document. You may choose to color-code or use abbreviations to immediately identify those that will/won’t meet your needs during this initial research process.
Make sure to also take notes about the cost of various solutions you come across in your research. Again, you might choose a color-coding or abbreviation system to show those that are within budget, slightly over, and drastically over so that it’s easy to narrow down your software in the next step.
2. Narrow down your list of the best solutions and make a final selection.
Once you have compiled an extensive list of possible solutions, it’s time to narrow down candidates to find your nonprofit CRM. The following questions should help:
- Research the features available from each nonprofit software solution. Do these features meet the immediate needs of your nonprofit?
- Consider the future needs of your nonprofit. Does the solution also meet those requirements? Does the provider offer scalable features to meet those down-the-line needs?
- Is the software reasonably within your nonprofit’s budget?
- Will you be able to try the software out during a trial period before making the investment?
- Will an implementation team help you set up the solution?
- Does this implementation cost extra?
- Do you have access to training materials to use the software to the best of your ability both now and in the future?
After you’ve created a shortlist of solutions, look for comparison pages between the solutions. For instance, organizations like G2 provide reviews such as this one:
After narrowing down the list as much as possible on your own, schedule demos with the shortlist of software providers who made the final cut.
Don’t be afraid to ask your remaining questions regarding features, capabilities, and budget during the demo. Here are some ideas of things you may consider asking:
- Is this software available offline?
- Are there internal controls to ensure data security?
- How often is the software updated?
- Who are some of your other customers?
- What is the real cost breakdown of this solution?
Take elaborate notes during the demos. If you’re watching more than two to three, the information may run together. Accurate notes will come in handy as you continue the comparison step to make your final decision.
At this point, you should have everything you need to make a final choice for your software!
Make sure to run the nonprofit CRM software decision past your team and board members to make sure they’re in agreement about the investment. You’ll need enough information to make a solid case to advocate for your choice in software. If you don’t feel comfortable making a case yet, you may need to conduct further research.
3. Create a timeline for the implementation and training for your new nonprofit CRM.
Once you’ve made your choice, your job isn’t done! You’ll need to develop a nonprofit CRM implementation and training plan. The plan should look something like this:
- First, set a goal for when you want everything to be up and running.
- Next, work closely with the implementation team and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Then, ask for support when you need it! Make sure you take advantage of unlimited email and chat support from a provider. Or, call when you need to.
- Finally, consider implementation consulting. Even for a small fee, sometimes implementation consulting is absolutely worth it and can make all the difference in your use of the nonprofit CRM.
Make sure your team members all have the training they need to work with the software at the capacity that they need to. Also, show them where they can access additional training opportunities that they may use to better understand the solution if they feel the urge to learn.
Create a step-by-step plan with specific deadlines to reach full implementation of your nonprofit CRM. Do your best to adhere to these deadlines. They’ll be your guide to make sure you are up and running with the solution. That way, you can quickly get back to reaching supporters and stewarding your audience.
The Best Nonprofit CRMs on the Market
One of the hardest parts of your nonprofit CRM research process is simply getting started. It can be overwhelming to compile your initial list of solutions. That’s why we’ve provided a list of some top solutions that you might consider below.
You can use our recommendations to start building your list of potential solutions. Then, use all of the steps from the previous sections to choose the software best suited to meet your organization’s specific needs.
Bloomerang is dedicated to helping nonprofits build relationships with their supporters, raise funds, and ultimately retain more support year after year. The software was designed by industry experts and consultants who know the struggles of nonprofits and how technology can address those challenges.
This nonprofit CRM is dedicated to tracking and enhancing engagement in order to boost retention, decrease attrition, and increase revenue. They offer all of the features noted in the above section, including and in addition to:
- Robust donor profiles, customized and built-out to meet your organization’s exact needs
- Social listening, a handy tool that enables you to monitor your organization’s social media presence
- Smart reports, configurable to highlight the most relevant information for you and your stakeholders
- Integrations with top solutions like Qgiv, Quickbooks, Mailchimp, TrueGivers, DonorSearch, and Fundraise Up
Bloomerang offers a Lite solution that is free to set up. This can get your organization started, then the pricing model scales up at small increments, ensuring affordability for all nonprofits. Small nonprofits can pay as low as $19, $59, or $79 per month. Meanwhile, as you grow, you might scale up to the $99 and up plans.
SalsaLabs offers their nonprofit CRM solution along with a marketing and fundraising software known as SalsaEngage. Their entire ecosystem of nonprofit software helps organizations market opportunities, raise funds, and record those funds seamlessly. Their software offers key features like:
- Rich donor profiles to store notes, touch points, and unlimited custom fields
- Digital marketing software featuring email, direct mail, and social media platforms
- Multi-channel advocacy campaign pages
- Peer-to-peer fundraising solutions
- Customized dashboards and reports to track important information
You can contact the SalsaLabs team to learn more about the pricing for the SalsaCRM + SalsaEngage software package.
Salesforce is often known as the world-leading CRM solution. It’s used for both for-profit and nonprofits alike. Nonprofits can configure the software for donations rather than sales by downloading the Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP). Then, the software should be further configured with various apps and integrations to serve the strategic needs of your organization. The features native to the Salesforce CRM software include:
- Customizable donor profiles
- A wide array of integrations and apps to build out the system
- Program management features to use the CRM past fundraising
- Out-of-the-box reports and dashboards to choose from in addition to personalized options
Salesforce’s nonprofit CRM solution starts at just $36 per month and can be scaled up for larger engagements and additional features. Keep in mind that migrating to, implementing, and customizing the Salesforce platform may require asking a nonprofit tech specialist for assistance.
Blackbaud is one of the most well-known names in the nonprofit sector. This company offers two different CRM solutions depending on the size of your organization. The first solution is BlackbaudCRM, an enterprise-level solution built to manage data for large-scale organizations. The second solution is Raiser’s Edge, a software solution designed to meet the needs of mid-sized and growing organizations.
For purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the Raiser’s Edge features, including:
- Cultivation tools to discover hidden talent and potential in your donor database
- Built-in analytics to identify new opportunities and draw conclusions from your data
- Data enrichment services to learn more about your donors and prospects
- Built-in dynamic email campaign capabilities
Similar to Salesforce, many organizations find that they may need some expert help migrating data to and from Blackbaud and configuring the solution to meet their exact needs and expectations. Reach out to Blackbaud to learn more about pricing for these different solutions.
EveryAction offers nonprofit CRM software built by nonprofit experts for mission-oriented organizations like yours. The EveryAction CRM unifies digital, fundraising, and organizing tools to create a centralized approach to relationship management and development for your nonprofit. Some of the features offered through this solution include:
- Event management software to collect registrations, sell tickets, and drive engagement
- Voter contact tools that help politically-oriented organizations with canvassing and outreach
- Major gift management tools that allow you to track the progress of major gift cultivation and donation pledges
- Volunteer management systems that make it easy to store all of your supporters’ information in a centralized database
EveryAction professionals understand the restrictions of a tight budget, which is why they designed their software to help your organization take every dollar further. You can reach out to their team for a quote on this nonprofit CRM.
NeonCRM is a nonprofit CRM solution that is designed to help nonprofits grow, inspire their audience, and increase supporter engagement. This CRM is accompanied by fundraising, advocacy, and marketing solutions that can be leveraged to boost your nonprofit’s various strategies. Some of the core features for the CRM solution include:
- Donor and volunteer profiles and relationship tracking tools
- Supporter segmentation and email marketing
- Customized online stores to sell nonprofit merchandise
- Grant management and tracking options
All NeonCRM packages come with email and communication features, full reporting capabilities, and volunteer hour tracking. These packages start at $49 and scale up from there for additional features.
DonorPerfect allows nonprofits unlimited users access to their comprehensive nonprofit CRM software. You can store data in detailed profiles, build relationships, boost fundraising efforts, and automate various activities for your organization. Some of the features included in DonorPerfect’s CRM software include:
- Internal DonorPerfect payment processing, allowing you to collect your funds faster
- Mobile-friendly donation forms that capture supporters’ attention and encourage them to give
- Automated donor acknowledgment gifts sent out immediately after a supporter contributes
- Auction management features to run your organization’s silent, live, mobile, and online auctions
DonorPerfect starts at $99 per month for their Lite version but has scaled options that you can use to increase functionality as you continue to grow.
CharityEngine offers all-in-one nonprofit software designed to go past the functionality of an average CRM. In addition to offering comprehensive donor profiles and tracking technology, they offer other built-in solutions that help organizations with marketing, advocacy, fundraising, and other strategies. Some of the supporting features for these services include:
- Customized donation pages, built for mobile responsiveness and engagement
- PCI-certified payment processing solutions to process payments securely
- A user center, allowing nonprofit supporters and donors to control their engagement experience
- Direct mail and email marketing campaigns that make it easy to reach your ideal supporters
Contact CharityEngine to learn more about pricing for their services and software for nonprofit organizations like yours.
360MatchPro by Double the Donation isn’t necessarily a CRM software solution, but it does store important information about your supporters that can help boost your fundraising efforts! This solution pulls data from the leading matching gift database to comb through your CRM records and identify donors who are eligible for matched gifts from their employers. Corporate philanthropy opportunities offer a highly lucrative addition to fundraising activities. Some of the features offered by 360MatchPro include:
- Tracking features to keep tabs on match-eligible donations in your database
- Email automation that allows you to reach out to supporters about match eligibility
- Leading industry security protocols that help maintain the safety and security of donor data
- Matching gift revenue forecasting to help predict revenue opportunities for your organization.
Double the Donation offers 360MatchPro’s fully automated matching gift platform starting at $3,000 annually.
Nonprofit CRM software is the backbone of nonprofit strategy. It’s where you collect, organize, and store important information that will power your fundraising initiatives. Choosing the right software is, therefore, an incredibly important decision to make.
This article just scratches the surface of information about nonprofit CRMs. To dive deeper into the topic, check out these additional resources:
- Buying Fundraising Software: 6 Important Factors to Consider. Looking for more information about considerations before you buy? Check out this article.
- Your First Donor Database: Common Questions and Answers. Are you purchasing your first-ever nonprofit CRM? This guide for your first donor database is a must-read!
- Fundraising Apps: 24+ Must-Have Tools for Your Nonprofit. Have you ever had to conduct donor research on the way to a meeting? There’s an app for that!