CRMs are everywhere, it seems. In fact, the US market size for CRMs reached $7.6 billion in 2020 and there are literally hundreds to choose from. Even if you’ve never worked with a CRM before, you’ve probably heard of big names like Hubspot or Salesforce. Maybe you’ve even done some research but are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information out there. The truth is, big-name CRM platforms are quite popular, but there are many alternatives—including free and low-cost options—that can be game-changers for non-profit organizations if you know how to find them.
In this article, we’re exploring everything about CRMs. Learn what CRMs are, what kinds of features they include, free and low-cost options, and how an organization that offers managed technology services for nonprofits can help you narrow down your options and connect with the right platform that can truly drive your mission and the work you do each day. Let’s dive in.
At the highest level, CRM stands for “customer relationship manager.” In the nonprofit realm, it’s also sometimes called a “constituent relationship manager.” Essentially, a CRM is a software platform that helps organizations track and manage relationships. These days, many CRMs have also integrated other kinds of tools too, and they can handle anything from marketing to event planning to managing volunteers and more.
Why the difference between the two meanings? The two terms are somewhat interchangeable, with the only real difference coming down to what kinds of relationships are being managed. Most nonprofits focus on managing donor relations, while for-profits typically focus on managing relations with paying customers or clients.
A CRM offers a lot of advantages for nonprofits. In fact, are you wondering, “Does a nonprofit need a CRM?” The answer is a resounding yes! Of course, you may be able to get by with basic Excel spreadsheets and a lot of employee or volunteer labor, but a CRM can truly take the work you do to the next level. Here are just a few benefits that CRMs can provide nonprofits.
There are no two identical CRMs. Each company that makes a CRM provides different features and capabilities. However, there are some general nonprofit CRM features that most nonprofits and organizations find useful. We’ve compiled six key features we think the best nonprofit CRM software platforms include.
One of the best features a CRM can offer is the ability to automate tasks and processes. Too many organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit, spend too much time doing tasks that can be easily automated. Automating tasks like follow-up emails can give users more time to do the more human aspects of their work—meeting donors, building relationships, and more.
Over the last few years, we’ve learned a lot about what we do and don’t need to do our job effectively. One thing that isn’t going to go away anytime soon is the ability to do our jobs remotely. Cloud-based CRMs give everyone access to the platform no matter what device they’re using and no matter where they’re at. Cloud-based CRMs allow nonprofit team members to make quick on-the-go updates so important details aren’t missed by taking notes after the fact.
One handy feature that many CRMs offer is the ability to integrate with common communication tools to track communications efforts to your donor base. For example, some CRMs allow for the ability to automate emails or text messages, even allowing for the segmentation of audiences to personalize communications. Other tools have features that can assist in the creation of direct mail campaigns.
Data is a powerful tool, and CRMs should have features built-in that provide both accessibility and reporting options.
It’s likely that almost everyone in your organization will need access to your CRM for one reason or another. It’s also possible that not everyone needs the same access, however. Many CRMs allow for different levels of access, so you can segment your users. For example, you might want to set up your volunteers with the ability to print mailing addresses but not access donation records. This can help keep sensitive information secure while still giving everyone access to the wealth of information stored in a CRM.
As a nonprofit, you have to pull together all kinds of reports, from financial reports to reports to send out to your board and your major donors. Many CRMs include advanced capabilities to pull and create all kinds of reports. Not only can this help teams keep an eye on dollars and cents, but it can provide an unbiased glance into performance metrics for an organization as a whole.
Of course, every nonprofit CRM should include the ability to manage donors—that’s their core purpose. But the best CRMs provide donor relationship and management features.
For example, CRMs should allow rich donor profiles that include trends, event attendance, phone calls, social media interactions, personal information, professional information, and more. Having all of this information keeps each of your staff members informed, providing a cohesive experience for donors. To provide truly excellent service, many CRMS allow for the automatic creation of donor tax receipts that keep your donors happy.
Easier isn’t always better, but it might be when it comes to integrations and the ability to streamline your work. The best CRMs integrate with big-name cloud tools to make everyone’s jobs easier and more efficient. For example, many CRMS integrate with accounting software programs like Quickbooks so fundraising information can easily be transferred to the financial team.
So what are your options when it comes to CRMs? There are literally hundreds of CRMs out there, so a simple Google search can feel pretty overwhelming. And while each CRM has its positives, there are certainly some that stand out from the crowd. We’ve compiled a list of free and paid versions to help you start researching the best CRMs for nonprofits.
There are, of course, some free and low-cost CRMs that can provide some or even many of the features described above. Here are a few that we think are worth looking into.
However, it’s important to note that a free CRM isn’t always the best option. Paying a little more for a more comprehensive, feature-rich tool can end up actually saving money in the long run by automating tasks and freeing up your employees for different kinds of work. At Computers in Ministry (CIM), we work with our partners to find the right tool(s) within their budget that will maximize their spending and truly drive the work they do to new heights.
If you’re considering spending a little—or more than a little—on a CRM, it’s a lot to sort through. If you’re looking at a paid version, you might be wondering “How much does a nonprofit CRM cost?” It can range anywhere from $20 a month up to $500 or more a month, depending upon the platform.
Here are some options we think are truly great.
Many paid CRMs offer extensive demos or free trials so you can get a better idea of if their platform is right for your organization before signing on the dotted line.
Does the list above have your head spinning? You’re not alone. Before spending hours making lists of CRMs that might meet your needs, we recommend the following four-step process to get you started.
A lot of CRMs charge based on the number of users and/or the number of donor contacts you’ll need to store. Figure these out so you can have a more accurate understanding of what kinds of plans and costs you’ll be looking at.
If you use tools like QuickBooks, Microsoft Office, Gmail, etc., you’ll want to find a CRM that allows you to integrate these products—it’ll save time and streamline processes. Make a list of your current tools so you know what kinds of integrations to look out for.
Finally, set a budget and stick to it. How much can you realistically afford to spend per month or per year? Keep in mind that you may need to spend a little extra upfront to properly implement a CRM into your workflow.
Sorting through the nearly endless list of tools can be stressful, time-consuming, and totally overwhelming. We’re here to help. At CIM, we work with our partners to truly understand their needs, their budget, and their mission to match them with the tools that can make a difference in their day-to-day work.
We believe that CRMs and other tech tools should be driving your mission to the next level, not the other way around. We take pride in fully understanding our partners and becoming a part of their professional families. We’re all in this together, and we want to help your organization continue to make an impact in your community each and every day. Ready to learn more? Reach out to us today. We’d love to learn more about your nonprofit.