Understanding Nonprofit CRMs: What You Need to Know

A nonprofit CRM, or constituent relationship manager, is a software solution that helps nonprofits track and analyze data about their donors and volunteers.




December 21, 2018

When it comes to keeping track of donor data, no tool is more important than a nonprofit’s constituent relationship manager, or CRM. A CRM is a software solution that keeps track of every interaction a member of a community has with an organization.From donations, to event attendance, to volunteer hours, a CRM tracks every aspect of an organization’s donor relationship. And from this data, the organization’s team can determine what parts of their mission an individual is most interested in and make better decisions to keep them engaged.But a CRM is more than just a fancy spreadsheet. The right nonprofit CRM will be able to help your organization’s fundraising, communication, and development strategies with a suite of features designed to further a nonprofit’s mission. What do you need to know about a nonprofit CRM to make the most effective decisions for your organization?

  1. What type of data the CRM maintains.
  2. What the most important features of the CRM are.
  3. How much the CRM will cost.
  4. What I can learn about my organization from the CRM.
  5. How the CRM will help my organization.

Before committing to a nonprofit CRM, you have to be sure that it will improve all aspects of your organization’s process. If you’re ready to learn more about asking these crucial questions, read on!


1. What type of data does a CRM maintain?

The first thing your nonprofit needs to know about a CRM is that the central core of the software is a donor database. In this database, your nonprofit should maintain everything you know about a donor. This is more than just contact information and birthdays.In your donor database, you’ll need to keep track of:

  • Event attendance.
  • Volunteer attendance.
  • Donation amount and date.

Any way that a donor engages with your organization should be documented in your CRM. This helps you have a better understanding of both your donors and your fundraising strategy’s success.You should be able to have a birds’-eye view of your donor’s history with your organization from a donor profile. Contact information, engagement information, and prospect research and donor findings should all be contained in the profile.When choosing a CRM, make sure that you get one that allows you to create custom fields in your donor profiles, so that you can also keep track of other, more qualitative information.If you get to know your donors on a personal level, you should track that information in your CRM for future reference. For more information on managing relationships in a donor database, check out this informative article from SofTrek.While the core of CRM software is the storage of donor data, strong CRM software solutions do so much more. The CRM your nonprofit purchases should also help you manage that data and ensure its integrity. Strong CRM providers will also offer features like:

  • Address verification.
  • Deduplication.
  • Data cleansing, coding, and organization.
  • Wealth screening.

Data storage and management is a key part of your organization’s strategy because without accurate data, you can’t analyze your fundraising history, check your event attendance records, or even contact your donors!


2. What are the most important features of a CRM?

The ‘relationship’ part of your constituent relationship manager relies on a plethora of features, so make sure that you’re well-equipped to tackle any aspect of your omnichannel fundraising strategy.

Event Management and Planning

Events are only successful if your donors participate. Fundraising events can be massively effective for your organization, but only if done right! Some CRMs include event management software as a part of the software, so keep this in mind. Some event management options include:

  • Budgeting and tracking expenses for the event.
  • Flowing registration and payment information from your forms to your CRM.
  • Arranging preferences like meal specifications and seating.
  • Creating and managing volunteer assignments.

Planning your events directly in your CRM eliminates data entry and reduces the potential for human error. It also makes it easy to update donor profiles accordingly, send out invitations and reminders, and track attendance rates.

Online Marketing and Giving

Online giving is growing more and more popular as donors discover the convenience of giving from the comfort of their homes, so your CRM should offer this option to your organization.Through your CRM, you should be able to:

  • Create online registration portals for events.
  • Create online donation pages for donors to give securely.
  • Automatically generate thank-you emails for donors.
  • Capture information from donation forms and flow it directly to your donor database.

When your CRM offers your organization the ability to manage your online fundraising strategy, you’ll be able to collect data and donations more effectively.

Membership Management

Your organization may or may not have a membership program—but it’s a seriously effective engagement strategy, and some CRMs have the capability to maintain your membership! Members are frequently your most passionate donors, and you want to keep them as happy as possible.With a membership management feature in your CRM, you can:

  • Generate membership billings automatically.
  • View individual membership histories.
  • Offer tiers and track upgrades and downgrades.
  • Assign benefits and perks to different tiers.

A membership program is a useful engagement strategy that benefits both you and your donor, so choose a nonprofit CRM that makes it as easy as possible to create and maintain one!If you have a program but can’t figure out how to revamp it, check out this guide to welcoming new members from Doubleknot for some fresh ideas.


3. How much will a CRM cost?

This is a complicated question, but one that your nonprofit needs to consider nonetheless. Investing in new software can be a scary expense, but it will be worth it when it optimizes your fundraising strategy and makes your event planning process a breeze. There are three tiers of pricing:

  • Free.
  • Inexpensive and lightweight.
  • More expensive but customizable.

And each one comes with its own pros and cons. Free software is great for getting your feet wet if you’ve never used a CRM before, but it is usually limited in how many donor profiles it can hold and doesn’t come with any additional features.Inexpensive and lightweight software is a great choice for smaller nonprofits that are up and running, but don’t yet have a large dedicated donor base. Inexpensive software is useful and functional, but can’t adapt to a larger donor population or your organization’s own needs.More expensive software might not be an option for smaller or newer organizations, but it is a necessity for a larger nonprofit with multiple chapters or a robust donor pool. A more expensive software will come with a wider suite of resources, including system customization capabilities and customer support from the provider.The amount your CRM will cost will depend on the needs of your organization and the provider that you decide to go with, but make sure that you’re aware of any additional costs. On top of the cost of the software, make sure you know the costs of future training sessions, updates, fixes, or customizations that may pop up down the line.


4. What can I learn about my organization from a CRM?

One of the best benefits of using a CRM for your nonprofit organization is that you can learn a lot about your donors, your fundraising strategy, your event success, and your financial capabilities.A strong CRM will come with features that allow you to run automatic reports and create custom reports, as well as segment your donor population. Then, you can use your data to make decisions based on the status of your organization.Segmenting your donors, while a useful communication strategy, is also important for understanding where your organization is succeeding and where it needs to improve. You can look at how many donors attend events, give to certain campaigns, and more.The reports that your CRM will generate can tell you a variety of things, including:

  • Fundraising trends by seasons, months, or campaigns.
  • Membership growth or decline.
  • Donor retention metrics.

With actionable data, you can determine key performance indicators, or KPIs, for your organization. Then, you can track these KPIs month over month or year over year to determine where your strategy needs improvement and where you’re excelling.Data driven decisions are key to a successful nonprofit organization, so make sure that you choose a CRM that can help you learn about every aspect of your organization through customized reporting.


5. How will a CRM help my organization?

The most important thing to consider when purchasing a CRM for your nonprofit organization is how the software will improve the day-to-day operations of your staff. If the software you choose doesn’t help you, there is no reason to invest in it.But a constituent relationship manager, especially one with features that improve other facets of your fundraising strategy, is a serious ally in your nonprofit’s endeavours. In addition to empowering your staff to make data-driven decisions in regards to donor communication, event planning, membership management, and online fundraising, your CRM should help your organization start or strengthen a major giving strategy.Major gift solicitation is a serious addition to your fundraising strategy, but it can be difficult. The nature of a major gift entails a lot of cultivation and consideration on the parts of both the organization and the donor. But with a nonprofit CRM, you can add consistency and predictability to your major giving strategy. A CRM can improve your major giving strategy by:

  • Allowing you to mark donors as prospects after conducting prospect research and wealth screening, especially if your CRM has an integrated wealth screening tool.
  • Setting a standard for how the process should go, that can prompt staff members to conduct outreach, extend invitations, and follow up with donors on a set schedule.
  • Allowing you to create reports on your major giving strategy, so you can tell where donors are dropping off in the cycle.

And these are just a few examples of how a CRM can help—every nonprofit is different, so every strategy will be different.But some things are the same—data-driven decisions and increased functionality can improve the fundraising capacity of every nonprofit.

The Bottom Line

Purchasing a nonprofit CRM can be a big step for a lot of organizations. But with this guide, you know what to look for and what to consider when investing in a software solution for your organization.

About the Author

Joe Klimek (CEO)

Joe Klimek is CEO of SofTrek, developer of ClearView CRM fundraising software. With more than 20 years' experience helping organizations adopt new technology and processes, he has deep knowledge of the challenges that nonprofits face.

About SofTrek

With nearly 30 years' experience helping nonprofits raise more money, SofTrek is expert in supporting the work of fundraisers and their organizations. SofTrek provides fundraising software with CRM, online marketing tools, reporting and other key technology offerings to nonprofit organizations. To learn more, visit

Related Posts

January 9, 2023
[GUEST POST] Things to Consider When Doing Digital Marketing

In the modern world, it is essential for a company to have a solid digital presence on the Internet for the company to be successful.

December 29, 2022
5 Can’t-Miss Articles From 2022

At the end of each year, we like to reflect on the content that resonated the most with our readers and think ahead to what we should feature next.