• April 4, 2023
  • By Erik J. Martin, freelance writer and public relations expert

CRM in Nonprofits: Vertical Markets Spotlight

Article Featured Image

Like any enterprise, nonprofit organizations must maintain robust relationships with stakeholders, including donors, volunteers, supporters, and beneficiaries, to survive and thrive and create a sustainable impact. But considerable challenges arise in this sector that can make these efforts exceedingly difficult.

“Many nonprofit organizations are struggling to embed digital into their operating models, which is impeding their ability to successfully achieve their mission in the current age. Nonprofits need to invest in the right digital platform that can enable access to emerging technologies. Today their legacy and siloed systems create a barrier to that future,” says John Sullivan, managing partner of Sullivan Advisors and former chief information officer at the American Chemical Society, AARP, and three other professional associations.

Thankfully, CRM technologies are available to assist nonprofits in reaching their goals. CRM can help these organizations track and analyze interaction data to develop better engagement strategies tailored to stakeholders’ needs and preferences.

CRM systems for nonprofits, like systems for other sectors, are increasingly relying on artificial intelligence to find donors and gamification to reward users when they complete critical fundraising tasks.

“The possibilities for AI in the CRM mix are huge for nonprofits,” says Mark Miller, cofounder of Historic Agency, which focuses on marketing and branding in the nonprofit space. “Donors want more personalization, but nonprofits have limited time and resources. AI built into your CRM can close that gap.”

Noel Griffith, cofounder and chief marketing officer of SupplyGem, a software reviews and consulting service provider, notes that today’s cloud-based capabilities allow CRM platforms to offer scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness, all of which are crucial for nonprofits. “They enable users to access customer data on any device, enabling faster and more efficient customer service,” he says.

Experts also credit modern mobile CRM solutions with offering a more comprehensive and convenient experience.

“With mobile CRM apps, users can access customer data, track interactions and sales activities, and manage customer relationships anytime, anywhere. And many CRM solutions now include social media integration, allowing users to track customer engagement across various social media platforms,” Griffith says.

CRM also helps nonprofits integrate data from multiple sources, including online donations, email marketing, and special events, and consolidate it in a single database.

Christian Wettre, senior vice president and general manager of Sugar Platform for SugarCRM, says CRM technology is evolving into full customer experience platforms with full customer journey handling.

“This includes initial interest to engagement tracking, segmentation, multichannel communication, and constituent management. With a single CRM vendor able to handle more of the needs of a nonprofit, there is quicker time to value and less need for expensive integration,” he says.

Jon Biedermann, vice president of fundraising strategy at Community Brands, a provider of cloud-based software to associations, nonprofits, and schools, explains that CRM technology can help nonprofits manage their stakeholder inquiries more effectively.

“Nonprofits can use automated responses to handle routine inquiries, freeing up staff to address more complex issues. With CRM technology, nonprofits can also track stakeholder interactions and preferences, allowing them to provide personalized support,” he says.

Communication remains critical to nurturing donor relationships. A robust CRM system and CRM-native apps enable nonprofits to build effective communication strategies and strengthen donor relationships, insists Matthew Frank, director of technology evangelism and product marketing at Blackthorn.io, a provider of Salesforce-native apps for managing payments and events.

“Automation tools facilitate better communication flows to improve donor engagement and retention. By using automated communication software built into their CRM, nonprofits can capture and use donors’ preferred communication channels, such as email or SMS, to increase engagement,” Frank continues. “And because they can build and send communication directly from the CRM, all the details of those interactions populate seamlessly as data points in a contact’s history. Automation technology reduces the likelihood of errors, too, and frees overworked nonprofit teams to spend time on critical thinking tasks, plan more effective fundraisers, and maximize fundraising capacity.”

Also, consider that nonprofits often communicate with individuals outside normal business hours.

“CRM platforms that provide self-service portals where people can access information and services on their own time provide high value to nonprofits. Aside from providing access to services during off-hours, self-service features also save valuable volunteer time,” Wettre says.

Events are a big part of nonprofits’ strategies, and CRM also plays a role here. “CRM platforms that provide event management are especially useful for nonprofits that rely on events to drive engagement and donations,” Wettre adds. “Such event management features typically handle all aspects of event promotion, event registration, and event follow-up.”

“From a more casual neighborhood meetup or registering volunteers for a local project to a multiday event with multiple speakers and attendee tracks, nonprofits can build it all within a CRM platform with natively built apps and tools,” Frank says.

The right CRM system can also position nonprofits to better manage donor relationships, tracking the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and helping decide which supporters to engage and which to avoid with specific campaigns, Biedermann says.

“Nonprofits can use CRM technology to track donor giving history and preferences, allowing them to tailor their fundraising campaigns to individual donors,” he says. “CRM technology can also help nonprofits identify potential new donors and develop targeted campaigns to engage them.”

Nonprofits also need to prove that they spend their money wisely. “CRM platforms with rich reporting and analysis capabilities set the nonprofit up to be able to gain the trust of constituents and donors by sharing information on all aspects of operations,” Wettre continues.

“Additionally, nonprofits can use CRM technology to automate donor communications,” Biedermann says, “such as thank-you notes.”

One organization that has effectively implemented CRM to help manage donor relationships is the American Red Cross. “The CRM system helps them track donors, store their contact information, and track their giving history,” Griffith notes. “They also use the system to identify potential donors and send customized thank-you emails. By having this information readily available, they can better target fundraising efforts and ensure that donors are kept engaged and informed.”

Funds2Orgs, which helps organize shoe drives for churches, civic organizations, and individuals, turned to a CRM system when it outgrew spreadsheets and forms. “Funds2Orgs implemented our SugarCRM to easily create new modules that hook into other workflows. Its custom modules can easily count bags of shoes and update customers on the status of their drives. And the CRM system generates leads that automatically funnel into drip and nurture campaigns,” Wettre says. “Funds2Orgs has freed up 50 percent of sales’ time by automating lead emails, tracking bag counts and fundraiser status, and simplifying workflows across teams.”

The Parkinson & Movement Disorder Alliance uses both live and online programming to serve its constituents. Before investing in a CRM, the nonprofit used a WordPress plugin form on its website for people to register for events.

“The group needed a holistic, connected view of attendees, donors, and members to understand those groups’ participation and overlap,” Frank says. “When the alliance shifted its events to virtual models, it saw massive growth in its audience and leveraged CRM-native tools to launch donation engagement strategies. Because the organization’s data was centralized in one system, it could seamlessly connect past attendees to current fundraising campaigns.”

Should you invest in CRM? Frank advises nonprofits to answer these questions:

  • What’s your potential revenue for the year?
  • How much are you taking in in donations?
  • What are your goals for technology adoption in the next few years?
  • How has your membership base grown or shrunk in the past few years?
  • How do you plan to change or adapt processes currently in place?

To implement CRM technology, Biedermann recommends the following steps:

  • Define goals and needs, including the data you need to collect and manage the communication channels you use and the key metrics to measure success.
  • Allocate resources, such as budget and time, to implement and maintain the CRM system. This includes designating staff to oversee the system and providing training and support.
  • Research CRM solutions and evaluate which ones best meet your needs and budget. Consider factors such as ease of use, functionality, and integration with other systems.
  • Develop policies and procedures for managing data. This includes data entry, data quality, data backup and recovery, and staffing.
  • Use the data collected in the CRM system to inform decisions. Analyze trends and patterns in donor behavior, measure the effectiveness of campaigns, and identify growth opportunities.
  • Monitor and evaluate CRM system performance regularly, tracking key performance indicators and adjusting as needed.

“Since skilled technical volunteers are hard to find, it’s important to seek platforms that provide wide coverage of operational requirements,” Wettre suggests. “This will save you time and money compared to trying to integrate multiple applications to serve all your needs. To speed up the onboarding of volunteers, pay special attention to the ease of use of the application. Ensure that platform vendors comply with accessibility standards so you can seek volunteers from all walks of life.”

Lastly, before migrating to CRM, carefully document internal process. “This is going to save a ton of time during migration,” Miller says. “And give it more time than you think.” 

Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer and public relations expert whose articles have been featured in AARP The MagazineReader’s DigestThe Costco Connection, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to real estate, business, technology, healthcare, insurance, and entertainment. He also publishes several blogs, including martinspiration.com and cineversegroup.com.

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues
Buyer's Guide Companies Mentioned