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3 Tips on Relationship Management for Nonprofits

By Chris Thomas February 4, 2020

Gone are the days when people ‘joined’ a nonprofit organization in order to support it in a cause. Now, people want to access tools that will help them connect to solving the problems they care about. The experience of using these tools will be the strength and value of the modern nonprofit.

It’s still important to inspire, raise awareness, and give our supporters a place to go in order to get involved. But any transaction they do with the organization — whether it’s giving $10, signing a petition, RSVPing for an event, or sharing a piece of content — it’s still only one transaction. What they’re really doing is putting up their hands. They’re saying: I want to be involved. I care about this. What can I do?

Setting up a CRM

Relationship Management Matters

And that’s where organizations need to think about their relationships with constituents.

Nonprofit organizations are no longer entities that collect resources and distribute them in ways they see fit to solve problems. The modern nonprofit is a convener, a service, a democratic platform that exists to distribute power, organize people, and provide them with empowering tools, best practices, and networks.

I got into nonprofit technology because I believe tech is perfectly suited to the task of empowering people and organizations. The introduction of tech into the modern nonprofit is about much more than just replacing an antiquated spreadsheet: It’s a new way of creating relationships with constituents at-scale and empowering them, and its introduction reveals a mandate for fundamental change all the way down to the basic workings of the organization. Organizing and fundraising models need to be rethought if you’re doing data right, because, essentially, data and CRM are your supporters.

As a sector, we need to rethink what it means to be a name on a list. Our constituents are no longer simply email addresses that we can ask to do one of a handful of transactions. If we can capture transactions at many touchpoints — both online and off — we can then deliver information and services that give supporters a sense that they are involved, that they are moving the needle. If they sign an online petition, we are obligated to open an interaction with the signing community to take them along for the ride on the campaign. We need to tell them the story, show them how their petition made a difference, and celebrate with them when we win, or move them on to the next stage of the struggle when we lose. We do this now because we can, because we have a multivariate picture of who they are and what they wish for through the data, and we can incorporate systems to make their participation powerful and useful. This is the value of the modern nonprofit.

It’s not too hard to build an engagement funnel and use it for advocacy, outward-bound communication and fundraising. It’s much harder to reimagine how you move your supporters — and how they experience the mission with you — but that’s the task at-hand. This is the kind of change we need to consider. The technology has opened the door.

Feeling excited? Here are three ways to do relationship management at your nonprofit:

  1. Get a constituent relationship management tool, or CRM
    You can’t manage relationships if you’re not on the same page about who talked to whom when. While this is especially important for major gifts, it also helps with nurturing your one-time supporters (such as from Giving Tuesday) to become recurring donors or more engaged volunteers.
  2. Connect your CRM to your nonprofit marketing
    Ever had the problem of emailing the same person multiple times with the same ask…because people were using spreadsheets with contacts dumped into an email tool? It’s not a great experience. Fortunately, when you use a CRM to have a single, holistic view of each constituent, every person in your organization can know if someone already got emailed with an ask, see details from the last phone call with the constituent, and send groups of constituents more personalized messages at scale.
  3. Connect your marketing and programs departments
    Better collaboration across departments can help you highlight your stories and impact. If you’re not all using the same CRM, you’re operating in a silo. Wouldn’t it be great if you could paste reports into slides for your board meeting rather than spending hours in spreadsheets? For more inspiration, read this impact measurement e-book from three thought leaders.
  4. CIO Council Event

    In response to the changing landscape of the nonprofit sector, we’re excited to convene 400 nonprofit executives in NYC at DOT org March 17-18, for a uniquely crafted experience of inspirational learning, expert industry and cultural leaders from nonprofit and for-profit sector, specialized breakouts, and immersive connection opportunities. We’ll dive into where we’re at, where we’re going, and how our organizations need to change in order to grow our impact in changing times. This event is invitation only and tailored for an executive audience. If you’re interested in attending, please request an invite.

    Request an Invite

    About the Author

    Chris Thomas

    Chris Thomas is interested in how digital enables change in the world. Before joining, he was Chief Innovation Officer at the Sierra Club, ran the Digital Products Program at Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, and has held leadership roles in both tech startups and Fortune 500 companies. Connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter: @cxthom