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Selecting the Right CRM for Small Nonprofits

By November 27, 2014

By: Mags Rivett, Marketing Manager, Purple Vision

CRM for Small Nonprofits

Every week on LinkedIn (and possibly soon, Facebook for Work) there’s a question about ‘which is the best CRM for small nonprofits or charities’.

A public forum of your peers is a good place to start to find answers to the question that could transform your nonprofit. There are hosts of vendors, consultants and experts on hand to chip in with suggestions – which will often lead you to find products you might not have heard of. Mostly this is good as you now have a field of options to research and compare. Sometimes it’s not so good as you are tempted to strike out options that might work for you based on other peoples misguided opinions.

Sometimes, you just have more questions as a result of asking the first one. We’d suggest looking at 5 things before you even ask the question.

5 points to consider when looking for a CRM for a small charity

1. It all starts with strategy

Why do you roll up to work every day? My bet is that it’s not because you love processing donor data, and it’s more that you love how your donor’s generous gifts allow you to change the world.

Take a step back from thinking about the minutiae of that donation and the processes associated with it that you’d like your new CRM to simplify for you. Start by looking at the bigger picture.

You want to enrol more people in your fun run, host a gala ball to support your celebrity and VIP strategy, and you are going to launch a direct mail acquisition programme? And in 5 years’ time you want to be supporting another thousand people so will have 100 more staff and volunteers?

It’s important to consider this now, so you can put the right basic building blocks in place with a CRM that will meet your needs now, and 5 years down the line as you scale up from meeting your goal to support another thousand people.

2. Integrations

If you are already happily using a set of tools to organise your fun run, you don’t really want to have to start from scratch. So start to look at systems that will integrate with tools you use already. Your goal here will be to integrate as much as possible and bring all the data into one place. It is not always going to be possible – but the easier you can make it for yourself, the better. Think bigger than fundraising integrations – think about the whole team – volunteering, finance, HR. Who uses what? With the right CRM you can integrate your organisation internally to work smarter as well as integrate the tools each team uses into one CRM.

3. Ease of use

If you want to be all jargon about this you can all it UX. But speaking plainly, user experience is everything. If the whole team don’t find the system easy to use, you’re already losing.

That means everyone from the early adopter in your team who always has the newest phone through to those who fondly remember the days of the fax machine. So look at a few tools, ask to see more, play with a couple, ask someone else if you can look at theirs. Which ones do you like?

And while you are doing that, ask some questions about accessibility.

In today’s world, being able to access your system at any time of day or night is a basic expectation. There’s no need to log in via a server in the cupboard under the stairs anymore, and only when you’re in the office on a desktop PC. You should be able to use your phone, tablet, laptop, PC, be at home or be on the other side of the world and see it all real-time. Minimum IT fuss, maximum usability and accessibility.

4. On tap expertise

Small charity inevitably means a small team, who often wear many different hats. While we meet many inspiring and very talented people, it’s important to accept that you can’t be experts in everything. There will be times when you need assistance with making the most of your system.

Choose a tool which has a community or network of developers and experts around it and this will give you choice. Choose a tool which encourages developers to work with it and keep innovating. There’s usually a roadmap for a product or service that you can ask about. Check whether that will keep pace with your changing needs. When a system is open about working with a community, you won’t be hampered by waiting – a developer will be able to get right on it and either build you something, or add something that already exists. More professionals working with a tool or system means more competitive pricing, too.

5. Be realistic about budget

Pricing models have changed since the days of the server under the stairs installations. Most modern systems are based on the number of people who need licenses to use them, the type of integrations and applications that are used on the platform and more. So now you will be looking at an ongoing monthly running cost which is much more manageable and transparent than a lump sum (but will mean a change in how you plan your budgets, probably).

But do be realistic about costs for set up – unless you have an expert database developer and administrator on your team, who can ignore their other tasks for a while, you will need to set aside some cash to help get the system set up as you want it and make it easier to use in the longer term.

Now pop back onto LinkedIn or another favourite forum and ask the question again – “which is the best CRM for small charities – I need it to handle ….”. The quality of answers will hopefully be very different.

And our bet is that one name will come up consistently in the much narrower selection available – Salesforce.

There’s a host of reasons for that, not least the ten free user licenses for not for profits, the thousands of apps available via the App Exchange, or the range of platform solutions*. It’s about the ease of use, flexibility, and sheer potential scale – the sky really is the limit with cloud technology!

Mags Rivett - Purple Vision


Mags Rivett is the Marketing Manager at Purple Vision – an independent consultancy supporting charities and non-profits with CRM, database, technology and digital services. This includes technology signposting to help you find the right solution, implementation and ongoing CRM support. Find out more via