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Top Tips for Choosing a CRM for Fundraising

By May 15, 2013

keith-hellerWhat’s the first thing a fundraiser learns?  Say “thank you.”  And why?  Because the first rule of fundraising is this: It’s all about relationships.  When you go to choose new a fundraising system, keep that rule front-and-center.  How will the system I’m looking at help me better identify, cultivate and manage relationships?  How will the system connect our big picture goals with our day-to-day operations?  (A big topic on its own!)  Lucky for you, fundraising systems are like cell phones – the options get better every time you’re up for renewal.

Several years ago, most fundraisers were buying “donor databases”.  Think StarTAC flip phones.  Cool at the time, but now?  Not so much….  And do you ever hear a fundraiser say “I can’t wait to get the new donor database, it’s really going to help me fundraise more!” Nope, me neither.  More often than not it was “meet the new database, same as the old database (warning, aging cultural reference… see 3:11 video – check out that hair!)”

Now fundraisers can reap the benefits of CRM – constituent relationship management.  Think iPhone6.  Who doesn’t want one of those!  The beauty of a CRM system is that its designed to help you identify, cultivate and manage important relationships.  It’s not just a place to toss in data.  It’s not designed to torture you with arcane processes or challenge you to a wrestling match every time you want information.  No, a good CRM system can actually reduce the time you spend in front of technology and increase the time you spend in front of people, so you can develop relationships (instead of carpal tunnel).

Sound tempting? If so, here are my top π tips for choosing a CRM to meet your fundraising needs:

1. Make sure it’s a “true CRM”

Lots of fundraising systems claim to offer a mythological, unicorn-like “360-degree view.”  However, if they’re only storing data about fundraising, they’re only showing you part of the picture.  Your best prospects and donors may be involved in your mission as beneficiaries, clients, partners, advocates, online participants and more. Don’t you want to know that? Won’t that allow you to better identify prospects, and build stronger and deeper relationships?  You bet it will!  And guess what – your constituents expect that the left- and right-hands of your organization talk to each other.  Give them what they want!

2. Social and Online

work-howThe InterWeb – it’s where your constituents communicate and connect, with each other and with you.  You want a CRM that lets you meet your constituents on their “home turf” and supports them to spread the word about you through their networks.  These days, that means choosing a cloud-based CRM that was designed from the start to “play well” on the web.  Anything else is just soooo dial-up.  Yes, that’s a put down.

3. Work How You Work

Your desk is NOT where prospects turn into donors.  You’re out meeting people – or you should be!   You need your fundraising information to travel with you (and I don’t mean by printing out spreadsheets).  Complete mobile access to your CRM – via laptop, tablet, phone – is crucial.  And are you at your best sorting through reams of data, or thinking strategically and having crucial conversations?  I bet it’s the later.  If so, your CRM should allow you to easily surface your best relationship opportunities and provide clear, automated pathways for cultivating those relationships. In others, your CRM should do the heavy lifting, so you can do the heavy relating.

3.14159 Innovation

Why did I put innovation last?  Because, like π, it never ends (Really, it doesn’t. Check it out here.).   How you fundraise today isn’t how you’ll fundraise in ten years.  For proof, just look at what we’ve seen take hold in the last decade – email, websites, social, mobile, peer-to-peer and more.  You want a system – and a platform and a vendor – that will grow as the demands and opportunities of your fundraising grow.  In fact, you’d ideally choose a system that leads rather than follows, innovates rather than rests on its laurels.  Your prospects and donors will expect it (and you can bet your competitors will be doing it).

This a great time to be choosing a fundraising system.  While the amount of information you’ve got to manage is expanding, CRM can help you harness it all and put it to work for you, so you can get out and build those relationships!

Thanks to Keith Heller for authoring this guest blog for the Foundation. Keith Heller is founder and CEO of Heller Consulting, a nation-wide firm that has helped more than 1000 nonprofits streamline their operations and maximize their use of software to advance their missions. Heller’s white paper  The New World of Donor Management Apps for Nonprofits reviews several available fundraising solutions, and how to select the right one for your organization.