By: Rachel L. Jackson, Client Success Lead, Blackbaud

I just returned from BBCon 2013 where one of the most frequent questions I was asked by my clients was about CRM (Constituent Relationship Management) systems. They wanted to understand how CRM is different from a traditional donor database and how nonprofits can benefit from investing in CRM.  In today’s data-driven world, CRM can enable nonprofits to see a 360° view of all their constituents, not just their donors, and allow for more effective multi-channel communication and solicitation strategies, as well as their managing programs. Or as we like to say, it enables organizations like yours to manage your mission. Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not – read on!

What’s the difference between CRM and a donor database?

Think about your organization – chances are your development department uses a database for the solicitation and management of donors and only people on that team can access it. But what about the rest of your departments?  Does each team (such as communications, events, volunteers, advocacy, and programs) maintain a separate system with its own constituents? When I asked my clients this question, the most frequent answer they gave me was “Those teams use spreadsheets to manage their constituents.”  If your answer is the same, valuable data about your constituents is living in silos and not being 100% utilized. The best way to attract new supporters to your cause is to have a dialogue with them, rather than a monologue. If you don’t have a complete view of all of their interactions with your organization, it will make it nearly impossible to start that conversation. For example, do you know how many of your advocates are donors, or vice versa? What about those who attend in-person events or follow your organization on social media? Are you starting to see the picture? This 360° view of your constituents will give you a better view of your supporters and allow you to tailor a multi-channel communication strategy that’s personal to them… and every organization should strive for this.

I used to be director of annual giving at a university and I know what your next concern is likely going to be. “But my development department is afraid to mix in donors with the rest of the organizations’ constituents!” Not to worry – CRM’s are typically highly configurable and allow for administrators to customize what’s viewable and editable by departments or even individual administrators. This will ensure that any sensitive donor information remains confidential to that team. And since most modern CRM’s are cloud-based, as opposed to client-server, your IT team can spend less time on maintaining costly hardware. Cloud-based applications also have the advantage of being securely accessible from browsers or mobile devices making it easier for teams who work in the field to get their jobs done.

How nonprofits use CRM to manage their mission

Nonprofits range in size and scope, but they all need to serve their mission to accomplish their charitable purpose. Think about the day- to-day tasks that your staff accomplishes to service your programs. Chances are a lot of things are done manually with email and spreadsheets. Does that sound familiar? Now what if the staff could automate these processes and free up time for more high value work like serving your program recipients? A CRM puts the management of these tasks, from intake of program beneficiaries to volunteers, into a manageable system that everyone can utilize. Even the simplest of things such as routing follow up tasks can be automated through CRM. In addition, CRM can help you track program results that can then be used to inform donors of the impact they have had, as well as recruit new donors or advocates to your cause.

Taking the next step

Nonprofit organizations need to make investments in technology, just like companies, to grow their ‘business’ and remain competitive. Oftentimes technology purchasing decisions are delegated to the IT team without substantive input from development, marketing or programs. The decision to purchase a CRM will benefit the entire organization and should be made in conjunction with the key teams. Before you even think about contacting software vendors, I suggest a discussion to identify all of the constituencies within the organization and how you’re currently communicating with them. You can then go on to discuss tasks that are time-consuming or done manually. If you think about your constituents and business processes (and where the pain points lie) in advance, that will be a good starting point to begin a dialogue with a CRM vendor. Good luck on taking the management of your mission to the next level with CRM!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From time to time, a guest blogger will appear on npENGAGE. Guest bloggers are industry experts contributing useful, relevant content to the conversation on npENGAGE. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, contact the editor.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!