The Special Challenges of Nonprofits and How CRM Can Help - Small Business CRM Coach

The Special Challenges of Nonprofits and How CRM Can Help

Nonprofit organizations work hard to make our world better. They often appeal to us to help them meet needs and support causes that touch our hearts. But they have a need of their own that people rarely think about unless they have worked in a nonprofit, a need that directly affects their ability to achieve their mission.

They need up-to-date technology to manage processes and programs.

Specifically, they need CRM.


People who work in nonprofit organizations are pretty passionate about what they do.

They see great needs in the world around them and feel an equal need to do something about it.

Maybe it is children going hungry.

Or the need for sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

Or climate change and its effect on crops.

Or developing youth entrepreneurs instead of gang leaders.

These dedicated professionals often work handcuffed, technologically speaking. Their organizations are expected to operate on the slimmest of budgets, and technology can be considered nice-if-you-can-get-it, last on the list of priorities.

One of our business partners, Carol Willis, speaks from her previous experience as a development director in a nonprofit. When she started that role, she saw right away that some type of donor management software or a CRM was urgently needed.

She shared her thoughts with us about the investment decision and also about implementation.

“Making the decision sounds like a Catch-22 situation, and that’s what it feels like,” she says.

“Resources are slim, so leaders can be pretty hard to convince that money should be spent on software. They default to ‘We can’t afford it.’ But at some point, you can’t grow your organizational resources without the software. You can’t afford not to get it. Someone needs to say yes to that expenditure if they want the mission to advance. It will more than pay for itself in the long run.”

An important mission deserves good technology, specifically a CRM system. Here’s why.

How will you manage your donor information?

  • Can you see at a glance which donors are drawn to which programs?
  • Who gives monthly and who gave two years ago?
  • Who is related to whom, and how?
  • Where they work?
  • Which of your events they’ve been to and who invited them?
  • When you last communicated with them?
  • Who prefers a phone call to an email?
  • Who wants to remain anonymous?
  • When they made their first gift?

Donors expect you to know these things.

Try to use a spreadsheet, or a series of them, to track this kind of information, and you’re going to lose control.

Salesforce has a product called Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) that is favored by many nonprofits, including some of our clients. A CRM like NPSP collects all this information in one place and then lets you do the proverbial slice and dice to analyze various aspects of your donor base as a whole and characterize them in segments.

How do you manage your constituent communications?

It’s a fact that the longer you wait to get thank you letters out, the less likely donors are to make a second gift. Plus there’s the newsletter, and invitations to a gala for a certain segment of donors, and that survey to former program participants. And how much time do you have to do all this? Right, Hardly any.

Some CRM’s have their own function for invitations and email marketing. Others integrate brilliantly with email marketing platforms like Constant Contact and Eventbrite. They’ll also sync with either your Outlook or Google email to share your contacts and details of your correspondence. You can write up a customizable template, specify the group you want it to go to, and hit send or print.

How do you know if a program is working if you can’t measure its outcomes?

Nonprofits need data on outputs and outcomes to know if the resources they steward are having the desired impact. Also, funders demand to know results and how they are measured. Without technology this can a highly labor-intensive task that results in inaccurate reporting even with the best of intentions.

One of the benefits of Salesforce’s NPSP is that it not only tracks contacts and automates communication; it also supports program development and funding capacity by collecting program data and reporting on outcomes.

If you decide to get a CRM, who will help you figure out which one, customize it to meet your needs, train your people to use it, tweak it as your needs change, and troubleshoot?

Because heaven knows, everyone on your staff is already working to the max.

Carol weighed in again with her experience with this challenge: “Once I got the okay to look into CRM’s, a consultant in my network helped me to decide on one. His firm got us set up and trained me and one other person to use it. Beyond that, nothing was budgeted for support as we implemented it. I conducted a few sessions to orient the rest of staff to it, but some of them kept using their own systems, which basically consisted of separate spreadsheets. We never really got past “This has worked for us in the past —  I’ve got a lot of work to do and I don’t see a reason for this whole new learning curve.”

“We sure could have used the CRM consultant as a partner on an implementation strategy that would gain buy-in to the reasons this new procedure would help everyone as well as the technicalities of using it,” says Carol. “The CRM did make life easier for a couple of us, but the whole benefit we could have received got lost.”

Nonprofits are often staffed by a combination of employees and volunteers. Turnover can be high because of stress and low pay. When money is tight for on-boarding and volunteer training, holes occur in the transmission of the purpose behind procedures. Before you know it, the CRM is a mess and falling out of use. An ongoing relationship with a qualified CRM partner like Small Business CRM Coach can fill in those gaps and keep everyone up-to-date and your database clean.

We are passionate about making your world better.

We want you to thrive and your mission to accomplish great things.

We are also techno-geeks who understand databases and get really excited about helping you use them productively to achieve the goals you are pouring your hard work into. What are your particular challenges?

Let us know how we can help.