Choosing a fundraising CRM: Tips, tricks, and best options
Investing in a fundraising CRM is one of the most important steps you can take toward better donor relationships and bigger gifts for your nonprofit organization.
CRM software (short for customer relationship management) gives you tools to organize contacts, automate everyday tasks, understand your donor base, identify potential new donors, and run successful fundraising campaigns. But first, you’ve got to pick the right fundraising CRM for your team, budget, and overall goals.
This guide will help you sort through the hundreds of CRM options available. We’ll go over five things to consider when choosing a CRM and three top-rated CRMs for all types of fundraisers. Let’s dive in!
5 tips to find the right fundraising CRM
CRMs aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions — some platforms are tailored to individuals and small nonprofits, while others can support global groups with millions of donors and volunteers. So, you’ll need to do some reflection and research in order to find a donor management software that sticks. Get started with these five steps.
1. Separate must-haves from nice-to-haves
There’s no shortage to the features that CRMs can offer. You can expect to see tools aimed at:
- Donor management: Organize contact details, track donors' giving history and interactions, and pull reports
- Donation management and fundraising: Raise and collect money
- Grant management: Research organizations and manage grant applications
- Event management: Sell event tickets and share updates
- Volunteer management: Recruit and schedule volunteers
- Advocacy efforts: Communicate with key individuals and groups
- Program management: Monitor programs and funnel donations
Some of these tools are built-in, while others are available through convenient integrations, which we’ll cover later. For instance, the Givebutter fundraising platform integrates with first-class CRMs like Bloomerang and Salesforce. Donor information automatically funnels into your database as soon as someone donates or registers for an event.
Before you go comparison-shopping, ask yourself where your organization is heading and how your fundraising CRM will help you get there. What is the number one reason you need a CRM software? What are your current challenges and how are you hoping a CRM will solve them? Which aspects of your supporter outreach do you plan to manage with the CRM? Taking note of these needs early will help you stay on track as you compare feature lists.
2. Get input from your staff
If you’re a one-person fundraising machine, you can skip this step. Otherwise, it’s important to take time to huddle up with your team and see what they need from your CRM software. Fundraising is a collective effort, so your CRM has to empower all your team members to meet their respective goals.
For instance, everyone will benefit from detailed donor profiles, but your email marketer may want multiple email slots and customization options. Set aside time to survey your board members, development team, marketing and social media team, grant writers, and more.
Keep in mind that more functionality or complexity isn't always better. Consider the technical skills of the people who will use your CRM the most. How comfortable are they with online software? How much time can you allot for training and setup? You aren’t on your own. Most CRM vendors offer some level of free training, as well as how-to videos, articles, community forums, and FAQ sections.
3. Choose an integration-friendly platform
Fundraising CRMs are comprehensive platforms on their own — they’re specially crafted to cover the entire supporter journey, from that initial email or phone call to their very first donation or event registration (and one day, their first planned gift). That said, they won’t take care of all your organizational needs.
This is where integrations come in! The best CRMs can integrate with hundreds of different software tools, including fundraising platforms, email marketing software, project management software, accounting software, and more. Your CRM acts as the central hub, giving you a deeper understanding of all your supporters so you can use your other tools more efficiently.
Take a look at your organization’s current ecosystem of tools — spreadsheets, desktop software, and online platforms — and determine which ones you want to keep or replace.
Once you know, double-check that each management tool is compatible with your CRM. It’s a good idea to ask your CRM vendor how much customer support they provide for integrations, too. For instance, if your email software is pulling the wrong first names from your CRM, who can help?
4. Understand the true cost
Cost is a number-one concern for many organizations when they’re choosing a fundraising CRM system. After all, there’s a wide range of CRM pricing, from completely free options to plans that cost over $100 per month. But you should know that the number you see on the pricing page may not reflect the final amount you pay.
Here are some charges that you should remember to factor into your CRM budget:
- 💰 Payment processing fees: If you use your CRM to accept any funds, you’ll be charged payment processing fees for each transaction. This is particularly important for gifts from major donors and large matching gifts. (Some fundraising platforms, like Givebutter, let your donors cover these costs so you receive 100% of their donation.)
- 💻 Setup and training: Many CRM vendors include a couple free setup and training sessions, but if you think you’ll need more help, ask each CRM vendor if they charge extra.
- 🔁 Data migration: Software vendors may help you migrate your data to their CRM from whichever CRM or spreadsheet you’re using. However, there is usually a flat-rate fee or hourly fee.
- 👥 Number of constituents: CRM plans typically include a set number of contacts and charge a small fee per additional contact. If you need to house a large number of donor profiles, make sure you choose a CRM built for large organizations.
- 👋 Number of users: Similarly, the number of users, locations, or devices your organization has can affect the final price of your CRM.
Finally, ask each vendor about any other one-off charges you should know about.
5. Make sure it’s scalable
Don’t get caught in the trap of only planning for the here and now! Your organization will grow in the next weeks, months, or years, and when it does, you won’t want to be back here searching for a CRM so soon.
Look for vendors that offer plans with more donor profiles, more users, and advanced levels of support and customization so your CRM can grow with you. Another pro tip? Clean up your contact list and update donor data before you transition to a new CRM. That way, you won’t waste money on old leads and repeat contacts.
This tip doesn’t only apply to the number of donor profiles you have. Make sure there are administrative features that let you control editing and viewing privileges. As your board or staff grows, it’ll be easy to share access and lock certain actions without creating a huge number of user accounts.
3 of the best fundraising CRM options (and 3 runners-up)
Now you know how to narrow down your options and choose a CRM that can go the distance. Next, explore three of the best-rated CRM solutions on the market. Here’s a quick overview:
- Bloomerang: A fully featured, inexpensive nonprofit CRM that offers a 360-degree view of your donors and workflows. Get a real-time window into your donor relations and essential metrics.
- Salesforce: An all-in-one CRM that helps large organizations streamline their donor database. Launch online and out-of-home campaigns with ease, including direct mail campaigns using built-in templates.
- Kindful: A higher cost, user-friendly CRM with unlimited donation forms and included phone and email support.
Our honorable mentions are DonorPerfect, NeonCRM, and Salsa CRM. They aren't quite as robust or easy to use, but they'll do in a pinch. You can get an in-depth look at all six of these platforms in our guide to fundraising CRMs for nonprofits. We cover key features, highlights, and pricing for each software solution.