CRM for Nonprofits: What Should You Look For?

Is it time for a new and improved nonprofit CRM? A CRM for nonprofits has a big job: streamline data management and optimize fundraising efforts. Unfortunately, legacy systems like Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge come with a host of constraints, limiting nonprofits from achieving their full potential. Read through this rapid-fire checklist and find out what factors you need to consider when looking for your next nonprofit CRM.

Nonprofits rely heavily on technology to achieve their goals, striving to improve fundraising and engage supporters more effectively. This also means the role of a CRM for nonprofits has transcended beyond just a place to store information.

Organizations rely on CRMs to build and maintain donor relationships using data, personalized strategies, and efficient communication. While these qualities of a CRM sound great in theory, it can be hard to find that unicorn in the mass sea of legacy CRMs currently on the market.

CRM for Nonprofits: Constraints That Come With the Legacy Model

While traditional CRMs were once groundbreaking solutions for our space, they have failed to keep pace with the innovation demanded by today’s nonprofits. With organizations facing a slew of ongoing challenges—including limited resources, staff turnover, and the intricacies of acquisition and retention—nonprofits now turn to their CRMs to help them strike a balance between expanding and scaling their fundraising efforts.

But the problem is that legacy fundraising systems, such as Raiser’s Edge, don’t meet the expectations of donors who want personalized engagement.

Traditional fundraising often hinges on generic mass communication, overlooking donor type and interests. This approach doesn’t work for everyone and doesn’t motivate people to take meaningful action with your organization.

Plus, these platforms are difficult to learn and cumbersome to manage, limiting team productivity and visibility into accurate data. In turn, this prevents organizations from adapting to changes in donor behaviors and creating responsive supporter experiences.

“[Raiser’s Edge became] a place we just stored information, and that was so handcuffing. We were still using Excel printouts to record activity because nobody wanted to be in the system,” says Seth McLaughlin, Director of Development of Mel Trotter Ministries.

As we enter a generosity crisis marked by a decline in both the number of donors and how much they give, it’s more important for nonprofits to invest in a nonprofit CRM that not only understands their needs but adapts to the shifts that come with fundraising.

The Ultimate Checklist for Selecting a CRM for Nonprofits

To meet the demand of changing donor expectations, nonprofits have to adopt a responsive fundraising model. The responsive framework places the needs of donors at the heart of your fundraising using four key action steps: listen, connect, learn, and suggest.

For the responsive model to work, you need reliable data that empowers you to make the best fundraising decisions. This checklist helps you find a nonprofit CRM that meets donor expectations and supports responsive fundraising.

A Holistic Fundraising Platform

Your CRM should do more than collect data; it should combine key features for fundraising and donor management. With a holistic fundraising platform, you’re consolidating all of the essential tools, taking on a more complete approach to donor cultivation and engagement.

In addition, your nonprofit should also keep its pulse on the future needs of fundraisers. You need a technology that can be your growth partner. At Virtuous, we are committed to the continual release of new features and staying at the forefront of innovation.

Personalized Fundraising Features

To improve the way you fundraise and deepen connections with donors, you need a responsive nonprofit CRM that comes with an array of personalized fundraising features. Here are a few staple features you should look for:

  • Donor segmentation: Categorize donors by their giving history, interests, and engagement level to create personalized communication and interactions.
  • Journey mapping: Each of your donor segments deserves an experience that is unique to where they are. Using a donor journey builder, like the one on Virtuous, you can map out what communications the donor should receive next based on actions they take with your nonprofit.
  • Marketing automation: This is perhaps the most versatile tool that you can get from your nonprofit CRM. Automation helps your organization scale with its ability to trigger personalized messages based on specific donor actions or milestones. Whether it’s a thank-you message, progress update, or special appeal, automation eliminates repetitive and routine processes from your staff’s plate.
  • Tailored online giving: Create giving pages that resonate with different donor types. From first-time donors to long-term supporters, personalized online giving pages enhance the donor experience and encourage continued engagement.
  • Personalized event registration: Fundraising events are your ticket to kick your donor engagement up a notch. Interactive experiences—whether virtual, hybrid, or in-person—are another connection point that you can establish with your supporters.

As you explore different CRM options, take into account product sustainability. The last thing your nonprofit needs to worry about is having tools taken away. For example, Arizona’s Children Association leans on its CRM to streamline its thank-you letter process. However, faced with the sudden removal of this capability, the organization had to seek an alternative solution.

“We decided to merge outside of Raiser’s Edge because Blackbaud took away the ability to do that, and they wanted us to buy another product to be able to do that in its platform,” Barbara Krusko, Chief Development Officer, Arizona’s Children Association, explains.

Fluid Data and Reporting

While nonprofit CRMs are made to collect and store information, many fall short when it comes to basic data management. Today’s nonprofits need a tool that helps them operate more efficiently. Your CRM should be able to easily maintain your data health without requiring a lot of time, resources, or staff.

For Dominican Friars, managing their data became a huge pain point, which only became more apparent when they decided to switch platforms.

“We did a lot of cleanup in Raiser’s Edge. We had a lot of junk data. We spent [almost three months] going through our data, merging fields, deleting things that were in the database, cleaning up names, cleaning up relationships—that made the actual conversion process 100 times better,” says Bryan Fegley, Senior Director of Advancement at Dominican Friars.

Aside from data collection, your nonprofit CRM should also come with a suite of reporting tools, like creating custom reports, tracking KPIs for nonprofits, and measuring fundraising performance. This keeps your entire organization aligned with strategic focus, goals, and milestones.

Data That Naturally Flows In and Out

One more thing to consider is having a CRM with an open API. This allows it to seamlessly integrate with other tools and systems used by your nonprofit. This creates a connected ecosystem where all of your data lives in one central location.

Many nonprofit CRMs have data silos, so users have to manually move spreadsheets between different platforms. Virtuous operates on an open API and offers dozens of native integrations and Zapier automations.

“The big piece [for us] was marketing integration and being able to have transparency into data so that any team member could jump in and see what emails are being sent, what’s being opened, and what pieces of mail going out,” Seth emphasizes.

Integration is a high-priority item for most nonprofits on the market for a new CRM. Because you likely use several tools for different tasks, you want to be able to house that information in one place. Not only that, but you also want to holistic view of donor behavior across all of your marketing activities. This way, you can deliver more personalized experiences to your donors and deepen relationships with them down the road.

A Trusted Partner There for You 24/7

Choosing a CRM platform involves more than just considering its features and functions. It also requires finding a dependable partner who can provide support when necessary. Your nonprofit operates around the clock, and so should your CRM support.

Because of the critical work your team does for its community, the last thing you need to worry about is being able to get in touch with a human when something goes awry. Larger, legacy CRM systems often have slow response times, and organizations typically have to send an email and wait for a response. Or worse, they’re directed to the platform’s online help desk.

Coming from a legacy company like Blackbaud, Bryan and the team at Dominican Friars noticed a stark difference when they entered into early conversations with Virtuous.

“All of our interactions with Virtuous were very personal. We felt like it was a great team, everyone seemed competent, and we just didn’t get the sense of a big company,” Bryan says.

He continues, “[Our team was] really happy and excited about what Virtuous could do for our team. In terms of change management, having everyone get excited about it made the process much easier because everyone saw the goal that we were marching towards.”

With Virtuous, you’ll have an assigned account manager who will have regular check-ins with your team. Plus, our technical support team is here to answer any questions or help solve any issues that arise.

Safety, Security, and Reliability for You and Your Donors

When donors give to you, they’re placing a significant amount of confidence in you to uphold the highest safety and security standards. Your donors trust you to protect and safeguard their sensitive information. In turn, you’re placing that same level of trust in your nonprofit CRM. After all, it’s one of the factors you consider when vetting your next tech platform.

However, data breaches can happen, and when they do, it breaks the trust between all parties involved: donors, nonprofits, and tech vendors.

“My organization was involved in [Blackbaud’s] data breach. That was a really huge thing for us with our board. We lost a lot of confidence in the way they handled that,” Barbara says.

At Virtuous, our team carries out rigorous security measures, ensuring that every necessary safeguard is in place to guarantee the safety and accessibility of your data. We take this responsibility very seriously, upholding the highest security standards:

  • Back-up data and disaster recovery
  • The Virtuous API, authentication, and data security layer
  • Data protection and penetration testing
  • HIPAA compliance
  • PCI and credit card handling
  • And more

Why Responsive Nonprofits Choose Virtuous

The needs of fundraisers are evolving, and they need a platform that can help them fundraise better. Virtuous focuses on using responsive fundraising to personalize interactions with donors, deepen relationships with them, and unlock increased generosity.

Organizations like Dominican Friars, Arizona’s Children Association, and Mel Trotter Ministries chose Virtuous because it offered not only the features and functionalities they were looking for but also a partner and advocate who is invested in the success of their missions.

“With Virtuous, we felt like we were adding staff to our team by having all these automations do data cleanup, moves management support work, things like that,” Bryan says.

If you’re ready to join the responsive fundraising community, schedule a demo with one of our team members.

Watch the full webinar: Is it time to switch? Lessons learned switching from Blackbaud to Virtuous.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

If you know another nonprofit pro who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via Email, Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.

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Virtuous is the responsive fundraising software platform proven to help nonprofit organizations increase generosity by serving all donors personally, no matter their gift size.

“Virtuous truly understands nonprofits and the importance of our mission. And their open access to data and built-in custom reports gave us access to the data we need.”
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Chief Information Officer