Skip to main content

6 Ways to Know You’re Ready for A Robust CRM

While a lot of factors go into the decision to invest in a CRM, we ask these six questions that help nonprofits decide.

6 Ways to Know You’re Ready for A Robust CRM

Talking to nonprofits every day keeps our fingers on the pulse of what questions they have. And a biggie is, “Am I ready for serious donor management technology?”  

Even though that’s what we offer, sometimes the answer is no. Almost every single nonprofit starts small (usually with a good idea and some borrowed office space) but, with support and strategic guidance, grows into a powerhouse. 

Somewhere along that business plan, you move from Excel spreadsheets to a CRM. 

But when? 

Here are six questions we ask nonprofits that help them decide: 

1. Where are your records kept now?

The answer to this question (“an Excel spreadsheet on my computer” or “a program I built myself”) actually matters less than this one: in how many places is the donor data you collect? 

When you use Excel for donor listings and contact information, Mailchimp for emails, and Eventbrite to manage events, there’s a gaping hole: siloed data isn’t talking to each other. You're missing significant insights that could increase your fundraising and donor engagement. 

If you are not leveraging all the data you have, you are ready for a robust CRM. 

We tell this story often because it’s a powerful one. Years ago, a client got a significant gift from a donor. The Major Gifts Folks were jumping up and down, elated, falling all over each other to draft a note of thanks.  

The Lapsed Donor People had this donor’s name on a list of people who hadn’t given recently. They didn’t know about the huge gift and sent that donor a rather direct email asking why he wasn’t supporting the nonprofit. 

Mic drop. 

Your systems need to talk. You need to know that a supporter donated $25, volunteered at your event, and subscribed to your newsletter. This supporter is a pot of gold for your nonprofit, and if you can’t put one and one and one together, you’ll miss it. 



2. How are you tracking grants and major donors?

If grants are the lifeblood of your nonprofit, you know it’s practically a full-time job managing and tracking them. There are the applications and the due dates, the follow-up requirements and the decision, and then more paperwork. 

That’s approximately a zillion hours of manpower. Per grant. And you probably don’t only apply for one. 

Right there, a light bulb should go off. Streamline all that data! Software—a nonprofit CRM—can do that heavy lifting. Software can offer “opportunities” or moves management functionality that follows major donors and supports grant tracking. You can track past and future events and keep notes on all outreach efforts. 

Another way technology can help is by looking at activity history, which will show past meetings and follow-ups scheduled in the future. When you can quickly see where a grant proposal is in the pipeline and have your next steps planned out, you’re in a much stronger (and likely calmer) position. 

3. What’s your fundraising revenue?

If you are a start-up nonprofit, a computer spreadsheet might be all you need. We’d never recommend our technology to an elementary school PTA! 

Small and startup nonprofits often don’t have the need (or the money) for advanced technology. It would be like swatting a fly with a hammer. 

Many of the larger nonprofit software companies will say that once your fundraising hits between $100,000 and $250,000 a year, you need technology to manage donor data and fundraising information.  

This is the threshold at which you likely have several campaigns running simultaneously and need to automate direct mail and email. 

So what if you’re smaller and trying to get to fundraising in the millions of dollars? Most of us offer tons of information at no cost. Sign up for blog posts or newsletters (here’s where you sign up for ours), and you’ll be amazed at the free advice. Our business, as an industry, is helping nonprofits grow. You can craft a plan easily if you’re plugged into the right content. 

4. Are you taking advantage of free money?

You and I both know how much good nonprofits do, and we aren’t the only ones. A robust CRM will help you track common sources of free money. 

For example, we partner with Double the Donation, which helps nonprofits maximize corporate gift matching. When you put their button on your site, donors are prompted to see if their employer will match the gift they are making. It even serves them the forms they need to submit! 

And it doesn’t end there. Corporations can sponsor events and offer a financial commitment in return for promotion on a t-shirt or signage. A good CRM can automate outreach to businesses, partners, and sponsors. 

5. Are you using multiple tools for your fundraising?

When you’re starting out, it’s easy to find a system that can manage your events, one that can keep track of donations, one that automates your email marketing, and one that helps your peer-to-peer campaign. 

As your nonprofit grows, it’s also easy to feel like an octopus with different tentacles going off in all directions. 

And the more tools you add to fill all your needs, the more complicated it gets. Some tools overlap while others leave a gap you need yet another platform to fill. 

When the sheer number of tools you’re trying to keep straight gets to be too much, it’s time for you to look at a nonprofit CRM. 

6. How much time do you (and your staff) spend on routine tasks?

At this point in the conversation, many nonprofits are stumped. It’s easy to calculate hard costs—rent, the electric bill, office supplies—but if you must add up the hours you pay someone to import and export data, doublecheck the accuracy of reports, or manually enter donations, you might see you are losing money at a fast clip. 

Does your staff spend hours sending out year-end tax receipts? Technology allows constituents to print their own giving history from a donor portal, which takes that time-consuming task off your list. And it's greener!

If your systems go on the fritz and you’re manually entering donations for a short period of time, it’s okay. But when that’s just how you’re doing business, it's not cost-effective or sustainable. 

Smaller nonprofits, while being scrappy out of necessity, can put systems in place to support growth. Our advice is to make strategic decisions based on what will be the most effective solution when your fundraising doubles...or triples.  

It’s very difficult to implement systems to manage donors and run fundraising campaigns retroactively. Move at the rate your budget and resources allow, but ensure that whatever you implement is sustainable for the long term. 

So, What’s a New Nonprofit to Do? 

If you read these six questions and decided you’re in the market for a robust and/or all-in-one CRM, you can contact us for a demo or check out any of these top CRM providers. 

If these questions have reassured you that you are early enough in your long-range plans to keep using the systems you’re using, then we urge you to find free resources to learn ways to grow your nonprofit. Our newsletter offers articles and comprehensive guides on everything from an essential guide to nonprofit fundraising to ideas for email campaigns to common mistakes nonprofits make and how to avoid them.  

If you can answer all these questions but you're still wondering what everyone else does, research has shown that about 23% of companies start using a CRM three to five years after being founded. 

We’ve helped large clients, like Wounded Warrior Project, and small clients, like Merlin’s Magic Wand. When you’re ready to investigate an all-in-one CRM or get strategic guidance on growing your nonprofit, we’re always just a mouse click away.