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What’s the Best Way to Implement a CRM for Nonprofits?

By February 6, 2020

By: Katharine Bierce and Chris Thomas

What’s the best way to implement a CRM for nonprofits? Well, it depends on what you use it for!

Are you looking to use a CRM for fundraising? CRM for marketing/communications? CRM for program management?

Here are a few things to think about.

Nonprofit CRM for Fundraising Considerations

For fundraising, the best CRM for nonprofits should be able to:

Before you implement a CRM, it’s helpful to think about:

  • What information do you want to capture about donors?
  • Who are the types of stakeholders you interact with?
  • What do you consider to be a “fundraising opportunity” – a one time gift, a recurring monthly gift, or more?
  • How do you handle renewing donations? What are all the steps involved in stewarding major donors?
  • What is your business process on stages of donors? Do they go from volunteer to first time donor to repeat donor to monthly donor to major gift donor? How do you think about stewarding your donors?
  • Who should have the ability to view donor data?

How strong is the community at the technology vendor you’re choosing? has multiple annual “community sprints” where nonprofits and community members work alongside team members to create innovations. Photo shows: Community members Samantha Shain, Corey Snow, Vered Meir, and Jace Bryan ( at the Open Source Community Sprint in Detroit, Michigan.

Nonprofit CRM for Marketing Considerations

As marketing expert Seth Godin has evangelized, effective marketing is about building and nurturing your “tribe.” People who care about what you’re doing. Telling authentic stories that inspire connection (and let’s be real… cash and credit card connections, too!).

The best CRM for nonprofits for marketing should:

When you’re planning to implement a nonprofit CRM for marketing, get out your whiteboard or pen and paper and talk to your colleagues about a few framing questions:

  • What pain points prevent you from growing?
  • What processes do you want to improve?
  • How do you create/run your marketing campaigns?
  • How do you want to show your impact? What about on an ongoing basis (vs. annual appeals)?
  • How do you partner with other organizations? Can you co-market your story with a similar for-profit organization, for example?
  • Are you mainly doing email marketing and a few Facebook/Google ads or are you looking for something comprehensive that integrates with social media analytics, display advertising, and detailed marketing journeys?
  • Can you find people who know how to use the tool?
    (After all, you really shouldn’t have to set up your own email server yourself. I know because I had to work on this when I was at a social enterprise several years ago trying to keep costs low, be scrappy, and grow fast.)

Nonprofit CRM in the field

Nonprofit CRM for Program Management Considerations

If you’re a nonprofit program manager, you know that your programs are why you wake up in the morning. What inspires you to do what you do. To be of service.

So, here are a few highlights to consider for implementing the best CRM for nonprofit program management:

  • Big picture: How do your constituents experience your programs and services now? How would you like this to change? Stanford Social Innovation Review has a whole series on feedback here. This Trailhead module has useful tips on preparing for CRM implementation as well.
  • What do you have to report on for funders? (This can become a custom field in your CRM if it’s unique to your nonprofit, whether you’re saving animals, planting trees, or fighting injustice.) That is: Define the WHY.
  • Is it flexible to integrate your CRM with your other program management systems?
  • Can you securely track your constituents/clients/program beneficiaries? Would you trust your constituents’ information in the system? Does the CRM have a reputation for being a trusted platform?
  • How important is it to you to use the tool offline? Or is there a way to enter data offline and have it sync later when you’re in an area with Internet access? This is particularly important when you’re working in rural or remote areas. One example of how this works with Salesforce is TaroWorks, an app that provides offline nonprofit CRM access, among other functionality. This can be handy if you’re a nonprofit serving a village in Nepal affected by an earthquake.
  • How is your nonprofit data security? This is especially relevant if you’re providing healthcare services (re: HIPAA), working with constituents such as donors in Europe (GDPR), and being responsible with information about your work.

One common misconception that a lot of nonprofits have about CRM implementations it that you have to change your nonprofit processes to fit the technology. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ideally, your nonprofit CRM should be flexible enough to follow YOUR processes.

So… my #1 piece of advice on how to implement a nonprofit CRM is… write down what your processes are! This makes it a LOT easier to set it up with technology later, once you have it outlined.

As you can see, using a bajillion individual solutions makes it super hard to get a complete picture of your impact. Your fundraising data should live in the same place as your program data, because then you can tell better stories to funders. Your marketing system should be able to draw on fundraising reports, and make it easy to find stories about your programs to inspire constituents. For quarterly or annual board meetings, do you have to take 2 weeks or 2 hours to prepare the data you need to tell your story? Before you implement your solution, make sure it meets all your needs, including fundraising, marketing, and program management, not just one thing.

For more advice on preparing for a nonprofit CRM implementation, watch these videos:

About the Authors

Katharine Bierce

Katharine Bierce manages the blog and helps create research-based content at She is a lifetime member of Net Impact, a StartingBloc fellow, and has volunteered with TechSoup to produce “tech for good” events and content with the SFTech4Good Meetup (a NetSquared community) from 2014-2018. A self-described “full-stack human,” she is an avid meditator and yogi. When she’s not managing marketing content, you can find her teaching or taking yoga classes around the San Francisco bay area. Her favorite Sustainable Development Goal is #3: Good Health and Well-Being. Follow her on Twitter: @kbierce

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas is interested in how digital enables change in the world. Before joining, he was Chief Innovation Officer at the Sierra Club, ran the Digital Products Program at Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, and has held leadership roles in both tech startups and Fortune 500 companies. Connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter: @cxthom