A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is the database where you’ll store all the info about your supporters. If your eyes are glazing over already then that’s understandable – for most of us they’re a pain to set up and they’re pretty boring! Having said that, I can tell you from experience that having a good CRM system is the single most important tool for your communications and your fundraising. Sure – a nice website and some eloquent words are vital, but when you begin to scale your operation upwards, the three magic words are data, data, data.
Your website and its donations are in one silo. Your email newsletter database is in another. So are your JustGiving reports. And that spreadsheet where you record all those cheques that came in the mail or from your offline fundraising. You want to claim Gift Aid, to send different emails to your regular donors, high-value donors, and people who donated last year but not this year? Then you need a CRM system. And no – a series of Excel spreadsheets won’t cut it. Neither will that Post-It note stuck to your monitor.
Get one with some Growing Room
It can be a huge pain to migrate all your data from one CRM system to another, so my advice would be to choose one now that will still serve your needs in 5 years’ time. Hopefully your income and your supporter base will grow a fair bit in that time (and a good CRM system will certainly help with that) so you need to choose something now that has the ability to cope with thousands of donors/volunteers/campaigners. That’s why you’re better off biting the bullet and sorting out your CRM now rather than start out with the Excel spreadsheets and worry about it all at a later date. It will seem like overkill when you’re only getting a few donations a week and your email distribution list is very small, but it’s more than worth it in the long run.
Choosing a charity CRM system
The Raiser’s Edge by Blackbaud is one of the most popular fundraising CRM systems, or at least it certainly has been for the last decade or so. It’s setup specifically for charities so it works pretty much out of the box, but you still have to pay for the license, installation and training. Even for a small charity this will likely cost over £10,000 to get started, and then annual fees on top of that. Unless you’ve got a load of money lying around, my advice for a small charity would be to steer clear of Raiser’s Edge. For most of you it won’t even be an option because of the price. It’s also declining in popularity these days as the ‘cloud-based’ systems look set to take over.
Salesforce is the most well-known cloud-based CRM package. It’s used by massive blue chip companies throughout the world but it also grants free licences to small non-profits through its Salesforce Foundation. Provided you need fewer than 11 licenses (i.e. individual login accounts) then it’s worth a look. A cloud-based system is one that’s hosted entirely online and by a third party rather than installed on your computer or on a web server that you need to maintain. That means you can access it from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, although you will probably find it slow and frustrating to use if you don’t have a decent broadband connection.
Because it’s so big and powerful, it can seem quite daunting at first and it’s not originally setup to handle things like donations, Gift Aid details, Direct Debit payments etc. Even though the 10 licenses and software are free, you’ll probably need some help in customising your installation just the way you need it. There are CRM packages like Supporter360 that are ‘Salesforce for charities’ type setups – they’re worth investigating, though the cost of those can add up. There are lots of ‘apps’ that you can get for Salesforce (there’s a store a bit like the Apple app store) that help you plug it in to WordPress websites, MailChimp e-newsletter systems, Quickbooks and so on. In terms of picking a system that can meet your needs for the next 10 years of (hopefully) massive growth – I’d say Salesforce is the safest bet. Expect a customised setup to cost you £10,000 or more still though.
Finally, there’s the free, open-source option. In the same way that Drupal and WordPress are open-source website CMS systems, CiviCRM is a free CRM one. It is developed by many of the same people that work on Drupal so it integrates very well with that, but you can also integrate it with your WordPress or Joomla installation as well now. It’s not the best-looking piece of software and it can be a bit frustrating to use as there always seems to be a few ‘gremlins’ in it that stop it working as intuitively as it should. Having said that, it’s a powerful piece of kit and it has a community of people on hand to offer advice and support. It has separate modules like CiviContribute and CiviMail which are designed to handle donations and email newsletters, and it’s purpose built for non-profit organisations.