Introduction to the Modern Nonprofit CRM


What is a Nonprofit CRM and Why Should You Care?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Nonprofits use CRM software to capture, track, and manage key information about their givers. We like to think of nonprofit CRMs in terms of “giver” relationship management instead of “customer” relationship management.

These days, your supporters are more skeptical than ever of traditional, impersonal institutions. They want to support organizations they have a personal connection to, organizations that won’t just treat them like ATM machines.

Nonprofit CRM software can help you build truly sustainable, authentic relationships with givers. You want this. Your givers want this. Win-win.

Why We Give

Think about the last five times you gave to a charity. Seriously, take a minute to make a mental list.

In all likelihood, in each of those cases, you can point to some personal connection to the cause. You gave to a fundraiser at your son’s school. You gave to the church you attend. You gave to the local homeless shelter. You gave to the international charity because you have a friend who volunteers there.

And most likely, your decision to give to these causes was about more than just money. Perhaps you sought out ways to volunteer. Maybe you shared a link to the cause on Facebook, hoping to get your friends and family hooked as well.

As humans, we want to be part of a movement bigger than ourselves. This is true for all of us, but it’s especially the case among Millennials – those born between 1980 and the mid-2000s – who happen to represent the largest generation in the United States today.

Studies show that many Millennials derive their core identity and purpose from the causes they embrace. These demographic shifts make it more imperative than ever for nonprofits to build personal relationships with their givers. After all, if the values and giving habits of Millennials are any indication, the future of charitable giving is unabashedly personal and relational.

The old ways of doing things don’t work anymore. Charitable giving hasn’t increased as a percentage of the GDP for four decades. Each year, more and more marketing messages compete for our mindshare and generosity is stifled.

You and everyone else in your position get this existentially: it’s harder than ever to connect givers to your cause. You need to better understand your constituents and their passions in order to inspire generosity. And that’s not easy to do.

That’s why this ebook is for you. In the pages that follow, we’ll help you understand how to better connect with your supporters, assuming a posture we like to call “relational generosity.”

Relational Generosity

“Practically all the existing books (and software) are strictly transactional in their orientation… The goal: to close the deal… and get a check from the donor.

True generosity is rooted in relatedness… So resources will tend to flow naturally toward you when you focus on the most important aspect of the fund-raising process: creating human connections.”

-The Generosity Network (italics added)

Charitable giving is fundamentally emotional and relational. Your constituents give based on their passions – and they give where their friends and family are giving. Nonetheless, many givers are made to feel like nameless, faceless transactions when they hear from their favorite charities.

What a missed opportunity. Of course, this happens so often precisely because it’s so difficult for charities to build truly personal relationships with givers at scale. And one of the key barriers to authentic relationships is the archaic, inflexible nature of most CRM software solutions.

In their book The Generosity Network, philanthropist Jeff Walker and fundraising expert Jennifer McCrea show that the prevailing school of thought in the field of fundraising is “strictly transactional.” Too many charities, Walker and McCrea write, focus on “closing deals” rather than pursuing what really matters, the slow but far more meaningful work of “creating human connections.”

Why It Matters Relational Intelligence Matters

At this point, you may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Human connections, giver relationships, social networks, blah, blah, blah – this is all well and good. But I need to raise money, and I need to raise it now!

Indeed you do. And that’s exactly why this matters now more than ever. Take, for example, our imaginary friend Tom and his imaginary favorite charity.

Tom is 65. Like many people his age, he accumulated most of his wealth in his forties. His wife, Cindy, is a cancer survivor. Somewhere along the way, Tom got connected to a charity that provides counseling services to the families of cancer survivors. Right away it became his favorite charity.

Tom’s retired and doesn’t receive a weekly paycheck anymore. Instead, he earns yearly investment dividends. So it makes sense that when it comes to charitable contributions, Tom prefers to give year-end gifts based on how his personal investment portfolio performed. At this stage of his life, he loves being generous.

But here’s the crazy thing: despite the fact that Tom has millions of dollars in net worth, he will likely continue to receive mass-produced pieces of mail asking for a measly $30 a month!

Let’s pause for a moment to consider what a missed opportunity this is. Can you imagine the impact if Tom’s favorite charity were to cultivate a real relationship with him, helping him discover how to best connect his long-term wealth strategy to his passion to help other families of cancer survivors? Even more, what if Tom had the tools he needed to share the vision for this cause with his friends?

We’ll never know, because Tom’s favorite charity doesn’t know who he is. He’s just another nameless, faceless donor.

How Can a Nonprofit CRM Solve this Problem?

The number one rule for major gift officers is “know your donor.”

Of course, the best donor development professionals already get this. They take time to learn about the personal passions of their givers, in order to best connect them to the aspects of the cause that match their passions.

Major gift officers recognize that cultivating givers requires understanding a person’s passions, even being willing to refer the giver to another organization if that’s what’s in her best interests.

After all, generosity is about caring for givers and building trust over the long-term – not just closing a deal as if it were a sell.

Remember that the ideal giver contributes more than just money. She is a partner in the mission, willing to leverage time, talent, and money – as well as relational networks and social capital – for the good of the cause.

Again, most charities cultivate relationships with major donors with these principles in mind. But imagine being able to treat MORE of your givers as if they were major donors. You want to treat them that way. They deserve to be treated that way.

BUT, Maintaining these types of personal relationships at scale is difficult to do for a number of reasons.

  1. First, most executive directors or major gift officers can only maintain personal relationships with 80 to 100 people. With this model, the only way to grow is to hire more people to manage more people.
  2. Additionally, mid-level donors often have high relational capacity that goes untapped, as it takes too much time to identify and cultivate them.
  3. Finally, many supporters – with various giving capacities – never get personalized communication or treatment at all, simply because data is unavailable or unreliable.

Here’s where a whole new kind of CRM comes in

  • What if executive directors and major gift officers could maintain more relationships at a high level while developing deeper relationships with those they are already connected to?
  • What if personalized communication were possible with everyone in your network based on their interests and preferences, regardless of how much they give?
  • What if you could mobilize an army of advocates over time who are energized, equipped, and ready to fight for your cause – effectively turning your fans into fundraisers?

That’s the world of fundraising we imagine. And that’s why we created Virtuous CRM.

Ready to see the top 7 features of a CRM built for relational generosity?

1. Built for Generosity

People contribute to your organization in many ways. They give their time, money, talent and social capital to further your cause. So your CRM should enable you to encourage and track the many ways people give – from volunteering, advocacy, and hosting events to planned giving, gifts in kind, corporate giving, and fundraising for you.

A system that’s built from the ground up to maximize generosity by focusing on the WHOLE giver can provide you with the information you need to maximize the full potential of your donor base. A giver-centric system can also provide a more tailored experience, with more care and attention to a giver’s unique needs.

The best nonprofit CRMs not only help you keep up with your data needs, but they also expose best practices for the latest and best ways to raise the funds and inspire action.

You don’t want a sales CRM that needs to be specially customized for fundraising. What you want is a generosity CRM that is tailored to do what you – and your givers – need.

2. Big Data to Drive Personalized Generosity

Have you ever received one of those vague “dear friend” charity letters? Let’s face it: despite their friendly tone, they’re generic and canned. But fundraising is inherently relational, and a key aspect of building relationships is knowing who people are and what they value. At the very least, you refer to them by name. More than capturing the basic level of information used for vague letters, a good nonprofit CRM should be able to provide you with key insights you can actually use in order to tailor your messaging.

Those insights should include:

  • The financial and relational value of givers
  • The optimal messages and timing of those messages for specific givers
  • The best people to contact today to save time and focus your energy
  • How supporters are related and connected to one another – beyond family lines and households – to better connect with them and them to one another
  • Predictions and forecasts on donations and engagement to help you build plans and strategies on real data from real people
  • The giving capacity and community influence of a giver

By using a wide variety of data points and signals – combining what you enter with what the CRM itself captures – information can be turned into insights, and these insights can then be converted into actions that effectively drive your cause forward.

3. Social Media and Social Connections

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms are ubiquitous today. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine promoting your charity without them, isn’t it? But keep in mind that social media didn’t exist when many of the current CRMs were created. At best, they have some updates, patches, and plugins. A modern CRM, on the other hand, is fully integrated with social. After all, that’s where people are and it’s how they choose to connect.

Without spending hours manually culling your social media connections for insights, it is easier than ever to gather social data, enabling you to determine a number of helpful insights about your givers including:

  • Occupation and co-workers
  • Interests and passions
  • Friends and social connections
  • Other organizations and networks relevant to your cause
  • How supporters are related and connected to one another

The best tools don’t only depend on data within their respective systems – they look at the entire universe of available data to create insights and cultivate networks of givers. Dynamically leveraging social media and other online sources can help charities create personal connections at scale like never before.

Want to see how Virtuous nonprofit CRM can help you capitalize on your givers’ social connection?

4. Integration with Best-in-Breed Tools

When you sit down to eat, you know that spoons and napkins come in very handy. And afterwards, you’re grateful for a good toothbrush. But say you see an ad for a Spookinbrush, a “revolutionary” all-in-one product that blends the spoon, napkin, and toothbrush into a single, nifty device. You probably wouldn’t fall for it. But why not? Wouldn’t it make your eating life easier to have all you need in one product?

You may see where we’re going with this. The imaginary Spookinbrush is to eating what a single software solution is to your charity’s giver management. Managing giver contact information, sending marketing emails, managing website content, and accounting services are all very different things, and they require distinct tools. Fortunately, a range of helpful and affordable solutions for these needs exist.

The modern CRM software, for its part, is designed for a specific purpose – to track, manage, and connect vital pieces of giver information.

Specifically, a modern CRM should provide open APIs and integration tools to:

  • Give you financial and relational data for online givers, integrating with whatever tool you use to process donations
  • Track touch points – both online and offline – integrating with whatever tools you use
  • Understand how people are visiting your website and their content preferences, regardless of your content management system
  • Easily issue tax receipts and track all revenues, and then integrate with any accounting software you like

And while we’re at it, we’d add that these capabilities should be accompanied by a clean, user-friendly interface whether you’re using a phone, tablet, or computer.

5. Mobile Optimized for Face-to-Face Relationships

There’s a good chance you are reading this on something other than your computer. With smartphones now passing traditional computers as the most popular devices in the world and with more people opening emails on mobile devices than on any other device, the times they are a-changin’.

Your CRM should be changing with them. The mobile revolution has created incredible opportunities for nonprofits to raise funds as well as awareness. Mobile devices follow us into the most intimate moments and conversations of our lives – including the moments when we take actions to support charities by giving or advocating.

A good CRM recognizes this and should:

  • Put mobile apps in the hands of nonprofit staff to help them manage relationships on-the-go
  • Have mobile features specifically designed to drive action and enhance conversations with your constituents
  • Use push notifications and other built-in features on the phone to help users manage tasks, view reports, and access key insights wherever they are
  • Leverage geo-location to identify how givers are connected geographically – then push this to your team based on where you are

Phones are essential to our lives, our jobs, and our relationships. A modern CRM should be designed with these realities in mind.

6. Focusing on Social Capital

One of the most cost-effective ways to scale your impact, build your funding base, and grow your organization is to turn existing fans and supporters into advocates, champions, and fundraisers. It starts with identifying those with social influence, gauging who has how much, and determining who is willing to use it to support your cause.

Your CRM should not only understand and track this “new” form of giving, but also provide tools and insights to help you. This is done by knowing your supporters’ personal passions and networks, then creating opportunities for them to tap into those passions and networks for you!

This not only provides meaningful engagement, but new sources of givers and funds as well. You can then spend more of your time building relationships instead of just closing that deal or getting that check

7. Reducing and Eliminating Administrative Headaches

Your time is a tremendous asset and a scarce resource. There’s only so much of you to go around. Which is why you need to constantly be on the lookout for new ways to streamline your administrative processes, freeing you up to do what you do best. Every minute you spend importing, managing, and scrubbing data is time you’re unable to give to more important tasks – those crucial things no one else can do but you.

A good CRM should be able to help you save time by:

  • Quickly importing gifts and data from multiple sources without creating duplicates or incomplete lists
  • Tying ROI to project impact, easily showing you results and successes in real-time
  • Easily creating elegant reports designed for fundraisers, executive directors, and nonprofits
  • Providing fundraising and nonprofit best practices and tips within the tool itself, keeping you on task
  • Making search and data segmentation easy and intuitive for all staff – not just for IT nerds

Here’s the bottom line: a good nonprofit CRM should set you free, not bog you down.

Parting Shots

Fundraising is a heavy responsibility. A good, modern CRM should make your load a little lighter. And by focusing more of your time and energy on generosity, you can build real connections with more people who can help fund and fuel your mission.

As your organization scales and evolves, having a solid CRM in place that can evolve and scale with you is irreplaceable. It will help you keep existing relationships strong, while uncovering further opportunities for engagement and growth.

And this CRM should take advantage of the best of mobile technology, social networks, and data sources to provide you and your organization with the information and insights you need, wherever you are, whatever you do.

Nonprofit CRM software that incorporates the critical features we’ve outlined can help you build truly sustainable, holistic relationships with givers. You want this. Your givers want this. Let Virtuous help you make this dream a reality.

Are you ready to see how Virtuous CRM can help you save time, raise more money & do more good?

“Virtuous is powerful yet simple, smart yet not intrusive. It is designed as a capable partner for today’s high touch fundraiser who works to build relationships across multiple channels and understands that networks are as important as gifts.” Otto Monroy Director of Advancement, Logos Academy

Ready to see how Virtuous can help you save time,
raise more money & do more good?

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