Nonprofit CRM: The Complete Guide


What Is Donor Management Software (or Nonprofit CRM)?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Nonprofits use CRM software – also known as Donor Management Software – to capture, track, and manage key information about their donors.

Modern cloud software has changed the way nonprofits fundraise. And modern donors expect a personal connection with their favorite charity. A great Nonprofit CRM and nonprofit marketing platform can help your organization drive down back-office costs, increase data visibility and drive huge increases in giving.

For a longform desktop version, download the full CRM checklist PDF.

Why Your Nonprofit CRM Decision Is Critical

Over the last 15 years nonprofits have become increasingly disconnected from the donors they serve. From the donor’s perspective, nonprofits are facing the following problem:

  1. Modern nonprofits are telling their story using traditional marketing practices in a world saturated with data and competing choices
  2. Modern donors are receiving incredibly personalized and relevant communication from Amazon, Facebook, and even their favorite local pizza spot
  3. In order to succeed, nonprofits need to tell their story and build personal relationships with more than just their top 100 donors – nonprofits need to personalize communication with their entire database
  4. A good nonprofit CRM and marketing platform can be the difference between a nonprofit dying or flourishing. But most nonprofits are stuck on legacy platforms that leverage traditional, institutional one-to-many communication strategies

Who Should Choose Your Nonprofit CRM

The most common mistake we see when charities make their CRM purchases is designating WHO is responsible for the decision. For organizations to be successful the person making the Nonprofit CRM choice must fully understand the generosity goals of the organization. We find that the following principles are helpful in understanding who should make your CRM decision:

  • Your fundraising software is NOT a Finance Department decision!
  • Your fundraising software is NOT an IT Department decision!
  • The owner of your Nonprofit CRM decision should be in marketing or advancement with support from your CEO or Chief Strategy Office (if you have one)
  • The staff members who own the fundraising goals should choose the tools to achieve those goals. This is an ROI-based decision!
  • Everyone should have access to CRM data… but the decision SHOULD NOT be everyone’s to make

How You Should Choose Your Nonprofit CRM and Marketing Platform

The second area where we see consistent problems for nonprofits is in the CRM implementation process. In order to be successful, nonprofits need to start with their end goals in mind. Establish your fundraising goals and let your desired outcomes drive your decisions.

The following 4 steps are a helpful framework in successfully choosing and implementing a new platform:


Write down your fundraising and marketing goals (new givers, engagement, constituent advocacy/education, retention, etc). Setting your overarching fundraising objectives creates clear evaluation criteria.


Evaluate CRMs based on their ability to help you accomplish your specific goals. Your decision should be based on ROI created for your organization.


Set a hard "go live" date when you'd like to start raising more money and getting traction toward your goals. Staying focused on that date provides clarity for your team.


Finally, map out key steps/dates needed to starting to see value. Your CRM decision and launch plan should be locked into those dates. Milestones should be based on getting budget and explicit buy-in from the the right stakeholders.

Key Tools and Features

The remainder of this guide outlines common features that you should expect when evaluating a new nonprofit CRM. Not every feature is necessary for EVERY organization – but this list is helpful in establishing a baseline for your donor software decision. We have divided this guide into three sections:

  • Core Donor Management – traditional features for data management
  • Donor Management 2.0 – modern CRM to server modern donors
  • Exponentially Multiply Giving – Beyond CRM

Core Donor Management Features

This list includes the non-negotiables for a nonprofit. At a baseline a nonprofit needs the following features to effectively manage operations and day-to-day fundraising activities.

  • Contact management with multiple individuals in a household/organization
  • Manage contact methods (phone, email, social, seasonal addresses, birthdays, kids, etc)
  • Relate givers to one another and see value of giving “networks”
  • Create custom fields at the household/individual level to custom tailor CRM
  • Tag donors by their passions, persona, group or communication preferences
  • Fund/project-based giving with the ability to split a single gift between multiple projects
  • Manage products, gift attribution, batch data, receipts, “soft credits”, etc
  • Manage pledges and recurring gifts. Report on aging pledges.
  • Track non-cash gifts entry including stock, cars, etc
  • Track planned giving, including wills & bequests
  • Track gift proposals for major donors
  • Manage donor notes along with picture/document attachments
  • Track direct marketing and communication history in an activity log
  • Tie notes to completed tasks and see past actions associated with each giver
  • Create one-time or recurring tasks and assign tasks to any user
  • View duplicate giver accounts and merge into a single record
  • Fast gift and donor batching, import and reconciliation
  • Assign groups and read/write/view permissions to users based on role
  • Easily search data including summarized giving metrics
  • Save searches for custom reporting, share searches, or duplicate popular searches
  • Build marketing segmentations for direct marketing and then attach segmentation data to donors
  • Export query results with a full set of data to CSV
  • Design custom receipts – then generate receipts based on customer searches or segments
  • Canned reports based on nonprofit best practices
  • Reports should include giving by segment/campaign/solicitor/batch/fund – they should also include activity reports, file health reports and other key fundraising metrics
  • Each user should have access to a dashboard with key metrics based on their role
  • Assign donors to a staff member or chapters and restrict visibility based on donors (e.g. major donor reps, federations, etc)
  • Restrict gift visibility based on donations to funds
  • Create and monitor fundraising and marketing campaigns
  • Manage channels (radio, mail, web, email, etc) for each campaign
  • Manage grant proposals year over year
  • Manage projects/funds (e.g. staff members, children, wells, etc)
  • Volunteer features to manage opportunities and volunteer hours

Modern CRM: Donor Management 2.0

In today’s world we believe every nonprofit should have an integrated cloud system. 2.0 features focus on taking your data out of a silo and integrating with other modern fundraising activities.

  • Integrated online giving
  • Open API and web integration
  • Social media integration
  • Full email marketing and segmentation features
  • Integrated with Gmail, Outlook, etc
  • Open and click tracking
  • List/group syncing
  • Mobile apps for fundraisers
  • Push notifications to prompt real-time
BEYOND CRM: Tools to Multiply Giving

Personal Connections with Nonprofit Marketing Automation

Marketing automation allows nonprofits to automate and measure marketing activities and workflows. Key automation actions include emails, calls, thank yous, direct mail etc.

With marketing automation your constituents get the right call or email – at the right time – based on their individual preferences or behavior. A greater level of personal touch translates to dramatically increased giving.

The end result is increased personalization, operational efficiency and revenue growth.

  • Clicks/opens tracked at donor level
  • Behavior driven actions (gifts, form fills, etc)
  • Multi-channel (email, phone, call, etc)
  • Automate data updates
  • Integrated email builder with merge fields
  • Email versioning and testing
  • Donor Journey mapping (Moves Management)
  • Workflow branching
BEYOND CRM: Tools to Multiply Giving

Lead Scoring and Predictive Analytics

Lead scoring allows nonprofits to rank donors and prospects based on their relational or financial value to the organization. The lead score is used to determine how and when to engage with each individual. Cutting edge nonprofits using lead scoring have seen 3-5x increases in campaign results.

  • Giving data
  • Wealth data
  • Relational/family data
  • Social media data
  • Website/email activity

The lead score is used to determine how and when to engage with each individual. The leading edge nonprofits using lead scoring have seen 3-5x increases in campaign results.

BEYOND CRM: Tools to Multiply Giving

Social Scraping and Geo-Location Analytics

Automatically pull in publically available social media data, location data and wealth indicators to a provide holistic picture of your donors and prospects.

  • Grab social profiles based on email address
  • Scrape demographic and employment data
  • Scrape pictures of the donor from public sources
  • Map donors based on address
  • See nearby donors based on distance and giving capacity
  • Find density of donors in an area for event planning
  • Overlay wealth/giving data with location data
Beyond CRM: Tools to Multiply Giving

Impact Tracking and Reporting

Modern donors are distrustful of institutions and want a real connection to your cause. Creating transparency and accountability with projects is the first step to improving engagement. Impact Tracking tools can help you:

  • Set and track impact goals for each project (e.g. school desks purchased, kid scholarships, etc)
  • Collect stories and videos at the project level
  • Track donor communications to the fields (letters, encouragement, etc) and communications from field staff to donors
  • Provide donors with impact updates specific to their gifts
  • Track project expenses, funding goals and ROI
  • Assign project ownership and accountability

Need a desktop checklist to guide your CRM selection process?

“Virtuous is the perfect tool to manage my day. At a glance, I can quickly see how I've connected with our partners in the past, what they're passionate about and start conversations that will have a lasting impact on our communities.” Terrilyn Miller Director, CityServe AZ