9 Factors to Consider When Shopping for a Nonprofit CRM

Okay gang! It’s a new year, and for many of our orgs, it’s shopping time.

Database shopping, that is.

If this is the year your org jumps into the world of CRMs and donor data, then congrats! This is a really huge step, for everyone involved.

That’s not to say it isn’t daunting. Pouring over all the specs, going back and forth with your consulting partner, sitting through a zillion demos…it can be a lot to wade through. 🤷🏻

That’s why it’s important to get clear on your requirements, before you start requesting quotes. Consider these 9 factors to comparison-shop effectively, so that your org isn’t left with buyer’s regret!

What To Consider When Shopping For Your Nonprofit’s CRM

Employed for Good - Nonprofit CRM Shopping
Me shopping for my org’s next donor management platform this year.

1. Budget

You obviously need to afford the new system long-term. But it’s not just those contract fees you should worry about! You also need to budget for implementation costs, those one-time expenditures that can be higher than what we’d expect (like consultant, migration & configuration fees).

*Tip:* Remember, you get what you pay for. Don’t just settle for the free-est platform/consultant that’s out there.

2. Key Features

As your org grows, so will your desired functionality. But you don’t need all the bells and whistles to get started – especially if they’re outside the budget right now!

Come up with a list of key functionality that the new system must have. That way you aren’t compromising on what actually matters (or getting blinded by the stuff that doesn’t).

3. Add-Ons & Integrations

Does your org already use certain systems (like donation processing , e-signup forms, ESP, etc…)? If so, decide which of those systems must “talk” to the new platform.

Many platforms offer API connectivity (fancy lingo for a ‘bridge’) that can move data across systems. But not all are created equal, so you’ll need to find out which of your contenders offer the integrations that you need.

4. Storage

Before signing a contract, estimate your storage needs at least 2 years out. How many contacts/accounts/donations/records are you working with? How do you anticipate that changing as your org grows?

Then, get an understanding (in writing!) of the storage limits for each of your contenders. Have your rep clarify the way overages are handled and your upgrade options, should you need to purchase additional space down the road.

5. Complexity

Gang. This is a biggie, yet it gets easily overlooked when you encounter a stellar sales rep who delivers to you the Ted talk of tech demos.

All that glitters isn’t gold. If a system looks too good to be true, then it probably is – often because it takes more capacity, technical knowledge or $$$ to get up & running than was mentioned in that initial Ted talk!

*Tip:* Simple systems work. Complex systems work too! The point is to know what you’re getting your org into before you find yourself stuck halfway through an implementation.

6. Support & Training

At some point, your system will break. (Yes, even Salesforce). When that happens, you’ll want to make sure you can get to a resolution ASAP.

So find out what kind of support you should expect once you sign on the dotted line. Will you be assigned your own Account rep? What are the channels for connecting with tech Support? What’s the response time, and do they have an online knowledge base or other means for training yourself (or others) on how to use the platform?

7. Releases & Updates

Truthfully, you won’t understand all the nuisances nuances of a platform until you start using it. However, pay attention to how (and how frequently) a system rolls out updates to customers.

It’s similar to how we evaluate apps before installing them on our smartphones, or how we take recent Glassdoor reviews more seriously than older ones. If a platform hasn’t seen an update in years, or doesn’t inform customers about features/bug fixes, then that’s a red flag. You don’t want to invest in a product that doesn’t invest back in itself.

8. Longevity

Be honest: does this system address a gap that you needed fixed yesterday? Or does it need to serve your org’s growth longer-term, even if the experience is klunky to start?

Some systems come ready-to-implement for key functional areas, while others rely more heavily on customization & time. There are pros and drawbacks to both – so you’ll want to understand where your org lands on this spectrum, in order to effectively prioritize the tech you need vs the resources you currently have available.

9. Reputation.

Don’t forget – you’re not alone! If your nonprofit is considering a platform, that means there are other nonprofits who have gone done that route. Seek feedback from orgs who can offer their experienced, unbiased opinion on what you’ll love (and hate!) about the new system.

*Tip:* If you have a hard time finding those nonprofits (Salesforce makes this really easy with their community groups), you’re not out of luck! Ask your sales rep if they can connect you with one of their clients with a similar use-case.

At the end of the day…

Tech shopping is a beast of a task, but you’ll get through. And once you do, you can take on the next step: planning your implementation.

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