9 Factors To Consider For Your Next Nonprofit Database or CRM

If you’ve been tasked with shopping for your org’s next CRM/donor/volunteer database, start here. There are a few things you’ll want to get clear on first.

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 huge step.

But it can be daunting. Pouring over every spec, going back & forth with your consulting partner, sitting through a zillion demos…it’s a lot to wade through. 🤷🏻

That’s why you’ll want to get clear on requirements before you start requesting quotes. Consider these 9 factors, so that your org isn’t left with buyer’s regret.

p.s. Not sure what kind of platform your org needs? Then you may want to start here first -> 8 Kinds of Nonprofit Constituent Platforms

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

Cost is an obvious concern. But it’s not just those contract fees you should worry about! You also need to budget for one-time implementation costs (like consultant, migration & configuration fees).

Tip: You get what you pay for. Don’t settle on a platform just because it’s free.

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.

Build a list of features that must be in the new system. That way, you don’t compromise on what matters (or get blinded by the stuff that doesn’t).

3. Add-Ons & Integrations

Does your org already use certain systems – like for donation processing or email marketing?

Then decide which of those systems must “talk” to the new CRM. Many platforms offer connectivity with other third-party systems. It’s just a matter of figuring out which options are available to you.

4. Storage

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

Then, clarify the storage costs & limits with each vendor. Also ask about overages and upgrade options, should you need to purchase additional space down the road.

5. Complexity

Gang. This is a biggie. Yet, it can get 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.

6. Support & Training

At some point, your system will break. (Yes, even a giant like 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 can expect once you sign on the dotted line. Will you be assigned your own Account rep? How do you connect with Tech Support, and what does the response time look like?

7. Releases & Updates

You won’t know all the nuances of a platform until you start to use it. However, pay attention to how, and how frequently, a vendor rolls out system updates.

It’s just like installing an app to your IPhone, or looking up an employer on Glassdoor. The more recent activity we see, the more confident we feel about the decision. If a platform hasn’t been updated in years, 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 long-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. 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.

9. Reputation.

Don’t forget – you’re not alone! Your nonprofit is most likely not the first to consider this vendor. Try to get feedback from current nonprofit customers, so they can give you the scoop on what you might love (and hate!) about this system.

p.s. If you have a hard time finding those nonprofits (Salesforce makes this really easy with their community groups), ask your sales rep. They might be able to provide you with a customer testimonial.

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.

Share your thoughts!