A charity guide to choosing a CRM system – Charity Digital News

We explore the basics of constituent relationship management systems, discuss why they are important for charities, and give five tips to help you pick the right one
A constituent relationship management (CRM) system is a central database that records, manages, and analyses the complex web of relationships between donors, supporters, funders, prospects, and other connections.
CRMs give charities a 360-degree view of interactions, helping them navigate the complexities of fundraising, donor engagement, event and campaign management, and more.
By ensuring all interactions are monitored in one place, charities can keep track of processes, automate tasks, generate insights from data analytics, streamline volunteer management and marketing, segment donors and users, and personalise and optimise communications.
CRMs are a truly useful and versatile tool that help charities in so many areas of day-to-day operations. Simply put, CRMs are not just desirable – they are essential.
But CRMs have a reputation for complexity and deciding on the right system for your organisation can be difficult. In this article, we will run through five simple steps that will ensure charities choose the right CRM to meet their needs.
The first step for charities is to take stock of resources. That means considering what tools and skills you currently have at your disposal and considering how you can use such resources to your benefit. Start by examining simple and quantifiable elements.
Calculate time and budget capabilities, looking at the spare minutes and hours of individuals and teams. Perform a digital skills audit to find skills gaps within teams and to scope unnoticed abilities.
Charities can also complete a software and hardware audit to gauge equipment capacity. Consider a systems audit, too, which will help you to better understand the elements missing in your organisation – and might surprise you with hidden capabilities.
Charities can explore more qualitative elements of their teams. Look at attitudes towards change, the culture of the company in terms of digital transformation, and note how employees and stakeholders might react to the new system. Try to uncover any potential problems, so you can factor those problems into your decision at a later date.
To take a particularly thorough approach, charities can consider stakeholder mapping. Stakeholder mapping is a visual representation of all stakeholders attached to a particular project. It demonstrates in one image all the people who can influence the project, the various ways in which they are connected, and who has general accountability for different elements of the project. Stakeholder mapping helps to create one visual map that supports teamwork.
So charities can note down all the people who might benefit or contribute to the management of the CRM. Map out anyone and everyone involved, including trustees, staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, donors, funders, partners, and so on. This will help you later down the line.
The next step is to clearly define goals. Once charities have decided where they stand, they need to decide where they would like to go. And, importantly, they need to decide on how the CRM system will help them get there.
Clear goal setting will help you find the right choice of vendor. It will also help in instances where workers and managers have to convince board members and other stakeholders to invest in a CRM system. Commonly agreed-upon goals also support shared understanding across organisations and give teams a sense of collective achievement.
To start, charities can choose a broad goal that reflects what they want the CRM system to help them achieve. It is not important at the early stage to delve into specifics. A quick brainstorming session is likely enough to get started.
One easy and effective way to uncover goals is to ask a series of questions, such as:
Broad questions will likely lead to broad conclusions. Perhaps charities will notice potential blind spots or problem points, or perhaps they will stumble upon some unexpected inspiration.
Either way, charities must take those broad conclusions and start to establish goals in more concrete terms, which means narrowing down and exploring precisely how the CRM system can support the achievement of that goal.
You can use the SMART principles to adapt broad ideas about how to use the CRM into more tangible objectives. Here is an overview of SMART principles:
The SMART approach ensures that charities work towards robust goals that will help their teams and their users.
It is worth noting that organisations may not meet every element of the goal, but starting with clear, defined, measured, and achievable goals will help you to choose the right CRM system for your needs.
By this stage, you have taken stock of resources and created goals. Now you need to decide on the right team to lead CRM implementation and delivery. The team that leads should have relevant knowledge, the requisite skills, and should be involved from the earliest stages.
The team should also be prepared to represent the strategic priorities of the charity, understand and aim to meet the goals specified above, and be prepared to report on shortcomings and suggest improvements at every stage of the process.
The people and the team responsible for implementing and running the CRM system should establish a plausible timeline. The timelines should include goals and also note any important milestones in terms of implementation and delivery. And, importantly, the timeline should be kept up-to-date and shared across the harities and to any relevant stakeholder.
Bringing a new CRM system into any organisation is a big change, which is why open and honest communication is crucial. Strong communication with users – staff, volunteers, partners, donors, and so on – is especially important, as their knowledge and enthusiasm for the project will ultimately define the overall success of the project. It is particularly important to ensure that all users understand the expectations required of them.
Charities should aim to involve as many end users as possible at early stages and make sure all concerns are heard, acknowledged, and addressed. It is also important to communicate regular updates and make sure training is a priority for anyone without technical knowledge.
A successful CRM project will be inclusive, always respecting the needs of all users, not simply the tech-savvy.
If charities have followed the previous steps, they should have a basic understanding of resources and goals. The CRM system should bridge that gap, ensuring that the organisation uses the capabilities to achieve the defined goal.
Charities need to be particularly thorough at this stage. They need to have a very direct and precise understanding of the requirements of their CRM. One way to understand the requirements is through the creation of user stories.
User stories capture the general needs of stakeholders. Consider the following example of a user story: ‘As a fundraiser, I need to be able to see how frequently supporters donate so that I can organise appropriate email campaigns.’
The sentence provides a clean and simple user story that describes needs based on the type of user, the features or functionality required, and the reasons for that requirement. Through such a simple method, charities can start to identify functional requirements.
The above allows users to define personal goals alongside organisational goals, note any pain points or administrative frustrations, and suggest why certain functionalities of the CRM could help to overcome them.
Charities can collect all that information from across their organisation and create a user requirement document, which will give a conclusive sense of the functions need in the new CRM system.
The user requirement documents can note each user’s functional requirements, the justification for that requirement, whether the requirement is essential or simply desirable, and much more. Such a document does not require any excessive skills. Charities can create a user requirement document of Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
Charities can share the user requirement document across the organisation, which will provide additional transparency, ensure all stakeholders feel involved, and allow for alterations. You can use the user requirement document as a single source of truth, which will help charities determine the best possible CRM system for their needs.
Charities have taken stock of resources, identified goals using the SMART approach, decided on team and stakeholder responsibilities, and researched requirements.
At that stage, armed with a user requirement document, charities should start to research vendors and explore potential systems. The first and most important task is marrying the information amassed with current options on the market.
Charities should remember that a CRM system is a partnership between two organisations. They need to be confident that the chosen vendor has a good understanding of the organisation’s objectives and daily operations, which should be confirmed through regular communications and strong documentation.
When looking for a specific CRM, start by simply comparing user requirements with the options on the market. Charities should look at essential demands, potential time and budget, and start to minimise options. Many vendors and systems will be incompatible with organisations and other may not provide an effective return on investment.
Charities should whittle down options and then get the CRM vendors to work for them. Send the vendor the complete user requirement documents, along with any other relevant documentation, and ask them to tell you what they can and can’t do.
Ask for specifics and practice caution should any vendor refuse to provide ample information – the immediate lack of communication and co-operation is likely a red flag.
Charities should pick apart the cost specified by each vendor. Try to decipher the real cost, not simply the cost advertised, keeping a curious eye out for any hidden costs. Consider the cost of set up, customisation, optimisation, training, ongoing support from the vendor, and any potentially hidden variables. And, importantly, talk to others across the UK charity sector about their experience with different vendors.
Here is a broad overview to help you start, tailored to specifics:
The above should give you a broad sense of some options, but ultimately charities need to do the research and look at all options available on the market.
Once charities have performed the above steps, they are ready to start implementing the CRM system. Ensure you are thoroughly prepared for implementation, provide all stakeholders with the appropriate training, and then you can start using the service.


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