9 Essential Nonprofit CRM Features For Your Team

Essential features of nonprofit crm.

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Can your software decisions impact your donor retention? Yes! Especially if you’re choosing a nonprofit CRM.

When you’re choosing software, it can feel like you’re making a cut-and-dried decision that’s mostly a matter of cost-comparison and ease-of-use vs. number-of-features. But nonprofit software is about a lot more than that. 

A nonprofit CRM isn’t just about managing contacts and tracking giving trends. Nor is it all about efficiency, although a good one can save your staff hours of work by automating tasks. Most importantly, a nonprofit CRM is a tool for building lasting personal relationships with every one of your donors.

If your CRM doesn’t have the right features to facilitate relationship-building, you won’t be able to give modern donors the care and personalization they expect. That can directly impact how long they stick around. 

Research has shown us that many of the reasons donors leave nonprofits can be summed up as “poor, impersonal communication.” When donors are given mass messages that don’t speak to their passions, are never shown how their dollars translate into impact or are asked for inappropriate amounts of money, it’s easy for them to slip away. Contrast this with consistently engaging donors in personalized journeys, based on their own signals. It’s a totally different experience, with different results. 

A nonprofit CRM solution makes these donor journeys possible. It can track donor signals, connect with them in meaningful ways and suggest their next best action, automatically. Based on the workflows and donor journeys you create, each donor follows a path to deeper engagement with your nonprofit. If staff had to do each of these actions by hand, this personal experience could only be available to a few donors, but automation enables you to give it to everyone. 

So which features are most essential? What do you need to be a successful responsive nonprofit that earns donor loyalty and trust? 

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9 Essential Nonprofit CRM Features

There are many potential features for your nonprofit CRM, but these are the most essential for relationship-building and donor stewardship.

1. Contact and Gift Management

The first, most essential feature of your CRM is that it helps you manage your relationships with your supporters. This means you need user-friendly contact and gift management features. You should be able to create connections between individuals based on their relationships, customize fields at the household and individual level, and track giving. 

Make sure you’re not trapped with only one way to track giving–can you split a single gift between multiple designations? Track “In Memory” giving? Indicate in-kinds? Include a donor’s planned giving? Make sure your nonprofit CRM makes it easy to keep track of all the different aspects of giving that you’re interested in. 

2. Contextual Information

Donors are so much more than their contact information and giving history. It’s hard to create personalized donor journeys if you don’t know who donors are. Look for a nonprofit CRM that lets you capture the most information possible about your donors, including social scores, wealth data, relationship data, social media channels, birthdays, children, and geographic location.

When everyone at your organization has this kind of data at their fingertips, it’s possible to give your donors a cohesive and personalized experience no matter how they interact with you. Everyone they encounter has the same information, eliminating needless repetition and making sure the donor journey is consistent. 

Remember, your supporters likely regard your organization as a whole, rather than individual teams and departments. If they give a piece of information to one department, they probably assume your whole organization has it. For example, if they told the volunteer coordinator they don’t want to receive postal mailings, but still get fundraising letters, they’re likely to be frustrated: “I told them I don’t want to receive mail!”

When contextual information is simply part of a donor’s profile in your CRM, it’s easier to keep a conversation going across the organization, and utilize all of the interactions they have with your nonprofit. This is crucial as you build a culture of fundraising that involves everyone. 

3. Data Accessibility

It’s likely that many people across your organization need some level of access to your data. A coordinator who wants to email volunteers, the finance manager who needs giving totals for a specific time period, the marketing department who needs to track channel engagement–they need real-time data.

However, most people who need to look at your data don’t need to edit it. To keep your data clean, and avoid mixups and inconsistencies, choose a nonprofit CRM that allows you to set different levels of access. That way, you can give editing abilities to a select few, while giving everyone the access they need. 

4. Tagging and Segmentation

If you can’t segment your donors, you can’t be responsive. Look for a nonprofit CRM solution that offers you the ability to create donor personas, donor segments, and tags. This is how you’ll create groups that you can target with personalized communications. 

There are many ways to segment donors, including, but not limited to, giving levels. You should also be able to sort them into groups based on their passions, relationships, roles at your organization and communication preferences. 

Your organization is unique, and it’s likely that a group of pre-determined tags won’t cover all your needs. Choose a CRM that allows you to customize your tags and create unlimited segments, so you can be as hyper-focused as you need to be. 

5. Searchability

You could have the best, most comprehensive collection of donor data ever, and it would be almost useless if your nonprofit CRM doesn’t have robust search capabilities. Data you can’t find is basically data you don’t have. 

Pulling a record or looking up a piece of data in your nonprofit CRM should be seamless and quick. If it’s not, you run the risk that people won’t do it, or that one person will become the “data person” that everyone else asks to look things up, creating bottlenecks and resentment. 

Before committing to a CRM, do some test searches. How easily can you find information? Is it intuitive? Do you need to learn a complicated process to run a successful query? 

In addition to easy searching, your CRM should make it easy to take the next step after the search, such as search for donors who meet set criteria and then add them to a donor segment or design a custom receipt for those donors. 

6. Helpful Notifications

Software can automate a lot of the little tasks of donor management, but there are limits. Obviously, it can’t pick up the phone and give a donor a warm and friendly call. However, a good nonprofit CRM can remind you to do that.

Look for a nonprofit CRM solution that functions as a personal assistant for tasks it can’t automate. With the right tools, you can be automatically notified of donor milestones, signaled when a donor takes an action that requires a response and reminded of what to do next. 

When you’re choosing a CRM, it’s worth choosing something that can help you with donor management across the board, not just digitally. Can it send emails or push notifications? Can it automatically assign tasks to users, reminding them to do human jobs like phone calls and hand-written notes? 

7. Cloud-Based Solutions

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the value of having access to your data wherever you are. A stay-at-home order won’t slow you down if all your data is in the cloud, and staff can get the information they need no matter where they are. 

It doesn’t take a global disaster to make cloud-based CRM solutions valuable. Even during normal times, a lot of fundraising happens out in the world instead of in your office, and a cloud-based solution makes it easy to update your data at any time. Learn something interesting while you’re having coffee with a donor? You can add a note to their donor record while you’re waiting for your next meeting. 

8. Omni-Channel Integrations

Modern technology should integrate with other cloud-based tools out-of-the-box. Don’t choose something that is going to make managing your data more difficult. 

Make sure any CRM you consider can integrate with your other tools. 

Chances are, you’re interested in a CRM because you want to improve your donor relationships and streamline your processes. If you need to transfer data between your email provider, your accounting system and your fundraising software via endless import/export spreadsheets, you are not going to have an efficient process (or a good time). 

The Virtuous platform is a comprehensive solution, which covers everything from automation to email and SMS engagements, but if you have tools you already like, it also integrates so you can have all your data, all the time. 

9. More Functions 

How much can your nonprofit CRM handle? Can you use your CRM to track and manage grant applications, run volunteer management or create and manage fundraising campaigns? 

What about reporting? Can users receive reports and dashboards based on their roles? Can you restrict giving information so that staff only sees the donors that are relevant to them?

The more you have the ability to run through your CRM, the more of an asset it will be to your entire organization. 

Choose a Responsive Nonprofit CRM

The nonprofit CRM you choose can have a tremendous impact on the kind of experience you can offer your donors. Analyzing and choosing the best nonprofit CRM solution for your organization can be overwhelming. That’s why Virtuous has put together a full CRM Checklist to help you decide. Check it out, and choose the best nonprofit CRM solution. 

Responsive Fundraising: The Blueprint for Engaging Modern Donors

Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.

Get the Blueprint