Is It Time to Replace Your Nonprofit CRM?

A cardboard box on a table. Sometimes replacing your nonprofit CRM feels like moving to a new house.

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“I hate moving so much, I am never doing it again!”

That is what my mother said in 1989, when she moved into the house she still lives in today. She put down her last box and decided she was there to stay. (I think it was moving the piano that really sealed the deal.)

A lot of fundraising professionals have a similar situation with their nonprofit CRMs. Years ago, they got it set up, after much heartache and data migration. They finally convinced everyone to use it. They set their boxes down, and declared, “We are never moving again!”

This wouldn’t be a problem if the CRM was meeting their needs, but very often, it’s not. They stay because they’ve created enough stop-gap solutions and work-around processes to make their system basically do most of what they want, most of the time. They can get by, but not grow.

They may not love their CRM, but they sure don’t like the idea of moving, either.

Does that “they” resonate with you and your organization? If so, read on.

How can you tell when it will be worth it? When is it time to move to a different nonprofit CRM?

5 Key Reasons to Replace Your Nonprofit CRM

If your CRM is not, and cannot be, a partner for your growth, it’s time to replace it.

It’s easy to see how changing systems could be challenging — learning a new system, managing a change, getting everyone up to speed, preparing your data for migration, these are big tasks, with clear costs to your time and resources.

What’s harder to see is the cost of not changing systems. If you’re spending precious hours on inefficient systems, manually managing processes that ought to be automated, or trying unsuccessfully to make all your software play nicely together, that’s time you’re not spending on connecting donors to your story, building relationships, or responding to their signals.

Ultimately, that impacts your growth.

Growing your fundraising comes down to three main vectors: retaining more donors, increasing your average gift amount, and using your staff’s time most effectively. Donors tend to increase their gift size over time, but you’ll only get the benefit of that trend if you can keep them around.
Donor retention and increased gift size both relate directly to how connected donors are to your organization and how deep your relationships with them are.

People stay at organizations, and ultimately give more, when they feel valued and involved. You have to create a personalized relationship with every donor. That’s only possible at scale if you’re using a responsive CRM that’s built to prioritize relationships, not transactions. With automation and donor journeys, you can free up staff time from tedious back-office tasks and start spending it where it really makes a difference–storytelling, relationship-building, and responding to donors.

1. Your Donors Expect Better

Modern donors expect personalized engagement from the nonprofits they support and the causes they care about. In order to provide that level of personalization, you need a responsive CRM that gives you a complete view of donor data, tracks donor signals and behavior, and gives you real-time insights.

Instead of blasting out impersonal mass communication that interrupts your donors and steals their attention, responsive fundraising combines modern technology, data intelligence, and donor-centric giving experiences to foster personalized conversations with every donor. Connecting with each person in a contextual way allows you to suggest the right next step, at the right time, increasing donor loyalty. This grows generosity and helps you do more good.

If your CRM is built to function as a data vault, responsive fundraising becomes a lot harder. You need a CRM that has the functionality to:

  • Build customized reports, dashboards, and donor views to give you the data that is most important to you
  • Produce pre-lapse indicators, so you can engage donors before they leave
  • Break down data silos. See all your constituent data and engagement in one platform, from gift history and campaign engagement to projects funded, donor activity, and more.
  • Easily search, filter, and segment donor data and gift metrics, make updates, and save or export results. Build complex RFM and persona-based segmentation for direct mail or email marketing campaigns.
“We love how the Virtuous team thinks. They are building a database for the future… not dragging an old system forward. They’re building a system for relationships first.” Sheryl Root, Partner Database Manager, OneHope, switched from Raiser’s Edge to Virtuous in 2015

2. You Need the Freedom of Automation

If you’re using a legacy CRM, it may not offer much, or any, automation because the technology simply wasn’t there when it was built. It’s here now and you need it if you’re going to offer personalized engagement to your donors at scale.

Once you have more than a few donors, it rapidly becomes impossible to track all of their behavior manually. Tracking donor behavior is necessary if you want to be responsive. Automation allows you to create personalized donor journeys that are triggered by specific donor signals. It keeps track of the signals, responds with the actions and communications you’ve chosen, or prompts you or your staff to take an action.

When you automate your workflows and marketing with a responsive CRM, you can offload a lot of the tedious back office tasks that can eat up so much valuable time. Automation isn’t about robots doing your fundraising–it’s about freeing you up to do the connecting and engaging with your donors that only a human can do.

“There were some basic processes that are commonplace in newer software products that just hadn’t made their way to eTapestry,” Veronica Carrillo, Donor Relations Manager, Chicanos Por La Causa, switched from Blackbaud eTapestry to Virtuous in 2019.

3. You Need Visibility Into All Your Donor Data

If getting access to all your donor data requires help from an IT person, or a complex import/export process, it’s time for a new CRM. Time is a fundraiser’s most precious resource and powerful tool–don’t spend yours like this.

Does getting the data you need or running the queries you’re most interested in require an elaborate process that’s a pain to implement and difficult to teach to other people? Do you have a sticky note of the steps for running certain reports on your desk, because it’s too complex and unintuitive? This is another major sign that it’s time to replace your CRM.

In order to grow your fundraising and build authentic relationships with your donors, you need all of your donor information at your fingertips. If different types of donor information are trapped in technological silos, you can’t create the most relevant points of connection for supporters. It’s too hard to get a complete view of the donor’s relationship with your organization.

If your CRM functions mainly as a database, rather than a relationship management system, you probably use other tools to accomplish things like sending emails, managing events, and running your donation pages. How does that work? If it is difficult or impossible to share information between systems, or the only solutions are clunky integrations that only do half the job, you need a better solution.

A responsive, modern nonprofit CRM is much more than a database. It’s designed to help you create donor journeys based on all of the interactions a donor has with you. It helps you understand what donors care about and how they want to engage with you. It can do a lot within itself, and should seamlessly integrate with other tools when needed. No clunkiness, no constant spreadsheets.

“I remember saying, ‘It’s here. Everything is here.’ It was the smoothest transition I’ve ever been a part of.” Beth Fisher, VP Strategy and CDO, Mel Trotter Ministries, switched from Raiser’s Edge to Virtuous in 2020

4. You Need a Digital Solution for the Digital World

You shouldn’t have to be at arm’s length from the data that matters to you. Are you handcuffed to experts who control your data? Can you work from home and access your CRM, or do you have to be in your office to get the information you need?

Cloud-based CRM software makes it easy to scale as you grow, without requiring an expert middle-man, complicated IT solutions, or additional infrastructure to make adjustments. If you need to add users or features, you don’t have to do the heavy lifting. Updates are automatic–as soon as the software makes an improvement, you’ll get to access it. It’s a service you subscribe to, so your software provider is a partner for growth, not a burden.

The world you fundraise in has shifted, and highlights how important it is to have access to your donor data from anywhere. When you move off a brick-and-mortar system to a cloud-based one, your data doesn’t live at your office. This is particularly relevant to development professionals, because often, you don’t live in your office, either. You’re out in the world engaging donors, and you should be able to take your data with you.

5. You Need to Customize

Every nonprofit organization has its own specific needs and quirks, and a good CRM will allow for customization.

Nowhere is nonprofit individuality more evident than in reporting needs. Whether it’s tracking a specific metric, or a weird piece of data one board member always wants to see, how easy is it to customize your reports? Do you only have a few options for what you can see? If you want to know something that isn’t automatically an option, what happens? Are you just out of luck? Need an expensive customization?

Consider how customizable user-experience is, too. Can each member of your staff create their own dashboard, so they can follow the donors and metrics most relevant to them? Do they have to sift through a ton of information to find the data they need every day?

If your current CRM makes it very hard, or impossible, to customize your reports or user-experience, it’s worth looking into other options.

“Virtuous truly understands nonprofits and the importance of our mission. And their open access to data and built-in custom reports gave us access to the data we need.”–Todd Shinabarger, CTO, Operation Mobilization, switched from Blackbaud Luminate to Virtuous in 2017

Moving Doesn’t Have to Be a Nightmare

If your CRM can’t do what you need to be responsive to donors, automate processes, and use all your tools and data effectively, it’s time to move.

Don’t panic. While changing CRMs at your nonprofit is an undertaking, it does not have to be a horrible experience that takes years and costs more than you were promised, while delivering less than you expected. It can be organized, thoughtful, and relatively fast.

“At Virtuous you get this ‘startup’ vibe where it’s more about ‘let’s make this happen’ as opposed to ‘well, that’s just not possible.’ There is a ‘can-do-it-ness’ attitude. That was very compelling to us.” — Erick Smith, Development Operations Manager, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, switched from Blackbaud Luminate to Virtuous in 2016
“We had a large database that had gone through prior conversions, so it was an arduous process to map all the constituent and gift fields, but Virtuous made it painless.” UMOM New Day Centers, switched from Blackbaud Luminate to Virtuous in 2019

Virtuous is the responsive nonprofit CRM that is designed to help you grow. When you partner with Virtuous, we’ll work together with your team to determine the best ways for you to build better donor relationships and increase impact with confidence.

Waiting feels easier, but everyday of staying with your old system is one that you can’t provide the authentic, meaningful connections your donors want and expect. Start the journey to becoming a responsive nonprofit today. We’re here to help you move. (Even the piano.)

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