Choosing a CRM as a Small Charity - Practical Considerations

November 21, 2017 Casper Harratt

As a small charity considering investing in new software, you have some conflicting priorities. You’ll likely have a limited budget to work with, but still need to deliver on your mission and meet the expectations of your board.  Meeting these criteria can be difficult and so many organisations find solutions that fit certain requirements, like cost, but that end up sacrificing quality and service.

This idea that a CRM system is a huge expense is slowly being put to rest as more and more providers adapt their offering to suit more modest budgets. Investing in a CRM system may be just as cost effective as other software tools you might be tempted by whilst trying to bridge the gap.

No to Excel!

Often, the first thing we broach when talking to small charities about software solutions is, “Please don’t use Excel for your relationship management!” There are so many options out there and though Microsoft Excel is an incredible tool, it is not built for this purpose. Here are the top reasons that Excel will do more to hinder you than help you:

  • It lacks in relationship management. You cannot track relationships in Excel so you will lose most of the hugely valuable insight your data can give you about your constituents.

  • Your activity will be displayed as static. What does this mean? You won’t be able to set up notifications or tasks that are set to a deadline, like a birthday, or a grant application deadline, or that someone needs to be contacted about moving to a different campaign. You may also miss out on other data insights, eg. if someone has donated over a certain amount and you want to move them into a lifetime giving stream, or hasn’t given to your cause in over six months and you need to re-engage with them.

  • Once you start storing a huge amount of data, Excel won’t be able to support it all or allow you to easily sort and report on your data, whereas a specific CRM solution is built to do exactly this.

  • Security: Data held in a spreadsheet is not secure and can be easily hacked/shared/lost, even if you password protect it. You want a system that has security and compliance processes and gateways in place to ensure the important information you hold is safe and sound. You also want to protect your data from internal mistakes such as accidental deletion of data or anything that could go wrong.

How to Choose

These are the things you should look out for when selecting fundraising and donor management software:

  • Make sure you select a software solution that’s designed specifically for your non-profit needs and fundraising workflow

  • It must be intuitive, easy to set up, and easy to use long term

  • Quality reports are a key feature of any donor database system, so ensure your solution allows you to pull the accurate information you need quickly and easily

  • Decide whether you need a system that is cloud-based with access on the go, or whether your users would only need access in the office

  • Easily searchable, so that you can find the information you need when you need it

  • Make a list of your key requirements and then another list of what would be nice to have, so that the solution you invest in meets all your needs and your budget

  • Integrates with the other systems your organisation uses

  • Your data is secure but also easily importable and exportable

  • Your solution comes with great support and training

  • Try it before you buy it: request a demo, take a tour, see what current users think or take a free trial


If you want to find out more about what to look for when it comes to choosing the right CRM for you, read Blackbaud’s “Guide to Selecting Software” for more help!

Or check out our CRM built specifically for small non-profits, eTapestry.

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