How to Choose a Fundraising CRM

May 16, 2019

Discover the three-step process you should follow when selecting your first CRM, or upgrading your current solution. Updated to meet the needs of non-profits in 2019. 

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What does every successful non-profit have in common? Strong relationships with their supporters! With regular giving in the UK declining for the third year, it's essential your organisation can find new supporters and engage donors. 

That means you need a CRM that allows you to fundraise effectively. Whether you're looking to review your existing solution or implement your first, our three-step guide ensures you do it correctly. We’ve made the guide more comprehensive whilst simplifying the process into three-easy steps:


Any successful non-profit organisation is built on a foundation of good relationships. You need to find the people who want to connect with your cause and get to know them. But as you succeed in this, your relationships will grow more sophisticated. It doesn’t take long before you’re managing a complex, interconnected web of data. A Constituent Relationship Management (CRM)solution allows you to make sense of this complexity and drive sustainable growth using your data.

There are various stages you will go through when selecting CRM software for your organisation. Now newly updated for 2019, this guide will take you through the different phases of the selection process – beginning with the all-important preparation, from choosing the right person to lead the project, plus how to include the rest of the organisation in the decision – right through to what questions you should ask a potential supplier before seeing a software demonstration, before making the final decision.

Through our many years of working closely with non-profits, we bring our most up-to-date expertise and knowledge of the process to this how-to eBook, so whether you’re replacing an existing solution or purchasing one for the first time, this can be your guide to selecting a solution that best suits your organisation’s unique needs.

Step 1: Preparation

There are a number of factors to consider when embarking on a new CRM project. Functionality requirements will, of course, be key, but at this early stage, it is also important to consider the business impact that a new CRM solution will bring to your organisation.

Uncovering the Reason

Whether you have no system in place at all, or are replacing an existing solution, being able to articulate your organisational goals and mission critical objectives is the first place to start to get the investment needed from your internal budget holders. Demonstrating how your organisation’s objectives are being hampered by your current set-up will not only allow you to seek the right option from potential vendors, it will also help you build your business case internally. After you’ve gone live with a new CRM solution, the goals and objectives you’ve identified will also be what you can hold yourself accountable to; a measuring stick of your success.

The best way to begin this process is to think in terms of why you do what you do:

  • Why do you fundraise?
  • Why do you aim to reach/ engage with more people in your community?
  • How much more needs to be raised for you to meet your short-to-medium term objectives?

Once these key objectives are understood, it’s then much easier to think about the challenges you may face in meeting these objectives without the right technology, for example, reaching the right donors with the right message at the right time, or accessing insightful data that helps you to focus your efforts. All of this information will help you to start thinking about your key strategic requirements, as well as more importantly, to start building a business case for investing in a new CRM, which will be vital when gaining the support you need from internal stakeholders to agree to the investment.

Top tip

The process of setting out your objectives might also help you uncover other requirements that you were previously unaware of. Other technology, not just CRM-specific, is out there and could help you to meet your goals. You don’t know what you don’t know – so when you speak to vendors, you should encourage them to talk about what else they can bring to the table.

Understanding the Process

Once you have established the critical needs, you will then need to understand your organisational process for making investment decisions.

You may be in the early days of figuring out if this is a viable project to undertake, and so understanding who needs to be involved and what the steps are in the decision process before signatures can be made and budgets can be released will also help to determine the process you will undertake for reviewing.

Choosing the Right Project Team

  1. Project Manager

When you’re confident the project will go ahead, it’s time to identify an internal ‘Project Manager’. This does not need to be an additional role – so don’t panic if you don’t have any resources for extra staff. Key attributes for your internal PM are a. knowledge (not necessarily about CRM, but good knowledge of your organisation and requirements) and b. enthusiasm! Don’t forget, this is also a huge career opportunity for someone within your team to expand their skills and experience by managing a significant project.

Your internal PM should be someone who can speak upwards and downwards within your organisation – they need to be able to bring the right people to the table. They should be highly organised and be the type of personality that can drive progress.

  1. The Team

In order to help ensure you choose the right CRM solution for your organisation, it will be important to have a good project team with the right skills, determination and energy to make this a success. Think carefully about who should be the “subject matter experts” across the organisation to ensure you don’t lose focus and that the key requirements are presented logically. “Subject matter experts” are people who can advise specifically what their team or department needs from the new CRM solution.

This is not just a technology project, so it can’t solely be the responsibility of the IT team – it is an important business change. Your chosen supplier will obviously be involved in advising how to incorporate the solution into your business, but for the best chance of success, you need to involve someone representing each area of the organisation. For example; finance, fundraising, events – whatever makes your organisation tick, someone from each of these areas will need to play a role. Even before you’ve chosen your CRM solution, you should think about the team that will be involved in the eventual implementation, so they are on the journey from the beginning.

Top tip - What skills are needed in the Project Team?

  • People skills! You need the ability to bring people with you on this business change for your organisationOrganisational skills
  • Someone who can speak upwards and downwards within the organisation
  • Data knowledge – even if this is outsourced. This is critical and plays a very important role in why you’re doing this in the first place.

Don’t be concerned if you don’t have tech skills – if you have those people, then it’s great for them to be involved – but you don’t need tech skills to run the project.

People in office

Cultural Change

When undertaking a CRM project, it is important to remember that these ventures are most successful when the whole organisation – no matter how big or small – is involved and can come on the journey with you. Well executed CRM projects involve engagement from staff members at all levels and across multiple departments.

When it comes to running the project and making decisions, the project board has to have the final say, however, from requirements gathering to system testing its best to include and communicate with as many of the eventual end users as possible.

By communicating effectively and keeping your teams involved, the process of bedding in a new system is made much easier. When staff members feel they have had a system thrust upon them, it doesn’t matter how good the solution might be, adoption will be low, and the returns will be diminished.

Top tip - Ideas for keeping people informed:

  • Create internal PR for the project – build the excitement for the forthcoming solution
  • Communicate regular updates – perhaps via an internal newsletter
  • Plan a launch event to take place after the go-live

Keep the enthusiasm going and keep people engaged!

Step 2: Selecting a Vendor

You’ve laid the groundwork by doing the hard part – the preparation. You understand your organisation’s requirements, and you have a prepped team or individual ready to undertake the project. Now you need a vendor to partner with in order to make the software investment.

Basic Vendor Evaluation Process

Vendor Evaluation process chart

Here are some key questions to address with potential CRM solution vendors:

  • What is your track record of success?

Ask for case studies or references of other organisations, and find out how experienced the vendor is of implementing successful CRM projects on time, and on-budget

  • What’s the ROI?

When it comes to the investment, the real value is going to be in the return. Your vendor should be able to help shape this with you to better understand specific aspects where the solution will make a measurable impact to your organisation

  • What about data security?

Ask these questions of the software you’re considering: how often are the servers maintained/ back-ups scheduled? Does it comply with the latest industry data security requirements?

  • Will I have customer support?

Your package should include access to a reliable, proven support mechanism to assist you with anything from troubleshooting, to answering questions about software releases.

Experts will often advise you to make a list of your requirements to share with the vendors you are considering. This is a great way to make sure you’ve documented everything you need, but you should be conscious of the fact that the responses you receive might be taken out of context. You may find that all suppliers will simply say they can accommodate your requirements. A requirements list is hard to bring to life, so as part of this process, it is really important to interact with the vendor as much as possible before seeing any demonstrations to ensure you not only have their true understanding of your needs, but that you are also aware of anything else the vendor can provide you that may add value.

Top tip - Preparing for a demo

  • Ensure the same review team are present and available during each supplier demonstration
  • Keep your business-critical objectives at the forefront of your mind during the presentation
  • Re-group as a team after each meeting and note down any follow up questions for the supplier

Making the final decision

Now that you have seen demonstrations and received any further information, you are now ready to make a decision to proceed. Once you have a preferred vendor in mind, it is important to make sure you understand both your own internal process for signing this off as well as the vendor process for embarking on a project.

By now, it is likely that you would have received some form of proposal for your chosen vendor, including a breakdown of costs, along with the following documentation:

Scope of work iconScope of Work 

Once you have discussed the detail with your vendor around what will be delivered with this project, including any data conversion, and training requirements, this document will be created to outline the key implementation deliverables of your project. It is important that this is read, and any questions are raised before entering into a contract.

Checkbox iconTerms and Conditions 

These will be the SLAs (service level agreements) and agreements you are entering into, such as cloud hosting, GDPR provisions, or support agreements, which may need to be reviewed by your internal legal, procurement, or data protection teams. It is important that these are reviewed in good time before you intend to sign.

Envelope iconContract 

This will typically outline all the costs, items being purchases, along with any contract terms. Typically, this will be delivered with the Scope of Work and should be thoroughly reviewed before signing.

Colleagues in meeting at work

Step 3: After go-live

Keep in mind what you want to achieve after go-live as this is only the end of the beginning in terms of your partnership with the new vendor and in realising the return on investment of your new solution.

It’s a good idea to keep track of your original objectives for the project and then you can work with your vendor to understand how you are achieving these.

Any vendor worth engaging with will want to understand this too and build a picture of what success looks like. If you can introduce this at the very beginning, you will be able to work together with your new vendor to understand how you are achieving your goals.

On-going Support

The best CRM providers will have Customer Success teams who will be invested in helping you get the most from your system for as long as you are a customer. You may also have an Account Manager as a key point of contact, and a Customer Support team who you can call with specific ‘how-to’ questions. Understand from the very beginning what the structure looks like and who the right contact is for each kind of enquiry you may have. This is important to consider as part of the process – you need to know you will be fully supported after go-live.

Find out what the vendor offers in terms of telephone support, chat support, and community support – your team will work in different ways so it's important your vendor can cover all bases and has a clear support programme outlined.

Office worker on telephone

Bonus Section: Top Tips (Or What Not To Do)

There are some common mistakes we often see organisations make when they approach the purchase of a new CRM solution, here are some of the most “popular”, so you know what not to do:

Computer iconReplacing old with new, but not addressing the underlying issues

Often organisations find they have challenges with their existing systems but don’t understand if those issues are based on functionality, poor data, a badly implemented solution or outdated process design. Simply replacing your existing CRM with shiny new technology will not correct these issues –in fact, it may exacerbate them.

Star box iconArticulating your requirements

One of the items often skipped in the process of gathering your requirements is understanding your overall objectives at the highest level. It is important to articulate to your chosen provider what you’re organisation is planning to achieve over the coming years. This is not just important in the selection and implementation of a new solution, but as a measurement of success throughout your partnership.

GBP Pound (£) icon  Making a final decision based on price

Often if several providers can say yes to your requirements, organisations will whittle-down the providers based on price. Of course, price is important, but it is not always as clean cut as that, particularly in a time when many different pricing models are in play. Understanding value and a return on investment is much more important, and vendors should help you to understand how their solution can best bring value to your organisation.

Contact us

If you have any questions on CRM solutions, would like to find out more about Blackbaud, or are at the beginning of the solution evaluation process and would simply find it useful to chat with a professional consultant, please contact us at

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Top Tips (Or What Not to Do)
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