An effective CRM: choosing the best system for your charity

When working with our charity clients on their digital projects, we regularly work on the integration of their CRM systems with the websites we build. This interconnectivity is essential in optimising the efficiency of our clients’ teams and enables data to be accurate and updated in real time. This empowers our clients to make informed choices to meet their objectives and streamline internal admin. 

We are often asked to recommend a CRM solution, but the reality is that choosing a new system is a nuanced process with many factors to take into consideration. To help as much as we can, we have created this guide to help navigate through the process and set your organisation up for sustainable growth and impact.

With the right tools and strategies in place, you can build a loyal community of advocates and make the most of every opportunity to serve your cause.

Assessing your charity’s needs

When it comes to selecting the best CRM system for your charity, it is crucial to assess your needs and requirements. This will lay the foundation for finding a system that can be effectively rolled out in your organisation and provide the features needed to achieve your goals.

Firstly, you’ll want to conduct an internal assessment of your charity’s current processes and workflows. Here are some key things you’ll need to consider:

Your charity’s size and structure
The number of employees, volunteers, donors, and beneficiaries you have will determine how robust a system you need. Larger charities may need more advanced functionality to manage more complex data and support the volume of donor interactions. Whereas smaller charities may only need basic contact, donation, and communication management to streamline internal processes.

You’ll also need to consider the long-term sustainability and scalability of your organisation. Your CRM system should have the flexibility to adapt as your charity grows and your objectives evolve, so you aren’t faced with a major overhaul further down the line. 

Your team’s needs
Involve key stakeholders within your organisation who are directly involved in donor management, volunteer coordination, and reporting. Gaining valuable input and insights from your team will help you understand which functionalities and features are essential for your CRM system. 

The types of data you need to capture and report on
Next, you’ll want to think about what information is most important for your charity to stay on track for meeting its objectives. This could include contact details, donations, interactions, conversions, and more to help you generate reports and monitor the success of your activities. This level of data capture will also help you get to know your supporters better and empower you to implement tailored experiences based on their preferences and interactions. 

Integrations with other systems
A CRM system should help simplify internal processes. Integration with your website and existing software for fundraising, memberships, email marketing, accounting, etc. is a priority for maximising effectiveness. Review your fundraising initiatives to identify necessary features like online donation forms, event registration and management, and campaign progress dashboards. Having a CRM that communicates with all of these will support accurate data capture and reduce admin time. 

Ease of use
Implementing new software requires a period of adjustment for any charity and its team. To make this process as pain-free as possible, you’ll want to choose a system that is intuitive for all who interact with it, from administrators to volunteers. Complicated platforms with steep learning curves will stifle engagement and likely lead to lack of adoption. A user-friendly system that comes with a supportive training offering will ensure a smooth transition and ongoing assistance. 

Cost and budget
As with any organisation, financial considerations are important, and even more so for a charity. So, look for options offering a good balance of features and affordability and remember that the right CRM system is an investment for future success. There are many free and low-cost CRM options for charities, with some companies also offering discounts or donations to non-profits.

Key features to look for in a charity CRM

Next up, once you’ve gone through a thorough assessment of your charity’s needs, you can start researching some of the CRM systems available. Let’s have a look at some of the top features of a quality CRM:

Robust donor management
An effective charity CRM should provide tools to track your donors and their giving history all in one place. It should help you segment donor groups based on levels of giving, location, interests, and preferences to tailor your activities and donor journeys. 

Comprehensive reporting and insights
A CRM that produces in-depth reports and at-a-glance dashboards with visible key metrics will help guide your fundraising strategies and monitor your KPIs. This will enable you to establish trends and monitor progress of key activities.

Integrated marketing and communication tools
An all-in-one system with marketing automation can save you time and improve your supporter experience. CRM systems can offer integration with a multitude of platforms with features like: 

  • Email marketing to send newsletters, appeals and updates.
  • Social media integration to engage supporters on platforms like Facebook.
  • SMS messaging to reach donors via text.
  • Letter generation for sending thank you letters and other direct mail.

Customisable features
Look for a flexible CRM solution that can be adapted to match your organisation’s size, focus area, and workflow. This will allow you to personalise your data capture and reporting to generate the exact data and information you need.

Third-party integrations
Above all, look for a CRM that will integrate with third-party systems such as your website and donation platform to create a centralised information hub. This will support your fundraising efforts, automatically capture donor data, personalise donor relationships, and track financial trends. This integration eliminates the need for manual data entry, saving time and reducing the risk of errors and duplicate data.

To ensure a successful integration with websites and donation platforms, work with your CRM provider for guidance and support on your specific needs. Additionally, reach out to your website and donation platform providers to explore effective integration opportunities. 

Implementation considerations when switching CRMs

Once you’ve landed on the right CRM system for your charity, you’ll then have to turn your attention to implementation. With the proper planning and management, switching to a new CRM can be a smooth transition that transforms the way your charity operates and engages with supporters. By considering these critical implementation factors, you’ll be well on your way to CRM success.

Data migration and integration
Migrating your existing donor and contact data into the new CRM system is crucial but can often be complex and expensive. Talk through the data important and third-party integration process with your provider on the best way to do this with minimal disruption. This is also the time to test run a data import before going live!

CRM training
A new CRM will only be effective if staff and volunteers actually use it. Draw up a change management plan to drive user adoption and gain feedback with a smaller group of users before expanding usage and wider rollout. Training on your CRM platform is also going to be key. Many providers offer training, either in person or online, to guide your team through key functionalities and deliver hands-on experience. Having a training guide or resource on hand is also a great way to support ongoing learning.

Establish customisation features
Prior to implementation, discuss available customisation options with providers, like adding custom fields, workflows, reports and integrations. Some systems have easy-to-use, self-customisation features, while others require support to set up. Start with basic customisation, then reassess after initial implementation to determine if further changes are needed. Don’t forget to factor any custom development costs into your budget too.

Launch and support
Before launch day arrives, create a plan of how you will roll out the new CRM to your staff and any volunteers. This could happen all at once or in a phased approach, depending on the needs of your charity. Make sure you have your provider on-hand during the initial weeks and months after launching to support with any questions or issues. 

Measuring the success of your CRM system

With a new CRM system up a running, the next phase in your journey is identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure its success. This will provide you with a valuable insight into your CRM’s value for money and impact on productivity. Some important metrics to track include:

Donor retention
Compare donor retention rates before and after implementing the new CRM. Look for an increase in recurring donations and cross-engagement with other activities such as event participation. A good CRM system should strengthen your relationships with supporters and make them feel more engaged and valued. 

Gift uplift
Monitor whether your CRM’s features for recording donor interactions, sending targeted communications, and facilitating major gifts has resulted in increased giving over time. This could be an increase in average donation amount, growth in donor acquisition or seeing a progression of higher level giving. Tracking this can help you see if your CRM has empowered you to identify and grow connections with your supporters. Significant uplift, especially for mid-level and major donors, indicates your CRM is highly effective. Equally, monitoring this can help you make adjustments as needed to improve performance, reduce costs, and boost donor loyalty and lifetime value. 

Fundraising effectiveness
Your CRM should provide you with a deeper level of insight and valuable data to measure the performance of your campaigns and identify areas for improvement. Analysing these metrics can help refine your strategies, tailor your messaging, and maximise the return on investment for your fundraising efforts.

Staff productivity
Keep track of how much time your team saves by utilising automated features and reducing time spent on data entry. This will enable your team to spend more time on high-impact work like stewardship, events, and enhancing the donor experience, demonstrating the value of implementing your CRM. Having regular catch-ups with your team to gain feedback and recommendations for improvement of the system will further support effectiveness and productivity.

Cost savings
Calculate how much you’re saving on expenses like printing, postage, and third-party software fees. The savings in both time and money can help offset the initial cost of your CRM investment as well as reinvest in other priority areas.

Response rate
Another important metric to consider is the response rate and level of engagement with your targeted communications. By analysing the percentage of donors who engage with your emails, newsletters, and social media, you can determine how well your CRM is facilitating meaningful connections and effectively capturing interests and preferences.

Stakeholder engagement
Building and maintaining effective relationships with stakeholders such as volunteers, project partners and members is essential for enabling your charity to meet its objectives. Assess the impact of your CRM system by monitoring engagement such as volunteer participation and retention rates. By leveraging your CRM’s features to manage key relationships, you can ensure that your organisation is making the most of this valuable resource.

Data accuracy and integrity
Accurate and reliable data is the foundation of any successful CRM system. Regularly assess the quality of your data by monitoring for duplicates, outdated information, and incomplete records. A robust CRM system should provide you with data cleansing and validation features to ensure the integrity of your donor database.


As you can see, choosing a CRM system for your charity is no small task! But, by doing your research, clearly defining your needs, setting your budget, and evaluating options, you can identify a CRM system that will perfectly compliment your organisation and its objectives. Although an initial upfront cost can also feel daunting, a CRM is an investment that will pay off for years to come through increased efficiency, productivity and impact. Although selecting new technology is challenging, it is also an opportunity. Make the most of it, and the rewards for your charity will be well worth the effort!

Need some CRM advice? Talk to Chris!