5 Signs Your Nonprofit Needs a New CRM

April 11, 2018 | EveryAction Team

We all aspire to live by the age-old mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but often we get so used to our familiar tools and processes that it can be difficult to know when to honestly evaluate them for broken parts.

Change can be hard, especially for non-profits that are already stretching their resources and capacity to the maximum, but if you’re continually running into the same problems with your CRM, it’s probably time to start looking for a better solution to manage your member data. If you’re wondering if you should start shopping for a new CRM, here are five signs that will confirm it for you.

1. You’re using Excel spreadsheets

Don’t get us wrong, we all love Excel in the proper time and place. But Excel is not built to manage the amount and type of data required for nonprofits to run effective fundraising, digital, and advocacy programs. Even if you’ve put together a system of Excel files that seems to be working, it’s easy for that data to be lost in a staff transition or computer crash. Excel sheet data management also means that critical information is only available to a few people, and leaving other decision makers without access to all of the facts can have organization-wide consequences.

Especially for nonprofits with growing membership and budgets, it’s time to be using a database that allows everyone easy access to information easy access and standard data management tools across the organization.

2. You spend all of your time doing uploads and exports

If you feel like half of your days are spent exporting or uploading data between systems, you’re probably using too many databases. Not only is moving data like this extremely time consuming, any spelling errors or variations will cause records to be lost during the matching process. It also means that staff can be kept waiting on the information that they need to make decisions, or worse, using wrong or out-of-date information because an upload hasn’t been performed yet.

Spending a lot of time moving data around generally means that you are using too many databases for separate functions, and they don’t offer the integrations that you need. Ideally, you’ll be working with a unified system that houses all of your important information in one place and will integrate with other important technologies so that you are not left doing manual data work.

3. You don’t know what other departments are doing

Your supporters are likely being contacted by multiple people within your organization. They are on Development lists for fundraising by direct mail or phone, Digital lists for online advocacy and fundraising, and Program lists for any offline volunteer activity. This is normal, but it is important to remember that members don’t see themselves as talking to three different departments; they are corresponding with one organization. With that in mind, it is important for the staff of each department to be aware of the other ways that their targets are being contacted, and how they are responding. Unfortunately, if every department is using a different database, staff are often left in the dark and prevented from doing their most effective work. For instance, fundraising staff should be able to know when their donors are also highly engaged members of your email list, or regular in-person volunteers. It’s also important for Digital and Program staff to know when the people that they interact with are also donors, so that they can thank them and help boost your relationship as a whole.

4. You have no room for customization (or way too much!)

If you’re constantly bumping up against the rigid structure of your current CRM, it is probably time to consider a switch. Nonprofit organizations, even those who work in similar fields, each have unique needs and practices that are best served by allowing customization to best fit each case. From reports and dashboards to the appearance of donor profiles and structure of calltime sheets, your CRM should be making your life easier by letting you adjust it as necessary to save time and maximize performance. Staff are frustrated, time is wasted, and everything moves a little slower when your database can’t be adjusted to provide exactly what you need.

On the other hand, you might be using a system that needs so much customization that you feel like you’re basically building it yourself, or worse, having to hire consultants to do it for you. Maybe you’re not getting what you need out of your system because no one in your shop has the time or ability to figure out how to create it. Either extreme when it comes to customization will cost your nonprofit time and money, and you’re probably ready to look for a CRM that has the structure and features that you need ready to use, and also lets you make the adjustments your team needs to succeed.

5. You spend way too much time on training

Do new staff take months to get comfortable using your database? Are there functions that you would never find unless you had been told how to access them? While many older databases still have solid functionality, learning to use the system is an uphill battle of extensive training that costs precious time and resources. When a CRM is not intuitive, the norms of use at an organization tend to live in the minds of the longest-running staff, risking loss of that information due to staff transition or lack of training. Hard-to-learn systems also increase the risk of staff creating their own methods because they are easier to understand (say hello to more Excel sheets).

At the end of the day, nonprofit staff and leaders all want to save time, raise more money, and maximize the impact of their work. Your CRM is a tool that should power those goals, and if yours is holding you back instead of propelling you forward, it’s time to trade it in for something better.

Looking for more CRM shopping advice? We’ve got a whole guide, complete with templates for tracking your needs and comparing vendors – download it here!