Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) is an important concept for nonprofits. The idea is to have all your information about all your constituents together in one place, so you can see the full picture of each person's interaction with your organization. Instead of having all your donors in one system, your volunteers in another, and your event registrants in a third, you have everyone in a single system... or at least a way to sync up those systems. You can then see that, for instance, Joe Smith has both volunteered and registered for several events, and might be a good prospect as a donor.
It's a great concept, but it can be hard to implement (as Paul Hagen talks through so well in his two part CRM series
). And it's particular hard to implement for an organization that's strapped for cash. What should your approach be if you're trying to get up and running with CRM on a shoestring? I see three possibilities:Look to lower cost out-of-the-box integrated solutions
If you have a set of fairly common needs, and don't need really deep functionality in any one area, there are in fact tools that cover a wide variety of different types of interactions out of the box. Our recent Low Cost Donor Management report
(published in partnership with NTEN) covered a number of them - for instance, Neon by Z2, Community Enterprise by CitySoft, Total Info by Easy-Ware, and Salsa by Democracy in Action each could be an interesting fit, depending on your needs. The idea here would be to carefully understand the full range of interactions that you're trying to support, and then evaluate the software to see if it fits. This approach won't work for everyone, though - some will find that the there's really no system that does everything they need.Choose a system that specializes in a specific area, and configure it for others
If you have fairly deep needs in a particular area, it might make more sense to look for a system that specializes in that area, and configure in less robust functionality in other areas. For instance, if donor management is a key priority, you might choose a fairly configurable donor management system, and use add-ons and custom fields to support other interactions (Our Donor Management report talks through a number of options here). More and more systems have pretty useful custom field setups (for instance, a number allow you to log a number of linked pieces of data about a particular action - like the date, number of hours, and description of volunteer participation). This approach will yield you deeper support in one area and less sophisticated support in others - but that could make sense if that mirrors your organizational priorities.For the time rich but money poor: CRM Platforms
The idea of using a toolset, like Salesforce or CiviCRM, and configuring it carefully to meet your needs is gaining steam. This approach can yield great results, but typically requires a sizable investment of time from someone technical to configure the platform to meet your needs. They're intended to be tailored, so often provide less out of the box. I'm nervous about this as a shoestring approach, mostly as it appears to be cheaper than it is -the costs are often hidden in setup time and maintenance. It's easy to be drawn in by the lure of a powerful system for free (neither Salesforce of CiviCRM cost anything for most organizations to acquire), and be sucked down the rabbit hole before you realize what you signed up for. But for organizations with technical staff members or volunteers who can devote the time, this can be a great low-cost approach.
What do you think? Are there other approaches I haven't thought of?