My guess is that most of you reading this blog already value your Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system. And, hopefully you’re either using Avectra’s Social CRM or considering it.

I’m passionate about the capabilities and benefits of Avectra’s Social CRM solution for nonprofits and associations. If I managed a nonprofit, it would be my top choice. As I started identifying a CRM for my small business, I found distinct parallels between my needs and those of almost any social enterprise, including a nonprofit. The benefits of Avectra’s system screamed at me while I conducted my own search.

You Already Know It’s Past Due

Before even beginning to research CRM applications, I knew that I needed a new system. Frankly, the list of contacts in my database had grown so much that I noLate rabbit longer had the bandwidth to recall specifics for each person. My contacts faded into a disarray of Apple Address Book and Excel spreadsheets. Plus my outreach efforts, such as sending emails, had to rely on third party software which demanded an additional set of actions. How would I maintain the integrity of a database located in another system?

Similarly, when I brainstorm with clients about fundraising, I repeatedly uncover that their constituent data lives in multiple places and is sometimes inaccessible to many people in the organization because of special training requirements. When I consider that these conversations are often with groups already managing large databases, I cringe to contemplate how many valuable people have become anonymous. After all, to be valuable to your organization, individuals must be known and contacted in the form and fashion they desire.

While I caution against “analysis paralysis” (spending too much time on structural issues) versus action (calling on potential donors, for example), in the long run, an organized database will enable effective interactions with constituents as a nonprofit grows and funding expands. In such an environment, creating a centralized database must be a priority.

Given this, I must ask: Is a robust database system past due for your organization?

Who Needs to Be In the Know

In addition to your donors, a nonprofit CRM system tracks multiple constituent groups, including clients, partners, vendors, board members, event attendees, third party databases and prospects. It allows us to strategically segment our groups and proactively reach out with appropriate messaging. At some point, all of our segments will need communication and cultivation, whether they’re small or large.

There are also many narrow niches within a segment to be gleaned from interaction with referral sources or potential donors themselves. These specific contact details – the “tags” – in your database tell the story of why a supporter is interested in your cause and how you might engage with them. Appropriate segmentation translates to increased engagement by supporters.

In the nonprofit sector, being able to easily identify and cultivate different funding segments (corporate, individual, major gifts, gift planning, foundations and events) is a clear benefit of organizing constituent data. Through tracking our interactions, a CRM helps us understand the life (or in my case, the sales) cycle of each prospect as well as structure the processes for moving our relationships forward.

Whether you’re managing a small business, association or nonprofit, your CRM is at the core of all operations. We need to know our supporters and/or customers and what matters to them and create a process for the appropriate interactions. We want to “be in the know” with each contact.

Set or Revisit your CRM Goals

Even if you have a current CRM in place, it’s worthwhile, and even mandatory, to determine your goals before endeavoring to find a new system.

My goals for a new CRM system might be similar to yours:

 – Identify a system that allows me to maintain as much information on my interactions with potential clients (or donors in the case of a nonprofit), current clients (supporters), referral sources (how did a donor find us?), industry (donor interests) and marketing contacts (how does a donor like to be contacted?).

– Store data in one place (so that we can know as much as possible about them and service their needs).

– Use the information to proactively engage with customers (donors). In other words, automate our actions to the extent that we never miss responding to an email, sending a follow-up document, setting up an appointment etc. Be able to define and automate* an effective process for cultivating a client.

Get Giddy

Crazy babyAs I evaluate the many available CRM tools and platforms, I feel giddy about the profound impact an organized and integrated system will make on my business. Frankly, I anticipate that a new system will dramatically impact my ability to procure and maintain a healthy customer base.

Now it’s your turn to feel giddy about a new CRM. Imagine a system that proactively and easily allows all employees to strengthen relationships and retain donors. In addition to raising more money, it’s so exciting to understand a donor’s reasons for being involved with your cause. The more we know, the stronger our relationship will be. After all, our lives and work revolve around relationships, the “Why” of CRM.

Amy S. Quinn is a published author and freelance writer focused on innovation in the non-profit sector. For more resources, please see her blog

*By “automate” I don’t mean to infer a lack of personalization. Instead, understanding the process for cultivating a potential donor means having the time and knowledge on how best to interact on a personal level and being in the field versus studying reports and looking at interactions in the rear-view mirror.