Call us: 07866 440080


This article explores some of the key challenges and areas charities need to consider when looking to set up or change their data base / CRM.

What is a CRM?

CRM stands for Customer Relationship manager. In Charities these are not customers but supporters, so the system may be known as a SRM. The customer service you get from great companies needs to be the same experience you get as a supporter of a charity. A CRM or SRM will help with this – it helps you connect with your supporter base effectively and efficiently. Essentially a data base or CRM system helps to manage your data and manage your relationships with your supporter base.

What’s holding you back from setting up or changing your CRM?

When it comes to data bases and setting up robust processes for managing donor information, driving engagement and growing fundraising revenues, there are many barriers charities face. Here are a few:

  • Time – not having the man-power in the team to invest enough time on the project.
  • Not knowing where to start or the best way forward.
  • Lacking enough preparation to kick off the project well.
  • Complexities. Data stored in lots of disparate locations, lots of users & locations.
  • Fear.

To over come some of these challenges its worth creating a project team or leader to drive the change programme or even seek outsourced expertise.

What are the key considerations if you are setting up a data base or CRM?

  • There are many ways to create a Database solution for your charity. It can be a simple excel spreadsheet storing all your vital data. However for this to be productive it needs to be regularly updated with the correct information, carefully monitored  as there is the risk of duplication – or corruption / deletion of records  
  • There are many more suitable and practical CRM systems out there which can help to better store and manage the data you collect and can improve automation of your interactions. There are some free applications e.g Hub Spot, Sales Force or Capsule and some which have to be paid for e.g. e-Tapestry or ThankQ . There can also be free charity non-for-profit licences for some of the paid systems so be sure to explore these options.
  • Mistakes can be made when looking for a Database/CRM by yourself. It can take a lot of time and money and may not get the right solution. If possible. get help from a consultant or expert in analysing your needs, the data you have, how you want to use it and who will be using it. You need to invest time to get this right.

Steps to setting up a robust scalable CRM:

Always plan the journey!

Data – analyse your needs and current data. Map the data stored on the team’s laptops, on multiple different spreadsheets, business cards, in your head… Often systems can help to identify duplications, but it is good practice to make sure the data you input is clean – i.e. current, accurate and not set up incorrectly. (e.g. a person’s name is not set up as the company name.)

Processes – map the steps through your ideal donor journey. What do you want a supporter to do? How do you thank supporters, volunteers, donors? Is it a hand signed letter? Is it followed up by an automated email? It’s key that processes are easy to use, otherwise people won’t keep on doing it!

Permission levels – who can edit or read only the data in the CRM? (n.b only the master user has the ability to delete data). Agree in detail what it is relevant for users to see, e.g. personal medical details shouldn’t be accessible to everyone on the system. It may be a good idea, for security, to restrict the export function so personal data can’t be extracted.

Contact points  – consider the messages you want to send, the audience and the frequency to best stay in touch with your supporters. Systems can remind you or automate communication, as well as being static data that you can mine for timely messages, such as event promotion. Some systems will have rules that let you decide the message to go out based on past support/donations. (So for example loyal high value donors get bespoke messaging suited to their closer relationship).

User guide – ensure you document your processes and share this so everyone is working to the same model and using the CRM correctly. It’s also a fail-safe if someone leaves.

Budget Checks – when choosing a CRM ensure you explore thoroughly whether it is affordable and scalable. As you grow can you track and keep contact with people easily, will it be able to satisfy your longer-term strategic plans – e.g. new locations? Is it Cloud based?  

Bespoke  – Some systems will be out of the box, a generic design so not individually created for you. However a consultant can work with you to customise the system to make it bespoke to your needs. Consider the information that you would like to know and be able to report against, so that the system is adapted to let you capture that. Be very thorough in researching and adding to your specification document. Ensure you document all unusual or special considerations for charities such as Gift aid etc.

Consistent regular usage – The more time and effort you put into setting up and using the CRM the more you will benefit. There is a direct effort reward ratio and you’ll see the benefit from a system once it is created and properly used. Set it up and make the new process the way you work, always, consistently across your whole team. Many CRMs come with phone apps which can help to make it more user friendly and more instant so may be more likely to be actioned by junior team members for example.

What information could/should be captured Capture key information likeName, address, email, phone number as a minimum.  Ideally more detailed data such as volunteer, service user, company, job title, past donation amounts, past supported events, interests/hobbies will help you tailor messages to different supporter type.

GDPR policy – Have a clear policy of what data is captured, why and how it is stored and used. Think about it helping the supporters to get what they want, not intruding on their personal data. Be transparent and stick to it. Always store evidence of proof of consent to store data and have an opt in for direct mailings.

Email marketing: Using the data to bulk email

Once you have your Database list you will want to contact them. Mailchimp can be used as a tool for contacting your supporters by sending bulk marketing emails. This is also a good system to ensure you have GDPR consent to communicate with the audience. This is a popular choice within in the wider business world. – alternative tools are Mailerlite and Dotmailer for example.

Scalable solutions Bigger CRM’s like Tapestry or ThankQ, which is a charity-in-a-box solution, offer more than just a standard CRM. There is a cost for this system but this may well be justifiable. Charity specific software can help you manage a portfolio of data and charity objectives.

  • Supporter Relationship management
  • Event management
  • Fundraising
  • Grants
  • Volunteering
  • Screening DBS
  • Expenses
  • Gift Aid

Costs Consider the set-up and ongoing costs. Some CRMS are licensed per user. You may need consultancy – x days to integrate it with your website, other software, training etc.  Find out what grant funding there may be available to help.

In conclusion its worth remembering that you tend to get what you pay for and growing charities with changing needs may find that if they buy cheap they buy twice. Try and weigh the costs of set up against the benefits gained by easily being able to contact your supporters in a timely relevant way and as a way to strategically and sustainably grow your charity.

Leave a Comment