Our business is built on relationships—an interpersonal connection that drives our work with clients and drives their work with stakeholders. Relationships help all of us move the needle on issues we care about, from advocating for greater access to early childhood education to empowering people to safely use electronic payments in a world that is becoming more digital by the day. Strong systems that help organizations maintain those relationships with their members, clients and everyone else are crucial to the people that we work with, so they’re important to us.
I was recently in New Orleans for a conference held by NTEN, a professional organization for people using technology at nonprofits. While NTEN’s conference covers a range of tech-related topics that impact nonprofits—digital marketing and communications, IT and websites, fundraising, system management—one goal I had this year was to learn how other nonprofits utilize consumer relationship management (CRM) technologies to better meet their end goal. Although CRMs like Salesforce and Salsa were originally created to improve businesses’ relationships with their clients, CRMs aren’t reserved for consumer brands. Nonprofits can be just as tech-forward and effective in stakeholder interaction management with the help of this software.
For-profit brands look to CRMs as a one-stop database to house all of the customer information they’ve collected. Nonprofits can use them effectively to activate their base, track goals and most importantly, help their stakeholders have impact. CRMs can transform nonprofit marketing by streamlining and tracking how individuals interact with organizations. But after talking to other attendees at the conference, it was evident that most nonprofits are more pained by their CRM than not. So often, we’re conditioned to look for the all-in-one solution—and so many nonprofits take that mindset into choosing a CRM only to be disappointed once they start using the system. That spurred one major takeaway: No platform is a silver bullet. There’s a range of platforms for a range of needs, but no single CRM will meet all of the organization’s needs off the shelf. Once we all acknowledge that, we can look for a system that meets most needs and develop strategies to resolve the rest. Utilizing integrations for greater customization is a potential solution to meet most of an organization’s needs. Most platforms allow for various integrations, although this can require coding and updates, and not all integrations will feel worth the hassle to nonprofits to get up and running.
For organizations looking to move to a CRM without the luxury of a full tech team on hand 24/7, there’s a newer wave of technology trying to hit the sweet spot to bring the benefits of CRMs without the technical maintenance that typically accompanies these systems. Unlike traditional CRM platforms, automation platforms do not require coding for integrations but instead use convenient drag-and-drop fields to customize the system to an organization’s needs. This newer approach makes the traditional benefits of CRMs more accessible to organizations of all sizes and budgets, but do not always include more custom and tailored technical support when issues do arise (think of them as the MailChimp for CRMs).
CRMs require patience and continual assessment of what’s working and what’s not. This sort of thoughtful engagement with them eventually reaps dividends—not unlike interpersonal relationships. Through efficient and effective interaction with stakeholders, nonprofits can rely on this software to enable them to continue to move the needle forward.
The bottom line: Identifying technical needs is not as technical as you might think. The best solutions start with the end in mind and are people driven rather than all about the technology. Interested in learning more? Let’s chat!