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Finding The Right Database Platform

Central to selecting the appropriate Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform is understanding your organizational needs and constraints. No CRM is the same, each places emphasis on a different focus area. As a practice, Support Kansas City recommends three CRM’s, each having their own pros and cons—SalesforceLittle Green Light, and Bloomerang. We typically offer all three as an option for clients who are looking to start fresh with a new database or migrate over from an existing platform. We feel that these three represent a good range of options, features, and price points that can work for most of our client partners.

Our SKC database team has put together some great high level information to help you evaluate each system across three categories: price, customization, and integrations. We are also going to discuss generally important things to look for when deciding which platform best fits your organization.

If you have more questions after reading this newsletter and want to start a conversation, please reach out to the database team at databasehelp@supportkc.org.

Finding The Right CRM For Your Organization

Deciding on the right CRM for your nonprofit is a big deal. There are many platforms to choose from, and they all have a range of functionality and feature sets that can cater to different types of organizations. We have found that Salesforce, Little Green Light, and Bloomerang are versatile enough in nature to work for most of our client partners.

Is your organization currently using a different database and you aren’t sure if you’re willing or able to switch? Not to worry, the SKC database team can learn and work in the CRM you are currently using. Our client partner population currently uses around 10 different CRM platforms (who knew there were so many?!). If you have a system that works for your organization, we are happy to dig in and support you as best we can.

Other CRMs we currently use:
Raiser’s Edge
Etapestry
Neon
Nation Builder
Wild Apricot
Donor Perfect
Salsa Engage

Salesforce is by far the most economical CRM. Salesforce is free for registered nonprofits, and comes with 10 user licenses. Nonprofit users have access to all of the features of a paid Salesforce license. This is an immense value.

Salesforce offers organizations unlimited customization. Truly, your creativity and organizational needs are the only limitations to what Salesforce can track and report on. As a result, it is possible to tailor Salesforce to specific organization and programmatic needs. The downside is that customization requires technical expertise and oversight which can cost in consulting fees.

Salesforce does not have native email marketing, donation processing, or online form functionality. Consequently, users must integrate third-party apps such as MailChimp, MobileCause, or Formstack in order to capture data online and have it sync or integrate with Salesforce. Integrations can add another level of complexity and cost.

Bottom Line: Salesforce can offer the best value and provides the greatest level of customization. However, customization and integrations—while possible—can add an additional or unexpected cost. Knowing your data needs before choosing Salesforce can help identify those additional costs and inform your CRM decision.

Unlike Salesforce, LGL is not free. However, for a paid service, it provides one of the lowest priced and more robust CRM’s on the market. Pricing is based on how many contacts are in the system—so knowing your record count is important when evaluating budgetary constraints.

LGL is very much a ready to go “out of the box” CRM. Compared to Salesforce, it provides users with limited customization options, but the user experience is more fleshed out with suggested actions, forms, and functionality. One of the most valuable aspects of LGL is their integrated forms. Whether you need a donation form, event registration page, volunteer signup, or constituent survey, LGL has the capability to create, host, and map the submissions to the database. The flexibility of their integrated forms provides users with the ability to capture whatever data point you are looking for. Best part is, online forms are included in the standard monthly fee.

LGL also provides a mix of paid and unpaid integrations. On the top of the unpaid list is their integrations with Quickbooks Online, MailChimp, or Constant Contact. All for the standard monthly rate, you can integrate your accounting, CRM, online form, and email marketing systems. LGL provides great value for organizations looking into paid integrations, they offer wealth screening, address verification and other advanced analytics.

Bottom Line: Little Green Light is the most affordable paid CRM on the market, and can provide organizations of any size with a powerful CRM at an incredible value. However, if you are looking for in-depth customization with automated processes and workflows, you may want to look elsewhere.

Where Salesforce and Little Green Light differ on degree of customization and integrations, Bloomerang bridges that divide. The caveat: it costs anywhere from 4 to 5 times as much as LGL depending on your record count.

Why do we believe the price tag is worth it? It is a fully self-contained fundraising CRM with built in forms, website integration, email marketing, print marketing, and social media options. Bloomerang incorporates and streamlines all of your key services into one product. This provides value—you no longer have third party email marketing or donation platform fees—as well as robust insights because each constituent activity is tracked in the same place.

Besides being cost-prohibitive for organizations, the other downside is the functionality of its customizations. While you can create customizations for volunteers, event participation, major gift fundraising, prospect management, or other programmatic needs, you are constrained in regards to the organization and presentation of that data. This can be difficult if your organization and its stakeholders are accustomed to seeing your data presented a certain way, but it could certainly be worth the change with having all of your data stored and tracked in one place.

Bottom Line: If you are looking for a self-contained CRM that does not rely on third-party integrations, look no further. Bloomerang is designed to drive constituent engagement and increase donor retention. There is a trade off between overall cost and potential increase in fundraising income due to the insight it provides. If you anticipate tracking a lot of custom information, there should be thought and consideration in regards to how and where that information is tracked due to the structural limitations of the system.

Things To Look For

Choosing the right CRM can seem like an daunting task, and we won’t pretend that the decision can be summed up by answering a few short questions. That being said, here are three areas that you can start a discussion around when looking at the right database platform for your organization.

What can your CRM do for you? – CRMs are not intended for simple data storage; the power of a CRM comes from its reporting capability. When we’re researching new systems, we look specifically at its reporting features. Every system is able to generate mailing lists, donor lists, and financial reports—but do they offer higher level analytics? For example, can we track donor retention year-over-year? Are we able to create a daily report that displays constituents who made their first gift on that date one year prior, so we can send them a “Donor Anniversary” message? Or can we create a report that displays people who opened a solicitation email, clicked a link, but did not donate so we can send a targeted follow-up email to the most engaged recipients?

Different Types of Engagement – Fundraising is about more than just dollars and cents. Constituents engage through events, volunteerism, board participation, and online engagement. Based on the type and degree of engagement constituents have with an organization helps to inform what CRM features you need. If you are a volunteer heavy organization, choose a CRM with intentional volunteer tracking and reporting capabilities.

Overall Design and User Experience – Databases can be intimidating and cold. When researching we ask whether the user interface is intuitive and approachable, or whether the user experience will produce confidence or frustration. Those aspects—even if cosmetic—can impact the quality of data being inputted. An intuitive system that creates user confidence leads to better data and less human error. In the end, this influences reporting and analytics.


For the benefit of the nonprofit sector everywhere, we wanted to provide resources for ways we can continue to operate and grow within this era. And once social distancing begins to fade, what lessons can we take from this to improve our operations permanently. Come back often for more updates.