Authored by: Craig Ford, Polymorphic Solutions

Your community organisation might have run on spreadsheets, shared folders and Access databases until one day, when you realised the systems don’t talk to each other and your organisation can’t grow without a single integrated system. Then it is time to consider a CRM (Client Relationship Management) system, but how do you choose which one suits your specific organisational needs?

Budgets are lean, spare time is scarce and the list of needs can fill a library, and you cannot afford to waste time and money in endless training and adaptation. The following article should help you identify what you really need from a CRM, and how to start your search for the right one.

What Problems Are You Trying to Solve?

First of all take a look at some of the issues you might be trying to address with a CRM. Which ones strike a chord for you?

  • Better Organisational Management – tracking staff activities, services delivered, resources allocated and reporting  
  • Improved Team Collaboration – are your staff in different locations, time zones, on the road and working from home?
  • Single Source of Information – is everyone keeping their own spreadsheets, and coming up with different versions of the truth at reporting time?
  • Electronic Trail of Staff Activities – does everyone know what emails and phone calls have been made to each client?
  • Consistent Service Delivery – when teams deliver multiple projects to the same group of clients, it is difficult to know what has been delivered and what is needed
  • Reporting and Data Accuracy – the old cliché garbage in/garbage out applies, when staff don’t record data consistently, reports don’t representative actuals
  • Improve External Communications – consistent messages across email, SMS and fax, from all staff, tracked and recorded
  • Standardised Record Keeping – without a clear information management guideline, staff may store the same data in completely different ways, making it impossible to find and report on
  • Minimise Data Entry – manual note taking can be time consuming, and not easily shared
  • Donation management – who has given what, and help to secure more donators and spend per donation


What functions of a CRM are the most important to you?

Here is a list of typical CRM software functions relevant to the NFP sector. Firstly identify which functions you need, then rank them on importance.







Asset Management


Data Mining – Advanced Search


Mail Merge


Billing and Invoicing


Distribution Lists Segmentation


Mailing List Management


Case Management


Document Management


Membership Management


Client Database


Donations Management


Microsoft Outlook Integration


Client Project Tracking


Email Marketing


Multi Location Support


Client Service Integration


Event Planning and Delivery


Referral Tracking


Contact History


Event Registration and Marketing


Reporting Customisation


Contact Management


Fundraising and Payment


Reporting MDS Compliance


Dashboard Custom


Knowledge Base Integration


Website Integration



Which challenges might get in the way of your new CRM system?

With any system implementation, it can take some time to achieve returns because your staff need to learn how to use it and accommodate system practices into their work processes, plus you need data to report on and some organisations will literally be starting with nothing but a blank canvas. Here are some of the make or break issues you need to consider, tick any which will be crucial for your organisation:

  • Budget Size – cloud based subscription software, rather than installed software is significantly cheaper to start with and with lower ongoing costs. Plus consider the extra costs of running and operating your own servers and staff/services to support, the future is cloud.
  • How to import data – whether it’s another CRM, Access or spreadsheets, look for services and easy DIY solutions to merge your existing data, so a new system is a continuation of activities
  • Security of data – the location of data is critical, once it is offshore there are no guarantees of security. Australian based servers with commercial grade encryption is essential
  • Varied Permissions per User – internal data security, to prevent snooping and accidental leaking of confidential data cannot be left to chance or honesty. If you can nominate what each user can and cannot access according to their role, you can take the ‘human risk’ element out of the equation
  • Flexible Support – can I call someone when I have a problem, will they understand me and will they solve the problem, fob me off or upsell me? Find out
  • Short Learning Curve for Base Users – some systems are too clever for their own good (or their customer base), with re-investment in training to learn every little system intricacy blowing out ROI. Look for free or cost effective basic user training, delivered as soon as possible after set-up
  • Customisable Database – every organisation have different needs, based on operate, deliver and report. Make sure you can adapt it to your needs and not have to adopt your processes too much to suit the system
  • System Integration – the two critical ones are email and website integration. Both big shortcuts that can automate what your staff might now do manually. Like event registrations, saving emails, membership sign-ups
  • Custom Interface per User – diving in with multiple clicks to find what is relevant slows you down. A personalised dashboard with attractive visual displays of data can provide better contextual information about a program or contact
  • Mobile Device Access – with service delivery staff outside the office, tablets and laptops support a mobile workforce so make sure the CRM can accommodate that with mobile device compatibility
  • Unique Program Modules – governments are notorious for ‘changing the goalposts’, changing reporting needs so a system that can match MDS (Minimum Data Set) requirements will save time, even better are systems that are adaptable to any government program, without the need for costly IT service providers
  • Custom Reporting Needs – your CRM is supported by a great big database, good practices lead to quality data input, and a good reporting system can convert that data into actionable intelligence. A CRM built for NFP organisations will ideally have a range of standard reports you can easily create or leverage ‘out of the box’
  • Payment Integration – an integrated solution that works with your CRM, talks to your existing website and can process multiple payment types. Think about the flexibility to handle different payment types for events, membership and donations


Where to from here?

This resource was provided by Polymorphic Solutions, who run a membership database system specifically designed for Not for Profit organisations, ChilliDB. You can contact them for more information on their database or CRM functions in general.

ConnectingUp also provide a range of information on various CRM systems tailored to Not for Profit organisations.


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