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How Nonprofits Can Use CRM Software to Develop an Effective Marketing Strategy

If you’re running a nonprofit, you’ve probably heard about customer or constituent relationship management (CRM) software. You may even be considering using it to track donor contributions, sync donations with your accounting software, or send email campaigns. In fact, these are all great uses for a nonprofit CRM.

Were you aware, though, that your CRM software can also help you market more effectively? When you think of a CRM as a data collection tool and not just a means of simplifying routine tasks, it makes sense. A good nonprofit CRM provides a reliable means of tracking donor contribution patterns over time. It also helps organizations establish meaningful insights into how much and how often individual donors contribute.

Having this data on hand gives you some valuable feedback about what and when your existing donors like hearing from your organization. This, in turn, allows you to engage strategically with potential donors across various channels.

For all of these reasons, it’s time to stop thinking of your CRM as just a donor database — it’s also a great tool to help you develop your marketing strategy.

The first step: choosing CRM software that works for your nonprofit

Of course, you need to implement a CRM before you can take advantage of its wealth of data. When selecting the right CRM for your nonprofit, consider what pain points you want to address:

  • Are your team members being tasked with too much manual data entry?
  • Are you trying to manage too many disconnected systems at once?
  • Have donation follow-ups fallen through the cracks?

Nonprofit managers should aim to implement a CRM that resolves as many of these pain points as possible.

Of course, no single software tool is going to solve every problem or allow you to track every type of data. But by selecting a CRM that works with some of your existing tools, you’ll come that much closer to creating an integrated technology ecosystem.

For instance, a CRM that syncs with QuickBooks streamlines the process of logging donations and generating thank you letters and tax receipts. It also lets you see at a glance exactly how much money your individual donors are giving — without needing to access your accounting software.

Another valuable feature to look for in a nonprofit CRM is the ability to segment donor data. Many systems make it easy to filter or group donors into categories based on their giving patterns, geographic locations, or other criteria. This allows you to create specific lists of donors, like those who responded to individual campaigns or donated less year-over-year. You can then create and send mass emails to each segment, thus reducing the time spent sending individualized follow-ups to each donor on your list.

Use your CRM to establish a data-driven donor retention strategy

Once you have a nonprofit CRM in place, every member of your team should learn how to interpret the donation data in the software. Although there can be many reasons why individual donors stop giving — an economic downturn, a personal crisis, and so on — looking at the overall donation patterns in your CRM allows you to see which marketing campaigns are most effective with your existing donors.

This point can’t be overstated: it’s important to be strategic about your marketing campaigns. There can be a tendency among charitable organizations to downplay the need for organized marketing; instead, they assume that their loyal donors will keep coming back because they believe in the organization’s mission.

The reality is that nonprofits require a focused marketing strategy to continually engage and delight donors — and that strategy should be data-driven.

Your CRM can offer valuable insights into how you should market to your existing donors. For instance, maybe the data shows that people tend to give less year-over-year. Could you create an email campaign to show your supporters the positive impact of their donations?

On the other hand, maybe the data shows that donors have failed to respond to your last few email campaigns, but their end-of-year giving patterns are stable. In this case, perhaps you should turn your attention from email marketing to putting on a big end-of-year fundraising event.

Looking beyond existing donors: your CRM can also help with inbound marketing

Nonprofits are sometimes also reluctant to develop strong inbound marketing campaigns. With so many competing priorities, you may see maintaining your website and running your social media accounts as a waste of time and resources.

However, the truth is that nonprofits always need to be recruiting new supporters who believe in their mission. This means it’s important to spend time creating and sharing online content that spreads your message and attracts new donors. There are some proven techniques for boosting donor acquisition, like developing strong branding and using images that resonate with donors. But how can you tell when you’re getting these things right?

This is another area where a nonprofit CRM can assist. Of course, you can’t expect your CRM to replace your web analytics software. But if your CRM is linked to an online donation page on your site, you can certainly gain some insights based on giving patterns. Say you updated the front page of your site last week, and since then you’ve received an influx of new donations. Chances are you’ve hit the nail on the head with your new messaging.

Cross-referencing your CRM data with your web analytics data can also be useful. For instance, you might look at your CRM data to see how many new donors you attracted with a recent campaign. Then, you might use a web analytics tool to see which of your social media channels drove the most traffic to your website during that campaign.

Taken together, you can assume that some of your new donors came from those social media channels. This tells you where to concentrate your future inbound marketing efforts.


A CRM for nonprofits is more than just a database for tracking donor names and donation history. It can also provide crucial data to help you develop effective marketing campaigns and fine-tune your inbound marketing approach. And when used with your other software tools, your CRM becomes even more valuable, allowing you to develop powerful strategies for retaining existing donors and expanding your constituent base.

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