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The brave new world of constituent relationship management: Seven reasons to get on board

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Many nonprofits struggle to achieve the coveted 360 degree view of their constituency. Why? The biggest culprit is not talent - it's technology! Older, more cumbersome donor management systems are likely discouraging rather than encouraging relationship building throughout your organization. And whether you're part of a nonprofit or for-profit business, there is no getting away from the fact that relationship building has been proven to provide earth shattering results!

The once upon a time, older proprietary systems and homegrown databases of the nonprofit organizations of yesteryear have evolved to the point of being incredibly complex, difficult to use, and unstable to operate. Further, this disconnected view of relationships creates extra work for everyone and prevents you from providing a consistent message to your constituents. Only a new way of approaching the management of all interactions in one centralized system will allow you to properly nurture relationships with the most accuracy and relevancy to your mission.

This integrated approach to donor management is called Constituent Relationship Management (CRM). Having evolved from the successes of the corporate world's Customer Relationship Management, the concept has been tailored to allow nonprofit organizations a total and transparent view of not only their constituency, but their organization as well. Instead of just storing data, CRM systems make work easier, more secure, and more meaningful. All divisions access and update information in the same system without fear of data corruption or accidentally updating information they shouldn't be allowed to access.

Does your organization struggle to stay on top of campaigns, or manage large amounts of donor or volunteer information? Maybe your organization is in a fundraising crunch, or maybe you're ready to take fundraising or recruiting initiatives to the next level. Whatever the reason, here are seven ways that CRM software can revolutionize your approach to constituent relationship management.

1. Strengthen constituent relationships inside and out!

(a) Rather than focusing solely on the donor's relationship to the organization, a CRM system also allows members of the organization to view all constituent relationships that affect the mission: donors, volunteers, members, affiliates, staff, directors, related companies, etc.

For example, maybe a certain geographic area has a high number of volunteers but only a small percentage of donors. With older systems, these constituents would not appear in your donor management system. Using CRM software, you would be able to pinpoint this scenario and create a specific campaign to target these potential donors.

(b) Emails, letters, conversations and connections between the constituents and all areas of your organization are stored in one place. This allows you to provide consistent and targeted messaging - and increases and fosters transparency throughout your organization. Yes, the left hand will know what the right hand is doing!

2. Harness the power of CRM

Once all of the demographic attributes are captured, configured and the data is populated, a CRM system is ready to plan, schedule and analyze events; track and complete tasks; analyze and report on trends based on demographics; and manage the lifecycle opportunities provided by major donors. Now that's powerful!

3. Increasing user friendliness = increased use

CRM systems allow you to provide access to everyone related to the organization from directors to volunteers. Views and permissions are tailored to each person accessing the system, not only to simplify the experience but to limit access to sensitive information. For example, one person may be able to tell that a specific constituent is a major donor while only the directors see the amounts that have been donated and the programs that the donations have benefited.

4. Improve efficiency through data

Eliminate the need for spreadsheets and disconnected contact lists. With a CRM system, the integrity of your data is improved; duplicates are removed, confidence soars. You have the ability to define constituent lists based on category, demographic attributes, division, or geography.

5. Customized for a perfect fit

Is there anything more challenging than trying to understand departmental jargon (especially acronyms)? CRM systems allow you to define database fields in order to match your organization's terminology. Further, you're able to rearrange the placement of fields to maximize the efficiency of data entry and the relevance of the information displayed. A system that is tailored to the terminology already in place will be more readily accepted and will quickly become part of the organization's culture.

6. Integrated systems eliminate manual processes

CRM systems allow for the import and export of critical data, such as constituents and donations. This import export process eliminates the need for external (manual) processing. Imagine collecting data and donations from your website and updating your CRM system automatically! You can also integrate CRM software with Outlook to ensure that contact lists are centralized and Outlook calendars are linked and visible. Now that's 20/20 vision!

7. Improved access to information

CRM systems can be configured for access from anywhere internet is available whether by browser or mobile device. This increases the flexibility of your CRM and the accuracy of the data as the system is updated as communications occur regardless of where they originate. For example, when someone at an event requests more information about a particular program, your CRM system may be accessed to send the information while the event is still taking place. You may also choose to have the system automatically create a task to follow up with the constituent the next day.

Reports and data filtering is also a very important function of CRM software. You can create your own data filters, views or reports and have the ability to share them or not. The possibilities are endless.

Nonprofit organizations are already facing economic pressures, competition for funds, donor fatigue and resource constraints. What you don't need are more headaches with missing, fragmented or suspect data in files spread throughout the organization that no one can ever find. CRM software offers the solution that the complex nonprofit world has been looking for.

Annette Balgord is a principal of Affinity NFP, assisting non-profit organizations to implement fundraising, constituent relationship management (CRM), and accounting software systems. Contact Annette directly at 877-222-7229, email annette.balgord@affinitynfp.com, or visit www.AffinityNFP.com for more information about their services.

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