Ask These 7 Questions In Your Next Nonprofit CRM Demo

Seeing a demo is a standard part of the nonprofit CRM shopping process, and the best way to find your best fit software is to ask the right questions.

This blog post is a companion piece to our recent webinar, Is Your CRM Working For You? Instil Confidence in Your Tech Tools. Be sure to check out the recording for more helpful strategies for evaluating your nonprofit tech!

Critical nonprofit technologies like CRMs ideally impact many different departments across your organization and a variety of functions within the scope of development. So, investing in a new one is far from a trivial decision.

Getting a demonstration of the software is a key part of the purchasing process for these technologies,and it’s the best opportunity you’ll have to assess what you can really expect from each platform on the market. But, how can you be certain you’re as prepared as possible to evaluate each option against its competition effectively?

Each option might be better suited to one organization or another, so it’s a pretty subjective marketplace. The best way to find the right nonprofit software for your unique organization is to go into your demo ready to ask the right questions.

For the majority of the demo, you’ll get an inside look into all the details of how the CRM works, including the functionality that it's best able to provide for your organization. Each demo is designed to showcase each software’s strengths, but may not necessarily include everything that’s most important to you and your use cases for your process.

Ultimately, it’s on you to ask the bigger-picture questions to find out whether the tool is truly aligned with your needs and long-term goals.

To help get you started, check out these seven example questions designed to deepen the conversation during your next CRM demo:

Download: Nonprofit Software Audit Template

1. Is this software designed to support interactions or transactions?

Originally, CRM technology was developed for corporations, and its purpose was to empower businesses to manage data about customers, prospective customers, and purchase transactions. Corporate sales and nonprofit development processes may have a few things in common, but there are significant differences that ultimately require different kinds of facilitation from your platform.

Fundraising for nonprofits requires building an emotional connection to your cause as well as long-term personal relationships with supporters. This requires a much more interactive approach than traditional corporate sales. Relying on technology primarily built to process transactions can leave your supporters feeling like glorified ATMs—regardless of your intentions.

Many CRMs sold to nonprofits today don’t actually take the differences between sales and development into account in their functionality, so be on the lookout for good ways to track connective information that gets to the heart of development use cases, like data about your donor’s household and employer, for example.

Technology built to facilitate interactions rather than business transactions can help your team instill a sense of trust and mutual respect between your organization and the members of the community supporting it.

2. Can the software track a supporter’s involvement with the organization holistically?

While we often refer to constituents as “donors,” “volunteers,” or “members,” this siloed framework doesn’t always reflect the way that members of your community see themselves in relationship to your organization and mission.

More often than not, your most dedicated supporters will fall into several of these categories simultaneously. They might identify not as a donor or a volunteer, but as a champion of your cause and partner in your success in a much more holistic way.

Imagine this scenario: someone receives a thank-you note from you that acknowledges their monetary donations over the past year, but it doesn’t mention the time they’ve spent volunteering, the valuable introductions they’ve made with their personal contacts, or other in-kind gifts. Even though the intention is to express gratitude, this kind of an acknowledgement letter can actually give the impression that this person is only appreciated for monetary gifts.

So, does the platform you’re seeing demonstrated help its users easily access holistic information that can help them steward supporters in a way that reflects how they see themselves and their contributions? Make sure you find out when you’re taking a look at how it works.

3. Can the software surface relevant connections between members?

Effectively tracking relevant relationships between supporters is an important need for nonprofit CRMs that doesn’t have a significant use case in corporate sales, so it’s often overlooked. In your next platform demo, consider asking if the software has features to help your team to keep track of spouses who give both individually and together as a household. Imagine the impact that knowing this might have on your stewardship process, or for another example, how might you go about developing relationships with a parent and child who are both involved in administering gifts through their family foundation?

This kind of use case extends beyond familial relationships too—those between one of your community members and a business, organization, or foundation they’re connected with can also be useful to consider in the nonprofit fundraising process.

For example, you might have donors working at companies that offer corporate matching but aren’t yet tapping into those resources. Similarly, employers may offer sponsorship opportunities, and understanding other organizations or associations that your supporter is connected with can also provide insight into their interests and priorities.

Having the infrastructure to not only store this type of data but also effectively use it to send correct acknowledgments and personalized appeals can uncover lots of hidden revenue for nonprofits, so it is a must-have for any effective nonprofit CRM software.

4. Can this technology help our organization progress on diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Data infrastructure that doesn’t meet your needs can easily hinder your efforts to build close relationships with a diverse range of supporters and community members.
Can your CRM record important information like pronouns and preferred names? Many people prefer to be called a name other than what’s on their credit card. The impact of referring to your supporters incorrectly can range in severity from a strong emotional activation to a simple acknowledgement that you don’t quite understand them as an individual. Either way, every time you engage with your supporters, your goal is to deepen the connection—not risk offending them and widening the gap even further.

Find out whether the software you’re considering can store and reference this identifying information as well as the language in which your supporters prefer to receive outreach from your organization. Can it also note any relevant accessibility needs that ensure they can participate in your next event?

Having access to this kind of information is crucial to showing diverse supporters the respect and acknowledgment that are essential to forming the foundation of a lasting relationship.

5. Does the platform offer the intelligence and insights my organization needs?

Collecting supporter data like the kinds we have explored so far can only offer limited benefits to your organization without the ability to analyze it and use it to inform your campaigns and communications.

Can the CRM help you seamlessly evaluate and improve metrics such as donor retention, volunteer engagement, and more? A truly intelligent platform offers data visualizations that are intuitive to understand and critical to inform key decisions. These reports can not only help you gauge your current progress and organizational health but also make data-informed decisions about the future.

6. Is the CRM modern and mobile friendly?

Over the past 20 years, technology has evolved at an incredible rate. As a result, the ways that we work and consumer expectations have both shifted tremendously. That includes the expectations that people supporting nonprofits have of their experience in the outreach they’re receiving from you and your team.

Older CRM technology might receive cosmetic updates through the years so that it appears modern, but when you look under the hood, it might not actually help you keep up with your supporters’ evolving expectations, let alone facilitate a modern operational workflow for your team.

Ensure the CRM you’re viewing in your demo is built for mobile devices—smartphones might not have been around yet 20 years ago, but today, everyone has one. So, why not make full use of it in your development process?

Make sure you can access your data and add new information about your meetings with supporters anywhere you might interact with a member of your community, not just while you’re at the computer.

7. What will our training, onboarding, and data migration process be like?

When it comes time to actually implement a new CRM, this stage is where many nonprofits experience unexpected challenges. These can include extended delays and hidden fees that can even ratchet up the cost of a “free” nonprofit version of a CRM to over $100k, just to get it set up properly in the first place.

When you’re receiving a software demonstration, be sure to ask if most new customers on the platform choose to hire external consultants to help with data hygiene or customization of the platform. Not all CRMs require this kind of additional support to get started, which might mean that a platform that appears to have a higher cost up front might actually be a much more cost-effective option once implementation is factored in.

Can your team expect to be trained by the vendor when your contract begins and throughout your relationship? An accurate budget and timeline to getting fully onboarded in the platform are important to plan for when weighing your options for your nonprofit CRM.

Making an informed decision about your CRM ultimately depends on asking the right questions during your demo. Make sure your software evaluation team is equipped with all the information that will help determine which is best suited to support you in meeting your goals for your organization in both the short and long term.

If you’re looking for a new nonprofit CRM built to harness the power of modern technology to supercharge your relationship and community-building efforts, schedule a call with us and give these questions a try!

A version of this article was originally published on Be sure to check out our partner Dana Snyder for more information about best practices in nonprofit marketing and fundraising.

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