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What is a CRM? 

Traditionally, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system is something used for tracking sales prospects and customers in commercial companies. They hold details of clients, contacts, relationships and so on, helping the company keep track of everything to ensure happy customers and keep the sales pipeline flowing.

In the not-for-profit sector a CRM can mean a fundraising and membership database, or a client-focused service management database.

IT users

Why use a CRM?

In short, to save time on admin, run reports for funders and trustees, and keep your data secure.

Your charity may use volunteers, directly-employed staff or both. Your services may be provided on a 1:1 basis, in groups, in a family setting, in the home or elsewhere. You might need specialised ways of collecting data, or a variety of outcome and impact scoring methodologies. And it's likely that you'll have to account for what you have been doing to funders, trustees and/or commissioners. 

A charity CRM needs to help you do all of this and more. Here are some common questions and answers about charity CRMs, to help you decide what your charity might need.

Things to consider when deciding on your CRM

Does it hold everything in one place? 

You are likely to have clients (although you might refer to them as service users, customers or with another term). A CRM will help you keep track of them and staff interactions with them. But there is scope to do much more. For example, keeping track of volunteer recruitment, staff reviews, external organisations providing referrals, professionals, families and more. 

All these people and organisations are involved in the overall functioning of the charity and it is much easier if the details are all in one place. This is especially true where you have people with multiple roles, for example a carer who is also a volunteer and also a trustee.

How important is the fundraising aspect? 

All charities need funding so fundraising is clearly important. The problem tends to be that the functionality needed for fundraising is different to that needed for client service provision. Added to that is the fact that neither are particularly simple and the features needed are different. 

Therefore, although either type of system will probably achieve some of the functionality of the other, you may find that you need both. 

Do you have multiple funding streams that need to be reported to? 

Depending on the size and function of the charity, there are likely to be a number of funding streams which need to be managed. Funders typically want reports on what has been achieved with their funding.  

This will be difficult if there is no way to separate out these distinct projects or services. It is also possible that a client may be benefitting from more than one funding stream, so could be in multiple projects at any one time. 

The client service focused CRM should be able to separate these different activities for reporting purposes. 

 Do you need limited access for the likes of volunteers, therapists or counsellors? 

As more people get used to using cloud based systems it seems likely that charities will want to encourage volunteers and other staff to enter information themselves.

This applies particularly to the likes of case notes, care visits or group attendances. You may want the flexibility of being able to allow volunteers, for example, to see only certain details about the people they are working with.

Do you have a range of outcome scoring methods? 

Outcomes and impact measurement have been used as measures of performance for some time. However, there is a wide range of ‘standard’ sets of outcomes such as WEMWBS and GAD7, as well as many created and used locally. 

Often different funders will require different outcome scoring mechanisms to be used.  

In the light of this it would obviously be beneficial to be able to have a system where you can include whichever ones you need, ideally without having to resort to the software supplier.  

Should it be cloud based? 

Nearly all modern systems are now cloud based. This means they run using a browser on a device that has an internet connection. Despite the vague terminology, the data is held in a physical data centre somewhere in the world – it isn’t randomly floating about in the ether!

This gives more flexibility and provides the supplier with lower maintenance and support costs. (It has been almost essential for an efficient ‘working from home’ regime.)

The obvious security benefit of this is that you do not have data sitting on servers or in filing cabinets in your office, which could be lost, stolen or accessed without authority.

The downside is that you must ensure that the provider of the service has the relevant security methods and accreditations in place, typically ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials Plus. Similarly, you may want your data to stay in the UK.

Do GDPR and security need to be strengthened? 

GDPR has been a hot topic for a few years now and this won’t change. And now that the UK has gone through Brexit, there's a chance UK laws regarding data could diverge from European or US laws.  

General security levels are being increased constantly both at organisational and individual user levels. At the very least it seems sensible to ensure your data stays in the UK and is held in a reputable data centre(s). 

Do you have control over it? 

Sometimes a charity has a database which is difficult to alter or add to. Projects and services tend to change over time and may need different data collection or processes.

You should have control over your own database and be able to add or change projects and services, new data fields etc. With a flexible, self-administered system you will also save money in that you don't have to pay someone else to alter it.

Do you need any extra facilities? 

You may have additional requirements such as invoicing (which can have some quirks in the third sector!), rostering for care in the home or regular befriending. And you may need to cover multiple geographical locations or partnerships where you need some control over which information is visible to which users.

It is obviously beneficial if all these functions can run alongside and in the same system as the standard contact management functions. 

Will you need licenses for infrequent users? 

Many organisations have non staff members who would benefit the organisation by having access to the system infrequently, for example a counsellor who needs to update notes once a week. 

Sometimes it is disproportionately expensive to allow these potential users access to the system, so check the licensing terms of the CRM. 

Could the right CRM help to increase funding?

A client focused CRM won't just help you keep track of what's going on, it will also demonstrate to potential funders that you have good, robust procedures in place and can efficiently provide both their services and their reports. So it may indeed help to increase funding!