Optimizing Your Software: 4 Tips for Growing Nonprofits

July 1, 2021
Explore this guide to optimizing your nonprofit's technology.

Guest post blog submitted by: CharityEngine, a nonprofit technology provider.

Growing your nonprofit is a big step towards improved outreach and mission fulfillment. It can also be intimidating as your nonprofit assesses what changes need to occur to accommodate your growth goals. Your nonprofit’s software provides valuable progress information about where your money is going and what your staff is doing, but don’t overlook the software itself as a potential site of change. 

Nonprofit software comes with a variety of functionalities, and each type has its own best practices. Your software should accommodate your nonprofit’s growth. While some software isn’t built to accommodate larger organizations, many can with the right setup and optimization. 

To help your nonprofit understand and make better use of your current technology, this guide will review optimization strategies for four software types:

  1. CRMs
  2. Grant Management Software
  3. Matching Gift Databases
  4. Event Management Software

Each section of this guide will give a brief overview of the software type then provide recommendations on how to adjust your nonprofit’s current usage for increased efficiency and revenue. Let’s get started.

1. CRMs


CRM stands for Constituent Relationship Management software. Business and nonprofits both use CRMs, but while businesses use their software to primarily make and track sales, nonprofit CRMs are optimized for managing donor data. As your nonprofit grows, your CRM should grow along with it and adapt to changing needs that come with expanding fundraising and outreach efforts.  

CharityEngine’s guide to CRMs emphasizes that your database should enable your nonprofit to track your supporters on their journey towards donating, volunteering, and other engagement activities. CRMs collect information about your donors’ interactions with your nonprofit such as events attended, participation in campaigns, and giving rates. 

The information gathered by your CRM allows your nonprofit to create personalized experiences for each donor. By leveraging the data you collect, you can build relationships that lead to increased or recurring giving, volunteer engagement, and advocacy for your mission. 

Best Practices

Different CRMs come with different base features and add-ons. Before purchasing a CRM, decide ahead of time which features you will need as part of your CRM and which can be added on using other software. For example, your nonprofit might decide that a built-in nonprofit payment processor is a must-have for security purposes, but peer-to-peer fundraising tools may be optional if you don’t generally conduct this type of campaign.

If you already have a solution on-hand, take the time to do an inventory of your CRM’s features as you conduct a technology assessment. This should reveal what your donor management system covers as well as what holes in your strategy might need to be filled with a different tech solution. 

Your CRM should serve as your nonprofit’s hub for all donor information, which means that information needs to flow in and out of your CRM without error. For example, if a supporter registers for an event through your signup page, the registration form should be in line with your CRM, allowing entered information to become available in your CRM. Or, if you’re writing an email to a supporter, you should be able to quickly pull their preferred name from their donor profile to include in the message salutation. 

Investing in an all-in one, fully connected system is your best bet to ensure you have all of the tools you need and that they all speak the same language. However, if you find that two or more of your tools don’t integrate, investing in a tech consultant can ultimately save you funds and time as they help you build out a comprehensive and connected system. 

2. Grant Management Software


Researching, managing, and applying for grants is an intensive undertaking requiring both time and work. Growing nonprofits applying for grants should create a dedicated grant manager position who will oversee grant applications from initial outreach to check-ins with grant officers. Your grant manager will appreciate software that can help them juggle these tasks.

Effective grant management software comes with a few key features: document library, calendar tools, and reporting capabilities. These features allow your grant manager and their team to easily pull documents for applications, track multiple grant timelines, and generate reports for your nonprofit that meet each grant maker’s specifications. 

Best Practices

Many grant management software solutions offer multi-user access, enabling every member of your grant team to work simultaneously on an application. However, this means your staff members using your grant management software need to take extra care in how they manage data to make sure no documents go missing when an application is due.

Data management requires everyone to be on the same page in how your data is being used, where it’s being stored, and how it should be entered. 

Establish policies for how staff should interact with data to create standardized management systems moving forward. For example, create note taking templates for your staff to use during client meetings, ensuring the information they collect will be appropriate and match the data entry forms in your CRM.  However, if your team realizes a mess has already been made, consider looking into third-party consultants for help. 

3. Matching Gift Databases


Your CRM stores your donors’ information, allowing your nonprofit to stay in contact, create personalized messages, and understand how supporters engage with outreach efforts. However, to grow as a nonprofit, consider investing in data-focused software that makes strategic use of the information you’re already collecting. 

Matching gift databases analyze your donors’ information to identify further fundraising opportunities. By comparing donor information to corporate matching gift databases, matching gift software can determine if donors are eligible for a matching grant and help them start their grant application. 

Corporate matching grants are additional donations made by employers when their employees give to a nonprofit. Employers have different guidelines on what qualifies for a matching grant, such as the employee’s donation needing to meet a certain monetary threshold. Matching grant software accounts for these rules and communicates them to eligible donors to help them plan their donation accordingly. 

Best Practices

Using a matching gift database at all is generally considered a best fundraising practice as your nonprofit can earn more from each donation and align marketing strategies with key donors in mind. Double the Donation’s guide to matching gifts estimates that over 18 million people work for a company that offers a matching gift program. If even a fraction of those individuals donate to your nonprofit, your nonprofit earns extra donations with no additional fundraising expenses. 

However, matching gift databases can only operate with your CRM if you take steps to keep your data clean. Matching gift databases pull information from your CRM, which means that missing, inaccurate, or repetitive data limits their potential to find additional fundraising opportunities. 

Maintain good data hygiene by adding essential information fields to donor and engagement forms and removing unnecessary ones to help your matching gift database generate more accurate results. Ask why you collect information for every field on your forms to decide whether it’s contributing to your nonprofit’s growth goals or clogging your CRM with meaningless trivia about your supporters. 

4. Event Management Software


Events drive growth and engagement by giving your supporters fun ways to get involved with your nonprofit. While virtual events have become a staple of nonprofit this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person events also rely on having the most effective digital management tools. This means that investing in the best software now will help you both in the moment and when the pandemic ends and in-person events become more plausible and popular.

Before choosing your event management software, decide what sort of event you will be hosting. Event management software is usually designed with a specific event in mind. For example, you might decide to invest in silent auction event software, peer-to-peer event software, and 5k run event software. If you’re not sure what kinds of events your nonprofit should host, check out this guide for ideas.

However, if you’ve invested in an all-in-one CRM solution, you may already have access to the event tools you need. If your assessment proves your CRM is lacking a specific functionality, research and consider the specialization of your desired software to understand how it will integrate with your CRM.

Best Practices

Events require attendees, and attendees need user friendly websites, forms, and other online tools (especially for virtual events). To make your event easy to manage for both front and back end users:

  • Test all software prior to events. For videos, live-streams, and interactive media, preview how it looks on the user’s end, testing for sync delays, loading times, and audio levels. Keep tech support on hand during your event in case something waits until after your tests to break. 
  • Remove unnecessary information fields. Keeping registration forms free of nonessential information fields doesn’t just create good data hygiene as previously mentioned, but it also encourages your supporters to complete their registration. Long forms can lead to page abandonment, wherein users get frustrated and leave the page before submitting their form. 
  • Run accessibility tests on your event webpages. Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is likely a requirement for your nonprofit, and even if it’s not, you should still follow their guidelines as a courtesy to all of your supporters. 

For a growing nonprofit, events are an opportunity to generate more support by giving your attendees something to talk about with their friends and family. Ensure they walk away from your event remembering the event itself and not the technical difficulties they encountered trying to participate. 

Nonprofit software is varied and can be intimidating. The tips outlined in this guide should help your nonprofit assess its current practices to identify current processes that can be improved and point you towards software to invest in. 

As your nonprofit grows, your technological needs (and the nonprofit software landscape) will change. Stay up to date on current nonprofit software trends, and don’t be afraid to reach out with questions to software developers.

About the Author:

Philip Schmitz is the CEO and founder of cloud-services leader BIS Global, creators of the CharityEngine fundraising & communications technology platform. Founded in 1999, Phil has managed the vision and strategy for BIS’s suite of integrated business applications & hosting tools used by more than 400 businesses & non-profits.


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