How to Convince Your Nonprofit Board You Need a CRM

Ryan Jones • Jul 24, 2020

It happens to the best of us: we start a business or nonprofit organization with just a few people and limited resources; we use the software that comes preinstalled on our computers, like a spreadsheet program, to manage our clients and information related to finances, and it seems to work just fine, until one day, it’s not fine anymore.

Enter: the CRM, or customer relationship management software. 

Whether you’re tearing your hair out trying to keep on top of things using just a spreadsheet, or a longtime CRM user whose operations have outpaced the abilities of your current software package, at some point you’re going to have to think about setting up a new CRM. Luckily, finding the right one for you is the easy part. The next step is the hard part.

Since you’re the lucky duck doing the research (and all the work), you already know why you need a CRM. Convincing your board and executive director that they need to spend the money and hours on one is a different task altogether. 

CRM Buyer’s Guide for Nonprofits

The idea of buying nonprofit technology can be a daunting task. 

But not if you’re armed with the right resource! 

This complete guide will help you evaluate your needs and shortlist CRM vendors so you can invest in the right tool for your organization. 

Chances are good that your board has already heard that not all CRMs work out to be the boon everyone had hoped for: up to 63% of CRMs fail to deliver the expected business value, so don’t be surprised if they are reluctant to get out the checkbook.

But when properly implemented and utilized effectively, a CRM can change the way you do business and be a major advantage for your nonprofit. 

So how do you talk them into it?

We’ve compiled some of the most common objections here and supplied you with bulletproof comebacks that will put you in the driver’s seat of your new CRM in no time.

Argument #1: The Current System Is Fine

Change, whether good or bad, is inevitable. And it’s also terrifying for some people, causing anger, frustration, and resistance. The idea of rocking the boat with a new CRM may be too much for some board members to deal with since from their point of view, everything has been running smoothly up to the point you walked in with a proposal. 

And since they’re not the ones working day in, and day out with inferior software, they don’t appreciate the value in taking a risk on change.

The Answer

As your organization grows, your needs grow too. In many cases, success in the nonprofit world is measured by the number of supporters you have in your database. And as you well know, the bigger the database, the harder it is to manage without an appropriate CRM. 

So frame your rebuttal as a success story: more supporters mean your organization is doing well and in order to do even better, to keep growing and enjoying continued success, you need a way to accommodate a larger database that organizes all of your data in one place, keeps accurate records, provides insight into client needs, and marshals staff so that no critical tasks are missed.

Of course, you CAN continue to get by with the system you have, but getting by isn’t exactly a rocket ship toward success. Put stars in their eyes by talking about the bigger picture and how much more you can do with a quality CRM.

Argument #2: CRMs Are Only for Big Organizations

So you work for a nonprofit organization with only a few employees and a relatively small number of supporters, suppliers, and contacts in your database. It’s easy to see a board member objecting to a new CRM simply on the grounds that your business is not big enough to warrant one and doesn’t need a tool to centralize client communications like a large enterprise might. Small is easy to manage, right? Just boot up that copy of Excel 98 on the yellowing Compaq Presario in the basement and git ‘er done. Ugh.

The Answer

No organization is ever too small for a CRM because they let you do more with less. A properly implemented CRM takes the workload off the limited shoulders of you and your staff, allowing you to apply your time, talent, and creativity to things that computers aren’t so good at, like coming up with brilliant community initiatives or innovative outreach programs. The things that gain notoriety and new supporters for your cause.

Sell the idea to your board as a way for your organization to do more good without having to hire additional people, expand your office space, or contract services out to an agency. Show them the long list of tasks you have on your plate and then show them what can be taken off the list by a new CRM.

Argument #3: Learning New Tech Is Hard

Chances are, some of your board members may be less than, shall we say, tech-savvy. So when you show up, face aglow, proclaiming the benefits of so many high-tech features, they just see so many new things that they will have to learn how not to break. 

The Answer

It’s important to remember that your board members are probably in their positions because they have some nonprofit or management expertise, as opposed to expertise in technology. So now is the time to reassure them that they won’t have to worry about learning how to use a CRM, that’s what you’re there for. 

And if they’re concerned about the learning curve for the actual users (you and your full-time staff) you can hit them with two major comebacks:

  1. These days user experience and user interface (UX and UI) are front and center in the design process for CRMs, which means they are more intuitive and customer-friendly than ever before. 
  2. Customer success departments are a robust part of every tech company and there will always be someone there to help you implement, learn, and troubleshoot your new software.

Tell them you’ll nominate a champion of this new technology who will be the in-house expert and repository of CRM information for your organization. You’ll win the argument by ensuring your board that the responsibility will never fall back on them.

Argument #4: CRMs Are Expensive

When you’re a member of a nonprofit board of directors with a limited budget that depends on the generosity of donors, everything seems expensive. From staff wages to advertising, to the coffee in the break room (♫ the best part of waking up is being in the black ♫), every bit of outgoing funds looks like one less program that moves the needle for your cause. So it’s easy to dismiss a new CRM as too expensive since it’s probably going to cost more than all your other software combined.

The Answer

Go into your pitch with the mentality that CRMs don’t cost money, they save money. With vastly improved reporting from your CRM, you’ll be able to understand how your organization is performing, while enjoying the ability to pinpoint opportunities and optimize fundraising strategies to increase your donation revenues. 

Ultimately, your CRM will pay for itself again and again. Most CRMs will have case studies based on their customers’ ROI. 

Keela’s has demonstrated a 30% average increase in donations after the first year. All you have to do is plug your organization’s numbers into this ROI calculator and show your board what your organization could look like after implementing a CRM.

Additionally, a cloud-based CRM allows you to skip installation and hardware costs while granting you access to your database from any computer at any time. So not only is your new CRM getting you more donations, it’s costing less upfront compared to what your board is imagining, and it’s available anywhere.

Argument #5: CRMs Are a Heavy Time Commitment

It’s true, setting up a brand new CRM when you’ve been using spreadsheets is going to take time. And migrating data from your old CRM isn’t exactly a five-minute job. Board members see hours adding up, and that makes them see dollar signs going down the drain.

The Answer

Treat CRM implementation like an investment. Talk about all of the other facets of your business that took time to set up (social media, accounting, website, etc.), and then cite all the good things that have come as a result. Your new CRM is no different. Learning it the right way the first time will pay dividends down the road.

Argument #6: The Boss Isn’t On Board

Your board might be on board, but is your executive director? When the big boss isn’t buying your pitch, it can put a huge roadblock in your path toward CRM bliss, especially if your ED can’t see the value in new technology that they don’t understand.

The Answer

If you don’t think you can reach your ED with the benefits and cost savings of a new CRM, it’s time to stop the argument altogether and team up. The key to effective CRM usage is complete adoption across your organization; enlist your ED to be the figurehead of the initiative. So rather than asking for approval, ask for the ED’s help with convincing everyone else. An appeal to someone’s ego may not be your usual strategy, but it’ll get the job done. And with the ED on board, everyone else will fall into place.

And lastly…

You know your board and executives better than anyone. So in addition to the arguments we’ve listed here before you make your pitch, try to anticipate their objections. Put yourself in their shoes. What questions will they ask? What are their main areas of interest? If you can prepare a presentation that fully addresses their concerns upfront, you’ll be clicking through your new CRM before you can say, “marketing automation.” 

Good luck!

CRM Buyer’s Guide for Nonprofits

The idea of buying nonprofit technology can be a daunting task. 

But not if you’re armed with the right resource! 

This complete guide will help you evaluate your needs and shortlist CRM vendors so you can invest in the right tool for your organization. 

CRM Buyer’s Guide for Nonprofits

The Ultimate Guide for Choosing the Best CRM 
for Your Nonprofit. 

Get the guide + A bonus Evaluation Checklist!