What to Consider When Testing a Nonprofit CRM

Samantha Lego • Aug 07, 2020

The phrase ‘try before you buy’ is commonly associated with test driving a new car, getting married, or hey, even buying a new software. 

That’s because going in blind on a big decision can be a nerve-racking process – especially if you later find out the car is uncomfortable, your new spouse leaves their dirty socks everywhere, or your CRM Software doesn’t have the necessary functionality you were looking for.

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a new CRM, and with so many different platforms available on the market, how do you decide which ones make the shortlist?

You take them for a test run. 

Sandbox VS Free Trial

In the software world, there are two different types of test runs you can do, a free trial, or a sandbox account. While they are essentially the same thing – they both show you how the product looks and operates without having to purchase first – there is one fundamental difference. 

A free trial grants access to the software for a set number of days, usually in 7, 14, or 30 day periods. In a free trial, you will be offered a blank canvas in which you can begin entering your own data.

Free trials are very common, and while this sounds great, most software is pretty useless until it’s populated with data. So you’ll need to dedicate some of this period to first importing contacts so you have a good grasp of what the software is capable of. 

A sandbox, on the other hand, is a test account that comes pre-loaded with dummy data, campaigns, projects, and everything else needed to show you the full functionality of the CRM. You simply walk through each feature and try things. Everything should work as promised since the data is already in place. 

While it is possible to import your own data, the point is that you should spend your time trying things rather than on administration. 

How to Get the Most out of Testing CRM Software

Choosing a CRM can feel overwhelming, and there is the added pressure of “am I making a costly mistake? Is this really ‘the one’” Regardless of whether the software you’re testing is a sandbox or a trial, there are certain things you should do to make the most out of your test run. 

A good indicator that this software is a viable option for you is if you use it consistently throughout the free period. If you don’t enjoy your first experience, the chances are, you won’t use it again. And while these first impressions are important to an extent, sometimes we let one minor hurdle shadow our opinion and cast aside what could be a very good software choice. 

If we find something difficult or aren’t willing to learn more about how the tool works, we’re less likely to put in the effort later, which impedes our judgment about the software without really giving it the old college try. 

Avoid making this mistake by making the most out of your software test by following these 7 easy steps.

Outline your goals

Does your organization currently use a CRM and are you looking to upgrade, or are you on spreadsheets and looking to migrate for the first time?

People seek out CRM solutions to solve particular problems or challenges they face at their organization including:

  • Housing all their constituent data under one roof
  • Leveraging contact history to aid in future fundraising efforts
  • Improving donor relationships
  • Creating more accurate reports

Before jumping into a CRM test, write down your organization’s challenges, strengths, as well as future goals. This way, as you’re running through the software, you can see how the tools and functions will help you overcome or achieve these items. 

Dedicate time

While 15 days might seem like a lot, we know how busy nonprofit professionals can be. It’s easy to go into a test with great intentions but then be derailed part of the way through.

Rather than test a product from the side of your desk, dedicate time in your calendar every day to learning the software, going through the relevant resources, testing the functionality, and properly evaluating how well it meets your organization’s needs.

Make sure there’s useful data in the system

To run a proper test, you need relevant data in the system. Remember, with a trial you will need to import your own, VS a sandbox that has it ready to go at your fingertips. 

This is how you’ll be able to test not only the full capabilities of the product but also how long these tasks will take you. And, if the CRM you’re testing has Artificial Intelligence tools like Keela, how long is required to feed the algorithms before they start making useful predictions. 

Rather than wasting testing time uploading this information, Keela’s Test Account comes pre-loaded with everything you need to paint a clear picture of how it will perform for your organization. This includes:

  • 100 transactions
  • 50 contacts
  • US addresses
  • CAD addresses
  • AUS addresses
  • NZ addresses
  • 5 years of data

Go through the main features

With your first look at the software, take a minute and assess: Does it feel welcoming, easy, and intuitive? Or does it feel complex, challenging, and intimidating?  Keep this in mind, and while feelings may shift as you learn your software, make note of your first impression.

Then, go through the main product features one-by-one. Write down how it works, what it offers, and how you see it impacting your nonprofit. 

Try specific activities

Most CRMs will suggest a few core actions to try during the testing phase to best guide you through the product.

For example, in Keela’s Sandbox Account, we encourage users to complete these 10 actions across our main features.

Start by “Adding a contact”.  This is simple, but see how easy this is for you. If it’s not intuitive for you, the odds are good that doing more sophisticated things will be extremely challenging. 

More elaborate features may have a small learning curve, so don’t get discouraged. If you need to, read a help center article or watch a quick video to learn exactly how it works. In fact, this is recommended as you’ll learn in a later step.

By completing these core actions, you’ll have a good idea of whether the product will work for your organization’s specific needs. Make sure you evaluate not just the features, but the interface as well. If it takes a long time to complete simple tasks, or is hard to navigate, you’ll run into challenges with user adoption later on.

Check out the Help Center

No matter how intuitive, adopting a new software comes with a steep learning curve – one that you need to be prepared to commit to. You can assess a CRM company based on how robust their support resources are. 

Take a moment to scroll through the Help Center. A good test is to find an article or training video that relates to one of the features you’re interested in. If it does a good job of teaching you how to use the tool, then this is a good indication that onboarding will be comprehensive, letting you learn what you want, when you want it.

Reach out to the Sales Support Team

Similarly, it’s always a good idea to test out how receptive the company’s sales support team is. These days most software has email, live chat, or phone support depending on the price range. Check how well this works, how quickly you get a response (3-12 hours is decent), and how personal or friendly the response is. 

This will be the level of service you can expect once you are a customer so getting to know who this team is and how they work can give you insight into your experience, should you purchase the software.

Buying a new CRM is stressful. And like buying a car or marrying someone without truly getting to know them first, the wrong choice can haunt you down the road. Do your due diligence to make the most out of your trial or testing period by being disciplined in your approach. It could be the most important decision your organization makes. 

If you’d like to peek inside Keela, you can jump into our test account for 15 days. Try it out for free, here. 

Peek inside Keela

Use Keela Starter to take advantage of our core features!