If, based on the previous articles in this series, you already see the sense in collecting and organizing the data of interested parties and potential supporters around your organization, it is time to build the right technical background and choose the right tool.

Here are a few tips to help your organization find the best technical platform for its purposes. Remember this: you don't need the smartest tool on the market, you need the one that best suits your size and objectives.

For simpler goals and a smaller database, it is not necessary to immediately think about implementing a complex CRM system. To communicate with your contacts, a bulk mailing service will do in the first instance, which you can combine with your existing excel database, or perhaps link to your website.

Mail systems can:

  • send mail to large volumes of email addresses,

  • manage lists of recipients

  • report on the mailing (opens and non-opens, clicked content)

  • perform some automation (e.g. send timed mail, send reply email, send to non-openers, etc.)

Such popular bulk mailing systems include:

Their advantage over a regular gmail mail system or other organizational mail server is clear, as emails sent out to many recipients can very easily end up in spam. And once there, there is a good chance that your other messages will not reach even a single recipient. However, the mailing lists keep a relatively clean database, you can check your recipient lists to see which email addresses have been blocked, for example because they don't open your mail or because the email address is incorrect, for example it was recorded incorrectly.

Pricing can be an important consideration when choosing between mailers. Some set price ranges based on the volume of mail sent, others on the number of contacts. Based on our own usage patterns, plans and database size, it's worth considering which package is best for us. Of course, it's always worth considering that, with a growing database, you shouldn't have to switch to newer and newer packages, especially if you've chosen an annual subscription but you've "outgrown" your paid subscription within six months.

Ease of use and a user-friendly interface can also be important. It is now true that the various types of newsletter are easy to learn how to use. Typically, they work on the drag & drop principle, which makes it easy to create a tasteful design using the templates and blocks in the systems: simply drag and drop the desired template element in the mailing to the appropriate part of the mailing and personalize it, be it a button, a text block or a caption image. You can also save the colors that match your organization's own brand, so you can visually reinforce your organization's brand recognition in your correspondence.

These systems are most useful for databases of a few hundred or a few thousand, or if you manually set up campaigns, send out newsletters, but don't want to manage more complex processes. If you feel you have the potential to go beyond this level, use automated processes, significantly increase your database, build a donor journey, or manage other activities in this system (database building, donation reports, event management, volunteer management, corporate relations, etc.), then it is worth considering a more complex database management and mailing system: a CRM system, even at the beginning.

About CRM systems

The implementation of CRM systems tends to be a more serious decision for NGOs, because it requires much more thought than the use of a simple mailing system as to when, why and which system to choose. Such a software can do much more and serves more complex relationship management purposes, but the organization needs to think consciously about what data and what context it wants to see and follow in order to achieve its own goals.

Examples of common CRM systems are:

It is worth expecting that, while you can get cleaner and more relevant data with a well-built CRM system, you can only do so if the organization has been able to tailor its capabilities, which is something that needs to be invested in for the long term. Improvements can be continuous, because no matter how deliberately we start with a set of expectations and data structure, as we use it, additional needs may arise, which will require continuous redesign and development. That's fine, but it's worth anticipating and preparing mentally and spiritually (as well as financially) - so that we don't get sucked into the world of excel spreadsheets...

The advantage of a CRM over a plain excel is that you don't have to manually fill in all the data, but if it's linked to the website, the data is automatically entered into your database. You can filter, list and group (segment) them.

It is important to know, however, that using a CRM will not reduce the amount of work you do, but will improve the quality of your work! So, these systems can give you a lot, but only to those who put a lot into them - maintaining and improving them for the organization's own purposes, keeping the database clean and not being tempted back to excel sheets...

A few tips before making your choice:

  • Should you choose a web-based or cloud-based system?

"Cloud" is a more friendly name for web-based IT services hosted off-site. Web-based software, for example, is CiviCRM, which was developed specifically for the needs of non-profit organizations. In this article you can read more about TASZ's experience with this tool. One of the reasons they chose not to use cloud-based technology is that this way, their supporter and subscriber data is stored on the server they run themselves, it is not transferred to a third country and is not exposed to an attack targeting the CRM provider. At the same time, it is also worth checking whether the service provider will take over the hosting if the system is not hosted on the CRM provider's server, as this solution could cause problems during operation. For the specific device, ask a knowledgeable person about this!

  • Is there a mail sender connected to it?

The CRM system only works effectively if a bulk mailing service is connected to it, be sure to ask your provider about this!

  • Know which features are most important to you!

It's very good to have a contact from the system developer before implementing the CRM, who can bring into your thinking beforehand what questions you do need to develop your own answers to. Someone who can explain how the system works, the data paths, what you can expect from it and how it can best be tailored to your own purposes, because every database needs to be customized. Even so-called 'civic CRMs', such as CiviCRM, are not a skeleton that is tailored to your organization - you need to develop a structure for the data that makes the information relevant to you easy to follow and the system can display it.

  • know how much it costs to maintain the system!

Implementing a system is not just a one-off expense, but even if you have found free software, there may be various add-ons that are required, and there may also be a cost to run or use the system separately. For open source systems, the system is free to use, and for proprietary systems there are providers who offer discounts to non-profits, so it is worth looking around for this too. There may also be a charge for the installation itself, configuration, website integration.

  • how well tailored to non-profits?

It does not hurt if the scheme operator has experience in non-profit work, has NGO clients, or can provide fundraising professional support in addition to scheme operation. For example, in the case of webshops, systems developed for for-profit purposes do not always cover the needs of nonprofits, lacking certain features that are particularly important for donations.

  • Is there adequate support?

Database updates and troubleshooting can sometimes require assistance, so the question is whether there is support from the system operator. Or at least an active forum where credible help is available?

  • Do I need web development skills?

The greatest treasure is a person who can be reached out to IT and other people using the system about to translate for us. This can be internal or external help.

We hope we've given you some considerations to start thinking about your own database and goals before you commit to a tool.

For each tool, you can also read our articles in which organizations report on their own experiences of searching for and finding the right software for their own purposes, and how they use it in practice.

You can access the case studies in our series of articles on database-driven communication here:

Using MailChimp at MU Theatre Association

MailerLite experience - MailChimp alternative for the Rainbow Mission Foundation

Experience of the KSZGYSZ with the Acymailing system

The experience of HCLU with the CiviCRM system

The Ecumenical Church's experience with the Zapier automation tool