Optimus Think

A New Idea for Managing the Fund Development Process


Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are designed to typically manage an organization’s interactions with its customers or clients in support of sales and service-related processes. While nonprofits do not typically sell products or services, they do nurture relationships with individuals – donors, funders, or sponsors – in order to solicit contributions and commitments – donations, funding or gifts – for their cause. The typical fund development process consists of the following steps:

  • Identify and qualify prospects that are interested in your organization and/or cause
  • Cultivate the prospect and nurture the relationship towards obtaining their commitment and contribution for a specific request for support
  • Solicit the commitment and contribution for the specific request for support
  • Steward the relationship by acknowledging the commitment including progress as a result of the contribution

If you replace the notion of customer or client with supporter or donor and instead of selling a product or service you are soliciting a contribution or commitment, the similarities between a sales process and a fund development or fundraising process becomes more apparent. In both processes there are prospects, potential ‘revenue’ and each emphasizes the steps and activities to nurture the desired outcome – a sale or in the case of a nonprofit, a donation, funding or gift. Considering most commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) CRM solutions provide out-of-the box tools and reports to support sales processes, it isn’t much of a stretch to adapt them to support the fund development process.

This may seem counterintuitive to acquiring an application that is designed specifically for managing a fund development process; however there are several advantages to implementing a COTS CRM solution:

  1. Scalable and flexible – CRM solutions such as Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics CRM are designed to work in organizations of any size and will therefore scale up or down according to your organization’s needs. Since they are designed to be used in a number of industries, they are flexible enough to be configured to satisfy particular business needs.
  2. Integration – In addition to being scalable and flexible, these systems are designed to integrate with other systems such as finance or ERP systems as well as integrate with typical email and calendaring systems. The addition of third party products that are designed to extend the functionality of the CRM can be leveraged to further eliminate administrative activities.
  3. Nonprofit Pricing – Many of the leading CRM vendors offer discounted pricing to qualified nonprofit organizations that is competitive with solutions offered by vendors specializing in fundraising software. This provides nonprofit organizations with the opportunity to utilize industry leading enterprise solutions for a fraction of the price it might otherwise cost.
  4. Market share – The leading CRM solutions have a large customer base ensuring that they continue to provide service to their customers with support, product updates and new features. In the case of niche markets and specialized software, the vendors may not be able to provide updates and support at the same frequency and there is always a risk that they may go out of business leaving the organization without any support or updates for their investment.

 The Takeaway

Implementing a COTS CRM solution may not be suitable for all organizations. Individuals must do their due diligence to determine exactly what their needs are and what type of solution makes the most sense to them. However, given the similarities between the sales process and fundraising initiatives, the benefits of a COTS CRM solution are clear for a nonprofit organization looking to manage and automate its fund development process.

Optimus Think