Blog posts

The top 7 things you need your nonprofit CRM to do... and 3 you don't.

Chris Houghton
February 25, 2020

If you're thinking of choosing a CRM for your organisation, one of the first things you'll realise is that there's quite a bit to consider.

Often there'll be multiple teams involved, some general requirements, and those that are more specific to yourselves.

Every day at Beacon HQ we have the privilege of speaking with many different organisations who are considering choosing a CRM. As you can probably imagine - we hear the same requirements come up again and again!

In this post, I thought it would be great to summarise some of these key asks. I've also deliberately added a list of features that you should not expect from your CRM.

If you're starting to put together a list of requirements for your own CRM project,  this list should be useful!

✅ Manage contacts

Let's jump right in with the most important topic - contacts.

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. In the nonprofit sector, the "C" is often substituted for "Contact" or "Constituent".

A CRM is first and foremost a database for managing contacts. That is, everyone who interacts with your organisation. It's a single, centralised, and secure place where you can store information about all of the people and organisations you're communicating with.

It's important to store the "standard" things you might expect, like their email addresses, phone numbers, address, gender, date of birth, etc.

Additionally, you should be able to store information about different kinds of contacts, such as:

  • Donors
  • Volunteers
  • Fundraisers
  • Corporate sponsors
  • Clients (service users)
  • And so on...

Often people end up interacting with your organisation in multiple different ways, so it's important to make sure that a given contact can be more than one type:

Screenshot 2020-02-25 at 08.34.14

✅ See everything in one place

Once you've got all of your contacts in one place, a CRM should help you go to the next level. You should be able to ask the question:

How does this person relate to our organisation? What interactions have we had with them?

From a communications standpoint, this means storing a full history of the communications you've had with a given contact, including:

  • Direct mail
  • Emails sent via Outlook / G Suite
  • Marketing emails sent from email providers like Mailchimp
  • Phone calls
  • Meetings

Beyond communications, the sky's the limit, and it will depend on your organisation. However, this tends to include information like:

  • Donations they've made
  • What events they have attended
  • What campaigns they've been part of
  • The clients or projects they are volunteering to help with
  • Anything else that matters to your organisation

Storing all of this in one place is known as a "single customer view", or "360-degree view".

✅ Segmentation & search      

Whether you're choosing a CRM for fundraising, volunteering, managing clients, or otherwise - you'll need to the ability to segment your data, and find individual contacts quickly.

A search feature should make it easy to quickly scan across all of your data, surfacing just the records that you want. For example, finding someone quickly from their name, email or phone number:

Screenshot 2020-02-25 at 15.05.44

Just as important is the ability to segment your data. Different products use different terminology here: "query", "list", or "filtering" are all common terms that mean essentially the same thing.

You should be able to quickly segment your data to find the records that meet any given criteria that you might think of, for example:

  • All male volunteers
  • Supporters who've attended an event in the last year
  • Donors who've given >£250 in the last 6 months
  • Grants funded recently

✅ Import & export data      

Your CRM is a database. As such, it should be built to make it easy to get data in and out! Preferably, this should be in the format that works for you.

CSV imports are typically the main mechanism for bringing data in en-masse. Expect to import many kinds of data, including:

  • Contacts
  • Event attendees
  • Payments (donations or otherwise)

Automated integrations are also becoming an increasingly common way of bringing data into a CRM. Bonus points for integrations!

Exporting your data is key as well. What use is a database that you can't get data out of? Most importantly, you should be able to export to a CSV/Excel format.

Some CRMs like Beacon also offer other formats for exports - like generating Word documents (mail merge), or bank-statement-style PDF exports.

✅ Handle duplicates      

A CRM that's full of duplicates is a database that isn't particularly useful. As such, you should expect any CRM you choose to provide a mechanism to both detect duplicates, and give you the ability to merge them:

Screen Shot 2019-06-28 at 15.50.17

✅ Gift Aid      

Gift Aid has a few different areas that need managing. There's declaration audit requirements, payment eligibility, the small donations scheme, and of course the ability to keep track of which payments have been claimed on.


One of the most complex areas is "back-claiming" - claiming donations on payments made in the past. Some declarations allow you to claim on payments made up to 4 years ago, so it's important that your CRM can flag up those payments for you.

Ideally, you'll be able to submit a claim directly to HMRC via the CRM, but at the very least, you should be given a CSV to download and submit via Charities Online.

✅ Be secure      

It should go without saying that your CRM, the place where you're storing data about all of your contacts, should be secure.

Like onions (and ogres), security has layers. The way to ensure that your data stay safe is to add as many layers of security as possible; each layer reduces the chance of someone getting access to something they shouldn't have.

Your CRM provider will have a responsbility for the some of those layers. Good questions to ask a potential provider are:

  • Is our data encrypted-at-rest?
  • Is the database behind a firewall?
  • Do you support two-factor authentication (2FA)?  
  • What is your minimum password strength?
  • Do you auto-backup our data? How long do you hold backups for?
  • Do you support different kinds of users, with restricted access levels?

We've blogged in the past about other ways you can keep your data safe and secure.

We'll now take a look at some of the things that you should not expect your CRM to do.

It's important to remember that different tools are built for different jobs.

While it's tempting to try and bring everything under one roof, in practice, trying to shoehorn everything into a single piece of software will make your life significantly more complicated.

❌ Accounting/finance system      

As mentioned previously, a CRM is built primarily for managing contacts, and the information that's related to them.

Accounting systems, on the other hand, are built for accounting purposes. Balance sheets, Charts of Accounts, and expense reports are not features that CRMs have. Similarly, accounting systems are not built for logging communication history, or volunteer management!

Your CRM should work in tandem with your accounting system (ideally via an integration like Beacon's Xero integration), rather than replace it.

The most commonly used accounting software products for small to medium sized organisations are:

❌ Run your website      

There are numerous fantastic open source website platforms on the market, most notably There's a lot to website building, including:

  • Branding
  • Adding email newsletter signups
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Managing web pages
  • Blog posts
  • Social media integration

These aren't features that you'd typically find in a CRM.

However, it's important to note that many CRM companies like Beacon provide a forms product that can be integrated with your website. The benefit of these forms is typically that there is a direct integration between your donation and signup pages on your website, and the CRM.

❌ Send your email newsletters      

90% of the organisations we speak with are using Mailchimp for managing and sending email newsletters. It's a fantastic and easy-to-use product, with a drag-and-drop visual editor for designing the perfect email. They now have over 20 million customers.

Again, many of the email features offered by providers like Mailchimp are not offered by most CRMs, and vice-versa.

As such, the important thing is for your CRM to communicate properly with your email provider via an integration, rather than to replace it.

That's it for now! Got a question about CRM requirements that isn't mentioned in this article? Feel free to drop us a message.