What does CRM mean? What are the most important features for a nonprofit to look for in a CRM? How can a nonprofit go about choosing a CRM?

These are a few of the questions discussed on this week’s #NPTalk Twitter Chat. If you’re new to CRM, or even if you’ve had one for quite a while and suspect there might be something better, it can feel overwhelming to attempt to understand the options and make a good choice. Honestly, I’ve been working in this field for eight years, and I still feel overwhelmed sometimes! How does one begin to sift through all of the bells and whistles and shiny new things?

Start with a needs assessment. Try to resist naming specific features, but rather, write down goals and results that the CRM should help you achieve. Articulate any special requirements; for example, does it need to be Mac compatible? Make sure to include the needs and goals of all users in this assessment.

Now you will need to make some of the big choices that narrow your options, and set some parameters. Will cloud-based or installed software be a better fit? How much can you spend, and do you prefer to pay a large sum up front with subsequent upgrades every few years, or a monthly subscription? Do you have the IT capacity to host/install and support something in house, or will you need to outsource that?

Next, begin researching products. Of course you’ll want to look at demonstrations and written proposals or feature lists. Don’t forget to evaluate the company behind the software. Make sure it is financially stable, and check client references carefully. By this time, you should have a good idea of what features are important to you; but again, try not to put all the emphasis on specific features. It is equally important to choose a provider that is responsive to your needs. That means supporting the CRM product with training and customer support, and continually improving the product as technology evolves.

There will likely be more than one CRM product that can meet your needs. Finally, it comes down to what you are most comfortable with. Make your selection, and then just do it. Every day you wait is a day you miss out on the benefits of a CRM.

The #NPTalk Twitter Chat occurs every Tuesday afternoon at 2pm Central. There’s a different topic each week, often related to technology and communication, and always focused on nonprofits. Watch for our team @thedatabank.