News and opinions

When is a CRM really a CRM?


Civil Society’s annual CRM survey is out and it’s an interesting read this year, not that there are any real surprises in the products it covers as it’s the same names you’d expect, but more so in that it highlights some surprising and pretty major gaps in charity technology provision from the CRM giants. Interestingly so because, in reality, these gaps are already being catered for by smaller yet more intuitive and nimble solutions, and which makes me question whether the title ‘CRM’ (customer relationship management) is correct.

One of these gaping holes is the need, in today’s digital and social media marketing environment, for charities’ websites to be connected to their CRM systems in order to be capturing the wealth of interaction data; not only for driving fundraising, but also for understanding where supporters’ real interests lie.

The survey found that only 10% feel that their CRM software interfaces very well with their web-based fundraising platforms.  I can’t be the only one to find that shocking, can I? In today’s digital world it really should be a ‘must have’ for integrating all sources of on-line and off-line supporter data.

The problem seems to be that the traditional CRM systems are trying to reinvent themselves as supporter data platforms when most were designed specifically for managing the donation process. This is like trying to turn a machine designed for just one purpose within a process into a full toolkit for managing the entire process, it’s not always geared up with the necessary parts to manage the job effectively.

A supporter data platform starts the other way around to a CRM by ingesting supporter data from all available sources, linking it together wherever possible, and then building from that a whole range of functions from campaign personalisation to donation source attribution and GDPR compliance, and so forth.

Donor source attribution is a key requirement in today’s charity environment – if asked you must be able to state from where you obtained a donor’s details, and that requires linking up supporter journeys across social media, and through the website, so that the contribution of each and all influencers involved can be understood.

Coming back to the survey article, there’s also no reference to the role of data science in all this. At each stage in the supporter journey there is a role for data science to unravel what is yielding results and what is not, who should be targeted and with which message, and how the mix of fundraising and communication activities is or is not building value.

If the contribution of a good CRM, that offers a full 360 view, can be expanded through the use of data science, then charities will find themselves better able to make game changing use of first party donor data – compliantly and responsibly, in fact better able to meet best practice guidelines.  Donor data cannot be avoided and is not something to shy away from especially now there are ever more robust guidelines on how charities can work with data. 

Donor data is a valuable asset that is undervalued and underutilised when it comes to truly understanding supporters – the type of people they are and their needs from a charity, not to mention their potential long-term value to the organisation, the profile of possible new supporters, and so much more understanding with which to apply to a better two-way relationship.

In conclusion, I can’t help feeling that the CRMs seen as the market leaders have some work to do, at this point they’re just one of the functions of a fuller supporter data platform.  It’s worth exploring more. 

For more help and advice on any aspect of this, contact Suzanne on


Stuart Townsend