Constituent Relationship Management: A Guide for Success

Wendy Levine
June 15, 2022

We’ve all experienced the challenges of building and retaining strong constituent relationships. As an organization doing social good, you have various constituents with different relationships to your cause.

From donors to corporate partners to staff, these supporters help to drive your mission forward in their own unique ways, which makes it essential to manage and nurture all of your constituent relationships. Constituent relationship management refers to the many strategies and software solutions a nonprofit uses to build relationships with new and existing constituents.

In the day-to-day effort of running a nonprofit, maintaining those relationships is no easy feat⁠⁠—especially as your constituents have unique needs, interests, and communication preferences. Without the proper tools and strategies, it can be difficult, even impossible, to effectively make lasting connections with your most important constituents. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In this guide, we’ll dive into the data-driven tools and processes that can make your constituent relationship management easier, more accurate, and less time-consuming. We’ll cover the following:

  1. Why Is Data-Informed Constituent Relationship Management Important?
  2. What Is Constituent Relationship Management Software?
  3. How Do Nonprofits Practice Data-Driven Constituent Relationship Management?
  4. What Features Should You Look for in a CRM System?
  5. How Do You Choose a CRM Solution?
  6. What Is the Best Software for Data-Driven Nonprofit CRM?

Just as for-profit businesses use customer relationship management to sell their products, grow customer relationships, and drive revenue, nonprofits similarly use constituent relationship management to navigate relationships with their donors, clients, volunteers, and other stakeholders. 

Even though for-profit businesses and nonprofits have different audiences and, thus, different CRM needs, in both instances, effective CRM is driven by smart data insights. For most social good organizations, your most valuable CRM asset is your constituent data. 

With the right data, you can contact the right people, personalize the content and timing of each message you send, and ultimately strengthen the work you do. As a result, you can focus less on tedious busy work and more on the relationships themselves.

Ready to learn more about improving your CRM with constituent data and other nonprofit CRM best practices? Let's begin with a brief overview of CRM and CRM software.

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Why Is Data-Informed Constituent Relationship Management Important?

For most nonprofits and other social good organizations, the goal of your constituent relationship management is to better retain existing donors, volunteers, and clients while avoiding the high costs of new constituent acquisition. After all, you’ve likely seen how investing time and resources into engaging your supporters helps those relationships flourish.

Additionally, when driven by specific, relevant, and accurate data, CRM can lead to valuable and time-saving insights that increase the impact of those relationship-building activities. For example, data-driven nonprofit CRM allows you to better understand and cultivate major donors, as well as rally new supporters into volunteer opportunities that interest them. 

When you target your constituents through the most appropriate channels and with the right messaging, you can quickly grow both your fundraising and community services.

What Is Constituent Relationship Management Software?

Constituent relationship management software stores the information most critical to a nonprofit organization. For nonprofits, this term is often used interchangeably with their donor database, though nonprofit CRM software tends to be more robust and offer a greater array of tools.

A CRM system provides the intelligence and functionality to collect, track, organize, and analyze the data that an organization needs to optimize communication, fundraising, and services with constituents. Moreover, robust constituent relationship management software can leverage this data to manage communications and relationships with supporters and clients.

How Do Nonprofits Practice Data-Driven Constituent Relationship Management?

Effective constituent relationship management is a critical component to making an impact in your community. From contacting out-of-state supporters for a local event to asking for large gifts from the wrong donors, you’ve likely encountered instances where your nonprofit wasted limited time and money on tedious, unproductive tasks.

Best CRM practices include: targeting and personalizing communications, identifying potential major donors, optimizing fundraising campaigns, automating manual processes, and choosing powerful software.


For best results when building your own organization’s CRM strategies, follow these suggested practices to leverage the data in your nonprofit CRM software:

  • Target communications. Instead of contacting everyone you know about every opportunity you have, focus your communications on those most likely to respond positively. In many cases, each message you send targets a different segment of your supporters. With a CRM solution, you can track and display the data most important to your organization, categorize supporters in multiple ways, and ultimately ensure that the right messages reach the right people.
  • Personalize communications. In addition to targeting different messages to different groups of supporters, you can increase engagement by personalizing each individual communication. Simply adding the recipient's name to an email subject line can drastically boost open rates. Using your CRM solution, you no longer have to type in a recipient’s information manually. Instead, it allows you to automatically add additional personal information, such as a spouse's name or previous donations, to the body of emails, quickly helping you establish a closer relationship with your supporters.
  • Identify potential major donors. Major donors can’t always be immediately identified through the size of their initial donation. Your constituent relationship management software can track donation history and integrate third-party wealth data, such as income and real estate holdings, so that you don’t overlook potential major gifts.
  • Optimize fundraising campaigns. Constituent relationship management systems can store detailed information about every campaign your organization has run. Use this information to select and study key performance indicators and data, such as engagement or donation rates, according to campaign type, dates, and target audience to optimize your next campaign.
  • Automate manual and repetitive processes. Manual processes are likely one of the biggest drains (and source of major errors) in your current CRM practices. Use your nonprofit constituent relationship management software to automate email responses, internal notifications, reporting, data integration, data cleaning and deduping, and other repetitive processes. Automation will ensure that nothing “falls through the cracks” and allow your team to focus on tasks that will have the most impact on your community

Luckily, you don’t have to enact data-driven constituent relationship management by yourself. At the core of each of these practices lies comprehensive constituent relationship management software.

Instead of managing your relationships by hand—an overwhelming, costly, and time-consuming task—leverage a robust nonprofit CRM system with features that can do much of your constituent relationship management for you. Let’s take a look at the specific features your CRM system should offer.

What Features Should You Look for in a CRM System?

While nonprofit CRM software can make your life easier, you shouldn’t pick just any CRM system on the shelf. Ultimately, to truly practice impactful constituent relationship management, you’ll need software that provides a wide range of built-in features.

On the other hand, if your software is missing key features, you’re back where you started. Limited tools can make your CRM process more difficult! You won’t be able to track your constituent relationships and your decisions will be clouded by bad data.

When evaluating CRM solutions, look for: 

  • Constituent groups. Constituent relationship management software should allow you to categorize constituents so that messages can be targeted appropriately. Different systems will use groups, lists, or tags to do this.
  • Family units. In order to efficiently track donations and activity by families and individuals, you should be able to build relationships between constituents in your CRM software.
  • User-defined fields. No system is going to provide every field you need out-of-the-box. Be sure that you can add custom fields to track any unique information that is important to your organization.
  • Extensive reports and dashboards. You should be able to create customized reports, centralized dashboards, and queries that meet your organization’s specific needs. Unlike an unwieldy Excel spreadsheet, these can give you a good picture of individual donor history, as well as an organization and campaign-level status.
  • Online and offline donation tracking. Use your CRM software to track online and offline donations, providing both online fundraising forms and direct mail functionality.
  • Strong integration capabilities. Prevent siloed data with software that integrates with a range of third-party tools.
  • Advanced tools. In addition to the features above, your CRM solution should offer features that can grow with your organization, such as dynamic ask strings and suggested gift amounts based on giving history data.

Before committing to a CRM solution, we recommend evaluating your options. Even though there are many similarities between a business’s customer relationship manager and a nonprofit’s constituent relationship manager, choosing a CRM designed specifically for nonprofits will make it easier to leverage the system and accomplish your goals.

Because there are so many CRMs on the market, deciding on the right one may feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to feel that way! In the next section, we’ll walk through the process for narrowing down and selecting the best software for your team.

Follow these nine steps for choosing a constituent relationship management system that’s right for your nonprofit.

How Do You Choose a Nonprofit CRM Solution?

Whether your nonprofit is large or small, consider using an organized selection project to find a new constituent relationship management system. By taking a series of thought-through steps, you’ll be able to rule out incompatible and inadequate options and make the best decision for your organization. 

To choose the right constituent relationship management system for your organization, follow these nine steps:

  1. Discovery. Create a requirements list of features that your organization needs and those that are “nice to have.” What tasks are currently slowing down engagement, costing money, harming relationships, or preventing important insights? Be sure to get feedback from all relevant stakeholders.
  2. Create a Short List. Research constituent relationship management systems online, talk to other social good organizations, and solicit feedback from your staff to develop a list of specific applications to evaluate. Use the requirements you set during the Discovery step to narrow down your list.
  3. Make a Scorecard. Use your requirements list from the Discovery step to create a scorecard. Consider assigning two to three different weights to each requirement to properly identify the most important features.
  4. Schedule Demos. Demos are your opportunity to see your potential CRM software in action. Be sure to ask questions based on how you plan to use the software, involve as many stakeholders as possible, and try to see the same features in each demo to accurately compare systems.
  5. Evaluate Results. Use your scorecard to evaluate results. Were any systems missing key features? What was the overall impression of each system? How difficult will it be to adopt? Only 11% of nonprofits see their approach to technology as highly effective. As a result, an overly-complex system can present more challenges than it solves. Considering various factors, from pricing to scalability to necessary training, narrow down the potential software to your top three options.
  6. Present to Board. Many CRM system vendors can provide the information you need to present your CRM software recommendations to your board. Stick to the general capabilities, implementation timeline, and (most importantly) the expected return on investment.
  7. Contract Execution. Be sure to understand exactly what the vendor will need from your organization to execute a contract and get you set up as a customer. Make sure that everyone in your organization who needs to sign the contract is available to do so.
  8. Implementation. Rely on your software vendor to guide you through this process, but be sure to ask questions and involve every member of your team who will be using the system. During this stage, you should also begin training any staff who will be using the system.
  9. Go Live! Finally, it’s time to put your new CRM software to use. For added excitement and engagement from your team, consider making your go-live day an event for staff! 

Ultimately, your nonprofit is constantly growing and changing to best meet your constituents’ needs. Over time, as you collect and interpret your constituent data, how you use your software will similarly evolve. 

Luckily, if you’ve gone through the steps above, you’ve likely selected a nonprofit CRM solution that can adapt to those changes. Moreover, across your nonprofit—from program development to volunteer recruitment to donor growth— this approach to data-driven CRM will allow you to make smarter, data-informed decisions that guide your growth.

What Is the Best Software for Data-Driven Nonprofit CRM?

Salsa CRM

Salsa CRM is the best constituent relationship management system for nonprofit organizations using Salsa Engage for marketing automation and fundraising. Salsa CRM and Engage work seamlessly together to provide a complete and comprehensive Smart Engagement Technology platform for nonprofit organizations.

Salsa CRM offers the following features, among others, to ensure that today's nonprofits have the tools they need to succeed:

  1. Online and Offline Donation Tracking. Salsa CRM will track both online and offline donations, providing both online fundraising forms and direct mail functionality.
  2. Unlimited Custom Fields. Track every piece of information about your supporters that is important to your organization.
  3. Rich Donor Profiles. Donor profiles that show supporter family relationships, giving history, and extensive demographic information are the centerpiece of the Salsa CRM system.
  4. Extensive Strong Integration Capabilities. With available integrations to third-party tools such as wealth data systems, along with a customizable Zapier integration, Salsa CRM provides needed flexibility to today's nonprofits.
  5. Reporting and Dashboards. Our popular constituent dashboards provide a central view of everything you need to know about a supporter.  Combined with campaign reporting and customized query tools, Salsa CRM delivers data to users in the way they want to see it.


Salesforce and the Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) provide a full-featured, extremely customizable donor management for nonprofits with more advanced requirements.  

Because it is highly customizable, Salesforce can be used to create different experiences for different users and can be integrated with other solutions from the Salesforce AppExchange. For example, combine Salesforce with fundraising and marketing automation tools, like Salsa Engage, for a complete supporter engagement system. Salsa Engage for Salesforce provides a strong, bi-directional integration with Salesforce and is available on the AppExchange. 

Salesforce Nonprofit provides the following features for today's nonprofits:

  1. Relationship-first views of your constituent data.
  2. Manage complex programs of different types all in one place.
  3. Enter offline and recurring gifts individually or in large batches.
  4. Insightful dashboards and reporting—all customizable to meet your needs.

Additional Resources

Interested in learning more about the many ways nonprofit CRM software can support your organization’s impact? We’ve compiled additional resources to help you understand and employ effective, life-changing constituent relationship management: 

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Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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