Is Salesforce the best solution out there for a small nonprofit where donation management is key? In this article Eli Kaufman looks at some alternative offerings.
Having worked extensively with the Salesforce platform in recent years, I’m pretty familiar with when Salesforce makes an excellent choice for nonprofits. More recently I have been helping a number of nonprofits and decided to research this question so that I can recommend the most suitable solution.
First of all it is important to understand your requirements and only then look at the market to see what the options are, to see which one(s) best fit your needs.
There are many players competing in this market but after reviewing over a dozen platforms it became clear that most of them are simply not suitable for the organisation that I had in mind: A small nonprofit based in the EU, with up to 10 team members and a modest budget, looking for a solution which covers the following areas:
- CRM (logging interactions with stakeholders, tracking progress of repeatable processes, reporting on key metrics)
- Processing and managing payments (including recurring donations)
- Email marketing campaigns (old school, but still very much in use)
Rather than starting with a siloed approach – where each requirement is served by a different tool – I wanted to explore those that have all three activities covered in one product.
The main advantage of reducing the number of tools and vendors is having one system to learn, not having to worry about integrations. It becomes easier to maintain. On the flip side, if you rely on one vendor who decides to hike the price or stops improving the software you may find yourself in trouble.
Many of the vendors are US companies that have no mention of GDPR, so that eliminated some options, as that is a “must” this side of the Atlantic. Others are prohibitively expensive – anything above $/£/€5000 per year is going to be a hard sell for a small organisation with limited funds, even if the ROI looks promising. Finally, the solutions listed cover all three areas. For completeness we include many of the more popular “almost rans” towards the end (including those that could be suitable for other geographic regions).
Considerations and Disclaimers
Before looking at a solution, there are a few items you may wish to consider, all of which are important:
- Is there at least one team member who has prior experience with CRM systems and could act as a champion?
- The level of implementation support from the solution provider may influence your choice, as you may not be familiar with what is required from yourselves to make it a successful implementation; alternatively you may need an outside resource (consultant) to facilitate.
- Are you planning to raise donations from multiple countries?
- How many donors do you expect to reach in the next 1-2 years?
- Is there a popular solution that other organisations in your field use – there may be a reason for this.
- Training and intuitive user interface, impacting adoption and long term success.
- Ease of reporting: putting data in is important, but understanding KPIs and cashflow is vital.
- Lack of vendor lock-in/being able to extract data and transfer platforms: whilst one particular platform might be the perfect choice at this moment, needs change over time. It’s important to be able to take your data with you in the future, as you never know when that might be required.
- Is there any existing (partial) system in place? If you can utilise this it may save time and effort, but equally if it is not suitable, then it’s time to move on anyway.
With this in mind, the information below is relevant at the time of writing (February 2023). Features and prices change so it is always good to check that information is still relevant.
Also, for CRM systems in question other than Salesforce, I have relied on materials from their respective websites, other reviews and feedback rather than having tested them myself. Caveat emptor!
There’s not going to be one solution that fits all organisations, hence the tailoring trade’s motto of “measure seven times, cut once” is solid advice before you start implementing any CRM.
In alphabetical order. Although these products are suitable for the EU market, prices are most frequently set in dollars per month. For UK-specific products and other honourable mentions please continue reading further!
- Pros: Reviews mention system is intuitive and support team is responsive. Has features aimed at helping with donor retention.
- Cons: Donors cannot update their own donation details, users don’t have different permission levels.
- Price: From $79 per month for up to 1000 records, then $239 rising to $699 per month for 40000 records, based on the number of contacts. In addition there are add-ons at an unknown cost for online giving tools and payment processing.
- Pros: Impressive set of tools including event management. Variety of integration options and payment gateways available, positive reviews.
- Cons: Campaign customization options are somewhat limited.
- Price: Not mentioned online, appears to be $299 per month.
- Pros: Has a lot of features tailored to the needs of small and growing organisations, including multichannel marketing.
- Cons: Creating reports requires a learning curve.
- Price: Not listed, appears to be tiers of $119 / $199 / $399 per month.
- Pros: CRM, payment processing and donation management and email marketing automation all in one.
- Cons: Reviews mention that reporting is hard to use, it’s not the most user friendly and not mobile friendly.
- Price: based on annual revenue – $99 per month if annual revenue is under $1m, $199 per month if annual revenue is under $5m, or $399 per month for higher revenue.
- Other observations: It offers integrations and an open API at the $199 tier.
- Pros: Online fundraising, email campaigns (including video messaging) and donor management functionality. Reviews are positive overall.
- Cons: Supports only own payment processing with a flat 3% processing fee, no option to use other payment processing options or allow donors to cover the transaction cost.
- Price: No pricing information available on the website, but appears to be $100-$400 per month, depending on number of contacts.
- Pros: Campaigns include social media engagement.
- Cons: According to reviews, building queries (to use for campaigns) is unintuitive. New feature development, once a hallmark of the company, has been slow in recent years.
- Price: Not available on the website, appears to be starting from $349 per month.
- Pros: CRM with all the features including online fundraising, omni-channel marketing campaigns and volunteer management. API and integration with popular systems. Reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
- Cons: Starting price is more expensive than competitors.
- Price: Starting from $400 per month for up to 1000 supporter records.
The Almost Contenders
The following CRMs may be a good choice for certain organisations, and indeed appear in some online recommendations. They have been excluded from the shortlist as they fail to meet at least of the following criteria: processing and managing payments, email marketing functionality, modest cost, EU-orientated.
- Pros: Reviews overall positive.
- Cons: Tailored to UK market – all clients are UK based, some functionality is specific to the UK (Gift Aid).
- Price: £30 / £115 / £255 per month depending on number of contacts.
- Pros: Easy to use, supports many integrations.
- Cons: Tailored to the UK market – some functionality is specific to the UK, billing can be done only from a UK bank account in GBP, integrations are not guaranteed to work.
- Price: Sliding scale from £65 to £1000+ per month depending on number of contacts.
- Other observations: Unlike all other solutions, found only few online reviews online.
- Pros: Has a set of features and integrations catered for the needs of a small nonprofit.
- Cons: Many reviews about user experience are negative.
- Price: $100-$500 per month based on number of contacts.
- Pros: inexpensive, feature-rich, easy to use.
- Cons: Not available for organisations in EU.
- Price: $40.50-$189 per month, depending on number of contacts.
- Pros: Dynamics used to be derided as being cumbersome, but recent reports are more favourable; it also integrates particularly well if you are using other Microsoft offerings.
- Cons: More suited to large organisations. Not as user-friendly as some alternatives (including Salesforce). Requires expertise to set up, thus time and costs involved with consultancy and a learning curve to operate.
- Price: First 5 users licences are free, additional licences cost from $23.80 per user per month.
Raiser’s Edge NXT by Blackbaud
- Pros: State of the art solution for larger organisations.
- Cons: Might be too complex for a small organisation, especially reporting; there can be a significant charge to export data into another CRM system.
- Price: Not listed, starting from $499 per month but typically tens of thousands of $ per year.
Salesforce with NPSP (Nonprofit Success Pack)
- Pros: Very capable CRM platform, a rich ecosystem of apps and integrations for a wide range of organisation sizes. Future-proof solution. If you already have (too many) systems in place for collecting donations and sending mass emails, then Salesforce would be a good solution for bringing the data into one place, running reports and automations.
- Cons: No in-built solution for processing donations and email marketing; need to rely on separate/additional tools to integrate. Requires expertise to set up, thus time and costs involved with consultancy.
- Price: First 10 user licences are free, additional licences are typically $36 per user per month, although can be as low as $6.25 per user per month with the use of Platform Licenses. Nonprofits usually get a 75% discount off list prices.
There is no silver bullet and making the right choice will always start from considering the specific needs of the organisation.
That said, if you are starting from scratch, you may want to consider a system that can deal with all the main activities without having to worry about integrations and dealing with separate vendors. However, if you already have systems that deal with some aspects and look for a platform to connect them and support the further growth of the organisation, Salesforce is going to be my recommendation.
Eli has been working with small and medium sized organisations for the last 10 years, helping them implement solutions based on Salesforce. More recently his focus has been on organisations within the Effective Altruism community, where he strives to combine his expertise with amplifying the impact these organisations make.
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