CRM is a generic label for software that helps a person or team to plan, implement and record contact strategy with customers and manage sales pipeline. As you can guess from the language, most systems are designed and marketed to companies to help them grow their businesses. Although many community support groups will not always see themselves as sales organisations, there will always be relationships to manage and ongoing discussions that need to be planned and monitored, for example:

  • With donors and potential doners
  • With service suppliers
  • With volunteers
  • With partner organisations, and so on.

For very small groups and limited, simple activities, you could use and maybe already use a simple spreadsheet to record your contacts. Inevitably though, as your audience grows and your engagement activities broaden it will become unwieldy to maintain and then you need a CRM.

As with all software, but especially so in this case, the software doesn’t automatically deliver benefits just by its existence. It is essential to have a very clear idea from the outset of the different audiences that you need to keep track of, why you need to plan and record your contact with them, what information you need to record, what the key milestones are in developing relationships with them and what information you need over time to analyse progress. Once you have a clear understanding of what’s required, you can use CRM software to:

  • Record and maintain information about the individuals or companies that you deal with in one place, so that accurate and up to date information is shared across your team.
  • Schedule, record and often implement verbal, face to face and written communication activity with chosen contacts.
  • Keep essential documentation relating to contacts alongside the contact records
  • Produce summary information about progress with key contacts against predetermined measures to enable you to review progress and allocate future tasks.

Examples: You need to generate donations and you have a small spreadsheet of past donor contacts to start with. You upload the contacts to a CRM and you mount a campaign on social media and by sharing through existing contacts and this grows your contact database of people who have agreed to receive more information. You now have an audience for which you can plan a contact strategy. Maybe it’s something like this:

  • You thank all your new contacts for signing up and tell them more about what you do
  • You keep them updated via regular newsletters
  • You issue a special edition focussed on a project that needs funding, giving an easy way to request more information
  • You run and advertise an event that brings interested parties together to find out more.

At each stage of the campaign, the CRM system would deliver valuable information to help you plan next steps. So, after a series of contacts, you’ll know who has read every message, who asked for more information, what they were sent and how they responded and so on. That will help you target more personal contact face to face or by telephone for example and then you record that too. At the end of the campaign, you’ll know what donations you received but you’ll also have some invaluable information that you can use to plan future campaigns, such as typical engagement rates with different types of message at each stage, what works best, what the campaign yielded relative to the size of your audience, who your key supporters are and so on.

A completely different example might be where you have a lot of volunteers, whose activities and qualifications you need to monitor so that can you plan training and support and demonstrate that you have issued, and they have read, important updates. CRM software can help with that too.

Our Research

CRM systems by their very nature, become the key management tool for most businesses so it’s a popular market for software developers. Systems are developed to serve particular business types and often grow to incorporate other management tools. Sadly, there isn’t low cost software that’s targeted specifically at small community support groups!

In keeping with our objectives elsewhere in this resource, we searched for totally free software that delivers enough of the key functionality to meet the needs of many groups in the long term. Then, even if upgrade is subsequently required, the experience of using them will help you to know whether you just need to upgrade the existing software or choose another system, without having to spend any money getting to that point.

The research wasn’t as easy it’s sounds. A search for “free CRM for charities” returns over 50 different software packages, most of which aren’t aimed at charities or aren’t actually free beyond the trial period! However, with a bit of persistence, we were able to identify half a dozen free packages that offered the basics plus some different features in each case and the ability to upgrade for more functionality. You can see the results table here. Before looking though, have a quick read through the following explanations about what the data fields mean:

CRM and sales: The basic functionality that you need to plan, allocate, implement and record each stage of your contact strategy, contact related information and important documentation.

Customisable data fields: The great majority of systems originate from the USA and are characterised by USA business speak and business related terminology. That doesn’t render them useless by any means, but it can certainly feel more useable if you can adapt the data fields for uses and with labels that mean something to your organisation.       

In app email: This means that you can write to your contacts in the CRM software and it’s recorded in the system automatically. It may, in addition, be possible to link any bulk email software that you might use for newsletters directly to the CRM so that those emails and related analytics are recorded automatically in the CRM as well.         

Marketing support: By their very nature, CRM’s support the marketing function, some offer additional tools such as website engagement tools, email campaign functionality, campaign landing pages and so on.       

Team collaboration: Clearly, having all your information about contacts and your engagement with them is helpful to a team of people needing to refer to and update the same data. But some software provides additional support, such as task allocation, scheduling and chat boards within the software.       

Project management: Combine the database and tracking facilities the CRM with team collaboration functions and some flexibility with specifying data fields and you’re a long way towards having a project management tool. Add in a Gant chart (a well known project planner) and you’re pretty much there!

No. of contacts: The highest number of contact records that can be created for the software to remain free.

No. of users: The highest number of contact records that can be created for the software to remain free.

Next level pricing: The cost of the first upgrade level (there are normally 3 to 4 levels of functionality)

Feature Comparision

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