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Using a CRM for Fundraising Event Planning: 4 Best Practices

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If you’ve been in the nonprofit sector for any amount of time, odds are you’ve heard one of these terms: constituent relationship management system (CRM), donor management software, donor database, nonprofit database, nonprofit supporter database, donor relationship management software.

Believe it or not, all of these terms refer to the same kind of software.

But what is donor management software?

Donor management software refers to the database that retains all of the information about your donors and tracks interactions associated with your organization. Nonprofit CRMs are powerful tools for fundraising, marketing, and event management—especially now that events are mostly virtual.

Planning fundraising events for your nonprofit can be tedious and overwhelming, but a CRM makes it much less of an undertaking. In this article, we’ll go over 4 best practices to follow when using your CRM to plan and manage your organization's events:

  1. Invest in a high-quality donor management system
  2. Integrate your CRM with your other software
  3. Segment your audience to send targeted messages
  4. Keep track of revenue and expenses

Event planning can be tedious and overwhelming, but the proper donor management software can make the process smoother and maximize results for your organization. Let’s jump in!

1. Invest in a high-quality donor management system

When you’ve decided to make the leap to using a donor management system, it’s important to do your research. There are several factors that you should consider when you’re weighing providers against one another. In addition to considering the price of the platform, you’ll want a CRM with the following features to make sure it’s effective for your nonprofit’s event planning and fundraising efforts:

  • Detailed donor profiles. A good CRM will have the capability to store information about your donors far beyond their names and contact details. You’ll want as much information as you can get in order to best target your donors with personalized fundraising appeals.
  • Automated messaging features. Sending emails to all of your supporters can take up a huge amount of time if you attempt to do so manually. That’s why many CRMs include the ability to send emails to many supporters at once, including fully automated donation receipts, event reminders, and event follow-up surveys. Without having to keep track of all of your donor interactions on your own, you’ll have more time to pursue your mission—and plan engaging and profitable events!
  • Donor segmentation capabilities. We’ll discuss this feature in more depth later, but donor segmentation lets you target specific groups of donors with certain communications to maximize their customization, personalization, and consequently, effectiveness.
  • Event planning functionality. Although it’s possible to use a CRM and separate event planning software, it’s much more convenient if your database software has some in-house event planning features included. This way, your information stays all in one place. Some popular event features include ticketing, waitlisting, and automatic reminders.

While these features are important to look for in a CRM, they’re not the only ones you’ll want. For a closer look, we compiled a more comprehensive list of desirable CRM features in our GivingMail guide to nonprofit database software.

2. Integrate your CRM with your other software

When it comes to nonprofit software, there are tons of options available for streamlining operations, boosting fundraising capabilities, and communicating with donors. It seems like there’s a tool for everything these days. Yet having too many tools can become hard to manage.

We’d recommend trying to centralize capabilities to your CRM as much as possible, but in some instances, you’ll have to use outside tools to supplement existing functionality. Whenever you do this, it’s vital that you establish integrations between your CRM and these software products. If not, you’ll end up with islands of data that can’t interact with each other, meaning you’ll have to manually transfer data from one platform and re-enter it into another if you want to make use of it in any way.

Not only is manually entering data time-consuming and tedious, but it can also lead to an increase in errors in your database and, over time, lead to poor data quality. You’re better off using your time to pursue your mission and build relationships with donors and letting a computer do the data work.

In order to hand things off to the more capable machine, you’ll need those integrations we mentioned. Products may already have integrations with your CRM, but sometimes you’ll need a software professional or nonprofit consultant to write one for you. Either way, the following software products will require integrations with your CRM so you can use them effectively:

  • Online donation page. Your donation form located on your website will likely take in a large portion of your donations. In order to add online donation information to your fundraising campaigns and donor profiles in your CRM, you’ll need to make sure data can travel right from your online donation page to your other software tools.
  • Direct mail platform. While some CRMs will have direct mail capabilities built-in, others will require an integration. This allows you to customize your direct mail appeals based on donors’ information in your CRM, meaning they’ll be more personal and effective.
  • Volunteer signup form. Like your online donation page, your volunteer signup form will contain valuable information you’ll want in your CRM. Knowing who has volunteered in the past will help you target your audience effectively in the future. Plus, with an integration, signups can trigger automated confirmation and reminder emails that reduce volunteer no-show rates.
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising platform. A P2P fundraising platform allows your supporters to become active fundraisers for your organization by disseminating a personalized fundraising page to their communities. Integrating your peer-to-peer platform to your CRM allows you to send specialized communications to your particularly high-performing fundraisers, guaranteeing they’ll feel appreciated for their work and continue to contribute in the future.
  • Matching gifts software. A matching gifts tool like Double the Donation can help you take advantage of matching gifts programs through your donors’ employers. Embedding a search tool into your website lets donors easily determine if they are eligible for a matching gift from their employer.

While it’s important to take advantage of all the tools available to your nonprofit, make sure to follow through with the proper integrations so they can all work together to maximize results.

3. Segment your audience to send targeted message

As we mentioned earlier, donor segmentation capabilities in a CRM are hugely beneficial to your organization because they can allow you to customize your outreach efforts, which makes planning your organization’s fundraising events much more efficient.

Say, for example, you want to hold an event for a specific subset of supporters. Perhaps you want to show your volunteers you appreciate their hard work with a volunteer recognition dinner, or maybe you want to invite your major donors to a luncheon at your director’s home. Donor segmentation allows you to isolate those specific individuals in your database so you can easily send out invitations, reminders, and follow-up emails regarding the event.

As outlined in this guide to donor segmentation, the following characteristics are commonly used for targeted outreach purposes:

  • Engagement type like donor, volunteer, or P2P fundraiser
  • Gift type like recurring gift, major gift, or year-end gift
  • Demographics like age, location, and gender
  • Giving preferences like online donations, mail-in donations, or P2P donations
  • Communication preferences like email, direct mail, or phone
  • Engagement level like active supporter, lapsed supporter, or event-based supporter

Segmenting your audience into groups allows you to target those specific groups for customized events and continue to follow up after the event to maintain support. Plus, you can increase event attendance through the personalization of your invitations—an invitation that feels like it’s actually addressed to that supporter specifically is more likely to be accepted than a generic invitation that could be sent to anyone.

4. Keep track of revenue and expenses

For every event your nonprofit puts on—virtual or otherwise—there are likely going to be some expenses to organize and host the event. Because events for nonprofits are often focused on raising funds, keeping careful track of your revenue and expenses is vital to understanding the efficacy of your fundraising efforts and informing your future strategies.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but costs for events should be kept to a minimum. Where possible, seek in-kind donations to support the logistics of the event. For example, a local venue may be willing to “donate” space to you for a period of time for free, or a catering company may offer an in-kind discount on your order.

Regardless, before you finalize the vendors associated with your event, make sure you’ve set a goal and a budget for the event so you know how to keep the event profitable. Keep in mind that every dollar you spend will diminish the efficiency of your fundraising efforts unless you can make up for it in additional funds.

Once you’ve held your event and the total revenue and expenses are entered into your CRM, it can provide you with valuable information about the efficacy of your fundraising pursuit. For example, your database can tell you:

  • Return on investment (ROI): This metric is found by dividing the total revenue for the event by the total expenses. The result tells you how much money you raised per dollar spent on the event.
  • Cost per dollar raised (CPDR): You can find CPDR by dividing total expenses by revenue. The resulting metric tells you how much you spent per dollar raised at the event.

ROI and CPDR essentially communicate the same information in different ways. Both are able to tell you how well your event did in terms of profitability. If cost-cutting is a priority for your nonprofit, you may want to look at CPDR, whereas ROI is better for strategic planning of future fundraising efforts.

Be sure to take advantage of these useful data points your CRM can extract from your event information. Knowing how your past events have performed will be valuable when you’re planning your next one!


If your nonprofit already has a CRM, consider this article a resounding endorsement of your good choice. If you have yet to invest in donor management software, particularly if you’re a growing organization, now is the time to make the leap. A CRM has endless potential benefits for your organization, the most valuable being the fundraising boost for your nonprofit.

Once you have the perfect CRM, follow the best practices in this article to make sure you take proper advantage of it when it comes to planning and implementing your nonprofit’s fundraising events. Good luck!


Author: Grant Cobb

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years of experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.

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