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Using Your CRM to Improve Donor Relationships: 4 Tips

Silent Auction Bidding Technology News

Donor relationships keep your nonprofit funded as supporters who feel a strong connection to your cause will continue to give year-after-year. Retaining donors is less expensive than acquiring new ones, and as donors continue strengthening their relationship with your cause, they’re more likely to increase their donation amount! This means cultivating and managing relationships should be at the center of your nonprofit’s fundraising strategy. And fortunately, there are several nonprofit software solutions designed specifically to help with that. 

Your nonprofit’s CRM is your main hub of management tools and can be helpful for sending messages, planning events, launching new campaigns, and, above all, building your donor relationships. Of course, investing in a CRM and understanding how to best leverage it to improve your connections with donors are two different things. 

To help your nonprofit make the most of your CRM, this article will explore four essential ways your CRM can help you solidify relationships with donors. Your CRM will help your nonprofit to:

  1. Track Interactions 
  2. Personalize Communication 
  3. Host Events 
  4. Note Donor Trends

Every nonprofit CRM solution has slightly different functionality because each focuses on different aspects of donor management. Ensure your solution has the essential features you’ll need to build relationships with donors in accordance with your fundraising strategy to help your nonprofit grow. Let’s explore how you can leverage your CRM to strengthen donor relationships.

1. Track Interactions

The donor journey can be a decades long process, and to build and maintain relationships, your nonprofit should track where each donor is in that process. By using your CRM to record interactions, you can make data driven decisions about when to request donation increases, take action to prevent donor lapse, or simply further familiarize donors with your nonprofit’s mission. 

Here are a few different interactions to take note of in your CRM:

  • Giving amount and frequency. How much and how often do your donors give? Recurring donors should be treated differently than first time donors, who should also be treated differently than annually contributing major donors. 
  • Communication engagement. When you send out an email, mail a letter, or post on social media, how do your donors engage with it? Donors who regularly like your social media posts or click on links in your emails likely have more secure relationships with your nonprofit than supporters who haven’t engaged with content in a few months. 
  • Event attendance. Do your donors attend events? Which types of events? This can help inform your overall outreach and event planning strategy. For example, if you notice a donor regularly attends your auctions and galas, you can engage them and potentially improve your relationship by extending a personal invitation to your next similar event. 

Taking note of donors’ previous actions should help inform the overall direction of each relationship. Most donors appreciate receiving personalized messages that acknowledge their interests and recognize their individual contributions, and you use details about past interactions to craft these messages. 

2. Personalize Communication

While you may not have time to sit down and have one-on-one conversations with all of your donors, you can build stronger connections with them by using your CRM to create unique, personalized messages. Some CRMs come equipped with communication tools, while others integrate with platforms that can pull data from your CRM so you can make these messages. 

You can take basic steps to personalize your messages by creating templates that address each donor by name, reference their past interactions with your nonprofit, and invite them to participate in activities related to their interests. 

You can also improve your personalization efforts by directly asking your donors what they want from their engagement with your nonprofit. CharityEngine’s guide to monthly giving recommends sending donors surveys that ask questions like:

  • What motivates you to give?
  • How frequently and what kind of communication would you prefer to receive from us?
  • Are there any incentives such as physical gifts or financial rewards that would improve your giving experience?
  • What information would you like to see in annual donor impact reports?
  • What opportunities, activities, or events would you be interested in participating in?

Questions like these can help inform your communication strategy for individual donors and your approach to donor engagement as a whole. For example, a significant number of donors may state they prefer email communication, while a small group might feel strongly about receiving direct mail. In this case, you might check to see if these two groups of donors have any shared traits, such as age, proximity to your nonprofit, or social media presence, which can help you make inferences about what others will prefer in future outreach.

3. Host Events

Events, whether in-person, virtual, or hybrid, are an opportunity to further connect with your donors through fun activities centered around your nonprofit. Some all-in-one nonprofit CRMs come equipped with basic event hosting, while many others integrate with software solutions designed for managing specific events, such as auctions

Planning and hosting an event that effectively furthers donor relationships requires a number of tools that your CRM can help organize. For example, your CRM can help with event management tools such as:

  • Event registration. Use your CRM to create registration forms or collect information from integrated registration form software to monitor which of your supporters sign up for your events. Plus, tracking this information in real time can help your event planning team properly prepare for your expected number of attendees. 
  • Volunteer management. Before, during, and after your event, you’ll need a way to stay in touch with volunteers. Your CRM can help you recruit volunteers for your next event and manage contact information, schedules, and other data that can be useful for retaining volunteers from event to event. 
  • Data collection and analytics. After an event, your nonprofit will have generated new data about donors who attended and what activities they participated in, such as buying merchandise or making a donation. Use your CRM to record these interactions in your donor profiles to help inform future events.

Some nonprofit CRMs also feature tools that can help improve donor engagement in the lead up to or at events, such as peer-to-peer and wealth prospecting tools. These allow you to take a more targeted approach to fundraising and relationship management during your events. 

4. Note Donor Trends

Every nonprofit has unique relationships with their donors and should keep an eye on overall trends in their donors’ engagement. Your CRM’s analytics and reporting tools can be used to help you get an overview of your entire organization and make positive decisions for the majority of your support relationships. 

You can stay on top of trends in donations and donor behavior by using your CRM to analyze key metrics. These might include:

  • Average donation size. How much do you receive on average from each donor? Ideally, as your nonprofit grows and builds long-term relationships, this number should increase year-over-year. 
  • Retention rate. How many of your donors continue to give to your nonprofit after their first gift? NPOInfo’s charitable giving statistics report shares that only 20% of donors give after their first donation, but this number increases to 60% after their second donation. This means nonprofits with low retention rates can benefit from focusing their efforts on earning second donations from supporters. 
  • Lapse rate. Lapse rate is related to retention rate, but is most important to look at for your long-term donors. If you notice multiple donors dropping out of your giving program after several years of support, consider reaching out to them to learn more about why they lapsed and how your nonprofit can prevent future lapses.
  • Event attendance. For events, keep track of how many attendees you have, your attendee retention rate, and which events attract the most attendees. For example, you might compare your attendance rates for in-person, hybrid, and online galas to see which format is the most popular with your supporters. 

These metrics will vary in importance depending on what your nonprofit is trying to achieve. For example, a newer organization might focus on their retention rates for new donors and event attendance in an effort to build an initial audience. By contrast, well-established organizations might use their CRMs to take a closer look at donor lapse for long-term and major supporters and take note of any similarities in past interactions leading up to the lapse in support.


Your CRM is one of your nonprofit’s core tools for monitoring donor relationships, tracking donor data, and analyzing overall donor trends. With effective use of your CRM, you can make targeted, data driven decisions to improve donor relationships and convince your supporters to continue their donor journey with your nonprofit.

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