Managing Nonprofit Constituent Relationships

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Nonprofit organizations today exist to serve their “Constituents”, which generally fall into two groups: “Recipients”, who are the beneficiaries of the services provided by the nonprofit organization, and “Supporters”, who are those that invest their time and treasure so the nonprofit may succeed in its mission.

Managing complex relationships with members of each group and often with members across groups is one of the most challenging tasks confronting nonprofits today, especially given the austere economy which has stifled contributions and public support in recent years.

 Effective management of these mission critical relationships must involve at a minimum:

  • Case Management to track the various dimensions of Development and/or Care programs offered by the nonprofit
  • Activity Management to track administrative, scheduling, fund raising, event/campaign and communication activities (often with complex requirements), which is necessary for effective relationships with board members, donors, staff and volunteers.
  • Integration of the Relationship Management application to financial applications and public facing web sites, as well as document management systems if they exist.


Industry applications do exist to track this information, which are mostly separate solutions for managing Recipients or Supporters, seldom available from a single vendor.  To use the quality applications for both constituencies often requires separate and expensive purchases, separate and expensive implementation and training projects, as well as separate and expensive annual contracts for support and update.  Integration between disparate applications is difficult.

Because of the expense associated with industry applications (measured in both money and time), many nonprofits have chosen instead to create their own Access databases to track Recipient and Supporter information.  Typically the database is created by a non-professional person without adequate front end thought and design, and always with NO documentation.  After some time that person will leave the enterprise, at which time there is no longer any support for the database nor any clear idea as to how it should be used.  These homegrown Access systems typically become very “dirty” over time with duplicate and inaccurate data.

Nonprofits are now beginning to divert their attention from Microsoft Access to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Like Access, CRM has a familiar Microsoft look & feel, and the acquisition cost is minimal to qualifying 501c3 corporations.  Since CRM was created specifically to manage relationships, it has many advantages for nonprofits:

  • It is supported professionally as an application by partners like OTT, Inc.
  • Easily designed as a single application to manage both Recipients and Supporters
  • It contains a very sophisticated Case Management capability
  • Out of the box features thoroughly address requirements for data, activities and relationships
  • Easily configured to address the specific requirements of each nonprofit (flexibility)
  • Workflow functionality to automate processes and send alerts
  • User interface that is very familiar to everyone that has used Outlook
  • Out of the box integration to the Microsoft Office Suite.
  • Standard SQL environment with excellent tools for third party application integration
  • Available from Microsoft in either a hosted or on-premise environment


As constituents grow accustomed to sophisticated, active management of their relationships by the institutions that manage their finances, travel plans, and insurance, they will come to expect the same level of service from the charitable causes they support.  CRM today provides a high quality and inexpensive tool to provide the excellent service constituents demand.

OTT, Inc., is a Microsoft Dynamics Gold Certified Partner and member of Microsoft Dynamics President’s Club for 2012 and Accounting Today’s Top Var 100 list for 2012.

By Bob Hoium, Business Solutions Advisor with OTT, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota. Leading Microsoft Dynamics ERP & CRM partner.


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