Switching to a new Donor Engagement Platform


Updated 4/26/23

Donor engagement is crucial for nonprofit organizations to build relationships with their donors, sustain their operations, and achieve their mission. However, with the growing number of donor engagement platforms available in the market, it can be challenging to choose the right one that fits your organization’s needs and budget.

Nonprofits often find switching to a new donor engagement platform to be challenging. But don’t be alarmed — with proper planning and strategy, it can result in a seamless and successful transition. This guide offers vital insights and tips to ensure a smooth switch to a new and effective donor engagement platform that will help your organization in the long-term.


Constituent Relationship Management platforms, also known as CRM platforms, are at the heart of every healthy nonprofit. In many cases, organizations will have two: a CRM and an eCRM (the “e” stands for electronic). While they have similar spellings, they are very different from each other.

Typically in-house, the CRM is where online and offline data, legacy donors, family members, and more are stored for deep development outreach and online fundraising efforts. The eCRM platform is where engagement with donors and supporters happens in the electronic world — with key features including email marketing tools, online forms, donor segmentation, etc. The eCRM is more commonly known as the donor engagement platform.

Because the donor engagement platform can encompass many disparate channels, lists, and donor databases, it is most auspicious for nonprofits to opt for an eCRM that is unified and built for robust integration.

A CRM may work for your organization for many years before needing a change. On the other hand, the eCRM world is constantly changing and evolving with new innovations in the digital landscape. At some point, organizations are faced with the challenge of reevaluating their donor engagement tools. There are a number of considerations to keep in mind for when your organization finds itself in this position.

Potential reasons to switch

If your nonprofit organization is struggling to keep pace with donor engagement as a result of using the same outdated platform for years, it may be time for a change.

Donor engagement is crucial for building long-lasting relationships with supporters and ensuring ongoing financial support. For that reason, there may come a time where switching to a new platform is necessary. Here are some potential reasons why your organization may need to make the switch to a different nonprofit software solution.

1. Your donor engagement platform is no longer a good fit

It’s possible that your eCRM is holding you back. Nonprofit organizations can outgrow their tools or discover flaws that hinder their success.

Maybe you started with advocacy tools but now you crave online fundraising campaigns too. Or maybe your offline database of record isn’t integrating with your current tools, and your development team is begging for a change. Budget changes can also be a factor, allowing or mandating a switch-up. If what you’re using isn’t working, don’t be afraid to make a change and follow your instincts.

2. Data issues with the platform

Beware of eCRM systems that hoard more information than a pack rat on steroids: They collect all sorts of useless data like duplicates, and sometimes there’s no way to untangle the mess. Remember, your organization is only as magnificent as its data!

If your eCRM system is unable to make relevant connections between collected data, it may not be providing the best overview of your supporter experience. This could result in a lack of valuable insights for your organization.

3. Integration issues with email and databases

Your eCRM system should be able to communicate with other essential databases that store information relevant to your organization. And the “communication” shouldn’t be your team downloading and uploading data from one to the other. That’s the opposite of a nonprofit software solution.

A system that integrates seamlessly with other software can make your team’s job much simpler. Imagine the possibilities if your direct mail department could segment a specific ask to a group of highly active online supporters who often opened email and took advocacy actions? Being able to see as much as possible about your supporters and donors only helps build a successful donor ecosystem for your organization.

4. No workflow automation

Outdated nonprofit eCRM platforms lack workflow automation capabilities such as email marketing automation. Or, they offer something to fill this gap but your team finds themselves creating convoluted queries to send the most basic automations.

Often nonprofit organizations using outdated tools will contract this work to an agency. You shouldn’t have to outsource that work when there are eCRMs on the market with best-in-class online tools to help you automate your email sequences, social media, donor segmentation, and more.

5. Lack of innovation on your nonprofit software platform

If you feel like your eCRM isn’t changing, growing, or adapting, that’s because it probably isn’t. Do you feel like you’re always pushing the limits of your eCRM, trying to make it do something it won’t do? When was the last time you saw a product release? Did it include bug fixes or new innovative features and options to help you grow your program and raise more money?

Donor engagement innovation is a critical component in ensuring the success of nonprofit organizations. By implementing new and creative ways to connect and engage with donors with the help of donor engagement platforms and their powerful tools, nonprofits can secure more consistent and long-term funding. Nonprofits that prioritize donor engagement innovation are better equipped to stay relevant and adapt to changing trends and preferences in philanthropy. Ultimately, this can help your organization to thrive and achieve its mission on a daily basis. 

Some eCRMs grow stale with time and fail to innovate. If you’re looking for something that’s always keeping you on the cutting edge (when yours isn’t) perhaps it’s time for a change.

6. Poor support and training

When you have a question about your eCRM do you feel like you get prompt and helpful responses? Are there resources readily available to train your team on the tools? This is vitally important.

A good eCRM will offer tools for training your team (new and old) on both existing tools in the platform and newly released tools. And, when training can’t give you what you need, support needs to be available. Some platforms offer 24/7 support with real humans on the line. Be sure that your entire team is feeling supported and trained on your eCRM.

7. High maintenance costs and no campaign progress

If you feel like you’re paying too much, you may be. The bigger question is, are you getting what you pay for? Some eCRMs charge per module (for categories such as advocacy, online fundraising tools, etc.), some charge by how many emails you send, some add transaction fees. All of this is a consideration in your organizational planning and budget. As your digital program grows, associated costs often go up. So, again, are you getting what you pay for? Are your campaigns turning out the way you want them to? Be sure your eCRM fulfills your needs and that you’re comfortable with the cost.

Best practices for changing your donor engagement platform

Do the above reasons sound relatable to your nonprofit’s current reality? If you’ve identified that it’s time to consider moving to a new donor engagement platform, keep reading for some considerations and tips for preparation.

Plan a timeline

Set a realistic timeline, perhaps even a stretch timeline. Selecting a new donor engagement platform takes time, planning and coordination. And after selection, you have to plan for the detailed and heavy lift of migration. Migration alone on average takes 10-16 weeks (for the average Engaging Networks client).

Work backward from your desired go-live date – adding in additional time for a buffer – and include time for planning, evaluation/selection AND migration. Then begin your discussions and research at that time. For example, if you want to go live on October 1st and estimate that selection and migration will take four months, plan to start your process around June 1st or before.

Define your needs

Are you looking for best-in-breed or a unified donor engagement platform? This is an important question to consider.

There are so many options available on the market that offer advanced email functionality, deep integrations, slick fundraising tools, event management tools, and more. You could choose the one tool in each category that does exactly what you want (this is the Best-in-breed approach). Then integrate it with your DOR or an eCRM you choose. You could. And some do. Some organizations find themselves in this situation by accident of trying too many things. Most are not happy.

The drawback to choosing multiple disparate systems – even if they are ‘best-in-breed’ – is that they require integration somehow and somewhere. Without integration, you’ll never get that 360-degree view of supporter interactions and donor profiles that’s so important to understanding behavior and optimizing for improved response.

The problem with multiple integrations is that they inevitably break or require updating. Even if you’re able to integrate 3 or more systems (likely more) imagine the cost and lift of someone maintaining those integrations – and the potential drama if they are not working as they should.

With a unified eCRM you ideally have the right tools for your nonprofit organization all in one place with a complete view of your donor records and profiles, and one integration between your DOR, if needed.

Seek a helping hand

An agency partner can be enormously helpful in the process of selection as well as migration. The role of this third party can cover the entirety of the project or just a subset of tasks. One benefit of involving an agency in selection is that many will have deep knowledge of the toolsets offered by different donor engagement platforms. This can provide you with further insight beyond the software demo. Additionally, a trusted voice guiding you through the process of selection often helps calm nerves across teams.

Beyond selection, an agency partner can be enormously helpful in migrating your data from your old donor engagement platform to the new one and getting you set up on the new platform. In some cases, organizations use an agency only for project management or for setting up the forms and email templates. Sometimes, it’s for data cleansing and migration. You get to choose. Base their level of involvement on your teams’ needs, experience, budget and capacity.

That said, many organizations “go solo” and are able to train on the new platform, set up templates and migrate data all on their own. Much of this will depend on the support offered by the eCRM you select. Be sure in the process to ask about their “onboarding” procedures and get as much information as possible. This can help you decide if you need external support in the migration process.

Empower your impact with an innovative nonprofit software solution

Switching to a new donor engagement platform can be a daunting task for nonprofits. However, it is important for your team to prioritize a unified platform experience while considering the needs of your organization, donors, and the broader landscape of nonprofit technology. By doing so, you can cement stronger relationships with supporters, improve communication and fundraising efforts, and ensure better long-term sustainability.

While making the switch to a new donor engagement platform requires a significant investment of time, resources, and effort, the upsides are crystal clear: Nonprofit organizations that successfully make the transition can expect to reap numerous benefits, such as improved donor engagement and retention rates, enhanced communication and fundraising capabilities, and a more sustainable, long-term approach to their mission.

By prioritizing a unified platform experience and carefully considering the specific needs of their organization, nonprofits can ensure a smoother and more successful transition to a new donor engagement platform.

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