November 30, 2022/ Crust CRM, Featured, Low Code, Not-for-Profit /by Brian Fleming

A low-code CRM platform allows for rapid digitization and innovation and greater cost savings for nonprofits and NGOs.

It is a common misconception that customer relationship management (CRM) software is only of use in a business environment, which relies heavily on the connections it maintains with its customers. Of course, nonprofits and NGOs don’t work with customers in the traditional sense, so the word ‘customer’ in the acronym can be misleading.

That said, NGOs do work with volunteers, who are analogous to employees, and benefactors, who are analogous to customers. Managing these relationships is broadly similar to how it is in any industry, in that success hinges on factors like personalization and having timely access to the right information. That, in essence, is what CRM is all about.

The limitations of an off-the-shelf CRMs

When it comes to choosing the right CRM for your organization, there are numerous off-the-shelf platforms catering to various industries, including nonprofits and NGOs. These typically cloud-based solutions contain everything that many smaller organizations need to effectively manage their contacts, activities, and opportunities.

The problem is that, as your mission grows, so do your needs. Any forward-thinking nonprofit has a laser focus on advancing their vision, and that often requires thinking outside the box. At the same time, nonprofits face substantial pressure from their supporters and volunteers to be transparent when it comes to allocating funds, expanding their operations, and optimizing workflows. These unique operational needs mean that there’s a heightened risk of outgrowing your CRM. When that happens, it’s typically very costly and time-consuming to upgrade.

Another option is to opt for a more scalable CRM that allows you to create uniquely customized workflows to better suit your specific needs. For example, Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud provides a broad range of tools to accommodate everything from fundraising to program management to grantmaking. However, it’s probably overkill for smaller organizations. It’s also prohibitively costly for many, with individual modules costing thousands of dollars per year.

Solving the build vs. buy debate with low code

Another option is to build your own CRM from scratch. Traditionally, this approach was suitable only for large enterprises and very well-funded nonprofits that could afford to maintain their own fully staffed in-house software development teams. Admittedly, the costs of building and maintaining a highly complex software service like CRM is extremely expensive and resource-intensive. Moreover, there’s an even greater risk of outgrowing the platform, since it will lack the inherent scalability and agility of modern, cloud-based offerings.

Fortunately, things are changing, and they’re changing quickly. Thanks to the rapidly growing low-code sector, there are now new ways to build your own software while enjoying the agility and flexibility of the cloud. Low-code platforms are closing the gap between developing software in-house and buying off-the-shelf solutions that may lack the customizability you need. They still require a degree of software development expertise, albeit at a far lower level than traditional software development.

Since CRM generally refers to a suite of integrated software applications, rather than a single application, low code is a natural fit for creating a customized software environment that an all-in-one off-the-shelf platform simply can’t. For example, the Salesforce Lightning low-code platform allows business users, as opposed to just professional software developers, to create apps that seamlessly integrate with the broader Salesforce CRM environment. In other words, it provides the foundational elements that most CRMs offer, while giving users the opportunity to build upon those.

Smaller nonprofits can also benefit from low code. In fact, while industry-leading platforms like Salesforce cater more towards enterprises and larger organizations, low-code inherently makes software development more accessible. On the other hand, most low-code CRMs are closed-source ecosystems, which come with significant trade-offs concerning vendor lock-in and digital sovereignty. For many nonprofits and NGOs, particularly those that operate across borders and jurisdictions, those trade-offs can be deal breakers.

The open-source licensing model addresses these trade-offs, and Corteza is one of the few platforms that includes ready-made CRM features and functions that can be customized and added to with the help of low-code development. Furthermore, thanks to an API-centric design, you can connect any data source and seamlessly integrate your custom-built low-code CRM with other mission-critical software services like volunteer services or donor management.

What can nonprofits do with a low-code CRM?

With an organization-wide low-code (and preferably open-source) software stack, nonprofits have all the foundational elements they need to build a CRM that aligns with their mission and goals. Most importantly, this allows you to connect all your data sources, no matter where they are physically located, to a centrally managed and readily accessible location. In other words, an open-source, low-code platform lets you greatly expand your CRM’s capabilities.

This highly interconnected environment also enables process automation. For example, when you have everything in one place and manageable through a single pane of glass, it’s much easier to define and implement routine processes, such as onboarding new volunteers and donors. Fundraising also becomes easier, since you can build out your platform to manage donor history and individual fundraising campaigns, instead of having to work with multiple spreadsheets and disparate databases.

Another key goal of any CRM is to advance both external and internal communications. For example, you might use low-code to build a cloud-based app that allows donors to track their donations and see which projects they’ve donated to. Nonprofits can also use low-code to deliver software services to their benefactors. Whether your mission is to provide practical support for refugees, facilitate free education, or something else entirely, a low-code CRM can provide the tools you need to expand your reach and deliver the help your benefactors need.

Adopting a low-code CRM also helps reduce expenses, especially if it’s open-source, in which case the software itself will be available for free. Low-code saves money by reducing the need to work with professional software developers, while democratizing development across nonprofit departments, like marketing, donor management, and fundraising. Low-code CRMs may also provide advanced automation features, which in turn reduce overheads associated with paid employees and help close any gaps with volunteer demand and availability. Ultimately, a low-code, open-source CRM gives you the space you need to grow in an uncertain future.

Getting started with low-code CRM development

Organizations with limited IT resources should consider the low-code approach to be the basic layer of their CRM strategies, as well as their broader digital transformation initiatives. Even nonprofits and NGOs that have ample funding and their own software developers can benefit from a low-code CRM, simply because it accelerates development lifecycles and allows for a closer alignment between mission goals and technology strategy.

CRM is, after all, one of the most common use cases for low code, which is also why most of the major CRM vendors, including Salesforce and Zoho, give users the ability to create custom apps. Open-source alternatives, like Corteza, go even further by providing complete flexibility and control over where you keep your data, which data sources you connect, and which apps you integrate into your broader environment.

Getting started with low-code software development might not be as easy as simply opting for an off-the-shelf solution, but the barriers to entry are much lower than programming a platform from scratch. For the most part, there’s no coding involved. The typical low-code development flow can be easily adapted to the unique needs of your organization, according to the following steps:

  • Determine the app and feature requirements: Experts in their respective departments, be it fundraising, volunteer management, or anything else, tend to have a clear picture of what they want to achieve. Low code helps bridge the gap between those goals and the various ways in which software can be leveraged to accommodate them.
  • Build the workflows, data models, integrations, and interfaces: Using visual tools, as opposed to manual coding, citizen developers can create apps using a predefined set of building blocks. An open-source solution goes even further by allowing professional developers to create their own building blocks from scratch as well.
  • Test user acceptance and proceed to deployment: To reduce risk, low-code apps may be developed in a sandbox environment and then tested thoroughly to iron out issues with data privacy, security, and performance before being connected to in-production databases.

Just as they do in business environments, knowledge workers in nonprofits leverage domain expertise to generate value. Nonprofits might not measure that value in financial terms, but instead in terms of metrics like donor attrition, operational resilience, fundraising efficiency, or social impact. Although these outcome metrics might differ from those of businesses, they all rely increasingly on the availability of information and the experiences they bring to customers and employees or, in this case, benefactors and volunteers. Using a low-code platform as the foundation for delivering this value ultimately allows nonprofits and NGOs to digitally transform and, in doing so, advance their missions for good.

Planet Crust is the principle developer and supporter of the Corteza Project, an open-source low-code software development platform providing the foundation you need to build the perfect CRM. Try Corteza on-premises or in the cloud today to see how it works.

Tags: CRM, Low-code, Not-for-Profit, Software development



Planet Crust

Planet Crust is the creator and driving force behind Corteza, a 100% open-source low-code, rapid app development, business process and integration platform.