Step 1: What is your audience?
This is the first step to deciding anything about a CRM, or whether you even need one. Once you specifically know the universe of people you want to reach, then you can begin to think about how you will reach them, and finally how you can organize doing that.
Step 2: What will be your process?
Every organization has a different ladder (or path) that they want their prospects, and eventually supporters, to follow. More specifically, this question forces you to think realistically about how you will interact with your audience, and that allows you to get a better picture of what you need.
e.g. You know you will be doing a lot of offline organizing, and you need a CRM that supports that part of your operation. This type of information is critical when trying to find your solution.
Step 3: What do you know you need?
This bit is where functionality truly comes into play. Try to come up with 3 very specific things you know you are going to want to do with you CRM. This helps you to understand if you need any custom features, and almost every organization does. Also, if a CRM you're considering does not have any of your 3 specific features out of the box, it may be best to cross it off the list.
e.g. Think of solutions you know you want, or must have. Do you need an integrated email solution to message your supporter list? If a particular option doesn’t offer what you need–move on. There are other options out there.
Step 4: Comparison of Typical Features
• Civi.CRM: An open-sourced CRM powered by Drupal, Civi can be customized to do nearly anything for your organization. Civi is powerful, but requires significant Drupal developer knowledge to get off the ground, and is not the easiest system for someone without tech skills to pick up quickly.
• NationBuilder: Plenty of basic features the bring both CRM and CMS together in one relationship. Although NationBuilder gives add-on access to the voter file, this file is lacking in comparison to the VAN file. NationBuilder has plenty of room for customization on the CMS side, but offers a standard menu of CRM options like: queries, supporter tagging, mass email messaging, etc.
• Action Network: Extremely straight forward and easy to use, almost anyone willing to spend a little time learning can become a master of the ActionNetwork CRM. Integrates forms into any CMS using iframes and HTML embeds, which can be a up or a downside.
Step 5: Comparison of Typical Pricing Options
• Civi.CRM: The initial cost of having a Civi database setup are high in comparison to other options, because of the developer time required to tweak and customize Civi. While there is no monthly fee for the service (and that is enticing), the budget will be spent entirely on getting Civi setup to use, which will require Drupal development skills. In other words, don't think of CiviCRM as free just because it is available for public download.
• NationBuilder: An active list of 15k puts you on the lower bound of a range of $4969 per month for base NationBuilder services. While this is very reasonable, some seemingly standard features for NB are packaged as addons which can elevate that monthly rate further. For more info, visit http://nationbuilder.com/pricing.
• Action Network: For as low as a couple hundred dollars a year, someone can get full access to ActionNetwork's CRM "partner options", which include things like file uploads. AN negotiates a separate price for every organization, typically based on the size of your email list.