Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems can vastly improve a nonprofit's operations, fundraising initiatives, volunteer management and more, but deciding on a CRM system can be a very difficult task. To help nonprofits understand this process, I had an opportunity to chat with Dianne McLeod, Program Coordinator at the Cambridge Self Help Food Bank (CSHFB), about her experience with implementing a CRM system at the CSHFB. Prior to their current CRM, the CSHFB used Microsoft Access as their main database (which contained 20 years of data), Volunteer Works to manage their volunteers and Excel to track their program statistics.
Dianne provided great insight into the CRM implementation process, and I’m pleased to be able to summarize her responses and advice in this post.
A Bit About The Cambridge Self Help Food Bank
The Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank is a charity that provides food, emergency services and support programs to help people become and remain self-reliant. The CSHFB distributes more than 950,000 pounds of food and grocery products annually. More than 4,000 children are fed each year through their programs.
1). Which CRM are you using and how are you using it?
We’re currently using Sumac to manage and track our volunteers, donations, and two in-house programs: the Emergency Hamper Program and the Food Co-operative Program. As our program and operations grow, we hope to scale Sumac along with us as well.
2). Why did you choose this CRM and which resources did you use to make your decision?
We choose Sumac because it’s affordable and offers a lot of modules, such as volunteer management and fundraising add-ons, that can be used to customize the CRM. They also offer a “grow your own module” option, where they develop custom modules to fit your needs. We had a hard time finding a standard module to adequately manage our Emergency Hamper and Food Co-op programs, so Sumac made custom modules just for us.
When our old Access database was getting too hard to maintain and scale with our operations, we started to look for a new CRM. We needed a system that was more automated, easy for staff use and could handle volunteer management, fundraising and the Emergency Hamper and Food Co-op programs.
We narrowed down our options to the Raiser’s Edge, a volunteer database and Sumac. All three of these CRMs were able to accomplish what we needed, so cost became a huge factor. Sumac stood out right away because it was so affordable. Through TechSoupCanada, we could get a one year subscription to Sumac for $80 (Gold) or $40 (Silver), and the ongoing monthly module fees were inexpensive. They also provide ongoing technical support at no extra cost, which made Sumac a very low-risk option for us.
3). How did you set up your CRM and train staff?
We don’t have any internal IT staff, so we hired an external IT consultant to export our historical data. The team at Sumac then imported our historical data, mapped it and implemented the CRM for us. Sumac also trained me so I can manage the database internally.
However, I had difficulty using Sumac for the first several months. The CSHFB has been using Access for the past 20 years, so the recent change to Sumac was a bit difficult to manage. Thankfully, Megan (our contact at Sumac) followed up with me and was extremely helpful. She answered a lot of my questions and helped me to learn and understand how to use Sumac.
I then trained staff on how to use Sumac and made a 4-5 page manual for staff and volunteers to use. There was a resistance at first, much like what I experienced personally, but re-education takes time and some degree of persistence. I reinforced the benefits of using Sumac and started using it to generate our regular reports. Staff started to feel the benefits almost immediately, since Sumac makes gathering statistics easier and so much faster. A report that used to take us one month to compile now only takes one hour to generate in Sumac. This impact aided greatly in staff adoption as Sumac makes our operations easier.
4). How do you make sure your data stays accurate and up-to-date?
I cleaned all of our historical data and use Sumac’s resolve duplicates tool to catch new duplicates. I run this deduping module every month to ensure our data is accurate and kept up-to-date. Sumac is also very proactive and frequently sends updates and releases to help us with data maintenance.
5). What are the biggest benefits of having a CRM?
For us, the biggest benefit of having a CRM is our improved operations and the ability to have accurate data.
At the CSHFB, we frequently produce reports for funding applications, community publications and advocacy initiatives. It’s important for us to have quick access to accurate data because a lot of our work depend on having these reports. When we used Access, Volunteer Works and Excel spreadsheets, it would take staff nearly a month to produce one report because manually cross-referencing spreadsheets and checking through records is very time-consuming. Now that we have Sumac as our CRM, it takes one hour to generate a report. This frees up our staff and volunteers to focus on mission: distributing food, providing emergency services, and support programs to help people become and remain self-reliant.
6). If you could give one piece of advice to other nonprofits choosing a new CRM system, what would it be?
Don’t underestimate the work that’s involved! Implementing a CRM is a lot more than just buying software and running it. You need to invest resources -- staff, time and money – to ensure the CRM is implemented and used properly. Also, the process doesn’t just end at the implementation stage, your CRM will require continuous maintenance and updates. A CRM is a powerful tool, but only useful if its maintained.
If you'd like to read more CRM Case Studies, check out how Maytree Foundation switched from an Access Database to Salesforce.