Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems are powerful tools that can help nonprofits effectively manage their events, programs, donors, volunteers and supporters, financial data and more. CRMs have a lot of benefits to offer, such as improved operations and effective program management, but deciding on a CRM system can be a long and arduous road. To help nonprofits understand this process, I spoke with Markus Stadelmann-Elder, Director of Communications at Maytree Foundation, about his experience with choosing and implementing a CRM. Prior to implementing its current CRM, Maytree operated mainly on an Access database that contained over 20,000 records.
I’ve summarized Markus’ responses and insights in this post, so your nonprofit can also benefit from his invaluable advice!
A Bit About The Maytree Foundation
Maytree is a private charitable foundation committed to reducing poverty and inequality in Canada and to building strong civic communities. Maytree seeks to accomplish its objectives by identifying, supporting and funding ideas, leaders and leading organizations that have the capacity to make change and advance the common good.
1) Which CRM are you using and how are you using it?
We are currently using Salesforce to manage and track our contacts, speaking engagements, press mentions and events. Now that our staff are comfortable with using a CRM, we plan on moving more of our programs and operations into Salesforce, such as email campaigns and document collaboration.
2) Why did you choose this CRM and which resources did you use to make your decision?
We decided to use Salesforce because it had the most features we needed to effectively run our programs.
For the first two months, we focused solely on evaluating and assessing our needs by interviewing all of our staff. Based on this, we were able to create a document outlining all of the ways in which we planned on using a CRM.
After assessing our needs, we learned more about the different types of CRMs (web-based, open-source, etc) and the options that are available on the market. We needed a system that could manage events and speaking engagements, but also needed the system to be accessible, user-friendly and easy to maintain.
We narrowed down our options to SugarCRM, Sumac and Salesforce and requested demonstrations. We also spoke with other nonprofits that have used these CRMs, to ensure we had input from the user’s perspective. Working with another organization, we actually tried SugarCRM for about a year, however we realized it wasn’t a good fit for our needs.
It ultimately came down to Sumac and Salesforce. Both were able to accomplish what we needed, so we decided to look at costs and integration with third-party tools. Salesforce integrates well with EventBrite (which we use for our events), offers 10 user licenses for free and the monthly fee seemed quite reasonable for us. We decided to go with Salesforce as it was the most cost-effective CRM to fit our needs.
3) How did you set up your CRM and train staff?
We hired an external firm to help us with the implementation and transferring data from our old database to the new CRM. We also had an internal core team that facilitated the entire process (including staff training and adoption). The core team consisted of four people (including myself) and we were the first to be trained in Salesforce.
After we were trained, the external firm held two training sessions for all staff. We covered the basics such as how to add a record, search, upload and download documents, etc. Once all staff were trained, we dedicated a full day for everyone to help with a big data clean-up project and provided pizza for lunch. We also created a short manual (6 pages) for staff to use, which contains data entry policies and best practices.
We’ve found that involving all staff with data clean-ups has helped them to adopt Salesforce. It’s good practice for staff to be in the system regularly and it helps ensure records are correct and up to date. Staff are also actively identifying issues and providing valuable feedback that the core team can use to further improve the system.
4) How do you make sure your data stays accurate and up to date?
We have two measures:
- We have regular reminders of data entry best practices and policies (also outlined in the 6-page Salesforce manual)
- The core team runs an app called “Dupe Blocker” regularly to catch new duplicates
In the future, we will perform organization-wide data clean-ups once every quarter, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. During these data clean-ups, the core team will circulate as floaters in case anyone has questions or concerns about Salesforce.
Duplicates still happen, but they’re definitely less frequent than when we first implemented Salesforce. It took us six months to clean our historical database of 20,000 records, and another two months to clean any new data that was entered. Now that the core team and staff are more comfortable with data clean-ups, our regular data maintenance is not as time-consuming as it was before.
5) What are the biggest benefits of having a CRM?
One of the biggest benefit of using a CRM is that we’re able to find all of our key information in one place. It’s essential for us to effectively manage our speaking engagements, collateral materials and interactions with the media because our mission relies heavily on these tracking activities.
Before using a CRM, we did not have one place to store all of our information. If I needed to reference a past seminar or speaking engagement, I would need to look at multiple databases and spreadsheets before I could get the information I needed. Now that we use a CRM, I can look up past events and have access to key information (such as press releases, articles, contact information, etc.) in one place.
Another benefit of having a CRM is that our operations have improved. Since Salesforce is cloud-based, I can access our database anywhere and anytime, as long as I have internet connection. I can work much faster and more efficiently now that my time is freed from compiling data from multiple sources. Salesforce also runs incredibly fast compared to our previous system, and our staff find it very easy to use. This helps greatly in keeping our data integrity intact.
6) If you could give one piece of advice to other nonprofits choosing a new CRM system, what would it be?
My advice is to do a lot of research before you shop for CRMs. Spend time to go through the entire research process: talk to everyone in the organization, document their needs, consult with other nonprofits and ask for their opinions, and find an expert to take you through the CRM analysis process. It’s important to determine what your needs are before you speak to a CRM sales representative, as they’re well versed in marketing and selling their products.
The other key piece of advice I would give is to implement your new CRM in phases. Don’t move all of your operations and programs to the new system from the start, as there will always be unpredictable issues that need to be resolved. Implementing a CRM in phases is also the best way to ensure staff adopt the new processes and procedures.
If you'd like to read more CRM Case Studies, check out how Cambridge Self Help Food Bank switched from an Access Database to Sumac.