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How a Good CRM Implementation Can Propel Your Nonprofit

Volunteer ManagementDonor ManagementDatabases & Constituent Relationship Management (CRM)

Many nonprofits are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems. On one hand, CRMs are powerful tools that can help nonprofits effectively manage events, programs, donors, volunteers and supporters, financial data and more. On the other, CRM takes a lot of time and resources to implement and maintain.

We invited Joe Murray (JMA Consulting) to February 11th’s Toronto Net Tuesday to share the right knowledge and tools you’ll need to successfully implement your CRM.

This blog post summarizes the key discussion points from this event. You can also watch the event recording on TechSoup Canada’s YouTube channel and view Joe’s slides on SlideShare.

What is a CRM?

Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems are databases that manage your interactions with your stakeholders. Stakeholder interactions can range from event registrations and attendance, to donations and communications (email campaigns, direct mail, participation in petitions/surveys etc.).

Why do I need a CRM?

CRMs can help you build a 360 view of a person. By tracking your constituents’ in-person, online, and offline interactions, you will have a better understanding of how to interact with them and how they want to interact with you. For example, if your long-time donor consistently donates through direct mail and refuses to provide an email, the best way to connect with this donor is through mail.

Nonprofit CRM functionality

There are a lot of CRM options for nonprofits, such as Sumac, CiviCRM and Salesforce, and each CRM offers their own features and functionality. Common CRM features include but are not limited to:

  • Email subscriptions
  • Donations
  • Memberships
  • Volunteer management
  • Client cases
  • Grant seeking/grant giving
  • Campaigns
  • Reporting/analytics
  • Petitions
  • Surveys
  • Inbound phone
  • Social media integration

The most important factors to consider when it comes to choosing CRMs are:

  1. What kind of functionality do you need?
  2. Which CRM offers that functionality?

For example, the College of Dental Technologists of Alberta’s (CDTA) mission is to run an effective membership program to regulate and and govern the practice of dental technology in Alberta. Since membership is a core mission activity for CDTA, they chose a CRM that is specifically designed for a nonprofit to track memberships.

When you’re identifying your CRM requirements, compile a list of all your nonprofit’s needs and wants (ie. process donations, tracking grants, manage HR) and prioritize it against your stakeholders and how you want to interact with them (ie. if securing grants is more important than tracking internal resources, your CRM must be able to manage grants but not necessarily HR).

Planning a CRM Implementation

Curious on how other nonprofits implemented their CRM? Check out our CRM Case Studies: Maytree Foundation & Salesforce and Cambridge Self Help Food Bank & Sumac.

A CRM implementation involves five steps:

  1. Building the Project Team
  2. Choosing a Project Methodology
  3. Determining CRM Needs
  4. Technical Implementation: In-house vs. Consultant
  5. Scoping Phases

Your CRM will affect many, if not all, of the departments in your organization, so in addition to building a project team, you’ll need to compile data that each of your departments will need in the new CRM (ie. donor contact information, fundraising revenue and budgets, volunteer contact information, event registrants and attendees, etc). Have your departments work together to compile the data as this will encourage shared ownership on the CRM implementation project.

Your nonprofit should also take this opportunity to re-examine current processes and procedures to determine if it needs to be updated or improved. Don’t just replicate your exact processes into your new CRM! More often than not, a new CRM replaces many different legacy systems (ie. Excel spreadsheets, Eventbrite, etc.) so your current processes may not apply. Avoid introducing redundancies and errors into your new CRM by creating new standards in data entry, data collection, and general CRM best practices.

1. Building the Project Team

Your CRM project team includes:

  • executive sponsors to make financial decisions,
  • functional managers to represent the interests of the different departments,
  • key staff users (aka the core team to execute the project),  
  • technical expertise (in-house IT support or external consultants), and
  • stakeholders to provide feedback and suggestions

Building a project team will depend on the size of your nonprofit, internal staff resources and how agile your organization is at making decisions. How many approvals do you need in order to make a financial commitment? Are there different computer permission levels? How much time can your staff dedicate to implementing the CRM? Understanding your organizational culture will help you build an effective team.

For your key staff users (aka your core CRM team), you’ll want to involve day-to-day staff, tech savvy users and non-tech savvy users. This way you can meet the needs of everyone in your organization. Joe recommends a core team of 5-6 people from various departments.

Whether you have internal IT support or not, it’s important to have an IT strategy for your new CRM system. Consult your IT department, dedicated IT staff, or an external consultant on how you should be handling your data and the strategy for database maintenance. If your organization has little to no IT support, your core team may have to do data clean-up.

You should also cycle back to future end users and other stakeholders (volunteers & staff that are not part of the core CRM team) throughout the CRM implementation process. Your stakeholders’ feedback will determine if your new CRM procedures are effective, and whether your new system is user-friendly on the back-end (CRM administrative view, queries, data entry etc.) and front-end (online donation forms, website forms, email campaigns, etc.).

2. Project Methodology

There are many approaches your project team can adopt when it comes to managing a CRM implementation.

The most common approach is the conventional waterfall model, where each phase of development is linear and sequential. Once a phase of development is complete, the project proceeds to the next phase.

Another approach is the agile scrum model, which emphasizes empirical process control. In this model, the project is divided into subtasks with short durations (1 to 3 weeks). At the end of each subtask, stakeholders and team members meet to assess the progress of the project before planning and proceeding to the next step.

Whether your nonprofit adopts the conventional waterfall or agile scrum model, a CRM implementation project is a continuum of phases that begins with identifying your requirements.

3. Determining CRM Needs

What does your nonprofit need the CRM to accomplish in order to deliver your core programs and services?

There are two approaches to determine your CRM needs:

  1. Top Down
    Start with your organization’s mission statement and figure out how you want to interact with your stakeholders. Remember that your nonprofit has limited resources, so in addition to stating what you will do, you should take this as an opportunity to say what you will not do as well. For example, the Daily Bread Food Bank’s mission is “providing good and resources for hungry people”. They have identified their constituents (“hungry people”) and how they want to interact with them (“provide food and resources”).

  2. Bottom Up
    Compile all your organization’s current activities and the systems you are using to accomplish these tasks (ie., taking donations via paper form, website, POS terminal etc.). This approach will show you how your programs are being managed, what your data is being used for, and the processes are that involved.

When compiling your needs, you will most likely identify “pain points” along the way. Pain points are processes and activities that are redundant and/or not working in your current system (ie. entering contact information into multiple databases because the databases are not integrated. As long as you’re not replicating your exact processes into your new CRM, you can avoid migrating pain points. Remember, your new CRM will replace many different legacy systems and processes, so your pain points may not be an issue once you have properly implemented your CRM.

4. Technical Implementation: In-house vs Consultants

Now comes the million dollar question - should you hire a consultant to do the technical CRM implementation, or should you use your internal IT department/support? There’s no right or wrong answer, but your nonprofit should understand the limitations and implications of both approaches before you make a decision.

In-house implementation generally costs less up-front, and your IT staff will understand your needs and operations much better than an external consultant. However, implementing a CRM requires a lot of time, knowledge and technical expertise, something that your current staff may not have.

Consultants, on the other hand, may cost more but are experts in CRM and software change projects. They can also provide guidance on your IT strategy and provide tips on CRM best practices.

5. Phases and Scope

Your CRM will affect all of your organization, so it’s mission-critical that you identify risks early on and implement the CRM in phases to ensure a smooth transition. To encourage adoption of the new CRM system, Joe recommends building in early wins or address pain points in the early phases. Your nonprofit should also plan for ongoing technical support, as CRMs (open-source and proprietary) require maintenance and regular security updates. This is true even for CRMs with free licesnses. Think of your CRM as a free kitten - there’s no cost involved in getting the kitten, but there are costs involved in feeding it, cleaning it, and taking it to the vet.

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