implementing nonprofit crm

I often find myself getting called in to nonprofits where everybody is unhappy with the CRM. And I mean everybody. From the gift processors to the Executive Director, no one has a good thing to say about it.

It’s not intuitive

It’s hard to navigate

It’s impossible to get data or meaningful reports out of it

There are too many duplicates

It doesn’t do “X”

It’s too complex

It requires too many clicks

The list goes on and on, but after I listen to the each of the grievances and evaluate the system, I find that the technology is rarely the problem.

I’ve seen it time and time again, consultants implement a nonprofit CRM solution with a simple goal in mind: complete the agreed-upon scope on time and on budget (which is fair). But even after that is accomplished, months would pass and organizations would still struggle adapting to the new system. Frustrated users would retreat to their old ways of doing things for certain tasks or just abandon the CRM application altogether. So what went wrong? And how can it be avoided?

In my experience, the top three root causes of these change management issues (and how they can be avoided) are as follows.

Business Processes. No matter how great your new donor management system is, business processes will change. In fact, it should! Hopefully you’re getting new features that you didn’t have before. Training staff on how to use the system is half the equation, the other (and more critical) half is for users to understand the business process around it. For example:

What is the criteria for creating a soft credit?

What kinds of interactions do I track in the CRM versus externally (email, calendar, task management tool, etc.)?

How and when will we acknowledge donors? Will there be different acknowledgements for first-time givers? What about gifts over a certain threshold?

What is the process when finding out a donor is deceased?

The technology will support whatever decision you make, but there needs to be a decision, and it needs to be documented. My recommendation is to document your current state processes before the implementation, then in parallel with the implementation, document your “to-be” processes. If you go this route, everyone is not only clear on how to use new features in a consistent way, but also know how their day-to-day operations will change (reduce the fear factor!).

If the terminology or process is unfamiliar, the system will appear complex and not intuitive. So define it, document it, and make it part of your training plan!

Data Hygiene. I’ll admit it’s not the sexiest topic, and it won’t draw crowds to your webinar, but it’s no doubt on my “Top 3” list. A database conversion is a perfect opportunity to re-look at your data. Is it complete? Consistent? Accurate? De-duplicated? Your new CRM system carries a lot of potential to your nonprofit, but if your team is simply moving bad data from one system to another, all bets are off. Reports won’t be trusted, no one will know which “Margaret Wilson” is the right “Margaret Wilson,” and if everyone is using certain fields differently, or shoving all their valuable data in a notes field they can’t report on, users may be more inclined to keep their own notes outside of the system. You may be asking isn’t this also tied to business process? You betcha’! My recommendation, take the time to analyze and clean your data before your conversion, make use of picklists and checkboxes as opposed to “free-form text” in your design, and have clear business process outlined for “what should be entered where” to ensure ongoing data quality.

Train, train, and train some more! As intuitive as tools like Bloomerang are, it’s still wise to gather users together to level-set on concepts, get hands on practice with guidance, and run through real-life scenarios preparing the team for launch. Bloomerang offers an extensive set of training resources that cover all aspects of the system’s functionality, but we recommend additional face-to-face training, ideally led by one of your “power users” who can walk through real-life scenarios, while highlighting the two points above. Training also needs to be frequent, not just for new employees, but to also serve as a refresher for the team. It needs to be ongoing so it evolves with your organization. As new scenarios arise, new features are released or new configurations are added, users need to be updated and trained accordingly. Organizations that make training part of their culture and not just a “go-live” activity are the ones who find the most success with user adoption.

Donor management systems like Bloomerang can add tremendous value to your nonprofit and transform the way you work and make decisions. Avoiding these pitfalls above will help ensure you’re getting the most of your solution: gathering useful insights, retaining your donors, and moving your mission forward!The Buyer's Guide to Fundraising Software

Rubin Singh
Rubin Singh is the Founder and CEO of OneTenth Consulting. OneTenth has a full range of services for nonprofits of all sizes, from fundraising strategy, to CRM selection, to implementation and change management. OneTenth empowers nonprofits by aligning their organizational, fundraising, and technology strategies -- providing the tools and insight they need to meet their goals and achieve their mission.
Rubin Singh

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