Implementing A CRM Database: What A Not-For-Profit Should Look For

Whether you are a huge multi-national non-governmental organisation (NGO) or a small local charity, a CRM database provides the opportunity to improve fundraising income, deepen relationships with supporters, reduce marketing costs, develop a collaborative working environment and improve internal operations. It is a hugely important tool. But it is only a tool. People assume that a CRM database will cure an organisation’s woes, but to unlock the undoubted potential the implementation is about far more than technology.

In this post I’d like to share my broad experience from the corporate and charity sector to highlight six key factors that impact on the success of CRM implementations in not-for-profit organisations.

1. Strategic

CRM starts with a strategy, a strong business case and support from the senior leadership team.

  • CRM Strategy – CRM is not an IT system. CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, is first and foremost a strategy. It is a deliberate and systemic approach to implement supporter facing processes to serve supporters, continually develop relationships and increase fundraising revenues. You must develop a CRM strategy first, before selecting a CRM system that will integrate with, and support the strategy.
  • Business Case – A solid business case should be the starting point for any project. Deciding to invest a significant amount of money on a new IT system simply because the existing one looks a bit old or appears to not work properly are not justifiable reasons for the investment.
  • Leadership – The programme of change must be driven by the senior management in the organisation, not the database or IT team. It should not be viewed as an IT project, but as an initiative to improve the organisation, with the implementation of a new database being one aspect of the project.

2. Organisation

Changes to organisational culture and structure are often required to become a ‘CRM’ organisation, whilst robust project governance is a must from the outset

  • Culture – In order to gain the full benefits of the database, increase the efficiency of processes and meet the goals of your CRM strategy, the culture of your organisation may need to consider more collaborative ways of working.
  • Organisation Structure – Job descriptions and responsibilities of key staff may change as the new system gives you the ability to standardise tasks, automate processes and re-design processes. It is essential that these aspects of the implementation are considered and, if required, the HR function is involved to help re-define roles.
  • Governance – It’s important to put a proper governance structure in place to which the project team will report and escalate issues. It is the responsibility of these key stakeholders to set the direction of the project and make decisions that affect the scope, time and cost. The members should, ideally, have been involved in producing the business case for the project in the first place.

3. Operations

Re-designing your processes and effective knowledge management are the route to operational efficiency – this is how the change is translated into everyday working practices.

  • Process Re-engineering – To meet the goals of your CRM strategy a change in processes is often required. Reviewing your current state and entering the project with a view to adapting your processes to the new system and applying best practice will ensure that you maximise efficiencies when the new system is in place.
  • Knowledge Management – It is important to document key decisions made and the policies and procedures that are developed. Failure to do so will mean users will soon divert from agreed processes, areas of the system will be used for a purpose other than that for which they were designed and reports will not be accurate or simply won’t work.

4. Data

The successful transition from legacy systems, data accuracy and resolving information ownership issues are all huge factors that influence how the new system will be perceived.

  • Database Audit – Ensure that you have a full list of all the ‘databases’ currently in use – perform a ‘data amnesty’ with all staff – you will probably be surprised how many ‘systems’ have developed over time.
  • Data Cleansing and Migration – The quality of data in a new system has a big impact on the first impressions of the system – if the data looks ‘funny’ then the system will immediately lose credibility. It is vitally important that the data cleanse and migration parts of the project are taken seriously and enough time is built into the project timeline to do this.
  • Information Ownership – Paradoxically, one of the big advantages of moving to a more advanced CRM database system – the opportunity of a 360 degree view of a supporter – is often seen as a major disadvantage by some end users! This is because people or departments get sensitive about the information they hold, with a feeling that it is ‘their’ data. A key message must be filtered to all users – supporters ‘belong’ to the organisation, not individual departments.

5. Resources

Having the right people involved and leading the project is vital to ensure the new system meets the needs of the organisation.

  • Project Manager – a strong internal project manager must lead the implementation and must always be supported by senior stakeholders in the organisation. Project Management is also vital from the supplier side. The supplier you choose to work with will be managing a number of resources, and the coordination of those resources requires time and effort.
  • Project Team Resourcing – It is vital that the right people are involved in the project team and that they are assigned clear roles and responsibilities. You must staff the team with the ‘right’ members, not just the ‘available’ members.

6. The Project

Clear success criteria, effective change management and inspirational branding can often make the difference between a failed or successful CRM database implementation.

  • Success Criteria – The measures used to determine success must be clearly defined before the project starts and shared widely (both internally and with the software supplier).
  • Change Management – Change management focuses on the impact a change will have on the employees. The ‘people side’ of any project is too often overlooked. All employees must believe in the CRM strategy and the supporting program and software. Failure to manage the ‘people’ side will mean that the benefits are highly unlikely to be achieved.
  • Branding – Whilst ‘branding’ the project may seem trivial, it is an important part of ensuring that for your employees, the project is more than just an IT system. A CRM implementation should incorporate a vision to improve and change the way the organisation operates and interacts with its supporters and if the project is simply called ‘the database project’ then it is unlikely to inspire employees.

A CRM database is just a tool – CRM needs to be viewed as a strategy and the whole organisation needs to embrace that. The CRM database that you choose to implement should support the strategy and the improvement you are trying to achieve as an organisation. Indeed, the CRM database should be viewed as an important, but not the central, feature of a drive towards a CRM centred organisation.

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Rick Benfield is a management consultant at bb1, the consultancy that provides not-for-profit organisations with ways to improve their digital presence, operational efficiency and strategy. He has worked in the charity sector for 5 years after setting up his own charity in 2007. For the last 2 years he has worked for Blackbaud on system implementation and strategy initiatives with some of the largest charities in Europe. Prior to Blackbaud, Rick spent 5 years at Accenture helping organisations implement new IT systems.