Getting Ready for a New Nonprofit CRM: Focusing on the "What" for Better User Adoption

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It is in the plan this year – FINALLY – to replace your current mishmash of information sources with a new Nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management (Nonprofit CRM) system. It can provide the process improvement to better support your nonprofit or non-governmental organization. No more cobbling togetherpieces of information from various databases,spreadsheets and individual people's recollections in order to get a complete picture of what has been happening. You may even have picked out the software you want. Maybe you are taking advantage of the Salesforce Foundation's free licenses for Nonprofit Starter Pack (NPSP) or NGO Connect available through the Salesforce.com "Power of Us" program for nonprofits—or at least checking out the possibilities for replacing your current legacy donor database with something that is more efficient and cost-effective. Something that will empower your development team; enable better volunteer management; and, create a coherent, 365 degree view of the people who make your goals possible: supporters, partners and staff.

Now what should you do?

Start thinking about WHAT you need to accomplish with your new system – and realize that the HOW of day-to-day life for you and your team will change greatly. It will be a good thing eventually, but be warned – there can be tears along the way! Change isn't easy and you'll be interrupting your team's set patterns of work. There is no such thing as major change without a learning curve and preparing for it can help. As a leader at your organization, you'll be responsible for change management and for insuring new CRM user adoption by your team is complete.

First think about how things work today.

Many times folks focus on how they currently do things, forgetting – or never realizing – that often existing processes have grown up around the gaps in their current technology systems or connectivity.

If they can stand back and look at it, most people find that many of their current "systems" are really a set of disconnected, old technologies each individually transmitting clumps of information to a human being. The technology doesn't connect and your person must manually combine those different clump of information with their own or other person's knowledge in order to accomplish the job. This "system" is really a bad manual process which is time consuming and has great potential for errors.

Unfortunately, no matter how ugly or manual the process, it can be scary to let go of what you know. Sometimes the person had to build his or her own workaround process in order to do their job successfully -- and have been doing it the same way for many years. Remind your reticent Development Director or Programs Manager about what it took to pull together the information you needed to apply for that recent grant or comply with reporting requirements. Help them stand back and think about WHAT they are trying to accomplish and what could make them more successful:

  • Which information they could really use about donors, volunteers or grantors
  • When do they need the information in order to achieve goals and how quickly they need it when requested
  • Who also needs to easily access the information and use it either regularly or on an ad hoc basis
  • Which processes would be more effective if automated
Help those individuals understand about the opportunity to automate tasks – including the ones they may dislike intensely or waste their limited time. Some examples of what automated workflow and reporting can do:

  • Enable each member of your team to quickly access needed reports, activities, and tasks to manage their day through their personalized dashboard
  • Automatically calculate, roll-up and report on important measures, including donation statistics, with specialized reports geared for specific department heads, the Executive Director, the Board or for compliance reporting to foundations or regulators
  • Move a grant proposal through the internal review and approval process with system-generated reminders and routing, including built-in oversight to reduce the need to manually "chase" approvals for a grant application with an impending deadline
  • Acknowledge all donations immediately for the donor's tax purposes – and alert the Development Director and/or the Executive Director if the amount hits a specific threshold or is from a major or high value donor to insure they get personal attention
  • Enable online program or event registration which immediately populates the participant's information in your system and automatically provides the participant with an email acknowledgement and other documents or information – no need to have a staff member or volunteer have to interpret someone's handwriting on a form and manually enter the information into the database – reducing errors and time to process
Most importantly, help your team focus on WHAT is important – your mission, goals and what needs to be accomplished every day – and what these changes can mean to the important people and organizations involved:
  • Better supporting your constituents
  • Facilitating the recruitment and retaining of volunteers
  • Improving the nurturing of donors
  • Complying with regulations and funder requirements
  • Increasing staff's available time to connect with donors, volunteers and program participants – the kinds of work which can't be accomplished by technology
A nonprofit CRM system is a financial and time investment for your entire organization. If you and your team start with the "What" instead of the current "How", your CRM implementation will be smoother and increase the likelihood of adoption. The better the adoption, the higher the ROI. Ultimately, if your team understands you consider them at the center of "what" is important in this process, there will be less tears along the way (especially yours) when you change the current "how" to be more effective with your new CRM in place!

What has your experience been in past with new system implementations--lots of tears or smiles?  Something in between?

Questions about making your new CRM a success? Contact us and we'll help.

Kevin graduated from Miami University studying information systems and piano performance. After graduating, Kevin worked at General Electric working on banking systems in Thailand, India, U.K., Singapore and Denmark. After spending a few years overseas, Kevin spent four years leading technology projects at Merrill Lynch in Chicago. After this, Kevin spent two years at Roundarch consulting for Nystrom, United States Air Force and Northern Trust.


Kevin's first product was Duple Meter, which is a platform for music and arts organizations. In the summer of 2010, SocialRaise emerged, which concentrates on ways to combine social media with ways to increase revenue (online fundraising, e-commerce, event ticket sales, and advertising). This past summer, a new product called GroupHelix launched, which is a social intranet and workflow management web application. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys keeping active with triathlons, playing piano, and enjoying the great city of Chicago.

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