January 14, 2016

6 Ways to Think Like a “CRM” Admin: Nonprofit Edition

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As customer relationship management systems (CRMs) take on a larger role in the nonprofit sector, the admin role is becoming critical for the operations of a data-driven organization. If you have recently taken on the responsibility of an admin, or if this position is in your future, you may wonder if you have what it takes.

Fortunately, many fundamental qualities and mindsets of a successful CRM admin can be learned. Nonprofit CRM admins are made, not born! Here are six ways to strengthen your abilities and bring even greater success to your organization:

  1. Think cross-departmentally. When you manage the ongoing setup and processes of an organization-wide system (or a system used by a few departments), you need to be able to understand and factor in all relevant parties’ roles and needs.

How to strengthen these abilities: Consider how each part of the system impacts each part of your organization. Check in to find out what these groups think. You will begin to grow your instinct for when something might be an issue.

  1. Employ strong problem-solving and logic. You may find help in forums or user groups, but there won’t always be a right answer or even a solution that has been created before. The word “logic” can be intimidating to some people, but really it just means having solid reasoning abilities.

How to strengthen these abilities: When you encounter a problem, you might start by considering the perfect solution and work backwards from there. You can also build a prototype solution, test it, and then learn from what works and doesn’t work. Read the experts’ solutions and take them apart to understand why they work. Learn to distinguish a smooth fix from something that is messy and overly complex.

  1. Take a big picture view. You want to be able to think long-term and about your organization’s overall strategy. This will stop you from building solutions that don’t scale or that interfere with your nonprofit’s larger vision.

How to strengthen these abilities: Together with leadership, come to a clear understanding of the overall goals and vision for the system in a year, five years, and so on. Whenever you are implementing a new fix or project, always ask yourself if it advances that vision.

  1. Prioritize efficiently. One admin tip from Aaron Winters of Peer Health Exchange in one of our recent webinars was to separate your processes into three distinct workflows: one that is more immediate responses to questions, one that is shorter term tweaks, and one that includes a longer projects flow. This can allow you to group like tasks and set up systems like ticketing to help. We also recommend setting up a process for suggesting and making changes that is understood by users.

How to strengthen these abilities: Start pattern-matching your tasks in terms of their short-term or long-range properties, and respond to them in batches. You will become more aware of where documentation could help you or other systems. Also, get in the habit of ranking your tasks by importance and urgency. Try not to only tackle urgent tasks, but also some that are important but not urgent, each day.

  1. Communicate effectively. Another critical skill of an admin is the ability to explain and communicate with users and stakeholders of all abilities and roles. Much of the work of a CRM admin is with people rather than technology. This skill supports all the others.

How to strengthen these abilities: Learn about different communication styles and practice explaining multiple ways. Ask for clarification. Take cultural differences into account. Make sure that people understood you by having them say things back to you.

  1. Use agile thinking. Because caring for a system can be a long-term project, it’s useful to be able to think small and in phases. Building up your system over time is the most effective. Big changes are hard for both you and your staff to incorporate all at once. Start small, test new functionality, learn, and then roll out.

How to strengthen these abilities: Set small milestones so you and the organization can feel the progress without overloading your capacity. In smaller phases, you can take measured risks. These add up to more measured wins that will fuel your motivation, rather than an all-or-nothing approach. Take time to breathe and keep things in perspective: remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

If you want to hear even more best practices from real-life nonprofit CRM admins, come to our panel at the Nonprofit Technology Conference 2016 (NTC): “Think Like a CRM Admin!

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Kristi Phillips
Kristi Phillips serves as the solution consultant focusing exclusively on education organizations at Exponent Partners. Previously, Kristi worked at Teach For All, where she served as their Director of Data Management. There, she supported 30+ international organizations with their design, configuration, and implementation of Salesforce. Before Teach For All, Kristi led new site development, new program integration, technology development and program operations at Education Pioneers as their Director of Strategic Site Support and Operations. You can follow her on Twitter @ExP_SF.