5 Keys to Preparing for Your CRM System Implementation

Implementing a new constituent relationship management (CRM) — aka donor relationship management (DRM) — system doesn’t have to be painful. Concerns about implementation and scars from the past don’t have to hold you back from adopting a CRM system that will truly support your strategies and drive your organization’s growth. Planning is the key to success. The results, if you plan well, are well worth the effort.

Why CRM?
Fundamentally, implementing a CRM system means using a single database to manage all of your relationships with your constituents — from donors and volunteers to colleagues. Before you get started with your CRM system implementation, you should ensure that your objectives for implementing it are in sync with the key benefits of CRM. If not, it might not be the right time for you to implement a CRM system. The key benefits include:

  • Consolidating to as few systems as possible so your IT team has fewer systems to manage and your team has fewer systems to be trained on.
  • Reflecting all data in a single system so data maintenance is easier and you have easy access to more accurate reporting.
  • Putting in place an agreed-upon set of rules for your organization’s key processes.

Which is more important: The technology or the plan?
Assuming your objectives are in sync with the benefits of implementing a CRM system, it’s time to start planning. Despite what you might think, successfully implementing a CRM system depends less on the actual technology you choose than on figuring out a few things from the outset. Those things include:

  • what you want the system to do
  • who’s going to be using the system
  • what business processes will meet those people’s needs
  • how the system can be implemented in a way that works well for future stakeholders; this includes staffing the project appropriately, and training system users adequately

Before you implement your CRM system (and preferably, before you even select your CRM system), be sure to do your prep work. Start by thinking strategically about your organization’s mission and goals, and how you will measure progress toward your goals. Then, think tactically about your constituent groups and what you are doing with each of those groups. This helps you define what information needs to be stored in your CRM system and what types of processes you need to carry out — such as list management, communications and program tracking — within the system.

Tried-and-true tips for planning your CRM implementation
You thought you were ready to implement your CRM system, but there are even more considerations. Here are five quick tips to consider before you get started:

  • Take time for discovery. Take time to assess your priorities and what you have in place now:
    • Catalogue your various software systems, databases and spreadsheets, and determine what data is stored in those systems — from names and addresses to donor history — so you know what information needs to be moved into your new system.
    • Meet with stakeholders to determine the processes they’re using, what isn’t working for them now and what they need from the CRM system.
    • Determine the high-priority processes to address in your initial CRM system implementation.
    • Create a timeline and milestones for the project so you’re clear on what’s happening when, and who needs to be involved.
  • Consider your timing. Keep in mind that you have finite staff resources across the organization, and everyone has a day-to-day job to do. Be sure to take into consideration the timing of active fundraising seasons and large program activities, and try to avoid heavy CRM implementation work during those times.
  • Take a phased approach. It has taken years for your organization to collect its data and develop its many processes. Likewise, it will take time to represent those data and processes in a single system. Break your implementation into phases to make the project more manageable. But remember, you can work on multiple phases at the same time — just don’t try to bite off the entire cross-organizational implementation all at once.
  • Start with your core processes first. Get started with the processesthat are most representative of your organization and how it works. This helps you establish the “core” processes in your system. If you start with an outlying process that is not fundamental to your organization’s day-to-day processes, or that is an exception to how you typically work, you will not see the greatest benefits from your CRM system right away.
  • Collaborate and communicate. A surefire way to have your organization resist moving to a new system is to announce the implementation after a few meetings with a couple of people and then notify the organization that it’s in place and that everyone needs to start using it. The entire organization needs to be part of the process. Be sure to get all of the stakeholders across your organization involved in the planning process, and keep the entire organization updated on the CRM implementation as it progresses. Helping people to be part of the process ensures greater adoption of the system once it’s in place. This, in turn, helps to ensure your organization sees all of the benefits of implementing the CRM system.

This article, based on based on the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference session, “Implementing CRM: What Works, What Doesn’t, and How to Make Your Project a Success!” was originally published at http://www.fundraisingsuccessmag.com/article/5-keys-preparing-your-crm-system-implementation/1 and is reprinted with permission.

Keith Heller
Heller Consulting