An IT perspective on the best way to implement a nonprofit CRM

The secret to a CRM (constituent relationship management) implementation for nonprofits is that it’s not just about technology. It’s about the people.

What people? Your people. Your team. Whom do you work with? What do they need? What processes do they currently follow?

CRM software is a multifaceted tool, so it helps to do a bit of planning before you implement. Some tips based on our experience in nonprofit technology are:

Understand What Your Nonprofit Needs, Before Talking Technology
While a nonprofit CRM can solve many pain points, the most successful technology implementations do actually start with technology. Take time to talk to people. Explore WHY they follow the processes they do. Chances are if they’re still following the same processes from 10 years ago “just because,” it may be useful to reprogram your processes on a whiteboard before you program them into a new system. We believe that even if you’re in IT, it helps to have some experience in change management.

Here are some related book recommendations for people skills to build influence and maybe even help you get people to LIKE change:

Who Should Be Involved? Create a Responsibility Matrix
Use a Responsibility Assignment Matrix, also known as a RACI Chart (for who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed). Before you provision user licenses, you need to know who needs what level of access. Their role in your organization determines that and what they need to do their job. For more technical details on “who sees what,” here’s a handy whiteboard video from Shell Black.

Check Your Nonprofit Technology Infrastructure
What would you do if an earthquake or hurricane hit your nonprofit? Your nonprofit’s infrastructure needs to be sturdy enough to accommodate backups and have a clear disaster recovery process. Your local fire department may have classes on emergency response (see San Francisco’s for an example of volunteer training), so think about what your disaster checklist should be. San Francisco Community Agencies Responding to Disaster (SF CARD) has a good template designed specifically for nonprofits, or you could use disaster prep resources from FEMA.

Use the Cloud!
If you’re still handling donor data on-premise, that means you’re vulnerable to your server going down, handling computer updates yourself, not being able to access data outside the office, and other things that range from inconvenient to dangerous. Using a cloud resource for the location of your donor database for CRM is a way to get updates installed automatically.

Use a Secure CRM and Password Protected Login
OK, we know we’ve been talking about people skills and project management, so let’s get into a few technical tips now. Make sure your nonprofit staff doesn’t write passwords on a post-it on their desks. Use strong passwords with uppercase and lowercase letters, special characters like !@#$%^&*()_ and numbers. Use a password management tool to store your password info with encryption. Don’t share passwords with colleagues. This helps enforce security on who can see what: for example, do programs staff need to see donor credit card information? Probably not. Maintain access to your nonprofit CRM through a secure, password-protected login process to defend against donors’ personally identifiable information being hacked.

Have a Nonprofit CRM Planning, Implementation, and Training/Maintenance Phase
You’re not done when everyone has a login. Make sure you include time for staff training! (Again, effective nonprofit CRM implementation isn’t just about IT; people skills are also essential). Expect there will be a phase-in implementation when resources need to be devoted to either onsite training or outside consultants to train staff on how to use and extend the functionality of the CRM. Look for a nonprofit CRM that has a robust online community for Q&A and many partners to help with implementation if you need it.

This list could be longer because there are lots of details to consider, the most significant being to know when to be “peppy & cheap” and when there is no substitute for secure design protocols. Using old software and hardware can mean anticipating odd compromises to accommodate best practices and security. But that’s what makes life interesting! resources for further reading:

Kurt Grubaugh
IT Manager
San Francisco-Marin Food Bank
Kurt is the IT Manager at the SF-Marin Food Bank with over 30 years of experience in technology. He is energized by new technologies and acts as a change agent to critically evaluate and respond to rapidly evolving technology environments. His nonprofit IT experience includes work with the Aquarium of the Bay, the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, among other organizations. He holds a BFA from Arizona State University in Sculpture.