10 questions you need to ask when considering a new CRM

May 29, 2018
7 minute read
Change Management • Operations
Your constituent relationship management (CRM) system can be one of the most impactful pieces of technology that your nonprofit uses. It helps you create an infrastructure to centralize your constituent data, and also allows you to track the goals and successes of your fundraising, volunteer, marketing, and program efforts.

But the truth is, technology is constantly changing, and your organization's needs are constantly changing as well. At some point, your organization will need to optimize or change CRMs. If a CRM change is on the horizon for your organization, there are some critical things to consider before shopping for your next system.

The questions below can be your guide in creating the vision and strategy you'll need in order to implement a new CRM. While it may seem laborious and time consuming, doing your pre-work will pay-off in leaps and bounds when your new CRM is ready to go live.

1. Who will use the system?

First and foremost, you need to understand the CRM users and their needs. This will drive everything from licensing to system administration and maintenance to user adoption, training, and change management. Understanding the users will also inform the features and functionality the system must have.

For example, if the users will be field staff, then your CRM will likely need a mobile access option. Taking a user-first approach will set you up for success.

2. What does your data look like?

In addition to users, you also need to consider your data. Where does the data live now? What governance and processes do you need to put into place to ensure data quality? Are there any security considerations for any of your data? What decisions will the data inform? And, to make those decisions, what types of analytics do you need? These key questions will guide the type of CRM you need, providing insights into the features and architecture required. Thinking early about your data will also give you plenty of lead time to clean up and archive data that is not critical for your new CRM.

3. Does your CRM need to talk to other systems?

Increasingly, users demand a seamless data landscape. Bringing together disparate systems is one of the top motivators for moving to a new CRM or enhancing an existing one. Pushing and pulling data to and from other systems is a requirement that may determine what CRM system you select. Do your homework so you know if there out-of-the-box solutions for the integrations you need, or if you'll need to build something custom to perform the necessary integrations (and then budget accordingly).

4. What is your budget?

For most nonprofit organizations, this might be the very first question they tackle—or the first roadblock they experience. Budget is almost always a driving factor in technology decisions. When reviewing costs, consider both immediate and ongoing costs. Keep in mind integrations, ongoing licensing and system maintenance, training, staff needed to run the system, and the actual cost of moving systems, whether this cost is internal staff time or a contract with a partner. Carefully plan your total budget so that when you start shopping for a new CRM, you make decisions with this in mind.

5. Who will own the system?

Implementing a new CRM is a good opportunity to define the rules of the road that will govern that system going forward. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the technology will run itself.

At the organization level, you should determine a governance structure. I often recommend a governance committee that represents each user stakeholder group (accounting, fundraising, etc.). This committee reviews issues, requests, and opportunities (such as newly released features or upgrades) and develops the strategy for the system. They will also identify and define best practices and escalate any critical risks before any risk could cause an operational stand-still.

Your CRM and how you use it will constantly evolve, so you need to put together your crew for steering the ship before you set sail. This governance committee can also play a critical role in reviewing and selecting your new CRM, and in the launch process.

6. Do you have leadership buy-in?

To do this, write up a plan or create a power point presentation that shows that you have thought through all of these key questions. Outline your vision, strategy and roadmap. Engage leadership in decision-making and keep them informed as the plans for the new CRM evolve. Coach leaders on how to talk about the change and tee them up to do so. Visible leadership buy-in is invaluable for user adoption. Long-term success relies on leadership involvement.

7. Do you need to re-engineer or design any business processes?

Before you decide to change CRMs, be sure that you have evaluated the key processes that will be handled by the CRM. Your processes should be tech-agnostic. Work to remove platform specific language from your processes. Define your processes using your terms and then find the technology to meet those needs. Ensure that processes are defined before introducing a new technology that could influence how things work.

Your business process should help define your technology needs—not the other way around. Working on business process improvement prior to launching your CRM migration will help keep your search clearly defined and launch timeline on track, so your team will not have to pause to review and make decisions on processes.

8. How change-resistant is your organization?

Take a look at your organization as a whole. How do folks handle change? What has been successful in the past and how can you learn from that? Are there any critical stakeholders who may attempt to disrupt the change? Has your organization undergone any other major shifts recently?

Think specifically about those folks who are responsible for key components or processes in your existing system. Ensure that these individuals are brought on board early and are engaged in the process. Provide them with training on the new CRM so that they can quickly become the experts in the new system and feel secure. Making a change without these folks on board could leave them feeling vulnerable about their job, and therefore are at risk for impacting the new CRM launch.

9. What type of learners do you have?

You'll need to engage users early and often in the change. Identify the learning style of your organization, of specific teams, and of individual users. Be sure to develop and offer training materials that meet users where they are at. Appeal to different learning styles by providing materials in various venues. And, do not wait until the new CRM is ready for go-live to provide training. Early training sessions can build excitement and engagement. Your reward for this hard work will be user engagement, user adoption, and system success.

10. Who will implement the change?

Do you have the skills in house to change CRMs or will you rely on a partner to work with you? Think about what specific skills and traits are important for your selected partner. Do you need someone who knows nonprofit speak, or someone who has handled fundraising implementations? You may also want to consider issuing an RFP or interview potential partners more informally to make sure you select the partner with the most knowledge and cultural fit for your organization. Change is not easy, but if you build out your team, it will be easier.


You'll notice that this list of considerations does not include timeline. Timeline is definitely important; however, prioritizing a timeline could put unnecessary pressure on your organization to move too quickly through the important strategy and planning stages. For higher adoption and overall success, your CRM strategy and vision should come first, using the key questions outlined above. Then, using this strategy to decide which CRM you will use and how you will implement the change, you will define timeline, launch phases, and other important implementation and change management–related details.

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