For nonprofit organizations, implementing a new nonprofit constituent relationship management (CRM) system can seem like a daunting challenge. But with a sound strategy and execution plan, it’s actually quite manageable. In this post, I’ll share some of the lessons learned about the implementation of CRM systems that are applicable to a wide range of nonprofits.
Lesson # 1. Planning is critical. One of the most basic lessons learned is how essential effective planning is in the process. This is especially true at the beginning of the project, when you’re selecting which vendors you’re talking to, which products you’re considering, and which people within your organization will help establish requirements and make choices on behalf of their colleagues. Planning also includes the timing of the implementation, who will be communicating with stakeholders and how, and many other factors. A CRM roadmap or technology roadmap is a great place to start.
Lesson # 2. Know exactly what you’re buying. Equally important is to have an accurate understanding of what the CRM platform you’re choosing can and cannot do. Complete an assessment of its specific capabilities and what will be required to integrate it with your existing systems; this goes far beyond reading the marketing material from the vendor. More than likely, no single product will do everything you want it to “out of the box,” so you will need to explore what third-party tools should be included in your CRM ecosystem. There may be certain functions that are not immediately available when the new system is first launched, so you’ll need a roadmap in place to address interim plans and solutions that may be temporary or could remain in effect for longer periods.
Lesson # 3. Make sure the right people are involved. It’s essential to have a good representation of all your new CRM platform’s users and other stakeholders to get an accurate picture of their needs — and ultimately, to get their buy-in and support. While it might seem obvious that the director of IT would be involved, it’s also essential to include representatives from each of the functional areas that will use the technology or be affected by it, such as staff from development, membership services, and so on. By involving stakeholders from business units, you will be able to more effectively define and prioritize your needs across the organization. This will promote cross-functional collaboration and break down silos, allow you to clearly communicate your priorities to your vendors, and, at the same time, help ensure that you are setting realistic expectations with staff. By putting people first as you implement your CRM nonprofit strategy, you can anticipate their wants and needs and minimize any bumps in the road.
Lesson # 4. Brace yourself for a productivity dip. There will be a productivity dip following launch. With effective planning, training and support, user adoption of the new system will eventually grow until it becomes the accepted way of doing things. But in the short term, some users will cling to their old, trusted processes, and all users will need a bit of time to get used to doing something new in a different way. Organizations can mitigate this tendency, however, with training and proactive communication about exactly what to expect. Leadership should be realistic about what staff will be able to accomplish during a time when they are adjusting to a new system and plan to remove any other barriers — so don’t plan any big events or program launches prior to kick off. This effect on productivity is one of the reasons that timing is so critical to the implementation of a new CRM system.
Lesson # 5. Pay attention to change management. As mentioned above, launching a new CRM is bound to be somewhat disruptive. You’re asking employees to change the way they’ve been working for years, setting them on a possibly steep and frustrating learning curve. Build change management practices into your plan from the very beginning in order to manage and mitigate the real and often painful effects of change. One way to start is by communicating to employees what’s going to happen, when and why, and where they can turn to for help and answers. Check out some of our best practices for communicating change.
Lesson #6. Count on needing further support. Most organizations require some level of ongoing support after the launch date. This support can include fixing bugs, providing training, and releasing enhancements. Depending on the size of your organization and your implementation project, your organization might need this support for a matter of weeks, or much longer. Factor this into your plan, and count on allocating additional resources, either internal or external, to support your users.
Lesson # 7. Keep your eye on the prize. I would be remiss if I didn’t conclude by stating the obvious: that the implementation of CRM platforms is hard work. There are countless decisions to be made, trade-offs to be hammered out, and conversations to be had across the organization. That’s pretty much the nature of the implementation of CRM. But for nonprofits, acquiring a modern and effective CRM ecosystem can provide game-changing functionality. It is worth the extra effort on the part of all stakeholders to make it a success by focusing on the end-state vision and project goals.
Even with the benefit of all these lessons learned, you will still encounter some surprises and new challenges. But as they say, forewarned is forearmed, and the more realistic you are about the challenges ahead, the better you will be able to mitigate risks and have a successful implementation. Best of luck to you on the journey!
Prior to joining Heller Consulting in 2014, Rali worked with Bay Area nonprofits to streamline and optimize their uses of Salesforce. She also experienced the power of Salesforce firsthand as an admin and power user at a Berkeley-based nonprofit that... Read More