In the not-too-distant past, nonprofit organizations talked fervently about the importance of all areas of an organization operating from a single nonprofit CRM platform. There was an assumption, typically unchallenged, that the best state for all organizations would be for every department, every functional area, to be in one system. One operations analyst, who had a talent for wry humor and an affection for Tolkien, referred to his organization’s massive effort to move everyone onto one nonprofit CRM software as the “one ring to rule them all” project.
Many of these efforts are fruitful and effective, and for some organizations, an end goal of operating every area from one single-platform solution is a good goal. But here’s what’s different now: organizations are no longer assuming that the best end-state for everyone should be one CRM solution across every department in an organization.
The single CRM myth is being challenged, and we think it’s a good thing.
So let’s back up: CRM is Constituent Relationship Management, and organizations have long understood that the vision and strategy for CRM are best established at an institution-wide level. We’ve all been talking for decades about deepening and personalizing the interactions with constituents, and those relationships often cross departmental boundaries.
When it comes to supporting the CRM vision with technology, the landscape for nonprofit CRM software has changed quite a bit in the last two decades. Many software vendors worked to create CRM platforms which they hoped would provide nonprofits with one central system able to support many, or all, imaginable constituent management business functions.
Membership, advocacy, online community, annual fund, major giving, special events, peer-to-peer events, education, volunteering, retail point-of-sale, and many other areas of activity were often asked to function out of one central CRM, because that was assumed to be the best strategy.
And it is the best for some organizations. We’ve seen, and helped with, some amazing successes for supporting an organizations’ CRM vision with a centralized, single nonprofit CRM.
But sometimes that single solution is too narrow to accommodate the realities of all departments’ needs. And advances in deep, robust functionality for some niche point solutions have made the landscape rich with options.
We are now hearing a shift in the conversation. Organizations are moving past the single CRM myth of one-size-fits-all approach, and are carefully considering the unique characteristics of each of their departments. Each organization is crafting a tailored approach to determining which business functions belong in which system, and developing nuanced and dynamic technology plans to support the CRM vision
Every nonprofit lives somewhere along a spectrum – one organization might do well with an ecosystem built substantially from one major CRM platform with maybe a couple of single point solutions added to fill in critical gaps. Another might require an ecosystem built entirely with a variety of parts taken from various independent solutions. Every nonprofit that utilizes this approach must think about where they need to live on that spectrum and how they must build their ecosystem to successfully accomplish their mission as efficiently as possible.
By embracing this solution spectrum, nonprofits can create a much more nimble, flexible, and organic CRM ecosystem. Instead of a one-size-fits-all, single-solution platform, a nuanced, multi-component ecosystem enables a nonprofit to manage it continuously, making much smaller and more frequent revisions. This maximizes efficiency and performance without the disruption of a major upgrade that grinds everything to a halt, demoralizes stakeholders, and potentially compromises the ability to carry out the mission.
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This more effective CRM strategy requires nonprofits to take a closer look at the functions they need to perform and the software ecosystem that already exists. They may already possess multiple nonprofit CRM systems that claim to have the necessary capabilities, they’re just not being effectively utilized. The question then becomes not “what replacement technology do we need?”, but “how do we distribute these desired functions to the software currently in our ecosystem that can most efficiently perform them?”
Let’s be clear: this is a more nuanced approach that requires internal analysis, a clearly-defined CRM strategy, and a willingness to manage frequent change. But the payoff can be huge – better utilization of existing software, less stakeholder resistance, greater adoption, more system flexibility, and less disruptive change.
Yes, in the end, the single solution may actually be the answer for your organization. But it’s not the only answer. It’s important to understand that there are options and the multi-point, flexible ecosystem outlined here could be the best option for you. is perhaps the most attractive.