Did I Choose the Wrong Nonprofit CRM Platform?

have you chosen the wrong nonprofit crm platform

This is a question that causes many executive decision-makers and nonprofit IT managers  to lose sleep at night. After springing for an expensive constituent relationship management (CRM) solution, the gnawing doubt sets in about the decision to invest in that particular platform. Is this software too much or too little for what we need it to do? How hard will it be for our people to get up to speed on it and have it start making a significant – and positive – difference in how we interact with our donors, volunteers, and other key constituents?

If you have found yourself doubting the soundness of your nonprofit CRM platform decision, take heart. You’re not alone. In our experience, a significant number of nonprofit organizations fall prey to the same stumbling blocks that can derail a CRM solution and its implementation. It’s easy to see why – there are quite a few options out there and many of the vendors tend to be a little too enthusiastic in how they sell them, claiming that their “one solution will fix everything!” Sadly, that is rarely, if ever, true.

Some of the issues that can lead to buyer’s remorse include:

  • Lack of a CRM strategy CRM is not so much a software solution as it is an engagement strategy designed to optimize the constituent experience. CRM is a combination of people, processes, and technology that together create an entire ecosystem of which CRM software is a part. Without fully understanding what you’re trying to do and setting goals for doing it, it can be difficult to know what software you’ll need to accomplish all of that.
  • Oversold out-of-the-box functionality Enthusiastic vendors have been known to oversell their products, claiming to offer a “single software solution” that can effectively address all CRM needs. That leaves organizations vulnerable to misunderstanding the true functionality of the solution they’re investing in, thinking they just need to install some new software and it will simply “work” for them. In reality, it’s more like buying a new car and finding out that you have to build and install the engine. Virtually every CRM platform requires some level of customization to optimize it for the unique requirements of the purchaser.
  • Right problem, wrong solution Some nonprofits, faced with growing challenges concerning data processing and management, integrated communications, and evolving reporting needs instinctively view them as technology problems. A nuts-and-bolts issue that can be solved with a shiny new IT solution. Sometimes, however, the real problem is the organization simply lacks the skill sets and experienced professionals who can more effectively handle the IT infrastructure already in place.

Even if the skill sets are in place, you may still have a people problem. For example, it’s human nature for everyone to get excited about something new. After all, who wouldn’t be excited about moving from a clunky, old legacy system to a sleek, new, sexy solution? But as they begin to use it and experience first-time aches and pains, they might become less enamored with the new platform and begin to grumble about it. A growing chorus of dissatisfied users makes it easy to think you’ve made a wrong decision.

Think before replacing.

Now, you may already be convinced you’ve got the wrong nonprofit CRM platform. But before you do anything rash, sit back and do some critical analysis. Perform an assessment of your current system and consider all your options. Sometimes a complete overhaul is not the answer. Instead, you might be able to increase performance and productivity by optimizing your existing platform. Upgrading and adding functionality may be all you need to breathe new life into your old system.

As you begin to assess your donor platform make sure you’re diving deep enough to get to the heart of any problems that have arisen. For example, if you’re hearing that reporting really doesn’t work, find out why. Is it a technical software issue, or does it not meet your needs, or could it be that users were simply not trained properly, or perhaps your organization has not gone through the strategic exercise of evaluating what reports you have and why you need them? The right answers will help you get to the right solution.

We have found that, more times than not, the best course of action is system optimization before replacement. Not only is system optimization and  comprehensive learning and development program usually effective, it’s also much less expensive than implementing an entirely new platform after you factor in the full operational cost, including the system, training, and ongoing maintenance.

When optimization is the answer.

Here’s a good case in point for when optimization, not replacement, is the best option. A California nonprofit children’s home contacted us to help them determine what to do about their existing CRM platform as they looked to expand their fundraising efforts.

They had been using a CRM platform for over 10 years without applying its strategic or fundraising capabilities, so they wanted to determine if they would be able to use the tools they already had available. Our assessment revealed that the most effective course of action would be to invest effort into updating their existing tools, and training their team on previously unused features and capabilities.

We helped them streamline the technical functionality of their CRM infrastructure as well as the business processes associated with it. We then trained the staff on many of the classic and newer features they had not been using, and created clearly defined documentation to serve as an ongoing reference for existing and new staff.

The result? A more streamlined, effective, and efficient CRM platform optimized to take them into the future and meet the needs of their evolving organization.

The key is managing change.

Regardless of whether you are considering a new CRM platform or optimizing an existing one, the key is managing expectations and the transformation your organization will experience. That means preparing and supporting the people in your organization for accepting new ways of doing things.

People are funny. Everyone handles change differently, and so while you may have universal acceptance at first, CRM issues can begin to pop up in response to what’s being used and how. Managing that change throughout implementation and providing proper, on-going training will go a long way in minimizing resistance and maximizing productivity. It may even help convince you that you do, after all, have the right donor platform.


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