Nonprofit CRM Implementation Best Practice: A Thoughtful Project Communication Plan

When undertaking a major initiative or a technical implementation, clear communication is critical at every step of the way. Proactive communication is one facet of change management that permeates and accompanies every phase of transition, from articulating a vision to easing staff through disruption and helping stakeholders adapt to and reinforcing the new status quo.

An effective project communication plan addresses users’ needs, allays concerns of different audience segments, ensures a two-way flow of information, and consistently reiterates the vision behind the initiative. Messaging is purposeful and supports specific change objectives corresponding to the different phases of the project. It is vital to consider who is the right voice within the organization to deliver various messages at different junctures so that information resonates with stakeholders.

For clear examples of who should deliver messages to your staff throughout a tech change, download our guide: Project Communication Plan for Technology Change.

The objective for change leaders is to help stakeholders successfully adjust to the change. Be prepared to inspire and empower, to comfort and encourage stakeholders along the way. You will be the chief cheerleader for change and the one to take on crucial and tough conversations as they arise. Plan but stay flexible and nimble in response to feedback as your project evolves.

Purposeful Communication to Accompany Technology Change

A thoughtful communication plan is anchored in specific objectives that accompany various project phases. Messaging is tailored to the needs of the audience (more about that in the next section). We urge nonprofits and higher education clients to plan but also to be prepared to turn on a dime and respond to your stakeholders’ needs.

Communication supports different objectives within the change framework. In our work with clients, we often refer to the Prosci© ADKAR model as the gold standard for helping individuals through transition. It is an acronym for the outcomes an individual needs for change to be successful: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.

As your stakeholders move through ADKAR, some might move through a little more quickly than others, but for the most part, project communications are sequenced to address the ADKAR outcomes as the key change objectives. For example, early on during the initiation of a project, it will be important to outline a vision for why change is necessary and build Awareness. As you progress and pick up the pace on your project, you will continue building momentum and buy-in, to move through the Desire phase. In the phases of the project when you are testing out the new initiative or technology and as you move along through giving stakeholders more insight into their new day-to-day, it is important to provide information and training to staff, to build and achieve outcomes for Knowledge and Ability. The Reinforcement stage is about, well, reinforcement to ensure lasting change. This phase begins even before the implementation stage is completed to support desired behaviors and address any unresolved issues along the way.

The ADKAR outcomes generally align with the phasing of a standard project plan planning (Awareness and Desire), testing and training (Knowledge and Ability), working in the new state and achieving the new status quo (Ability), and recognition and rewards of achievements big and small, individual, and collective, throughout (Reinforcement).

To dive deeper into the ADKAR model, download our guide: The Nonprofit’s Guide to Change Management.

 

Communication Planning Through Each Phase of a Technology Implementation

As we mentioned earlier, communication objectives will evolve throughout the project from the moment the initiative is first introduced until the system is launched and beyond “go-live” to ensure the sustainability of the change and its continued adoption. In the following section, we will cover different phases along the journey. These recommendations apply to technology implementations but can also be applied to any significant roll-out, whether they include technology or not.

  1. Initiation and Kickoff

This early phase of a technology change is about setting out a clear and inspiring vision and generating excitement. Your “elevator pitch” for the project should tie back to your organization’s mission and strategic goals. It will become the focal point that everyone within the organization is working toward and should be embedded into all communications associated with the project from the very initial planning stages. Depending on circumstances and if managed well, by midway through the project, the vision is internalized by everyone, and they are using it without even realizing it. In this phase leading up to transition, we also advise clients to set expectations and acknowledge additional work and efforts that may be required. Transparency goes a long way! Read examples of how to support your staff during kickoff in our guide: Project Communication Plan for Technology Change.

  1. Preparing and Building

The building phase is a heavy lift for the implementation team with their focus first on design, then on configuration of systems and build, and finally testing.

Your communication will reflect these complexities as you continue to reiterate the vision and business reasons behind the initiative while preparing stakeholders for what’s ahead. As the initiative takes shape, messaging should build excitement around department-specific opportunities and encourage engagement and ownership in the process. It will be critical to share progress and set expectations about upcoming project activities: testing, training, and launch or “go-live.”

Reaching the testing phase is an exciting milestone worth marking and celebrating in some way. At the same time, as change is becoming increasingly more real, you may begin identifying resistance. How do you manage that resistance? Download Project Communication Plan for Technology Change for real-world tips on how to push through resistance.

  1. Launch or “Go-Live”

Particularly relevant for technical implementations, this phase starts on the launch day or “go-live” and spans several weeks after launch. It is important to communicate progress, share any upcoming milestones, and provide information on how to get help and find relevant resources.

Our clients have celebrated go-live in creative ways. Read their examples in Project Communication Plan for Technology Change.

We encourage you to continue reiterating the vision for the effort. During this transition, staff will likely be experiencing some negative feelings and anxiety about the change. Remind them of the bigger picture that everyone, including them, is working toward together. As much as you can anticipate the needs and pain points of specific groups, tailor messaging to set their expectations.

  1. Post-Launch & Sustainability

So, your transition or launch happened, but this is not the time to rest on your laurels. A few weeks into transition is the time to continue resolving issues, set up policies and ongoing processes, and begin systems enhancement. In this phase, continue to communicate the original vision and plan, share status updates, and how this progress helps your organization achieve the original vision.

It is important to establish – and clearly communicate to everyone involved – ongoing system governance, policies, structures, and support related to the technology change. Who are the owners of the processes? Who is designated to make decisions? Who manages support?  If there are enhancements or ideas to improve the system, how are those evaluated and prioritized? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered in this phase.

To keep the momentum going, this is also the time to communicate the next steps: what remains and what comes next.

You don’t have to go through a technology implementation alone

The Heller Consulting team is ready to help. We weave change management and communication best practices into our implementation projects because we believe the people using the technology are more important than the technology itself. Contact us today to get support for your next technology project.

About the Author

Smita Vadakekalam
In 1998 Smita starting work on the front-line of the nonprofit sector helping organizations with fundraising, technology strategy, and operations streamlining. Since then she has worked with hundreds of nonprofits implementing strong business practices, technology and change management strategies to... Read More
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