Pitfalls to Avoid in Your CRM Selection - Heller Consulting

Pitfalls to Avoid in Your CRM Selection

Pitfalls to Avoid in Your CRM Selection

In deciding whether to migrate to a new CRM system — and if so, which one — there are a variety of factors and variables to consider. In this post, we’ll discuss some of the “gotcha” problems we’ve seen organizations encounter, along with some effective strategies for avoiding them.

Understand the Case for Change

Perhaps the most frequently overlooked consideration in a successful CRM selection is the need to clearly identify and articulate why your organization is thinking about a change and what your specific goals are in making a transition. Goals can vary widely; for example:

  • Your organization might be using such an outdated version of your current platform that updating it would be a challenge, and you might decide that it is better to move to a new system altogether.
  • You might be looking to diversity your revenue portfolio and introduce new fundraising strategies to be better prepared to respond to changes in the philanthropic landscape.
  • You might be looking primarily to eliminate specific pain points with your current state; for example, perhaps your CRM solution does not integrate well with the online tools you want to offer donors.
  • On an even more ambitious level, you might be looking for a solution that can help you cultivate your digital brand, increase your influence with donors or achieve other goals.

Regardless of your reasons, clearly documenting the business case for the change and laying out your specific critical success factors will add a critical strategic component to your CRM selection.

Examine the Change through the Lenses of People, Process and Technology

The change in technology is only one small aspect of the change you’ll be undertaking in considering a new CRM. More than likely, implementing a new CRM, or making enhancements to your existing CRM ecosystem, will also require changes in behavior and aptitudes of people throughout your organization. Nonprofits who look at this type of change through the lens of people, process and technology are far more likely to have a successful outcome. A CRM selection and implementation project is not a small undertaking. It will result in disruption to your organization and your staff, and potentially your constituents. Planning for this disruption, and the associated performance dip that can accompany this type of project, is critical to making a successful transition.

It’s risky to not include all stakeholders in the process of establishing goals for the new system. Leverage the expertise of your development team. Involve them in identifying key business processes and features that support your fundraising strategies, as well as pain points that might benefit from new options. But don’t forget to include other teams involved in the donor experience, including donor services, communications/marketing, digital, accounting, finance, etc.

Understand and Shape the Donor Experience

Gathering this input from all your stakeholder groups and audiences and documenting “user stories” that illustrate the needs and perspectives of each group is critical to building a strong business case for the change. That means understanding not only your internal users and processes and what they would like to see changed, but also understanding your donors’ experience with your organization as well. If possible, you should also survey a sampling of donors to uncover ways you could improve their experience and include these considerations in assessing and implementing a new CRM platform.

Prioritize your Requirements

A related pitfall is not taking the time to strategically prioritize your requirements for the new system. It’s likely you will have dozens, if not hundreds of discrete user stories and requirements. CRM solutions will differ widely in which needs they can meet and in how they do so. Before you start looking at new tools, it’s important to rank your different priorities so that you can choose the solution that addresses your most critical needs in combination with other tools that will form part of your CRM ecosystem. In any case, you will very likely have a long laundry list of functionalities that different stakeholder groups would like to see, so before turning that list over to any vendors, it’s helpful to prioritize them.

Understand the CRM Landscape for Nonprofits

It’s also important to not overlook the fundamental changes that are happening in the CRM marketplace for nonprofit organizations. In the last few years there have been major changes and acquisitions in the nonprofit CRM market. Certain vendors have already been acquired, such as roundCorner, while other vendors, such as Microsoft, are still in the process of establishing themselves. And while some vendors are introducing new products, it’s not is clear what level of support existing products may have in the future. So while you’re making your CRM selection, it’s important to have a clear idea of who the players are, their commitment to supporting existing platforms, and what new platforms may be just over the horizon.

Recruit an Executive Sponsor

Don’t forget to assemble the right team. This includes finding a strong executive sponsor to help build consensus for the project, ensure its alignment with broader organizational strategies, and build alliances to ensure effective implementation and adoption. It also means convening, and listening to, each of your stakeholder groups to understand their requirements. For example, if your director of IT is the only person who’s establishing the specs, they might not have the fundraising experience to fully understand your technical requirements. Instead, bringing in your head of development or head of donor relations can help you gain the valuable perspectives you need.

Consider External Expertise

Finally, it’s worth considering working with a partner experienced in evaluating CRM systems and planning the implementation. Changing to a new CRM is a complex endeavor with many moving parts; your organization may benefit from the expertise of a nonprofit technology partner with experience supporting and delivering this type of transformational project.


Increasingly, nonprofits appreciate that data about their interactions with constituents is more than just a tally of fundraising results. Rather, CRM is a means to transform the very nature of the organization itself. CRM enables organizations to derive more value than ever from their data and to use it to make better decisions, become more efficient and have greater impact.

Nonprofits can no longer afford to view CRM as a simple static software tool or database. Instead, forward-looking organizations are embracing CRM as a strategy — looking at creating a CRM ecosystem that will demonstrate an unparalleled ability to manage and enhance constituent relationships, and ultimately impact the organization’s fundraising success.

Related Resources

If you’re thinking about a new CRM, be sure to:

This post is Part 5 in our 5-part series that looks at the Evolving nonprofit CRM Marketplace through the Lens of Fundraising Best Practices.

About the Author

Catherine Moore
Catherine has served the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, defining and guiding the strategic pathway for technology, digital transformation, marketing, and fundraising at the Canadian Cancer Society and others. She is skilled at understanding and addressing the human concerns... Read More