Transcript: Introduction to CRM Options for Enterprise Nonprofits - Heller Consulting

Transcript: Introduction to CRM Options for Enterprise Nonprofits

On May 23, Keith Heller presented the introduction to CRM Options for Enterprise Nonprofits webinar series. This series is designed to help organizations learn more about today’s CRM solution marketplace. We also hope to help organizations understand and overcome common obstacles preventing them from adopting new technology.

Below is the accurate transcript of the webinar. To get the full context with Keith’s style and slides, please view the webinar here:

View the webinar

Introduction – About Heller

All right. Welcome everybody. We’re going to get started here. Our webinar today is the first in our series, CRM options for enterprise non-profits. I’m really thrilled that everybody could join us. Hope everybody’s technology is working and we’ll jump in. Just a little bit about Heller Consulting. My name is Keith Heller and I’m the founder of the company. It started about 20 years ago. In the subsequent years we’re served over 1,500 non-profit clients, over 3,000 projects. We have offices located around the country, about 35 people on our team and all of us have worked in non-profits, working with the technologies before coming to work at Heller.

Part of why we do this because we’re just thrilled with the mission of organizations that we serve. Very, very happy to be able to continue that in our professional lives now as part of a consulting company. Some of what we do. We help with CRM strategy and design. When people go to implement CRM technologies, fundraising, marketing, customer service technologies, one of the first things you want to do as you would in building a house, hire an architect. What’s that big picture strategy? How are the different pieces going to fit together? Then we actually do the implementation too.

Using that house analogy, we’re also the builders and contractors. We can get in there and make the systems work. Then we do a lot around fundraising engagements because those are our roots, and we really understand the value of that to non-profits and the various strategies that people use to engage their constituents and fund their missions. Here are some of our clients. We couldn’t put all 1,500 logos on one slide, so we had to be a little selective. These are just a small sampling of the many, many clients we’ve got to serving. It’s just such a thrill for us to support so many worthy missions.

CRM Resources

One of the things that we do at Heller is we think about a lot of stuff and then we write it down. We know that being a boutique consulting firm we’re never going to serve all the non-profits that we’d like to. Part of what we try to do is give back to the community by publishing our white papers and conducting webinar series like these to share what we’ve learned with a broad audience, many of whom we hope will work with us, and many of whom we know for various reasons we may not get to serve, but we nonetheless want to pass along the collective knowledge that we’ve accumulated between us and our clients. We encourage you to go to the website, look at the resources.

About This Webinar Series

Today’s webinar is the first in a seven-part series. I’ll be speaking today about kind of some best practices, tips around evaluating CRM systems and choosing one for yourselves. Then the subsequent sessions, six sessions, one each for each of the vendors and products you see listed below. Nonprofit Success Pack webinar will be coming up on Tuesday June 27 and you’ll get an announcement soon around that, but please note that date in the calendars. Then followed by Blackbaud; NGO Connect, another product. Clearview, StratusLIVE – showing us what they’ve done with Microsoft Dynamics, and then ROI Solutions. Six of the most prominent prevalent fundraising and CRM systems in the non-profit sector; I’m really thrilled. Want to thank in advance the vendors for their willingness to participate in the series.

What is the series? It’s a broad-base introduction to the systems that are most often considered by large nonprofits. We wanted to provide a single experience and place to go. If you wanted to just get a touch, a taste of what you should consider if you’re going to adopt a new fundraising solution, or you’re looking at CRM (and we’ll talk about the difference between those two things later) where you can just get a sense of what we think you should look at and what your peers are looking at. We wanted to offer this that you could get that quick sampling in a discrete way without having to kind of start contacting vendors and get into a process when maybe you just want to kind of poke around a little bit. Also, where you could see all the major players in one spot.

The caveat that I want to put in here is that this series would not be enough for you to make a choice. I would feel terrible if someone simply looked at this series when it’s complete and then show software based on that. There’s a lot more that goes into making these considerations and we’re going to cover that today. What we do hope you’ll learn is just a baseline sense of the options that are out there for you, so that you can then move forward in a more concentrated approach. We’re going to talk a little bit about what that looks like today and then in our next steps. Hopefully this feels like you’re in the right place today.

What Are Enterprise Nonprofits?

We said this is about enterprise nonprofits. What do we mean by that? Some nonprofits you can identify easily then probably something by their scale; very large organizations. Say those with annual budgets of a hundred million and up or fifty million and up are immediately going to fit into that category, just the complexity of the operation that they’re running is by their very nature going to make them enterprise organizations. Other nonprofits that may not be that scale in terms of dollars may think in a very broad and sophisticated way about the visions that they have for their CRM systems.

I would encourage you to look back at some of the webinar series and papers that we’ve written in the past around CRM and what we mean by CRM vision. As such I’m going to touch on a little bit today, but in a nutshell CRM vision doesn’t just mean we like fancy cool technology. It is also that technology in the service of delivering an optimal experience to your constituents and how they get to engage with your organization, and how they feel treated by you and you’re capable of treating them in a very holistic way, in an unsiloed way across your organization. I think all of us who have worked in nonprofits for a while know that it’s not easy to operate in an unsiloed manner because our technology systems and our businesses are organized in a way into these siloes of different departments.

We don’t always see it, but in fact our constituents often do because they’re getting multiple mailings, and emails and communications that show that the left hand and right hand don’t really know what they’re doing.  A robust or sophisticated CRM in perspective means one that helps to eliminate those silos so the constituent feels treated as a whole person. That’s CRM vision in a nutshell.

Selecting Solutions (Plural)

Your selection process for enterprise nonprofits will differ from other nonprofits in a few ways. One is that it’s almost certain, in spite of all marketing you may be subjected to, you will end up with multiple applications in your environment. You will not end up with a single product, or a single platform or even a single vendor who’s going to do everything for you.

If there’s a kind of a nirvana promised land vision out there that vendors want to present to you that I wish was true, but in fact any sophisticated nonprofit is going to have to, in order to meet best practices in different departments or different business functions, different goals with their constituents is going to have to consume tools from different vendors and different platforms. You have to just kind of prepare yourself for that reality, plan for it proactively rather than having it happen haphazardly as often the case for most of us. Embrace it and see, okay, if that’s the truth, how do we move forward in a really positive manner to adopt a multi-application environment intentionally and make it work for ourselves.

Plan for Business Intelligence Tools

Very likely, business intelligence is going to be a part of your solution. The native reporting tools in any one application are not going to be sufficient perhaps within the application itself to give you the kinds of reports that you need to run your organization. Certainly, those reporting tools in any one application won’t be enough to bring together key pieces of data across multiple applications. You may look to a business intelligence tool or reporting layer, which may or may not include a data warehouse to help aggravate information that’s going to help you make strategic decisions.

Vendor Relationships

Your vendor relationships are going to be key. Of course for everyone, they want their vendor to be engaged with them and really take care of them, not just offer them the product and the maintenance. When you’re an enterprise organization, you’re trying to be more sophisticated about the tools that you have and you’re going to rely on the vendors to help you do that. Now, the nice thing is in the inverse, because of your scale, or your vision, or your aspirations, it could range anywhere from the money that you spend with the vendor to your willingness to be a case study and a spokesperson. They are very keyed in to you. So developing that relationship is important.

Planning for Change

Change management is a huge piece when you go to implement CRM in an enterprise non-profit because it’s going to involve a lot of people across organizations and ideally, this is not simply a project to adapt new technologies. It’s a project to support and drive key strategies at your organizations. It’s not something that’s happening in the background of the organization. It’s actually part of the foreground in shifting the impact that you have in your organization; either the funds that you raise, the way that you are engaging your constituents or the way that you’re serving your constituents. Perhaps all of these things and this is an organization-wide process that requires everybody to sort of buy-in and be onboard.

Align with Organizational Strategy

Finally, that kind of plays into ideally… again it’s not a technology project. It’s a strategic project or it’s a project to support your strategies and that that line between your strategic plan and what you’re doing with technology is quite clear to people. Let’s start to look at the big picture here, big picture in general, the big picture for your organization.

Market Trends

Looking broadly at market trends. It’s quite a common story that the technology people are on today, they have been on for five, or 10, or 15 years or more sometimes. Certainly, many people in their core systems and systems that are used to either serve constituents or to support them through let’s say traditional fundraising or communication channels like direct mail, systems are very old and kind of getting a little rickety sometimes.

The good news is the contemporary choices are really good. There are a lot of really good systems out here. You’re going to get to see those with the vendors we’ve invited to participate. We’ve invited these vendors not merely because they’re popular, and often show up in our key process and such, but because they are popular for a reason and that is because they are working to stay at the front side of what they can offer their customers.

The other trend that we’re seeing is that there is the emergence of true CRM platforms. We’ll talk a little bit more about what that means, and also powerful business intelligence and analytics tools. I want to make a note that all of the… many of the advances that are being made in non-profit technology are also a result of the advances that are being made in commercial technology, technology available to the Fortune-500 and such. Vendors, nonprofit vendors to some degree, are sometimes translating the accelerated use of technologies for customer engagement and translating that into what those tools could do for us and nonprofits for constituent engagements. When it comes to the business intelligence analytics tools, the methodologies and such, those things are rolling straight out of the commercial sector.

Why is that important? Because the commercial sector has a tremendous amount of money to spend on improving these technologies and paying their software vendors who can sometimes turn out to be our software vendors either directly or indirectly, paying them so that they’re R&D budget can be quite substantial. In the end, this trickles down to us and it’s very helpful in that way.

Then the last thing that’s happening in market trends is that these new technologies are not as new as they used to be. Four or five years ago, you would have been more on the cutting edge to consider either some of the vendors and products that you’ll see in the series or some of the features that the vendors may choose to show you either in the series as part of direct engagement with you a production cycle; but what used to be brand new and a little risky has now become more tried, and true and tested by your peers. It’s a great time to be out there and choosing new technology because of all of these things.

Think About the Big Picture – Why do this?

How about the big picture to your organization. These are things that you want to start to think about and articulate to yourself. The first piece is why are you getting a new systems, why are you out shopping for something else? Are you simply replacing technologies? Are you trying to become more efficient? Are you trying to get more access to information? Those three are good reasons, but they’re not usually inspiring enough to help you get through what is always a challenging project at different times to swap out technologies. It’s not like changing your printer. There’s a lot that goes into these kinds of projects and it takes… your purpose has to be a bit more than simple, “Well, we don’t like what we have” or “It’s not doing as well as we’d like,” or “We’d like to do little things in the back office a little bit faster.” None of those things really calc out to being enough to change systems. These last ones, breaking down silos, that can be pretty compelling. Collaborating within and across departments; breaking down again any barriers. Why are those things starting to be worthwhile or start to be enough?

If you tie them to the next bullet, supporting larger strategies. What I encourage everyone of our selection clients to do is, pull out your strategy report, sit down and let’s see where in each of your strategic goals, how could technology… Could technology help drive that strategic goal and make it possible? If so, how? Let’s start to articulate that, right. As you articulate how your technology choices could support your strategies, you’re starting to develop your list of what you need your systems to do, and what those priorities might be, because you want to support your top strategic goals before your further ones. That whole process of not just picking technology in a silo, but to actually sit down with a strategic report and start to map it out is really important.

Plan for Your Future

Now you want to be… as you look at your systems, you want to be looking at the future, not at the past. Not what strategies have been key for you in the past, but which ones are today and what are your strategies going to be moving forward. Same with your business processes. Now, business processes change a lot when you change systems. They should change. Most organization’s business strategies or business processes are based on or were developed because that’s what the systems they have allowed them to do. You’re going to be moving forward with that.

Finally, working together whether you have done it before in the past or not, within departments or across departments, you should assume that it is key to your success in the future. Nonprofits, in order to best serve the constituents and give them the best experience, are going to have to, if they haven’t already needed to, really become collaborative organizations internally.

Based on that market trend I noted at the beginning, you have to go in with the assumption, and no one likes to say this, but your technology might need to serve you for 15 years. Most people like to say they’re going to select technologies for three to five years and will begrudgingly accept there might be five or ten. If you look at your organization’s history of moving through technologies, unless you’ve been significantly more aggressive, then every 12 or 15 years you might want to assume that the past is predictive somewhat of the future.

Know Your Organization and Culture

Another place to be self-reflective is the culture of your organization relative to technology. When we go shopping for technology in nonprofits, quite often there are some people who are very excited about all of this and some who have trepidation at the organization. Those who are excited about technology are often the people who get to be part of the selection process, because they’re excited about it. It’s not enough that just those people who are part of the selection process are excited or embrace technology. You have to look at the culture of the organization as a whole, because in the end it’s about adoption by the end users. If you have a culture that is very concerned about change and particularly change around technology, it’s important to admit that upfront. There’s not a judgment about it. It’s not better or worse than other organizations, but it will inform the choices that you make and the success in implementing those choices.

If you have an organization that’s shown itself historically to be at the front of the pack when it comes to new technologies and leading your peers up there in that front part of the peer groups, then choosing newer technologies now won’t diverge so much from the path and you can expect greater odds of success and full adoption of those new shiny tools.

If your organization has shown a lot of resistance or difficulty in moving to new technologies in the past, well you might want to, when you look at your options, consider something that’s a little more conservative in that way because an organization can only adopt what the culture will allow it to adopt. These are important things to look at.

Products vs. Platforms

Now I want to talk a little bit about products versus platforms. This is an important distinction. Okay, so when we talk about fundraising systems, that is looking at the constituent from a particular lens. Your engagement strategy with the donor is focused around getting them to increase the frequency, or amount, or both of their financial contributions to your organization, pretty straightforward. Of course that constituent is engaged with you in other ways potentially at your organization. They might also be, let’s say, an advocate for your organization. They might advocate in a political sense or they might be someone who you enlist either informally or formally to spread the word about your organization. Then when you’re engaging with them from those perspectives, you want a different outcome of your engagement with them and therefore you need tools that allow you to connect with them in a different way. They might be a beneficiary of your organization’s mission. Again, there you’re trying to support their life in some way, based on your mission. So the messaging that you have to them, and the way that you interact with them, and you give them the opportunity to interact with you is going to be different from if it’s in fundraising.

Now right now this is probably happening at your organization already and a specific person will be touched by multiple departments in your organization, and those departments are each using a different system. What happens is quite often through no bad intent, but there are little fiefdoms that get set up and everybody kind of feel like they own their constituent, they own their relationship with their constituent, not recognizing that their constituents are in fact… some of them are constituents to everybody in the organization.

When each department is doing its own thing with that person, they don’t know how that person’s actually getting impacted by the organization. The only person who knows is the person themselves. Again, going back to what I sad earlier, they kind of feel like, “Jeez, the left hand and the right hand don’t know what they’re doing here. Are they spending my money wisely? Are they giving me the best advice?” There’s some… a little bit of sense of doubt that starts to creep in and unfortunately that can erode their confidence. How do we make sure that that confidence… not only do we not erode confidence, but we really give people a really more high touch individualized experience?

Well, we can bring those different departments and different business functions into the same product or suite of products that are interconnected and that interconnected suite of products is what we would call a platform. That platform is usually supported by a single vendor that then offers a place where you can have fundraising, and marketing and mission all located in one spot.

There are pros and cons to both, to having a platform and to having a fundraising system, but I wanted to kind of hopefully make a distinction there that’s useful. I talked about the difference. Many vendors claim they have CRM systems. CRM has become a really popular word and the import of it, the general idea of it is, “Gosh, there’s a place I can put everybody in my organization, every constituent, every piece of data into that system.”

Every vendor sort of raises their hand and this is not even to… every vendor… Those who are on… part of this series, those who are not… in the commercial sector, everywhere, they all say, “Oh yeah. We have a CRM system,” but when you ask them what does CRM mean to you they usually talk about it based on exactly what their product did and what they would have said to you two years ago anyway. “We provide a 360-degree view of…” and then they’ll name their specific niche. Well, once they name a niche it’s not CRM anymore, it’s become too narrow. This is not to say that they’re not offering a great product for you, but that you want to be wary of that word “CRM” because it can get used a little loosely.

Why does it matter to you, a product versus a platform? You want to come back to your CRM vision. How do you want your constituents to feel engaged with your organization and how important is it to you to step back, a full view of how they’re engaged with you before you communicate with them, or as you communicate and engage with them? If that’s really very important to you, then you’ll want to look at a platform. If it’s less important to you or you’re willing to go about that same process in another way, you can start to look at a product. If you’re going to look at a product, but you still want to achieve that goal of that broader view based on their engagement with parts of your organization, then you’re probably going to become more reliant on business intelligence tools, and that’s not a bad thing, but it does require certain level of investment at your organization to have those tools and to have the expertise.

A true platform will lessen the amount of work you have to do to bring actionable information together. Now, a platform will require you to make sure all the pieces are working and working well together. This is true whether you put together a platform from a single vendor or if you go out and sort of pull best of breed systems together and make them work. Even platforms from single vendors or product suite don’t necessarily work smoothly together. You want to be careful about those words. Everything is getting smooth, easy, seamless integrated. This is where we say… I think I say it later… trusted verified.

Really dig into if those connections between different parts of a platform, different applications from the same vendor are important to you and key to your strategies.

You really want to dig into how those work because when any vendor says integration you don’t really know what they mean. Does that mean they integrate… we integrate first name and last name, or are there 200 fields that they integrate in their 200 that I care about? How smoothly does that go? These are things that you want to start to unpack as you talk to the vendors and we’ll talk a little later about references and such also.

Impact of Business Intelligence Tools

I did allude just a minute ago to the import of business intelligent tools. These are becoming increasingly prevalent in the nonprofit sector. They are basically a reporting tool. I’m going to really make it very simple, but reporting applications that pull data from multiple applications and/or from a data warehouse. Sometimes you push data from your multiple applications into a data warehouse and then attach a BI tool to that. Sometimes the BI tool reaches directly into the application themselves and pull the data, but really it’s a reporting tool that spans data sets.

These tools have gotten a lot better over the last several years. Again, the commercial sector has been screening for these, and investing, and so there are a lot of vendors out there. They’re not nonprofits specifically and they don’t need to be. These vendors have really figured out a lot about how to pull data into their reporting tools, how to massage that data, how to display that data and really pull graphs and charts that needs to be simpler to understand; the valuable information they’re providing you, they’re easier to use, and so this is an area where you want to really consider now that a BI tool is not a not a necessary evil, because your systems don’t do what you want them to do, it’s actually a really good tool for you to have in your tool belt, and you’ll want to have business intelligence tools. If you accept that and start to look into what they can do, it will shift your emphasis, as you select your CRM systems, about how important certain integrations and such are, because some integration needs become less if you have the correct business intelligence tools and frankly integration’s never easy. So if you can lessen your reliance on it, you’re in a good spot.

This question down here, do I really need to centralize my data? Less so if you have the proper BI tool and I think that’s the direction that the market is headed and you’ll see large software vendors if you follow the almost Game of Thrones trials and tribulations of, and Oracle, and Microsoft, and SAP, a huge company serving the Fortune 100 and 500, which you’ll start to see that they are really building out the business intelligence and data analytics, and artificial intelligence, and all of these things so that data centralization becomes less important to them and their clients, and they have to do this because the amount of data that is available to them now is so huge that they can’t spend all that time moving things back and forth and back and forth. So they developed these tools and now we have access to these tools.

Single Vendor vs. Integrated Environments

Okay, is there a benefit to a single vendor for enterprise NGOs? I would argue it is of limited benefit that in the end for enterprise nonprofits, you are going to have to live with and thrive with multiple applications from multiple vendors. It is almost certainly the environment you will live with now, and I think for most, it’ll be the environment you live with moving forward for two reasons. One is because you can’t switch everything you’ve got now onto a single vendor. There’s simply too many moving pieces, too many systems, too many departments that would all have to move at once. Even if you could envision a future where there was a single vendor, it would take you a long time to get there.

The second is that I don’t think you would want to get there. Simply because crossing enterprise organization, there’s half a dozen, or a dozen or two dozen business functions that you are trying to achieve, different constituencies you are trying to engage with and it’s unlikely that any one vendor is going to be able to do that in the most effective way across all the things that you’re trying to do in your organization. What I suggest is that you don’t start with the premise that that is what you’re aiming for, but that you get acclimated to the idea that we are going to have these multiple systems and multiple vendors.

The other piece is that even vendors’ own products within the vendors’ products themselves or within their network of partners who build applications for them, not everything is always integrated and integrated in the sense that we all wished they were. Integration is a tricky word. When you say, “Hey, these two systems are integrated,” what happens to most people is they imagine this big red button and that when they push the big red button, everything they want from system A goes into system B, everything they want from system B goes into system A, and it takes as much time as downloading my email to my iPhone, and it’s just beautiful and gorgeous and works perfectly. That’s almost never the case and that’s not the fault of the vendors. It’s just really… integration is tough, but in many cases, even if you get from a single vendor, integrations are not going to be exactly what you hoped or wished they were. It’s important to look at those. If you were to select a single vendor or a set of tools, and that was your driving priority as you went into selection, you may find that a single vendor can offer you directly or through their partners, things that cover most of your business needs.

What you’ll often find in that environment is they cover them in very specific ways that they are very comfortable doing or that fit their model of how they believe things should be done, or the model of the first few clients they had on those products who helped develop those products with them. That might not fit how you do things now or it might not give you the flexibility to change and adapt what you do over time. You’ll end up compromising. Of course the temptation in the value of having things from a single vendor is that it would appear to be less effort to manage those systems and sometimes that’s true if… but then it often, for enterprise nonprofits, ends up with also compromising on what kinds of things that you can do with your system. There’s a real tricky balance there that you have to look at.

This doesn’t come up for smaller nonprofits. They simply don’t have the internal bandwidth to manage a more sophisticated area and environment. For them, and if you have peers who are among those smaller nonprofits, they would be advised to go to a single vendor because it’ll be easier for them to manage, but quite often their strategies are not as sophisticated or complex.

The Selection Process: Key Selection Guidelines

Okay, so let’s look at some of the key parts of the selection process itself. This is not going to be exhaustive. What I wanted to do here was to just… I sat down with our consulting team and we looked at what the full selection process looks like, and we just pulled out certain areas that we thought are usually the trickiest for people or where we thought a little bit of our perspective would be maybe most helpful.

First thing, when you go into the selection process, your first question should not be, “Okay, what are we going to look at, what systems are we going to look at, what vendors are we going to call?” Instead you want to get started with following some of these guidelines. How are we going to secure buy-in within our organization?

Who’s going to participate, but how are we going to get the right level of participation because we want some participation but also you don’t pick…? This is not a unanimous consent kind of project. You have to have the right people with the right levels of authority weighing in on what systems, how the system selection is going to go.

What are your priorities? What are the opportunities the systems are going to help you capitalize on? What are the problems they’re going to help you resolve? Start to list those out and prioritize them.

Are we going to the full CRM, the full platform as I’ve described? Or in this case, do we need just fundraising communication? I would argue there’s not an overarching right answer, especially with the introduction of business intelligence tools, but I would argue there’s probably a regular answer for your organization. Sitting down and thinking through that is important.

Change management, I’m going to say a little bit about this later, but you want to start this early. Really, from the get go, you have to start helping people understand what this project is about, that it’s not fundamentally technology project, but it’s part of the strategic effort to move your organization forward, to articulate what that exactly means to them, what it’s going to mean to your constituents, how it’s going to help you serve more people, raise more money, get more of your mission delivered, and what their role’s going to be in it. There’s going to be some parts of it they’re really excited about. There’s going to be some parts they have trepidations about, but start those conversations early on.

Then we advocate or suggest a LEAN selection process. Sometimes the selection process can get somewhat over-walked and you have to be careful about burning people out on your team. Recognize that it is important and we in our own consulting, selection consulting use metrics, and score cards and things, but in the end, choosing your technology is not strictly Math. You don’t just add up all the points and say, “Okay, that one with the most points won.” There’s also going to be a level of subjectivity in it. That’s where the art comes in a little bit.

You’re going to want to assign the right people to the right topics. We’ll talk about roles in a minute here. It’s important in selection to keep momentum going. One of the things that can be quite difficult when you get into the actual implementation of the products, which is a much larger effort, is if you’ve spent so much time in selection and it’s been so exhaustive that everyone’s exhausted, they’ve lost the excitement, and motivation, and energy and patience to do what’s actually the hardest part, which is the implementation. Keeping it LEAN where you can, I think is a very good idea.

Setting Expectations

All right, setting expectations. I’ve said this I think eight times now. The strategic project. It’s not a technology project. How are we going to advance our goals? How are we going to give our constituents a better experience? This is part of the change management process, right? As you’re talking to someone about, “Hey, we’re going to go adopt a CRM, we’re going to get a new fundraising system,” we’re going to ask you to do A and B and C.

We’re going to ask you to help us understand your role, help us understand what you need as a system. We need you to participate in those conversations. We need you to participate in testing, whatever that list may look like. Your job is going to change. What you do day to day may change because obviously how you interact with the systems is going to change this is a new system. Also, your business… our business processes are going to change. Our goal of new technology is not to make this cool new technology do what our old systems did. That’s great. We’re getting these flexible new systems. They’re so flexible we make them look and act just like the thing we’ve just had for 10 years. That’s not goal. You have to set up front the idea, “Yeah, your job is going change. Now we’re going to support you with training. We’re going to support you through this process, but we’re also going to expect that you’re going to change how you do your day to day work.” Then the benefit to the organization is going to be A, B, C. You want to really be clear that this is why we’re doing this change, because we know it’s going to help our organization be more successful.

Those messages have to come right from the top. They really need to come from the executive leadership, ideally from the CEO and the chairman of the board. Then this is what our process is going to be in a similar timeline. These things that you talk about, you’re going to talk about all through the project, through selection, through implementation, through post go-live. You’re just going to keep talking about these things over and over and over again, because it’s going to remind… always try to remind people what the big picture is and why we’re doing this.


For roles, you’ve got to have… you want to have the right people working on the right things. Involving the key stakeholders and business owners. When I say technology selection process, sometimes people think “Well, we’ll have the technology. Those who are most comfortable and enjoy technology the most, they’ll take the lead.” Well then you’ll probably do something that from a technology perspective is really, really cool, but it might not meet the end need of the business owners. There we’re talking about the heads of departments who set the goals and the tactics for each department, and need things done, and need reports back and information back on how those things have fared. Those business owners, whether they like technology or not, they have to be involved in the process. The primary end users of course have to be involved and then the different business needs for each department should be ideally evaluated both by people within the department who know those things already.

Then someone from the outside of that department who can be objective and ask questions, because sometimes what will happen is someone will say, “Well, I need the system to do A, B and C.” The outside person will go, “What? Interesting. I understand A and B, but why C? “Well, C is because we’ve always done it that way.” “Well, do you have to keep doing it that way? Do you need to…?” Someone who can help… We all get embedded in what we’re used to doing and so we need someone with an outside perspective, whether that’s consulting, and I’ll talk about that later, or just someone else within our own organization who brings something different to it to take a look and say, “Oh, interesting.” Till we start to think about things differently because it’s going to be a new system.

With the actual project of selecting software, you do want to have someone or ones who are going to represent the project with the vendors and other providers, kind of the external folks to the organization. That’s not to say you want to be strict gatekeepers. That does not tend to help the vendor understand you, nor does it help you understand the vendors. Sometimes people will have a very rigid procurement process and thinking that this brings a certain level of objectivity to the process, but in fact what we see is that it kind of works if the client’s perception of the vendors and what they offer, and the vendor’s perception of what the client needs… It’s very important that software vendors get to talk to the end users directly. Now that could be in a form of some sort that you organize, but you want to be careful not to cut off too much, your vendors from contact. You can give them guidelines, but that’s why selecting the right people to represent the project externally is very important. What we find works most often is those representatives are coming from the business department that are going to ultimately use the project.

Then who’s going represent or drive the project internally? Who’s going to project manage and make sure everything’s flowing along? Then also be communicating with internal staff about where we are in the project, and what’s going to happen next and kind of a little bit of PR for the project as it goes along, so people feel engaged, excited, included.

Who is going to represent and support the system over the long term? This is very important at the very outset, often what will happen is if you’re… you have existing systems now and someone is either formally or informally in charge of making sure those systems work. You have to think ahead, okay, in X months when this project… when we’ve actually implemented our new solutions, who’s going to be in charge of it. Whoever you identify, even if it’s a tentative decision at this point, you want them involved in the selection project at the very beginning because along the way, you’re going to have a lot of discussions around what we need the system to do, and what we don’t, and what our priorities are, and some of this is going to get written down, and some of it’s not. You’re going to have conversations with vendors. They’re going to lead you towards one vendor and away from another and it’s going to be really important that the person who’s in charge of the system over the longer term has been there for those conversations, because not everything does get reported or transmitted to them. Yet it’s going to be important for them to understand all that. Having that context starts by engaging them early.

Finally, certainly very, very important is executive sponsorship. We need at the highest level of the organization executives who will say this is a really important project. It’s a priority for us. It’s going to take effort, it’s going to take change, but we all need to do it and be a cheerleader and a supporter for the project.


Okay, so when you start to look at the functionality, one of the first pieces you look at is… and this is what… almost everybody does this… is they start to look at systems, they go, “Oh my gosh. Look at that. This system does XY and Z and our current system doesn’t do that. That’s so cool. I really want that.” That’s great and it’s really important to make note of those. It starts to get you excited and start to open up your mind to how you’ll be able to do your jobs better, and then you raise more money, and engage with constituents and deliver your mission. That’s fantastic, so start writing those down and noting how important those are.

There are features that are new for the market as a whole, new to the nonprofit sector. You want to make note of those and ask yourself, “Okay, are these important to me and how might I use these?” New to the market doesn’t mean they’re not going to stick around and be successful. Some tools become available, and they get a lot of buzz or some features get a lot of buzz and then a year later well, a bunch of nonprofits tried it and it didn’t really work out. The fact that they’re available to you, you might not rank them as highly as those things that are new to you that you know you’re going to use; but it is interesting and it does show creativity and forward-thinking on the part of the vendor. It’s something to keep in mind.

Future-proof systems. What I mean here is that it’s how you’re going to be buying your system and holding on to it for at least a decade, you want to be aware of where the flexibility is in the solution that you pick. If you have too little flexibility in areas that are evolving in how we engage with our constituents, then you’re going to be into little bit of a trouble. We don’t know… I don’t know certainly what the new communication channels are going to be in five years. I have a pretty good sense it’s not going to go through the US Postal Service. If you’re looking at the tool and you say “Well, the direct mail piece works great here, but gosh, it doesn’t look like it’s going to give me a lot of flexibility all the time,” well I don’t know that I would worry too much about that; but if you looked at the online pieces, email and social and web, and you said, “Gosh, they look great for today, but I don’t if they’re going to change or evolve,” well that would be a little bit of a red flag for me.

You have to see… you want to look for the places where there’s going to be growth moving forward.

Finally, this is a piece almost everybody forgets about. We get distracted by the shiny objects of what’s new, new for the software, new for the industry, new to my organization, and we don’t look at what is working really well right now in my organization with my current systems. We can come in with the assumption that what works well now, of course it’s going to work in the new system. “Doesn’t every CRM system do AB and C? I just assume it did because mine does now.” Well, you have to be very careful about those assumptions. This can be particularly true in some of the less exciting aspects of what our CRM systems do for us. One aspect certainly if you’re talking about fundraising is in revenue management, and gift processing and gift acknowledgement and reconciliation with accounting. These are very, very important pieces and they’re very, very dull.

I say that even though I started my career and have spent most of my career focused on those issues. We have to admit, it’s not as exciting as integration with Facebook or Snap chat or text, mobile text to give. Those are really kind of cool sexy new things, but you have to make sure that the blocking and tackling basics are there also. Don’t forget to look for those pieces.

Then you want to start to put together a catalogue of your business needs. You have to be careful. You just start to make lists that are immensely long, and they’re overwhelming to your team, and they’re overwhelming to the vendors; and in the end when you get a list that long, the important stuff can get lost. Sometimes the vendors’ responses, they’re trying to check how many box as they can. No offense to the good working at… software vendors, but their job is to check as many box as possible. What’s important is as you catalogue your business needs, that you prioritize and you focus on those things that are really important for your organization.

You don’t have to start these lists from scratch. You can Google on the internet. You can go to peers. We’re going through this process. You don’t have to start from scratch, nor should you.

Then you want to assign areas to different stakeholders and staff, to prioritize, evaluate, test and score. When I say to different stakeholders, ultimately you don’t need everybody evaluating. Everyone who is a part of the selection process does not have to evaluate every part of the solutions. If you ask people to be that involved, you will risk burn out.

At a certain point when you’re looking at three or four systems, and that’s as many as I would suggest, you want to go deep in certain areas and then if you’re asking everybody go deep in every area, you’re going to lose people and it’s going to be tough on them. Now, if you’re… again, if you’re looking at a CRM system or a platform, you want to look across the whole organization.

Prioritizing Needs

You’re going to have a lot of people poking at the software. Then you need to start to prioritize things. We’re getting up on the end of our time, so I’m going to have to move to a little bit of this quickly. You want to have a rating system that is not too onerous and that is equitable. What I mean by equitable is your CR rating system, one of the ones we use is something is critical, high, medium or low. Well, guess what? Not everything gets to be critical. Maybe if you have a hundred items on your list, only 10 gets to be critical and then another 10 get to be high, but you don’t get to say send back your worksheets or your scoring and say “Oh yeah, everything’s critical.” You have to start to prioritize and kind of have a forcing mechanism for that.

Again, as you work on these ratings, and lists and things, try not to lose track of the big picture and the big goals and the fact that it’s serving the whole organization. Okay, so then you go off.

Looking at the CRM Landscape

Then now you’re ready to go out and start looking at software, because you’ve probably cheated already and started to look at some things. Maybe you cheated by going to this webinar series when it would be very hard for me to say that was a bad idea. I can’t say that, but now you’re formally ready to go and start looking at the CRM landscape. This is a great start I think. I’m bias of course, but don’t test too wide in that. Don’t do too many systems, too many cycles, looking at products. It just exhausts people. Frankly, 90 percent of enterprise nonprofits go with one of the vendor’s that’s part of a series. That’s why they were invited to this series. If you’re going to go outside of that group, and I’m not saying… We don’t get paid by these vendors and we don’t have any reason to tell you “Stick with these,” but if you’re going to go outside of these you probably need to ask yourself, “Are we really that different from all of our peers and this is the pool that they’ve been fishing in?” What would it mean if you went outside of kind of what are the normally accepted and adopted products and platforms, in terms of you having peers who you can bounce things off of, finding talents who know the systems, etc?


Okay, so when you’re working with vendors, vendors know… when you’re talking about how their systems work, trust but verify. Set up test environments, get references, but then talk to people who use the system who aren’t on their formal reference list, go into user communities and demos. They’re very important, but we like to structure them as targeted walkthroughs rather than multi-day demos where they show you every nuke and cranny to everybody on your selection team. That will really just crush your teams.

With sales, it’s important to understand… and you can ask your vendor partner directly… what are your quotas and do you need to sell by the end of the month, by the end of the quarter, by the end of the year. Of course these are great folks who work with these vendors, but also they’re earning a living and it’s good to really understand what’s driving them professionally so that you can understand how their interests align or don’t with your own.


Finally, considering hiring a consultant, I’m biased. I think this is a big decision. I think those of us who do this kind of consulting, we’ve been through it many, many times, but that value is in that process and engagement vendors and helping you through this. Not in suggesting options to you. I just suggested the options I’m going to suggest that you look at. It’s not in putting together a list with thousands and thousands of roads of potential business needs. It’s really that ability to gauge with you around strategies and tie those out to your business need, and kind of shepherd the process.

Next Steps

What do you do next? My suggestion is that first of all, you would start by articulating a CRM vision. Why are we going through this process? How is it going to significantly and positively impact our organization? Start to really frame that out and tie it out to your strategic goals. We suggest that as the first part of what we call a CRM roadmap.

CRM Roadmaps

You can see on the left a list of kind of table of contents on what one of these looks like. Not everybody has all these pieces, but it gives kind of a flavor to this. We have another webinar series around CRM roadmaps. I encourage you to take a look at that. The reason to do a CRM roadmap is it really starts to crystalize that CRM vision and it starts to socialize the idea of changing technology, not just as a strategy, but throughout your organization. It also results in a practical plan on how to get it done.

Phased Adoption Approach

Finally, I just note, visually for those who like visuals, CRM roadmap helps you go from an environment… envision how you go for an environment with a lot of different systems to something that will just be more manageable over time and get you into a place where technology is a lot more simple and more streamlined.


With that, last thing I’d leave you with is please do take a look at our CRM papers. You’ll find them online. You’ll find them in the handout section of the webinar tools here. Talk to others who are doing something similar and if this was helpful today, we encourage you to contact us. With that, I’d invite you to join us on Tuesday the 27th for the Nonprofit Success Pack webinar and there’ll be more information on the other dates in the series forthcoming shortly. I appreciate all of your attendance today. Thank you.