Opening up new frontiers in CRM

Opening up new frontiers in CRM

Opening up new frontiers in CRM2

IT | John Tate | 30 May 2012

Get those IT waggons rolling, urges John Tate, but be careful with the route you choose.

Since selling the IT company I was running, I have had a little more time to indulge my non-work interests. Something I am slightly embarrassed to admit is that I enjoy watching old Westerns on TV.

I have read a bit about the early years of the US. The romantic portrayal of the Wild West is highly divorced from the reality. Indians were not in the main the ‘baddies’; life was incredibly tough and lonely; and people struggled to eke out a meagre living.

Step forward to the twenty-first century and a new frontier has opened up – a technology frontier of new media and its application to fundraising and contact management.

Last month I went to the Institute of Fundraising annual IT conference. There is an explosion of new products coming onto the market. Vendors talked up their latest and greatest offerings, including new ways of raising money via Facebook, Twitter, and your website.

However, case studies from charities themselves repeatedly emphasised the difficulty of implementing a new system and the huge challenges along the way.


Many charities are thinking of making the migration to new technologies. Waggons are being looked at and supplies (budgets) costed, with the lure of a great new adventure lying ahead.

Most organisations struggle horribly with their customer customerrelationship- management (CRM) databases, so there is a strong attraction in a new system.

The biggest single problem is usually data integration. Multiple records are invariably held about individual donors. This can lead to inaccuracies and a high cost of maintenance. New fundraising tools create fresh contact data – and it is a real challenge to add this information to your core systems.

A lot of the debate about potential change focuses on the new technology. Should you look at an ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ product from a new supplier which is often not fully adapted to the specific needs of a charity – but which has all the technology bells and whistles? Or should you stick with a tried and tested ‘legacy’ solution? Can you bolt-on something additional to your current system to give you the new features you require?

These are good questions to ask. But (and this is a very big but) you need to be aware that the success or failure of your investment is likely to largely depend on your ability to manage the change in the way you work as a result of your investment in your new systems – rather than the selection of the technology itself.

So, for the experienced accountants, this is a reminder that little has changed, and for the fresher talent here are some golden rules to take to heart:

  • Recognise the hard work required to install a new CRM system. Cutting corners rarely works. I have seen organisations allocate 15 per cent of their staff full-time to a CRM implementation. If you do not have the budget or internal resource available, scale back the project – or don’t do it;
  • You can often get more out of what you have already got in place – for example, through staff training and improving your current processes. Make sure you look very carefully at this option;
  • New technology may look great, but suppliers have a habit of overselling their offerings. Make sure it does exactly what you want, and really give it a good ‘thrashing’ before you commit to a purchase;
  • Make sure you get buy-in within your organisation from the key people, and their teams on the project. Consult and communicate with rigour; and
  • Don’t forget about the dataintegration issues. Take the time to really understand how a new solution will help you with these challenges and exactly how your new processes will work.

Much like the old Wild West has changed beyond recognition; the IT systems of the future will look very different from those of today. Make sure your own journey towards the new technology frontier is a safe one, and that you do not fall victim to the many perils along the way.

John Tate is a business consultant, IT adviser to CFG and a visiting lecturer at Cass Business School  


Laura Dawson
Committee Officer
21 Jun 2012

I agree with you Alex, the days of product are fading into the days of platform for CRM. Making a distinction between operational/transactional systems and CRM for intelligence and personalisation is a major step forward for any NFP.

Also good points John, building on your list, some of the key elephant traps on implementing CRM reside not in the software or even the data but in the relationships between the various stakeholders in an organisation. Very often there will be a strong lead and perhaps less 'bought in' areas. If they are not all signed up to delivery of the solution all the governance and intergration in the world is not going to change the behaviours.

CCITDG are currently looking at how we create the conditions for success on cross organisational projects such as CRM, mentoring each other on fostering the relationships we need. I do hear peers saying that Marketing/Supporter Services are leading but Fundraising are not playing ball or, worse, IS is leading and everyone else is doing their own thing! We all need to play well together and as you say put the energy in to make it happen.

Some of the old steriotypes need to be broken down and some of the superiority complexes need to go. The people doing the work will often know far better what they need to deliver than anyone in IS and we are seeing a very big shift in technical expertise towards the business units, again particularly the marketing arena. This may well be exactly what is needed even though it is a scary new world.

Alex McLachlan
Senior Consultant
31 May 2012

I totally agree with the points you make John about the need to stress that a new CRM is a business change programme and needs considerable buy-in and commitment across an organisation.

We advise our clients that it is essential to have "cross functional change" groups both at the steering level and the working level.

There is a growing need for "systems of engagement" rather than "systems of record" in NFP organisations and with this comes the need for a flexible CRM platform that can integrate easily with the website for self-service and personalisation, as well as CRM features such as campaign management.


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John Tate

John Tate is a qualified accountant and entrepreneur. He is a columnist for Charity Finance, a visiting lecturer at Cass Business School's Centre for Charity Effectiveness and Trustee of Eduserv. He also non executive chair of Civil Society Media.

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