CRM for charities – six steps to success

19 Aug 2020 Expert insight

Ned Nicol from LanciaConsult offers advice to charities about implementing a new customer relationship management system

This content has been supplied by a commercial partner.

“We’re £30,000 down and still using spreadsheets”. Charities crop up in this situation all too often: one CRM flop already under their belt and frustrations running high.

IT implementation failure is an all too common story in the third sector.

Smooth-running CRM implementation projects should not be the preserve of corporations, but how can a charity avoid running into problems?

Before you start

I always advise charities to do the bulk of their thinking and analysis before they visit the website of a single software company. It’s easy to get excited browsing the glossy user interfaces of a CRM product, but look inside your organisation first or risk getting dazzled and side-tracked from what really matters. What benefits will this technology drive? What else needs to change for these benefits to be realised?

STEP 1: Develop metrics for success.  A robust investment case will not only get you the green light, it will help your project team understand their parameters and priorities. Use real metrics for your headline benefits – income & sales growth, beneficiary impact, team retention & development – and put timescales against them to establish the payback period.

STEP 2: Define what makes you different. Most of your requirements are standard and will be met by any system worth its salt. Mapping your data model and processes to understand what makes your needs different will play a big part in determining the success of the new solution. Share these unique requirements with the solution providers.

Choosing a solution

STEP 3: Prepare for the demonstrations. It is important that the solution providers are showing you what you need to see, not what they want you to see.  Can they demonstrate how their system meets your unique requirements, rather than demonstrating features that you are not even sure you want?  Get past the sales process and into the detail.

Create detailed scenarios for the solution providers to demonstrate and don’t be fobbed off: arrange follow up sessions if need be.

STEP 4: Automation and integration.  A good CRM will eliminate unnecessary manual processes which take your team away from what is important. It will automate processes like emailing a thank-you note and then saving this against the record.  

Get your teams’ input; how can the solution help them in their day-to-day role?

Remember that no single system does everything. Your CRM must be able to integrate with your existing core systems to avoid duplicating team tasks.  Significant cost and complexity can hide here: you don’t want to uncover mid-project a further £4k plus ongoing support costs to integrate the CRM with your finance, ticketing or fundraising system.


STEP 5: Free up time for project assurance. Technology deliveries are notorious for unexpected hurdles and delays.  Ensure that your team has the capacity to govern the project appropriately, cleanse the data, and test the system to your satisfaction.  The implementation will take your core team away from their day job and you should plan carefully for this impact.  Do you want to implement a new system around your peak season?

A rule of thumb: expect to at least match your delivery partner’s effort with internal time.

STEP 6: Make sure the system gives back from day one. In the worst-case scenario, your staff ‘feed the beast’, logging every contact with a beneficiary or donor, without getting anything back. Investing effort in user training, mapping your complex business processes, and developing reporting are critical to the success of the system.

Don't make reporting an afterthought: it could be the most engaging & exciting thing about your new system. 

But beware dashboard-speak. You’re more likely to win hearts and minds if you remember when you talk about graphs and tables that behind each number lies a life.

Ned Nicol is a principal at LanciaConsult, which helps third sector organisations with impact, projects and technology

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