Here's Why a Cloud-Based CRM for Nonprofits is So Critical

December 2, 2020 Blackbaud Admin

We’ve become all too familiar with today’s most common business and fundraising challenges – vigorous competition, digital disruption and changing social norms. But, while nearly every business leader faces these challenges, only a select few nonprofits are really thinking and doing things differently than their competitors.

With the rise of social media transforming the way we communicate, coupled with the influx of nonprofits, and fundraising causes vying for people’s attention, it is vital now more than ever to create deep personal relationships with your donors and supporters to increase loyalty and retention. This is why a cloud-based nonprofit CRM can be considered a "fundraising solution" - because it's meant to work right alongside other fundraising and donation management, supporter engagement, and customer experience platforms that nonprofit use.

One of the most important tools at your disposal that enables you to stay engaged with your donors and creates a strong platform for competitive differentiation is your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

A CRM is a cloud-based directory for all of your donors, fundraisers, volunteers, and supporters. It's a single platform that helps you keep track of their fundraising events, activities and fundraising or donation pages, that you can access all in one place, at any time.

Many think relationship management software is just about technology, but it's so much more than this. Constituent management is a competitive business strategy designed to increase engagement, boost your fundraising, and effectively manage your valuable supporter relationships and retention strategies.


Contact management is just the start

In effect, contact management is the doorway to the heart and soul of nonprofits. And with it, you can keep track of your most critical asset, both online and offline: your supporters.

Understanding your fundraising data and how it can be organised should be your top priority.

Ideally, you'll have all of your data and donor profiles in one place. Nonprofit CRM software should be easy to use and plug right into your existing email marketing, direct mail, event management software, volunteer management program, payment processing, and any other marketing automation, fundraising tools, or management platform your organisation uses. In addition, a modern membership management system contains management features that allow you to see transfer and view data from platform to platform in real-time.

If you are upgrading your CRM you have an opportunity for renewal and it is vital to consider the following steps to ensure a successful transition and, in turn, maximise your fundraising efforts.

“For nonprofits to maximise their investment in both time and money in larger enterprise CRM systems, they have to start with knowing what their journey looks like.

Why are they looking at changing or updating their current CRM? What are the key business imperatives that are driving this decision?”

“These questions are really important because they will determine how much time and money nonprofits have to invest and what the system requirements or features will be. People will often start by looking at the features or the solution but they need to start with the problem first, and business drivers as the underlying focus,” adds Dellas.

Dellas believes that one of the things that skew people’s decision is price. A low price does not necessarily translate into value for the organisation. “If you show stakeholders the capabilities, and take the price away, then decisions are based on solution capabilities, in this way you are better able to get a truer reflection of the right system,” says Dellas. “Price can always be negotiated, and at the end of the day you will make a more informed decision”.

It's clear that features are great, but features shouldn't come first. The ultimate purpose of a CRM is to support the business strategy and fundraising strategy. Technology is then enlisted to help realise this.

Manage your data

According to Dellas, data is key; “You need to understand what data you have, how that data is used, understand its value, and how it will facilitate the next stage of your journey. Data cleanliness and data accuracy in cloud-based fundraising is something you can start well before you have thought about what the end solution is going to be.” Getting a 360-degree view of your fundraising is critical for nonprofits of all sizes, and nonprofit CRMS are designed to help with all of it.

“What you will find is that over the years, especially if your system has been in place for some time, the way the data is captured and used will have evolved, therefore reliability and accuracy of historical data becomes a challenge.” adds Dellas. This is especially true when trying to maintain pace with the evolution of social media and the many ways donors like to be reached.

“When defining data and how this will integrate with your new processes, you have to try to anticipate the future as best as possible, which can be challenging and sometimes impossible… More importantly you need to look at a solution that is going to be able to adapt with you as your business adapts and responds to changes in the market and environment,” says Dellas.

Get the best people on the job

One of the key challenges often faced when looking at upgrading to a cloud-based CRM is the resistance managers have in wanting to share their best people with the project.

But to achieve an optimal outcome, the best people, who have the deepest knowledge of the organisation, need to be involved.

Dellas comments, “Whilst it may seem common sense to engage at all levels of the business, I’m still surprised by instances where IT or a Project Team will kick off a project and work really diligently on it, but not include key business stakeholders in any aspect of the work. This is a clear path to missed expectations and underwhelming project outcomes.”

“It’s critical that a nonprofit CRM software solution is not developed in isolation by IT or project teams, but is a collaborative effort engaging all key business stakeholders and with clear business goals leading the way. Internally it’s about collaboration and sharing, but it’s also about getting the right subject matter experts involved in the project at the right stage, whether that be at project definition, evaluation, design or delivery,” says Dellas.

Once the best people are selected to work on the project, backfilling roles also becomes important. Dellas, describes this as a ‘waterfall’ process where once you identify your best person for the project, you then select your next best person and continue down the ranks to junior staff. This is also important in providing a succession plan and ensuring that vital knowledge stays in the organisation. Organisational change management also becomes critical to ensure a seamless transition.

A new CRM system will solve a lot of problems, but it can also create a whole lot more,” says Dellas, “because you are bringing in functionality and features that you have never had to think about before.

“Therefore, the organisational change process needs to start early, and people need to understand why you are making this change. This always comes back to the business case, checking and revalidating and asking, "Are we still on the change going where we need it to go?” says Dellas.

If there is no senior management buy-in or the best people aren’t on the project, then it could turn out to be a very costly exercise. Dellas, recalls a time when a major corporation he was working with didn’t follow these basic steps and the project blew out by millions of dollars. Which is something all nonprofits should avoid, and particularly important for NGO’s as stewards of donors' trust and goodwill.

Practice care

Because of their size and complexity in implementing enterprise-scale cloud-based CRM software is that it tends to create a mix of emotions in the organisation, from excitement and hope to fear and anxiety. Which is why great care and empathy should be exercised across the organisation during implementation.

Some key areas to consider include:

Any donor management project must be a strategic decision from the top of the organisation and have broad executive support to be a success.

The projects need a proper governance structure. Whether that be a steering committee or project control board, so the project is successfully managed and delivered.

Consider the impact of staff who have been seconded to the project.

“One of the things you need to think about,” says Dellas, “is how do you re-integrate staff in the organisation or transition them after the project has finished.” Not having an approach or plan increases the risk that you may lose staff once the project is over. These people have gained a lot of valuable knowledge and are important to the bedding in of the solution post ‘go-live’.

Factors to consider through a donor management change

Because of the tremendous change that is needed to implement a new nonprofit CRM, Dellas, is quick to remind us that we must celebrate a lot during this herculean journey. “We must celebrate often and have fun so we don’t burn our key people out,” he says.

While taking the time to pay tribute to your hard efforts is important, so too is the ongoing management of organisational and donor management change. It’s also important employees still feel secure in their roles and you work to minimise resistance to change. People who have worked on the CRM project also need to feel valued and the transition managed effectively.

“You really need to know how people are feeling and manage that change. You need to stop them from falling into this pit of uncertainty and how it will affect their jobs,” says Dellas, “you don’t want people to think, I have been here for 20 years and now things are going to change and I don’t know what is going to happen in three weeks.”

The change curve

During implementation, it is important that managers are aware of the various stages of change that people impacted by the project may pass through. A good model that can help with this is the Kubler Ross Change Curve.

This can help guide your organisation through the upheaval and disruption initially caused. Each emotion can be considered in four key stages:

STAGE 1: (shock / denial)
When change is first introduced, people’s initial reaction may be shock or denial as they react to the change.

Even if the change is well planned staff still need time to adjust to new features and functions. This is a critical stage of communication, people need information, need to understand what is happening, and need to know how to get help.

STAGE 2: (frustration / depression)
Once the reality of the change starts to hit, some people may feel frustration, concern, anger, resentment, or fear. They may feel the need to express their feelings and concerns and vent these negative emotions. In extreme cases depression can also be an outcome of significant change.

As a result, the organisation experiences a disruption which, if not carefully managed, can quickly spiral into chaos. The project team need to prepare for this stage by offering clear communication and support and by acting to minimise and mitigate the problems.

As the reaction to change is very personal and can be emotional, it is often impossible to pre-empt everything, so it’s vital that the project tracks these issues or escalate through the appropriate governance group and that supports are in place for those who may need them.

STAGE 3: (experiment/decision)
This is the turning point for people and the organisation. People stop focussing on what they have lost. They start to let go and accept the changes. They begin testing and exploring what the changes mean and start to adapt and see the benefits.

STAGE 4: (integration)
This is the final stage where people not only accept the changes but also start to embrace them and start rebuilding their ways of working. Only when people get to this stage can the organisation really start to reap the benefits of CRM change and gain incremental value from their investment. An indicator of true success is when a majority of the organisation make it to this stage.

“Usually the first-time people see the system is when they are asked to test it, often they panic. Familiarity with the tools and concepts are important and one way to ease people into the CRM, especially with out-of-the-box solutions, is to introduce them to components as you complete each module; bring people into a hands-on lab and let them play with the tool and use cases so they become familiar with the system long before UAT,” Dellas says.

“The good thing about this process of choosing a CRM is that you get to deal with the anxiety and you get them to touch and feel and that sort of stuff. But you are also building knowledge and experience as they go through the process of working with a CRM solution,” he says.

Another important consideration is keeping the knowledge embedded in the organisation as staff turn-over.

“Departments and managers need to revisit the reasons why the solution was implemented in the first place, and ensure the appropriate contextual induction when new people come on,” says Dellas, “you have to give them the background so they understand the purpose for a CRM, and you continually need to renew that knowledge and embed that knowledge, through practice, training, and documentation into the organisation over the long term.”

Go live is just the beginning

There is sometimes a perception that once you go live with the new CRM all your issues are solved, but to maintain a dynamic culture you always need to stay open to learning and continuous improvement.

“As the business changes, your demographics change, your market changes, and your strategic approach over time will change. There will be disruptors that enter the market and you will need to pivot and adjust. To successfully respond to this, you need to build an organisational culture that can adapt as things change,” says Dellas.

“Then you have your benefits framework, ensuring that you review your business case and understand whether the expected benefits that justified the investment are being achieved. These need to be validated and communicated.” says Dellas.

“Often what happens after a CRM go-live is that we move onto the next important or urgent piece of work and the original rationale for the project is relegated to the memories of those who were there at the beginning.”

“As we are the stewards of community generosity, we owe it to our donors, beneficiaries, and stakeholders to ensure that any CRM investment has achieved the outcomes that were originally envisioned and capture what have we learnt from the process. This intelligence can then be fed into our ongoing project learning cycle.”

Find a balance between technology and business

In his article, ‘IT doesn’t matter, Nicholas Carr stirred up controversy around IT’s role as a strategic business differentiator. He argues that it follows a pattern very similar to telephones and electricity, where once they provided a competitive advantage, but as they became more available they turned into a ‘common commodity’ and lost their differentiation.

Dellas is also quick to remind us that CRM technology only plays a supporting role to business strategy. “In our cloud-based environment today the technology is less important than the business drivers,” he says.

“Investments should be made that will provide value early and for the  long  term  as  well  as support  your  sustainable  competitive   advantage.” “If you are investing in customised processes that don’t give you a sustainable competitive investment you have to ask yourself ‘is this the best allocation of my beneficiaries’ resources and donors generosity? It’s important to have your technology behind you but it has to be business-led”

“IT needs to evolve to be a strategic business partner that facilitates successful system outcomes and not just a solution provider; CIOs, traditionally used to being solution providers, need to evolve to this paradigm,” says Dellas.

Final tips for a successful CRM implementation

  • Strategic: have a strong business case for donor management software led by senior management
  • Organisation: put robust project governance procedures in place to create a structured approach to success and manage changes to the organisation as you implement the CRM.
  • Operations: create procedures for effective CRM knowledge management so that the change is translated into everyday working practices.
  • Data: ensure you clean your data before inputting it into the new CRM. It is important not to migrate old problems into a new CRM system.
  • Resources: get the right people involved to lead the project and ensure the donor engagement and management tools meet the needs of the organisation.
  • Project: have clear success criteria for your CRM implementation, effective change management, governance, and management of expectations.

The implementation of a successful cloud-based donor management system and all of its features is not simply a case of going out and buying technology that will magically transform your business.

The foundation for any effective CRM strategy begins with the end in mind, and the consideration of the range of capabilities your organisation already has. This should include every step of the process, from your organisation’s business processes through to your technology, the people you bring on board, your data and how you effectively manage change.

A strategy focused on allocating resources to create competitive advantage and effective engagement at all touchpoints becomes critical.

Above all, your donors, volunteers, fundraisers, and supporters should be at the heart of your strategy.

This may mean a complete change in thinking, but an important shift and one that the entire organisation needs to understand from the start. The best way to avoid the pitfalls is by taking the time to define your donor management and supporter strategies upfront and align your business processes before implementing the technology. It’s only then you can start to maximise your return on investment on an enterprise-wide CRM implementation.

The most crucial step is to stay guided by your organisation’s business goals and accept that change is inevitable.

Learn more about Blackbaud's CRM solutions

Blackbaud builds the world s leading web-based nonprofit CRM solutions and online donation software. Our best-in-class nonprofit software helps thousands of nonprofits across the world raise more money, build and launch marketing campaigns, help nonprofits find new supporters and steward their current donors, and much more. Simply put, nonprofits use our tools to build a better world.

This post was adapted from CRM: the Critical Foundation of Your Engagement Ecosystem, the original whitepaper by Gregory Dellas.



Gregory Dellas
Strategic Engagement Manager Blackbaud Pacific

Passionate about the NFP sector and long-term, deep value for every dollar invested in business and technology solutions.

Gregory has over 30 years’ experience across corporate and the nonprofit world and has participated and been a leader across the technological changes and evolution that has occurred over the last three decades. With a strong foundation in banking, finance and professional services, Gregory has built a toolkit of skills and history of successfully

delivered projects we don’t often see. In particular, he has spent the last 12 years committed to the delivery of value in the NGO space. Of course, this type of background does not happen in isolation and he is proud to have achieved this through collaborative partnerships with his teams, colleagues, customers and vendors alike by bringing technology and social good together.

Over the last 6 years, Gregory has become one of the leading INGO subject matter experts on Blackbaud CRM and is now a valued part of the Blackbaud team. He has contributed extensively to the body of knowledge around best practice for BBCRM and knows what it takes to embed systems, tools and change into an organisation to achieve success.

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