Four ways not-for-profits need to change their thinking when it comes to CRM

Setting up a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system can seem a daunting prospect. A CRM touches on every way organisations connect with their supporters. Stephen Blyth shares his findings after an interview with Keith Heller of Heller Consulting.

Setting up a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system can seem a daunting prospect.  A CRM touches on every way organisations connect with their supporters. Community

Keith Heller, from Heller Consulting in San Francisco, has helped organisations think through these types of issues many, many times before.

Over the last fifteen years his company has helped hundreds of non-profit organisations to put in place fundraising and CRM software. He has plenty of hard won experience to share.

1) Change your focus

If you think CRM is only about technology, Heller suggests it is time to think again.

To get the most out of CRM software relies on organisations being willing to examine, and often change, the way they connect with supporters, volunteers and others who back their cause.

“It starts with questions like: what would we like to do with our top tier supporters and advocates, what do we want to do with people who are active in the social media channel, what do we want to do with people willing to organise events and partiers in their local region? How do we want to engage with these different kinds of people?”

2) Change how you see your constituents

For those that have contact with an organisation in a variety of ways, a CRM helps organisations to engage people in a more holistic way. Being aware someone may simultaneously be a recipient of services, a donor, event participant, fundraiser and evangelist on your behalf is important.

Heller says having a view of constituents in their entirety leads organisations to building strategies, approaches and communications channels to successfully connect.

3) Change who’s involved

This is not something one person or department can drive alone. Without a strategy supported by people across the whole organisation, a CRM won’t achieve all it can.

“It’s crucial that people are on the same page”, warns Heller.

This doesn’t all ways happen. Sometimes people may hold on tight to a treasured contacts list or claim ownership of certain constituents.

“You’ve got to help people to participate in a vision that’s broader than their particular area of responsibility,” Heller advises.

“While people are busy being entrenched on who ‘owns’ certain donors, and fortifying their position or debating it, some other organisation is wooing your constituents!”

Things can come undone if people don’t give genuine input into how to set up a CRM system to meet their organisation’s unique needs.

“People need to roll up their sleeves then participate in the trainings, participate in the feedback sessions,” Heller says.

It’s not about everybody becoming software engineers. Expertise around an organisation’s constituents, what those people care about, and how you want to interact, is something only those working within an organisation know.

4) Change your expectations

It’s unlikely introducing a CRM will lead to a single, unified database replacing all others. Heller suggests instead organisations will end up with a suite of tools. This may include software for financial management, business intelligence or reporting, and something specific to service delivery.

“What we think, that from a software perspective it’s not going to be a single database. That’s overreaching. Over-hoping on the part of the organisation. Overselling on the part of the vendor,” Heller cautions.

Worth the effort

If all this seems too much effort, Heller says it’s important to focus on the end results. From his many years of working with non-profit organisations, he has seen time and time again how the effort is worth it.

“There’s benefits to the constituents in the way they are engaged by the organisation. It benefits the organisation, usually to extend the reach of the organisation through their constituents, and you build a much greater sense within the organisation of everyone being on the same team.”

Extra In August 2012, Heller Consulting released a report “Insights into CRM for nonprofits” based on interviews with 30 US nonprofit organisations. Free, downloadable copy from The Connected Cause.


About Stephen Blyth

Stephen is a freelance project manager, writer and advisor from New Zealand. His specialty is working on web-based projects for organisations striving for environmental or social change and other good causes. Since 2007 Stephen has been helping people set up websites, choose software, run online meetings and use technology to achieve their organisations goals. The label technology steward comes closest to describing how he works offering advice, training and project management support.

Stephen understands how community groups work so he knows how to stay within tight budgets within organisations where people are the focus (not the tools). Prior to becoming self-employed he worked for government agencies for over a decade in community engagement, funding and capability building roles. In his spare time he tills the soil, climb trees with his two young children and squeeze in some volunteering with Wellington ICT. He writes about all this stuff at: www.commonknowledge.net.nz.

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