Whether you’re an organization selecting a CRM (customer relationship management) platform for the first time, or making the decision to transition to a new tool, the process of evaluating and selecting new infrastructure can be a daunting prospect. There are countless options to weigh, and with myriad ways you can customize and build out these tools to meet your needs, it can be hard to know where to start. Over time we’ve developed an easy-to-use framework for nonprofits and brands to evaluate technical products.

The Value of Selecting the Right CRM

For all their considerable costs, CRMs promise an equally significant ROI. By investing in a CRM platform, organizations gain an authoritative source to illuminate donor and customer behavior that enables more targeted and effective campaign performance. A well-implemented CRM can unlock powerful new capabilities for personalizing and segmenting audiences across multiple channels. The benefits aren’t just for your organization — they also can lead to a far superior experience for supporters too. CRM data can help you build personalized, tailored experiences that make every marketing interaction more relevant. They also lead to smarter segmentation that can prevent over-messaging constituents, and avoid list burnout.

For all their benefits, most CRM tools designed to serve nonprofits have their limitations. Industry-standard platforms, like Salesforce and Blackbaud, have made great strides in meeting the needs of nonprofits, but also offer less flexibility than you might expect, and their user experience can leave something to be desired. Plus, the pain associated with migrating to a new platform can seem comparable to maintaining the status quo.

In the end, no single CRM choice represents the perfect solution that will meet all your needs. But with the right approach and process, we’ve helped organizations ease the pain (and cost) associated with making this transition.

Here are four key lessons to consider when choosing and implementing your CRM platform.

1) Manage Stakeholder Concerns in CRM Transitions

Given the complexity involved in managing nonprofit marketing initiatives (fundraising, in particular), your organization needs more than what off-the-shelf CRM solutions can provide. Platforms that have been specially designed for nonprofits are limited and prone to stagnation — usually because they’re adapted versions from more general marketing CRM tools designed to serve a much broader customer base.  For organizations that choose CRM tools that are not customized out-of-the-box for nonprofits, they may benefit from more robust feature sets, but will typically mean more time (and budget) spent customizing it to their needs. 

Salesforce and other platforms have made significant advances over tools like Blackbaud and Raiser’s Edge. Unfortunately, many CIOs and CTOs would rather stick with the devil they know than endure a complicated CRM implementation. Factor in the reality that you may not see a significant ROI until years later, and presenting the case for a platform update grows more difficult.

Generating feedback from your stakeholders is a critical step toward building consensus for the changes your organization needs. Blue State has a wealth of experience consulting with both technological strategy and change management. With the right experts in place, you can work toward receiving the investment that will bring your organization closer to its goals.

2) Ensure Your CRM is Intuitive and in Active Development

Transforming a CRM platform like Salesforce into a nonprofit-ready resource requires considerable effort. Consequently, your stakeholders may be reluctant to devote the necessary resources toward bringing your systems together into a new platform. Why make a change if your current solution is underperforming but still basically doing the job?

Ultimately, your answer comes down to securing new options for your organization’s future. Switching to a tool that remains in ongoing development means you gain access to a vibrant, evolving platform with an engaging interface. Usability matters. Plus, with active user communities and support programs in place, CRM platforms like Salesforce will continue to gain more features and enhancements each year.

By contrast, more specialized platforms that don’t incorporate improvements simply die over time. While many CRM platforms have moved forward, Blackbaud has retained the same user experience and functionality for close to 10 years. If a product isn’t changing with advancing technology or its marketplace, it’s not growing with your organization either.

Your organization depends on internal teams adopting a CRM platform to its fullest potential. Your current system may fulfill the same functions as more modern solutions. But if one CRM is more intuitive and invites engagement, you can expect your users to use it more readily and effectively.

3) Incorporate the Data and Reporting Capacity You Need

When evaluating a CRM, organizations frequently overlook the importance of matching their data model to the platform’s capabilities. On the surface, your fundraising operation needs to maintain a list of contacts and their corresponding donation history. But from a data standpoint, your reality isn’t so simple.

Maybe your organization combines multiple donors that come from the same household. Or maybe you need to group teams of supporters that work on specific causes or indicate how their donor history relates to each campaign. If your data model is only built to track “supporters” and “contributions,” your analytics efforts will quickly be overwhelmed by custom fields, cohorts, and queries.

Your CRM platform’s capacity for reporting needs to match how you think about your data. But when you use an off-the-shelf solution, all of your analytics processes are pre-baked into defined categories. Consequently, your reporting capabilities follow suit.

The right CRM can generate a 360-degree view of your supporters. Blue State has experience implementing business intelligence programs for clients who need audience insights tailored to their needs. You can use software such as Looker, Tableau, or PowerBI, to increase your reporting capabilities. With clear visualizations of donor trends, your stakeholders will make more informed decisions about campaign priorities.

4) Use API Integrations to Expand the Functionality of Your CRM

As with any business, data silos are an ongoing challenge for nonprofit organizations. You may have an accounting system for official banking records. If your organization is involved in advocacy, you might use tools such as Phone2Action or New/Mode to power those efforts. And if your CRM doesn’t include integrated email capabilities, you need a different system — such as Mailchimp or Constant Contact — to track individual subscriptions and campaign results.

Ideally, your CRM can bring all your disparate information sources under a single umbrella. For nonprofits, Blackbaud has long been the standard as an all-in-one solution. However, its email capabilities are very limited. As your data silos grow, you don’t have the flexibility to use the platform as a plug-and-play tool with your growing ecosystem.

The good news is you have other options when it comes to integrating your data sources. While Salesforce has some limitations for nonprofits, there are a growing number of nonprofit tools in their app exchange. You can further customize your ecosystem using APIs. To reduce complexity, you don’t need to configure all API integrations to be a two-way sync. Often, your system will only require a nightly transfer of data to reconcile updates to your database.

Integrations provide a means for your organization to extend the capabilities of modern, sales-focused platforms. Rather than remaining tied to a tool that tries to do everything and falls short, you can customize a flexible CRM to your needs.

To usher your organization into the future, you can’t remain tied to inadequate tools that remain stuck in the past. If you need assistance setting a CRM foundation that your organization can build on, let’s talk.