Oftentimes, nonprofits seek to resolve their database issues by buying a new CRM (customer relationship management) software subscription. Not all CRM problems are technical in nature, however, and the human element of data systems shouldn’t be ignored.

Before changing your donor database, carefully consider the problems your organization is attempting to solve and whether a new system is needed to remedy them. These five considerations can help your organization get to the root of its CRM issues and understand what it needs from the software.

1. Goals and objectives

Choosing the “right” CRM depends on knowing your organization’s needs. Your CRM selection is analogous to choosing a car—the required seats, gas mileage, horsepower, cargo size, and towing capacity depend on how you intend to use the vehicle.

Any database’s primary objective is to store and retrieve information. Before embarking on a crusade to switch your CRM, consider:

  • What information does our organization need to store and retrieve to meet its objectives?
  • Which departments and people currently input and maintain this information within our database?
  • Which departments and people currently retrieve information from the database, and how?
  • When and how does our organization use this data to meet objectives?

2. Training issues

Your CRM software could be the equivalent of a high-powered sports car, fully loaded with all the bells and whistles, but your staff may lack a license to drive.

Before investing thousands of dollars into a new CRM, first determine if your institution has committed to and invested in ensuring that staff members can complete accurate and timely data entry. To assist with data entry training, be sure to create an established process and procedure for defining terms and using information for organization-wide and team-specific reporting. Finally, have a plan for ongoing data management, onboarding, and training for fundraising teams. Think through the plan for training users to obtain data and reports and have proactive working relationships with Advancement Services for additional support.

3. Data source complexity

Nonprofits can have complex, multi-layered operations that use several software systems and flows of information. For instance, in healthcare, fundraising departments receive data from clinical software systems and other third-party sources.

When choosing a CRM, consider its ease of fit with your current infrastructure and workflows. How many additional steps are required to make these systems work together? What are the demands on staff time to migrate data from one system to another? For example, multiple payment processing systems may require staff to complete various intermediate validation steps to reconcile donor information, which slows down reporting efforts. Is the additional staff time or resourcing required worthwhile for the CRM under consideration?

4. Organizational siloes

In an ideal world, all users of a CRM have a common understanding of the terms used throughout the database. In the real world, terms have different meanings depending on the user.

As you consider a CRM switch, investigate if all departments and users of your CRM are on the same page.  In the case of one of our clients, fund code and account code were used interchangeably in conversations within Advancement Services, which caused confusion when they requested information from Finance. By discussing and creating a dictionary for database terms, the two departments operated more efficiently.

5. Data integrity

Bad data in means bad data out. This is the rule of thumb for any information gathered, stored, and utilized for making reports and predictions.

Nonprofit organizations need processes and controls in place to determine what donor data or transactional data should be inserted into your system, by whom, when, and how. Creating processes for consistent, accurate, and timely data entry will help your organization identify revenue-generating activities and make the most of its fundraising and marketing efforts.

Is your organization considering how to build an effective fundraising data and reporting structure? CCS Fundraising can help. To learn more about our Systems services, contact Allison Willner, Vice President of Data Strategy, at systems@ccsfundraising.com.

CCS Fundraising is a consulting firm that works with nonprofits. We provide campaign counsel, strategic planning, and other services to strengthen development efforts for charities.

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About the Author

Mariama Holman is a Senior Director at CCS Fundraising. She has nearly a decade of proven impact in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors and loves partnering with clients to improve operations, data analysis, and insights reporting. Since joining CCS in 2018, Mariama has worked with nonprofits across the country to lead multi-million-dollar campaigns and design technology systems for fundraising strategy and performance measurement. Prior to working with CCS, she completed an MBA and MA in Arts Administration at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, and worked with the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture and Americans for the Arts. During this time, she developed an interest in applying an analyst mindset to advancing social and civic causes. In 2017 she was honored in the Bocconi for Digital Public Innovation Award Competition for planning an application for multi-modal transit. She and her team were also invited to engage young women interested in careers in technology at the UN Women’s STEM in the City Conference in Milan, Italy.