The Nature Conservancy’s Technology Choice

This case study on The Nature Conservancy's eCRM selection is derived from the interview with Michael Cervino, Director of Membership Operations at TNC titled 'Technology considerations in eCRM Selection'


The Nature Conservancy (TNC), founded in 1951 is one of the largest environmental nonprofits in the Americas and worldwide. With an annual membership revenue of $75m and growing membership they faced the dilemma of staying on their current eCRM platform or upgrading to something better suited. Additionally, the organization is 4,000 staff strong around the world with chapters and layers of needs and complexity. So, how did they decide to move from their current eCRM to a new one?

Our partner in this interview is Michael Cervino, Director of Membership Operations at The Nature Conservancy. He’s had the fortune of being on multiple sides of the table when it comes to eCRM evaluation and selection having consulting at Beaconfire for many years, worked on the product side and now on the organizational side. Michael’s perspective is 360 degree and holistic.

About the Nonprofit eCRM Evaluation

Kathy: How long did the evaluation process take?

An evaluation can take however long it takes. For TNC, the process started several years ago as part of Digital Transformation Strategy designed to answer the question ‘What is the future-forward technology for consumer and supporter engagement?’ What would position TNC well for the next 10-15 years?

The Nature Conservancy’s prior technology solution was older, limited and constraining. The evaluation looked at how eCRM tools fit in with the overall digital ecosystem including the website, data analysis, etc. To get the big picture. TNC decided to replace their existing eCRM with one better suited to current needs and future adaptability.

There were additional decisions to be made as a result of the evaluation in regards to a ‘path choice’ – all-in-one/unified eCRM solution or choosing best-in-breed for different modules. They decided that a unified eCRM was the best solution but in a hybrid sense. They would add supplemental tools if and when needed to accompany the new eCRM – so flexibility was essential.

The Digital Transformation Strategy process took over a year. After that, the eCMR evaluation took only around three months involving over 35 stakeholders and over six prospective vendors in the process. Once they completed the ‘path choice’, the time from Request for Proposal (RFP) to signed contract moved quickly. Michael notes, this was pretty fast in his experience.

Request for Proposal and Requirements Matrix

Kathy: Did you use a requirements matrix?

Yes, with Beaconfire, the Digital Transformation Strategy resulted in functional requirements and a requirements matrix. This informed the Request for Proposal (RFP). In the RFP, they provided rules and regulations for the process, a high-level summary of needs, specific questions for vendor background – especially integration and sustaining donor migration which was a pain point on the old eCRM. In addition to the RFP, they provided the requirements matrix and asked the vendor to complete it with rankings and details.

It was about needs but also selecting a long term partner that will listen to needs, respond and grow with TNC.

Kathy: Would you suggest an RFP for any organization evaluating a nonprofit eCRM?

That depends on if there are board or organizational requirements for selecting business partners. For TNC, contracts over a certain dollar threshold require an RFP or RFB (Request for Bid). If it’s not mandated, decide how much buy-in and support you want for this new selection. Then design your process around that.

Not sure where to start with a Requirements Matrix? No problem, we put a template together to set you in the right direction.

Creating a Request for Proposal can be intimidating. Our team created a details and free template to help get you started.

Narrowing the Field of eCRM Vendors

Kathy: As you narrowed the field, what did the team feel was very important to have?

We designed this around an apples to apples comparison. The key that drove TNC was identifying vital decision criteria. Features, pricing, maturity and depth of functionality were certainly critical.

Each vendor got the same set of questions, then TNC would follow with unique questions if appropriate. All vendors received a specific demo script. Additionally, they asked each stakeholder to provide their most important use cases so that the vendor could respond to each. During the demo, TNC asked specifically for more product focus and less presentation – show us don’t tell us. This distinguishes real from unreal.

Really give yourself time for the demos. TNC used a multistep process, ½ day to show product plus 2 pre-scheduled follow-up sessions for more questions. Then, also, subgroup meetings were scheduled as needed. TNC communicated that up front to the vendors to set expectations about time needs from the vendor.
– Michael Cervino, Director of Membership Operations at The Nature Conservancy

Future Proofing for eCRM Selection

This was perhaps the most important part of the decision. While TNC wanted to know that current needs were met with a new eCRM solution, they wanted to set themselves up for future success. They knew going in that nonprofit eCRMs are not wildly different. For TNC, they needed to look at now – and a year from now. What differentiated these potential eCRMs in their mind?

  • How can they influence the product roadmap?
  • How willing is the vendor to commit to supporting needs?
  • Under the hood, they looked at possible integrations with data and third party vendors for needs like address verification and fraud protection.
  • They looked at architecture and flexibility to build onto the eCRM down the road.
  • What is the demonstrated product development? Have things been changing or going stale? They wanted a tool with rapid development and plans to grow and adapt.
  • Resourcing and financing were also an important part of the decision. Is the company financially stable and providing enough resources and staff to support an enterprise client like TNC?

Decision Factors

Michael identified several top decision factors in TNC’s choice.

  • Platform flexibility and maturity – how flexible is the platform and are the modules built out enough to support current needs
  • International/global component to the product – can it support multi-language and multi-currency as well as parent/child account options for chapters and international teams
  • Real sense of quality support and roadmap, the temper of company and a feeling of trust – essentially, did the vendor feel like a trusted partner who would be there for TNC

The Nature Conservancy’s final decision was Engaging Networks, presumably for many of the factors identified above as well as the full suite of needed flexible modules.

Selection Tips

Kathy: This process can be daunting. Do you have any suggestions or thoughts to pass along to anyone in the process of evaluating eCRM solutions?

  1. Have a structured review. This can be as simple as a requirements matrix with ratings and comparisons to guide your decision. It also helps establish the prioritization of the features and functions you need – what matters most. Have that conversation early in the process.
  2. Whether you do RFB or RFP, whether you only talk to 2 or 3 vendors, push on the product, what it can do, where it’s been and where it’s going.
  3. Follow your gut if you think it won’t work for your organization. Trust that.

Are you planning an eCRM change or in the process of making a selection of your own? If so, check out our guides for Planning for a nonprofit eCRM Change and What to Know When Evaluating and Selecting Nonprofit eCRMs.

Watch the Interview

Thank You

Engaging Networks is proud to work with exceptional organizations like The Nature Conservancy. Thank you to Michael Cervino, Director of Membership Operations for his generous time and feedback in this case study. To learn more about the amazing work of The Nature Conservancy, visit their website or watch the short video below.

Chloe Green is a copywriter and digital campaigner with almost a decade of experience in the charity and political sectors. She’s delivered campaigns, copy and consultancy for a raft of good eggs including Anthony Nolan, the National Union of Students, St Mungo’s, and Hillary for America. She was Social Media Manager at the Labour Party between 2016–2019 and now she’s Head of Creative with the lovely team at Forward Action. She leads on fundraising emails, UX copy, and all creative facilitation. She’s an expert in email list growth, digital strategy, organic and paid-for social media, and digital mobilisation.

Rachel founded the specialist charity web agency, Rechord, in 1999. Between 1999 and 2012 they created hundreds of different web applications for organisations in the UK and internationally.
In 2013 she became the 'Donor Whisperer' and focused on helping small to medium-sized non-profits to reach new donors and activists and from there increase their income. She uses a unique process that combines the benefits of consultancy with capacity building.
Her clients include Traidcraft Exchange, the Overseas Development Institute, Jubilee Debt Coalition, the Leprosy Mission of England and Wales, Tax Justice UK, The Canary, Humanity and Inclusion, the Anti-Tribalism Movement, BRACE, New Family Social, Arseh Sevom - and that's just the last year.
She also feels weird writing about herself in the third person.

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Hannah is Senior Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, working on their local campaigning programme, Local Action for MS and also on social care and carers. She’s worked at the MS Society for a year and a half, and was previously at the MND Association and National Voices.

Executive Director of C6 Digital, London based agency

Emily has worked at Guide Dogs for the Blind Association since 2019, working on a range of campaign areas to empower people with vision impairments to live the life they choose. Prior to this, Emily working in parliament and severed as a borough councillor.

Brani Milosevic ia a digital consultant and coach at
She helps individuals, teams and organisations to learn how to seize the opportunities offered by digital and navigate its challenges.
Brani set up the Digital Leadership Forum, is an NCVO trainer, a CharityComms mentor and a qualified executive coach.

Rhiannan Sullivan is the Vice President of strategy and partnerships of social action network, Over the past 10+ years, she has worked with hundreds of UK and EU charities helping them grow and develop their digital fundraising programmes. Prior to working for Care2, Rhiannan worked at then political campaigning agency Blue State Digital, a global leading digital strategy agency who has helped many organisations build and engage online communities, clients included political and advocacy campaigns, non-­‐profit organisations, cultural institutions and global consumer brands.

Calum manages social, email and some digital campaigns at CPRE, and is CPRE’s expert Engaging Networks user, working on development and helping other teams make the most of the platform. Happiest working on campaigns for change or rambling around in the countryside.

Brandon Fuller is Engaging Networks alumni and owner of Raise the Roots, a digital agency that has supported over two dozen organizations on Engaging Networks - helping them to maximize their digital engagement using this powerful platform. He previously managed global online advocacy campaigns for the Pew Charitable Trusts and has worked in the nonprofit community for nearly two decades.

I joined the Woodland Trust in 2018 and now lead on policy and engagement campaigns working to improve protection, restoration and high quality creation of woods and trees. Prior to campaigning for trees, I worked in Peterborough, tackling fuel poverty in the community. I care deeply about the climate and nature crises and the many, intersectional impacts and solutions. Endlessly inspired and energised by the dedication and passion of our supporters and the public who take action time and time again.

Hannah Mudge is Digital Innovation Manager at The Leprosy Mission England and Wales and has had the privilege of seeing the 147-year-old international development charity evolve over the last decade, from sending out its first online fundraising appeal to achieving record levels of income despite the challenges faced since the start of the pandemic. She is based in Peterborough and enjoys running, cooking and reading in her limited spare time when not parenting two lively boys. During 2020 she added ‘homeschooling’ to her skillset although what Ofsted rating she would achieve is probably best left to the imagination.

I am a campaigner in the Woods Under Threat team at the Woodland Trust. My role is to help protect ancient woods and trees from damaging developments across the UK. Ancient woods and trees are irreplaceable, so we work hard to stop any further loss of these precious habitats and ensure they are protected for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Matt Strong is the Campaigns and Engagement Officer for the Ramblers.

He has recently run campaigns on increasing the number of new green walking routes in some of our biggest cities, including London and Manchester. He has also been leading on the Ramblers’ campaigns work around the Environment Bill. Matt has a background in politics after spending a decade as an elected councillor on Manchester City Council and having previously worked for two Members of Parliament and a political party.

Claire Warner is a former charity Fundraising Director & Senior Leader, turned Culture & Wellbeing consultant.

It was in trying to throw herself back into her beloved Fundraising Director role after 12 months' treatment for aggressive breast cancer, that Claire realised the focus & memory loss and heart condition side effects she'd been left with after her treatment, plus the life-changing experience of the illness itself, meant (guttingly!) a 300% commitment, 50+hours a week Fundraising Director role was no longer an option.

On looking into what others do in this situation, Claire discovered the field of workplace wellbeing, the research work of Prof Cary Cooper, the Gallup Organisation and Simon Sinek, and hasn't looked back since.

In 2018, Claire created her own piece of research into the wellbeing of fundraisers and when it concluded in 2019, over 700 fundraisers had taken part. The results of the research were used to further inform and refine the work Claire does with organisations and individuals in the charity sector.

In 2020 Claire won the Best Digital Leader Award at the Social CEO Awards and in 2021 curated the first Charity Wellbeing Summit.

Today, Claire works on organisational culture and wellbeing projects with charities and offers coaching and mentoring programmes to sector professionals.

Becky has spent the last decade building people power and people-powered movements to hold the most powerful to account for a fairer, more just, and cleaner future.
She helped build 38 Degrees UK into a movement of over 1 million citizens and led many of the biggest campaigns. As part of OPEN’s senior team, she helped build and sustain a network across 19 different countries, by supporting, coaching, and building fast-growing digitally facilitated organisations.

She's currently Senior Strategist at The Sunrise Project leading the Global Banks Program and building grassroots activism on finance around the world. She’s on the board of Skiftet, Sweden’s biggest online campaign community and Left Foot Forward in the UK.

Andrew Taylor-Dawson is Development Manager at Liberty, where he leads on member and support engagement. He has been in fundraising for around 13 years. In this time he has worked in the human rights, homelessness and social justice sectors as well as having been a freelance consultant.

He has held board positions with Global Justice Now and the adoption support organisation We Are family.

Rebecca is a Digital Project Manager, who recently led the redesign and redevelopment of The Children's Society's website.

Rebecca worked closely with senior stakeholders, subject matter experts, and digital agencies to create a new platform that demonstrates the organisation's refreshed vision, mission and brand. There has already been astounding results in the 6-months since launch.

I have worked as a web developer for about 20 years and for Which? since 2015, primarily on their WordPress sites. This has involved integration with a variety of different APIs, most recently the Engaging Networks API, along with the creation of APIs to allow sites to talk to one another.

Glyn Thomas is a digital strategist and web developer. He built his first website in 1997 and has been working in digital communications since 2002.

For the past 12 years, Glyn has almost exclusively worked with charities and non-profit organisations. Almost all the projects he works on are focused around campaigning, fundraising or supporter recruitment, and often a mixture of all three.

Now based in Berlin, Glyn works with organisations in the UK, Europe and North America.

Rhian is the Strategic Programme Manager for Physical Activity at Versus Arthritis. Alongside Sport England under the Richmond Group ‘Movement for All’ programme, Rhian is co-developing a long-term, sustainable programme to support those living with Musculoskeletal conditions to increase their physical activity levels and improve their quality of life. Rhian has over 15 years’ experience of supporting people with long term health conditions to become more active. She is passionate about prevention, working in partnership and using an effective knowledge base to create impactful change at scale.

Having gotten his start organizing with anti-war veterans and working as Sala Labs, Sales Engineer, and Partner Manager, Bryan now brings his expertise to non-profit and mission-driven clients as 4Site Studios Director of Digital Strategy. Specializing in challenging and complex projects, Bryan works with each client to craft holistic approaches tailored to goals, budget, and outcomes.

Mary Margaret Callahan is the Chief Mission Officer for Pet Partners, where she is responsible for leading mission delivery including the therapy animal program and grassroots advocacy program. She joined Pet Partners in 2013 and has worked to establish the organization as both an influencer and a resource within the animal-assisted intervention (AAI) and human-animal bond (HAB) community. In 2018 she was named one of PetAge Magazine’s Women of Influence. Mary Margaret lives on a small farm outside Seattle with her husband, daughter and menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, chickens, goats and miniature donkeys.

Joe Derry Hall is a freelancer working on creative digital and communications. His interests include tech innovation, upending power and reimagining different futures. Joe has been the winner of a Mozilla Creative Media Award and the joint winner of a BAFTA digital award. He was previously in-house in campaigning and communications roles at Amnesty International, the Climate Coalition, the Ecocide campaign, Save the Children, Scope and others. He is one of the initiators of Right Way Up, an experiment to create a radical, practical new vision for the social change sector.

Anna Chowcat is the Digital Manager at Refuge and oversees the charity’s digital function and output. Since joining Refuge, Anna has been instrumental in introducing a number of digital engagement programmes including digital campaigns, bespoke email supporter journeys and user friendly donate/campaign pages. Before joining Refuge, she has worked in digital engagement and campaign roles at The Labour Party and Leonard Cheshire Disability.