Planning for an eCRM Change

Constituent Relationship Management platforms, also known as CRM platforms, are at the heart of every successful charity. In many cases, organizations will have two – a CRM in-house which we call their database of record (DOR or in some places, DOB). The DOR is where online and offline data, legacy donors, family members and more are stored for deep development outreach and fundraising. The eCRM (electronic constituent relationship management) platform is the online platform where interactions with donors and supporters happen in the electronic world – email, online forms, internet, etc.

A DOR may work for your organization for many years before needing a change. Whereas, the eCRM world is constantly changing and evolving with new innovations in the digital landscape. At some point, organizations are faced with the challenge of reevaluating their tools for any number of reasons. This guide will walk you through the analysis of your current toolset, considerations as you look at a possible switch and planning your move forward.

Knowing When to Make the Break With Your Nonprofit eCRM

Now would be an appropriate time for a quiz… just select yes or no for each question.

If you answered No to half of these questions, you should at the very least evaluate your current tool, budget and other opportunities on the market. Your eCRM should make your life easier, not more difficult. The platform should provide you with the tools you need, the resources to learn how to use them and importantly, your eCRM should be adapting for the future.

Potential Reasons You Need to Change Your eCRM

Your eCRM is no longer a good fit

This is a pretty general statement and you’ll find more specific reasons for needing a move below but if you feel like it ‘no longer fits’ – maybe it doesn’t. Nonprofit organizations can outgrow their eCRM or find flaws. Perhaps you started only needing advocacy tools but now you see opportunity for fundraising as well. Perhaps your tools don’t integrate with your offline DOR and that’s a need cited by your development team. Maybe there have been budget changes that mandate or allow a change of tools. Whatever the reason, open your mind to change and follow your instincts. If what you’re using doesn’t seem to be working for your team, chances are it isn’t.

Data Issues

Some eCRM systems are configured in such a way that they collect excessive or “junk” data like duplicates. Often, there is no way to change this; you just can’t change the system. Your organization is only as good as its data.

Your eCRM may also fail to make relevant connections between the data collected giving you a 360 degree view of your supporter experience (did they receive your email, click, take action and then donate?). If it can’t make connections that give you valuable insight into your supporter experience, your eCRM system is failing you.

Integration Issues

Data integration and systems help you succeedYour eCRM system should be able to communicate with other essential databases that store information relevant to your organization. And, the ‘communication’ shouldn’t be your team downloading and uploading data from one to the other.

A system that integrates seamlessly with other software can make your team’s job much simpler. Imagine the possibilities if your direct mail department could segment a specific ask to a group of highly active online supporters who often opened email and took advocacy actions? Being able to see as much as possible about your supporters and donors only helps build a successful donor ecosystem for your organization.

No Workflow Automation

Outdated nonprofit eCRM platforms lack workflow automation capabilities such as email marketing automation. Or, they offer ‘something’ to fill this gap but your team finds themselves creating convoluted queries to send the most basic automations.

Often organizations using outdated tools will contract this work to an agency. You shouldn’t have to outsource that work when there are eCRMs on the market that can help you automate your email sequences, social media and more.

Lack of Innovation

If you feel like your eCRM isn’t changing, growing or adapting it probably isn’t. Do you feel like you’re always pushing the limits of your eCRM, trying to make it do something it won’t do? When was the last time you saw a ‘release’? Did it include bug fixes or new innovative features and options to help you grow your program and raise more money? Some eCRMs grow stale with time and fail to innovate. If you’re looking for something that’s always keeping you on the cutting edge (when yours isn’t) perhaps it’s time for a change.

Poor Support and Training

When you have a question about your eCRM do you feel like you get prompt and helpful responses? Are there resources readily available to train your team on the tools? This is vitally important.

A good eCRM will offer tools for training your team (new and old) on both existing tools in the platform and newly released tools. And, when training can’t give you what you need, support needs to be available. Some platforms offer 24/7 support with real humans on the line. Be sure that your entire team is feeling supported and trained on your eCRM.

High Maintenance Costs

If you feel like you’re paying too much, you may be. The bigger question is, are you getting what you pay for? Some eCRMs charge per module (toolsets such as advocacy, fundraising, etc.), some charge by how many emails you send, some add transaction fees. All of this is a consideration in your organizational planning and budget. As your digital program grows associated costs often go up. So, again, are you getting what you pay for? Be sure your eCRM fulfills your needs and that you’re comfortable with the cost.

If you’ve identified that it’s time to consider moving to a new eCRM, keep reading for some considerations and tips for preparation.

Best Practices for Planning an eCRM Change

This is an enormous undertaking and technology changes of this scale are rarely trouble-free. Just know that the effort will be worth it.

After selecting a new eCRM you’ll clean up and transfer all your data from one platform to another, train staff, build new forms and templates and ‘go live’. And much more in between. But, before you begin the exciting demos, testing and move to selection you should begin with a plan. A very well thought out plan.

Let’s get started.

Are you looking for Best-in-breed or a Unified eCRM?

This is an important question, and one you should consider before all others.

There are so many options available on the market that offer advanced email functionality, deep integrations, slick fundraising tools, advocacy with tricky new options and more. You could choose the one tool in each category that does exactly what you want (this is the Best-in-breed approach). Then integrate it with your DOR or an eCRM you choose. You could. And some do. Some organizations find themselves in this situation by accident of trying too many things. Most are not happy.

The drawback to choosing multiple disparate systems – even if they are ‘best-in-breed’ – is that they require integration somehow and somewhere. Without integration, you’ll never get that 360-degree view of supporter interactions that’s so important to understanding behavior and optimizing for improved response.

The problem with multiple integrations is that they inevitably break or require updating. Even if you’re able to integrate 3 or more systems (likely more) imagine the cost and lift of someone maintaining those integrations – and the potential drama if they are not working as they should.

With a unified eCRM you ideally have the right tools for your organization all in one place with a complete view of your supporter interactions and one integration between your DOR, if needed.

Partner or Go Solo

Fundraising For Non ProfitsAn agency partner can be enormously helpful in the process of selection as well as migration. The role of this third party can cover the entirety of the project or just a subset of tasks. One benefit of involving an agency in selection is that many will have deep knowledge of the toolsets offered by different eCRMs. This can provide you with further insight beyond the software demo. Additionally, a trusted voice guiding you through the process of selection often helps calm nerves across teams.

Beyond selection, an agency partner can be enormously helpful in migrating your data from your old eCRM to the new one and getting you set up on the new platform. In some cases, organizations use an agency only for project management or for setting up the forms and email templates. Sometimes, it’s for data cleansing and migration. You get to choose. Base their level of involvement on your teams’ needs, experience, budget and capacity.

That said, many organizations ‘go solo’ and are able to train on the new platform, set up templates and migrate data all on their own. Much of this will depend on the support offered by the eCRM you select. Be sure in the process to ask about their ‘onboarding’ procedures and get as much information as possible. This can help you decide if you need external support in the migration process.

Organizational Coordination

So many times this is overlooked or underestimated. You may be the team in your organization actually using the eCRM platform but inevitably there is overlap with other departments. They will be impacted by the change to a new eCRM and so should be involved in the decision – at least in some capacity.

Include stakeholders early in the process by informing them that you’re considering a change. Then, identify who should participate, when and how. Do they have specific needs to be considered such as integration? Should they join for the demo? Or, do they simply need to be informed of the impending change.

Be sensitive to everyone’s needs and be inclusive. You’ll find that involving other departments will make this transition go more smoothly but also may open doors for optimizations and better workflow.

Timeline

Set a realistic timeline. Perhaps even a stretch timeline. eCRM selections take time, planning and coordination. And after selection, you have to plan for the detailed and heavy lift of migration. Migration alone on average takes 10-16 weeks (for the average Engaging Networks client). Work backward from your desired go-live date – adding in additional time for a buffer – and include time for planning, evaluation/selection AND migration. Then begin your discussions and research at that time. For example, if you want to go live on October 1st and estimate that selection and migration will take four months, plan to start your process around June 1st or before.

Needs or Requirement Matrix

Now is a good time to think about what your needs really are. What does your current eCRM do? What do you want it to do that it doesn’t? What is your ‘pie in the sky’ dream for an eCRM? What do you absolutely need to be doing? Make a detailed list of your needs from email functionality to donation processors to advocacy needs. Put it into a spreadsheet and rank where they fall – Essential, Desired, Nonessential, etc. Then, in columns add your current eCRM and check the boxes it fills. Then, for each new tool you evaluate, do the same. This will help create a visual picture of which tools ‘check the boxes’ for your organization.

A note here: Pay attention to your essential needs but follow your instincts on some of these. If one platform doesn’t check as many boxes as another but ‘feels right’ or has the right organizational culture for your team, that’s something to consider. Your requirements matrix is a guide but not the decision-maker.

Don’t know where to start with a Requirements Matrix? We see them all the time so our team has put a blank template together for you to get started with!

Project Management

The sheer scope of an eCRM selection (and the subsequent migration which is a separate topic) demands project management. That’s not to say you need a detailed GANTT chart with dependencies… but you may consider one. At the very least you need a detailed calendar and spreadsheet to be sure you’re not missing anything.

Assign a trusted point of contact (POC) for the project that will manage the timeline, project, correspondence and everything else. Even if this consumes 50% of their time, it’s worth it to keep communications in one place and have one person giving and receiving information.

If your team isn’t able to project manage your eCRM selection consider an agency partner as noted in previous sections. A third party can help in whatever capacity you need.

Do you RFP?

Request for Proposal (RFP). Some do, some don’t. Creating a formal RFP provides some benefits. You start by creating a summary of where you are, what you want and need and then get into specifics about the granular needs (like your requirements matrix) of your organization. You can speak to your organizational culture. You can set rules about proposals, pricing and even demo formats. What does this mean?

Apples to apples comparison

If you set the rules, you then (assuming everyone follows the rules) receive proposals that are all similarly formatted with similar comparisons and information. It allows you to compare ‘apples to apples’.

Not providing some structure can result in a vendor ‘fruit salad’ where all of your demos and other materials contain different content and formats. It can get confusing.

Outsider proposals

When you do an RFP, you may be surprised by a few ‘outsiders’ popping in and delivering a proposal. You should ‘shop your RFP’ on relevant community lists and forums to get the word out as much as you are comfortable. These surprises may help you in your assessment of options, provide a new avenue you had not considered, or provide you with options for negotiating with the eCRMs you’re most interested in.

Drawbacks to a public RFP

In some cases an RFP just isn’t the right method. If you don’t want your current eCRM to know you’re considering a move you certainly don’t want to publicly be promoting an RFP. If you have only a few platforms you love and want to evaluate, you may not want dozens of submissions. If only 2-3 eCRMs integrate with your DOR (that you’re aware of) you may only be considering those. A public RFP isn’t for everyone.

No matter what you decide, it can’t hurt to draft an RFP and send it to specific vendors as you see fit.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) can be enormously helpful. But, where do you start? Our team created a template you can use to get you in the right direction. 

Summary

This should provide you with ample ideas and context as you ponder the question of moving to a new eCRM. All organizations grow and change. If your eCRM isn’t growing and changing with your needs, likely there is another tool out there for you. You just need to identify when it’s time to change, your organizational needs and consider the process leading into an eCRM evaluation.

Ready to move on to eCRM evaluation and selection? Read our extensive article on this topic including tips, best practices, videos and more.

About the Author

This paper was drafted for your reading pleasure by Kathy Powers, Director of Marketing at Engaging Networks. Kathy spent 15 years at nonprofit organizations, over a decade of which were spent in online fundraising. During that time she oversaw 3 eCRM selections and migrations – all different. This paper is based on personal experience in the nonprofit sector, conversations with the Engaging Networks sales and onboarding teams who witness the struggles of eCRM selection first hand, and deep research. We hope it is useful for you in your next adventure.

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 https://www.digitalleadership.ltd/
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, Care2.com. 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.

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