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.
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.
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.
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.
Your 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.