3 Common CRM Implementation Challenges Nonprofits Face

3 Common CRM Implementation Challenges Nonprofits Face

So you’re ready to dive into a CRM implementation project. You’ve determined that your nonprofit needs a CRM system  and that your nonprofit is CRM ready. You have weighed considerations for moving your data into a new system, and you’ve gotten the go-ahead to get started.

As with all large undertakings, implementing a CRM system can present challenges.  While there are a variety of potential challenges and risks associated with such a project, here are three of the most common ones to watch for:

Scope and Hope Creep

As you begin work to move your data and related processes into your shiny new system, your team might get excited about all of the new bells and whistles. This is good! However, you have limited time and budget to complete this implementation, and if you try to implement too much at once, you may not be able to complete the original project within your budget and timeframe. This can be bad!

Key to mitigating this challenge is proper planning and communication.  As you plan for your CRM implementation, be sure to determine what is core to your success and what falls into the “nice to have” bucket. The nice to haves can be great ideas that come up throughout the life of the project, but they’re often good candidates for a later project or project phase. It is crucial that you clearly define the core objectives of your implementation and stick to them. Keeping this idea at the core of your communications to your team will help to ensure success.

Project Fatigue

Sad but true, the initial excitement of a project can wane over time, especially in a larger and longer CRM implementation.  This can become evident when team members are slow to respond to emails, begin to slip on project deadlines, or begin to exhibit other signs of wear and tear as the project progresses. A fully engaged and excited project team is crucial to success, especially when that team will be your CRM user group, as this could impact user adoption as well.

Actively encouraging team member engagement is your best weapon in battling this challenge. First and foremost, make sure that all team member roles are well defined and that you have communicated accurate expectations for people’s engagement on the project. Make sure that team members are involved in decision making, which will further foster a sense of ownership of the project and the CRM system.  Also take time to celebrate project milestones and communicate successes to the whole team, reminding them of the big picture and how this is a step toward that ultimate goal. Finally, as you hit these milestones, give the team a chance to adapt, rest, and recover before moving on to the next big step.

Vendor Management

Last but not least, managing your vendors within a CRM implementation is a challenge that deserves attention.  CRM projects generally involve a host of outside parties including the CRM software vendor (s), the implementation vendor, and a whole host of ancillary vendors associated with other systems that will touch your CRM system. For example, you might have the platform vendor, your online content vendor, vendors for pushing emails, your lockbox vendor, a technical vendor customizing your system and migrating your data,  an outside vendor managing the implementation, and so on.  Ideally, all of these vendors will be on top of their games, keeping open lines of communications and providing detail and deliverables on time and within budget, but, alas, this is not always the case. One missed deliverable from a vendor can lead to a domino effect that can have negative impacts on the entire project, so it’s extremely important to have an effective plan for managing all of your partners.

Core to this management is thorough planning  and clear, regular communications. Be sure to have a written project plan from each vendor and understand what they will provide and when. You can then use this information to put together a comprehensive timeline and management plan to share with all parties and to keep everyone updated on their responsibilities. Make sure you have regular meetings with partners, especially during parts of the project when you need each partner most. Finally, don’t be afraid to be firm in expressing your expectations, especially if they are not being met!

As you may have noticed, a focus on project planning and communication are recurring themes in managing each these three common challenges. By keeping a close watch on these potential pain points, and by planning and communicating effectively, you can go a long way toward ensuring a successful and relatively pain-free CRM implementation.

What issues and challenges has your nonprofit had to overcome? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments below.


The Connected Cause is a place for experts in the nonprofit online space to share perspective, offer guidance and promote best practices for using today’s technology effectively. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive source of collaborative thought leadership for the nonprofit industry.


  1. Interesting overview and very relevant. The challenges are not just unique to nonprofits. I have seen the same challenges in other business sectors.


  2. Fantastic overview for sure — I’m working on getting a CRM in place for a small charity, and there are a lot of hurdles especially as we are relying a lot on volunteer time. This will definitely help our implementation process!

  3. Cynthia

    I really agree with your point about taking time to celebrate project milestones and communicate successes to project stakeholders. Steps like this give team members the motivation to keep at it! I would add it is important that however you choose to celebrate, no matter how big or small, the celebration should be meaningful and genuine. Project leadership team members such as the Project Sponsor, Project Lead, and Executive Sponsor should all be involved in expressing gratitude for the team’s work and highlighting the impact of their work.

  4. Kim Kupferman

    That’s an excellent point about the importance of vendor management. Hand-in-hand with managing vendors is understanding not just their project processes, but their procurement processes for providing their solutions. Each vendor has a unique approach to getting the client their solution – they can create trial versions that have time limits or require payment by a certain date to create a full version. Knowing how a vendor provides solutions to clients can really smooth the path of a multi-vendor CRM implementation and ensure work starts and ends on time.

  5. Smita Vadakekalam

    Very true about vendor management! It also helps to set clear expectations up front with each of your vendors, rather than waiting when an expectation is not met. For example, it’s good to clarify how you’ll all work together to do manage the timeline, report on work complete, manage communications, share documents, handle scheduling..These are simple logistics that make a big difference to workout in advance when dealing with multiple vendors!

  6. Thanks Joel. A great couple of points here. I especially appreciated the point about “scope/hope” creep. The reality is that piling too many requirements can undermine the budget and schedule and therefore cause less to happen by trying to do more!

    I would be interested to hear your tips on mitigating fatigue over multi-year and multi-phase projects. There’s some great ideas for maintaining moral in the near term. How do you envision spelling resources over the long-term?

    – BJ

  7. Great post, and spot on! On the Scope and Hope Creep topic: Even if not using an agile approach, use of the “MoSCoW” method of prioritizing can be super helpful. Categorize your organizations priorities by Must have”, Should have, Could have and Would have. The “Musts” and “Shoulds” are the top priorities and the rest come as time and budget allow for. Its a great exercise and helps for internal teams to see where the value points are for each other.


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