Why CRM-Bookkeeping Integration is Harder Than You Think
It always starts innocently enough: one of our clients smartly recognizes that their financial records are the most reliable data source for donors and constituents, and asks how to sync this to their CRM. This request happens almost on a weekly basis, from organizations of all sizes, using all manner of back office systems (QuickBooks, Peachtree, Great Plains and more). The motivation behind this request is typically to achieve these two clear benefits:
1. Reduced labor (through automation)
2. Enhanced communication (through aggregate reporting between departments)
If you can pull this off, you are taking your first step to achieving an ERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning, system. The primary goal of all ERP systems is to provide a shared database that supports multiple functions used by different departments. If successful, employees in different parts of the organization —for example, accounting and outreach —can rely on the same information for their specific needs.
However, this request can be far more complicated than it first appears. In an effort to help highlight the challenges and assist in due diligence, this post will give you an idea of the fundamentals you will need to consider.
The myth: integration is a trailer hitch
Most people think integration is like a trailer hitch: the trailer is hooked up directly to the back of the truck and you are on your way. Salespeople and marketing material enhance this perception not only because it is easy to promote that message, but because they may not truly understand the concept of integration either. This metaphor typically falls short when back office integration with nonprofit CRM is concerned.
The reality: it’s more like a switchboard
The truth is, integration is more often like switchboard, connecting circuits so the correct “phone call” gets routed to the correct person. An integration is like connecting multiple calls simultaneously. In the simplest of terms, the fewer calls you have to connect, the less difficult the integration will be.
Each call represents a “table” in Salesforce. A table is a collection of related data held in a structured format within a database. For example, you may have 1000 contact records all of which can be found in a single contact table. The more tables you have, the more sophisticated the integration (read our original full post for detailed examples here). It should be no surprise that in order to accommodate a bigger switchboard (a.k.a integration) you will need to likely spend more time and money.
Where to go from here?
This leaves you with a choice: reduce your tables and lower costs (and likely reduce functionality) or get a bigger switchboard (spend more money). Neither choice is perfect.
As a nonprofit, your organizational structure is likely a combination of B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) process, due to the household concept that is the core of nonprofit CRM use. Salesforce is dynamic, so much so it can facilitate B2B and B2C simultaneously. However, your back office solution typically is architected to recognize only one or the other.
Many organizations understandably decide integration isn’t their top priority after digging into this topic. But integration is still a worthy pursuit if you are willing to put in some time to clean up existing reports, facilitate conversations across departments, and research middleware options. As always, a trusted consultant can help greatly in this process.