Executive Leadership in a CRM Initiative – A Q&A with Barry Finestone from JCCSF

Executive Leadership in a CRM Initiative

There are many factors to a successful Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) initiative — not the least of which is executive leadership. We recently sat down with Barry Finestone, Executive Director at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCCSF) to get his thoughts about the role of executive leadership in a CRM initiative.

Q: Barry, as the executive director of JCCSF, how did you first decide to take on a CRM initiative?

A: At JCCSF, we’re involved in multiple, different businesses, so to speak – fitness, pre-school, restaurant, summer camp, performances and lectures, and so on. When I joined JCCSF, I was trying to research various people before meeting with them, and that task was enormously difficult and time-consuming because I had to go to 10-11 different places and people in the organization to find data that would inform me for the meeting. For example, I had to go to one database to see if a person attended a lecture, and another to see if the person’s child went to camp, and another to see if the person had donated, and so on.

Q: So, you looked to a comprehensive CRM initiative to solve the issues. How did you get the program off the ground?

A: Within three months after I arrived at JCCSF, I was talking with my senior management team and my board of directors about it. The identification of the issue wasn’t necessarily anything I did that was spectacular, but it was my responsibility as the executive director to actually say the words that this is a problem; this is not how we should be doing business; and how are we going to solve it?

Q: What came next?

A: Over the course of the coming months, I pushed out the vision of what it could look like in broad terms and the advantages that it could have to the organization. And, I expressed that vision in terms of keeping the customer, or constituent, at the very center. So, while it would make my life easier because I could find the information I needed, the primary motivation was that the customer’s experience would be a better one.

Q: You’re now about 60% of the way through the project. How do you continue to support it?

A: As we began to engage our staff with this project, it became clear that this was not just a CRM technology project, but about all of our business systems and processes. We started to look at every single way we do business, every day. That could have become very tedious, but it tied back to the vision, so people said, “If we can serve our customers in a far better way, it will be beneficial for the organization.” So throughout the last 18 months, the leadership team and I have been using that language constantly to remind everyone of our vision for the project. At the beginning of every meeting, we start by saying, “Let’s remember why we’re doing this.”

Q: How else do you and your executive team keep the project moving forward?

A: It’s my belief that in a project of this enormity, if you hit an obstacle and miss a deadline, you can lose momentum. We have been very careful to emphasize the importance of meeting every deadline that we have set. And so far, we’ve met every deadline.

Q: How do you keep your staff informed about how the project is progressing?

A: We do it in a multitude of different ways – from emails to quarterly staff meetings. Also, our directors and managers have monthly meetings, and there are other regular meetings with cross-sections of each group. Everybody in the organization knows where we are in the project and what we’re doing. It’s very clear.

Q: From your vantage point as executive director, what changes are you seeing in your organization as your CRM project moves forward?

A: I can actually see real systemic change happening. And it’s not just because the technology is better, but staff members are having in-depth conversations with staff members on other teams. The project forces them to walk in the other person’s shoes and to appreciate why various departments operate the way they do. To be able to watch that happen is incredibly gratifying. It’s changing the culture of our organization for the better.


Stay tuned to The Connected Cause for an upcoming post with tips from Barry Finestone on getting a CRM initiative going at your nonprofit.

About Barry Finestone

Barry Finestone joined the JCCSF as Executive Director in June 2010. Previously, he served as Executive Director of the dynamic, two-campus Isaac M. Wise Temple from 1999 through 2005, transforming its information technology systems and earning the Harris K. and Alice F. Weston Award for outstanding leadership, before becoming Executive Vice President of national retailer Jones the Florist/Sweets in Bloom. He was previously the National Associate Director of Hadassah/Young Judaea, a national youth movement with camps, conventions and college study programs throughout the United States and Israel. As a lay leader, he served on the Board of the Mayerson JCC in Cincinnati, as President of the Rockwern Academy Jewish Day School and on the endowment committee of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and Jewish Old-Aged Home. He holds a BS in Community Education from Jordanhill College of Education in Glasgow, Scotland, his original home.


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *