Interconnected Constituent Engagement: Is the CRM Pain Worth the Gain?

7 Things to Think About Before You Implement a Fundraising System

Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) seems to be on the lips of nearly everyone in the nonprofit world. Much has been written about the promise of integrated information, tearing down the silos, and more efficient, targeted fundraising campaigns. Of course, this is all true, and the realization of this promise means that the multiple places where your constituents touch you or your mission may finally be consolidated into one continually enriched database.

For small or medium sized nonprofits, implementing CRM can be a relatively straightforward exercise, and there are a variety of applications emerging—many of them Cloud-based systems built upon the platform. For larger scale nonprofits, the CRM question can become more challenging. Legacy data is more apt to be fragmented among deeply entrenched, disconnected systems that are a mix of outdated applications and home grown workarounds that have grown like topsy to meet the changing requirements of the operation. The data migration challenge is formidable; even more challenging, however, are the workflows and day-to-day business processes that have become embedded as “the way we do things around here”—not because they are efficient best practices, but rather because they were accommodations to the limitations of the technology tools they had to work with. For large-scale nonprofits there is no silver bullet. The move to enterprise level CRM is hard work, and those who promise otherwise are either naïve or downright deceptive.

So the often-asked question is, if the process of building an integrated enterprise level CRM system is so hard for large-scale nonprofits, is the pay-off worth the pain? The answer is simple.

The only reason to embark on the journey is a deep conviction that the status quo is unsustainable. An abstract aspirational desire to be “more efficient” or produce an “enhanced constituent experience” is just too squishy. There has to be a compelling business case that makes the journey not optional. It has to be a mission-driven imperative, as critical to the cause you serve as the programs you build to serve those causes.

As one of the leading change management guru’s, Daryl Connor puts it, whereas losers tend to make change look cheap and easy, “Winners understand that major (technology) change is too disruptive, time consuming and expensive to approach lightly…they understand that when the price for maintaining the status quo is higher than the price of transition, making the change is mandatory.”

If the leaders of a large scale nonprofit believe they can muddle through the next five years with existing processes and systems—that they can achieve strategic goals with what they have—then the CRM journey is not for them. It has to be abundantly clear that they can’t get where they need to go using the platform they have now.

For most large scale nonprofits there is a sea change approaching. In an increasingly digital mobile world, constituents are rapidly changing the way they choose to connect with each other and the causes they care about. The networked nonprofit is not just a concept, but a huge opportunity to tap into and facilitate communities of interest that can redefine—and dramatically accelerate—access to donor funding. And if the incumbent institutions do not step up to that role, and facilitate the change, then it is likely that newly empowered constituents will do it for themselves.

Those organizations with the prescience to see the change coming will also be those for whom “making the change is mandatory.” You have to decide if you are among them.

For large scale nonprofits with tried and true fundraising practices that have become part of their “secret sauce,” preparing for, and embracing the change can be tricky. Current practices are usually so time consuming and demanding that the specter of change can be paralyzing. Any CRM system and conversion effort needs to be able to accommodate and enhance the delivery of the “secret sauce” while preparing the organization for an unknown future. It is a future that will put a premium on agility and flexibility.

So if the first step is deciding that the journey is not optional, the second is deciding upon platform, products and consultants.  One of the advantages of emerging cloud based technologies such as those built upon is the inherent flexibility and adaptability of the platform. Those large scale nonprofits, convinced of the compelling business imperative for change, would do well to choose their CRM platform and the consultants they work with based upon their ability to help shepherd the organization through the challenging process of change while building a robust and and agile foundation that will enable, rather then encumber, entirely new models of interconnected constituent engagement.


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.

One comment

  1. In an earlier piotsng (The Customer Is On Your Side) you implied that you expect nonprofit employees to be working for less money than their counterparts in the for-profit world when you stated, As a nonprofit employee, you’re presumably sacrificing some income to help the particular organization you’ve chosen – that makes you the donor. Yet in this piotsng you advocate holding them to a high standard of competence. I agree there should be a high standard of competence, but I would suggest this should coincide with advocating competitive wages and a professional workplace in general.

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