Friday, December 02, 2016

The 12 Tips of ChRistMas (for charities)


Okay, sorry, I know that's a terrible use of an acronym (not even a real use), but, well, somehow the time of year has got to me and I wanted to add my own little bit of festive cheer and provide a few short, sharp blog posts which I hope will take you through the season and into the New Year.

So, starting next week, I will be providing my 12 Tips of ChRistMas (for charities). These will cover procurement tips, implementation thoughts, data, people's roles and even a whole post on how you can have a little bit of fun (ho ho ho) the next time you get a presentation from a CRM or fundraising database supplier. Software demos will never be the same...

I hope they will be useful. Please do let me know what you think as I start publishing them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Small Charities Need to Know about CRM Systems: Free ebook

I have just published a new, free ebook:  What Small Charities Need to Know about CRM Systems. Buying a new CRM system or fundraising database can be a daunting experience for any NFP organisation, let alone a small charity. And although I publish a lot of information on this blog which I hope is useful for all charities, there are some points which I think smaller organisations need to particularly be aware of or specifically consider. So I have brought these issues together into a new, free ebook.

Which in some ways was quite difficult! Because when I read back over my blog posts, so many more of them are equally appropriate for small charities too! I have therefore limited myself to just twelve areas which I believe should give a small charity a solid understanding of what they need to know about CRM systems and fundraising databases. But if you want to know more, then there's lots more on all my other blog posts.

Who this Book is Intended For
The book has been produced for people whose day job is not the procurement or implementation of new databases - which for small charities is probably almost everyone! And you do not have to be technical to understand it. It is for fundraising managers, chief executives, trustees, fundraisers, office managers, volunteers and those working in supporter services, but of course I hope it is equally useful for database staff and charity IT staff too.

If there are any points you think I should have included in this book then feel free to add them in the comments below.

How to Download the Book
You can download the book from my website: http://www.itforcharities.co.uk/free-ebooks/.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Are charities really ready yet to take full advantage of CRM platforms?

ready (or not) 

So often during procurements and marketing pitches, the undoubted benefits of CRM systems are laid out by suppliers for charities. This is understandable and correct - why shouldn't charities know what they could be achieving and the benefits of such platforms.

However, I sometimes wonder if most charities, or even some are really ready to take full advantage of such technology. I don’t mean from a fundamental or standard operational angle, clearly those systems have every chance of giving charities what they want for the start of any such project. But how many organisations have the people, the time, the resources, the clarity, the strategy, even the budget to really take it a step further after the initial implementation?

This is not because I don't think that charities don't want to, I'm sure they do, and not because they don't have the vision or understanding. Again, I am sure some charities do and I hope such organisations are getting the tremendous benefits which such systems can bring.  But I wonder if that is still done by just a minority of NFP organisations.

Why not?
If you consider all those factors listed above then the one over-riding thing which I think has the most impact on this is: People. People are the problem and the answer. Because it is the people which make the difference in taking full advantage of CRM platforms.

Consider skill-sets. Clearly charities have had people supporting their fundraising and similar databases for years but traditional fundraising packages have needed different skill-sets to those which the CRM systems require in order to exploit them to the max. For example, whereas the fundraising packages were in many ways more limited, the CRM systems are almost unlimited in their potential. But to achieve that potential you need someone with Business Analysis skills to be able to find out from the users, the fundraisers not just what they want but to interpret those wishes so that they can be implemented in a CRM system. This is not often something I find in mid-size charities and only sometimes in larger NFPs.

Then you need developers. Sometimes this will only require comparatively fundamental 'admin' type staff who will simply need to configure a CRM system, but for the more powerful and far-reaching benefits you may need specialist developers who can code the systems and get so much more from them. And this will mean new skills, new programming languages and a new understanding of how to get the most from those advances.

All that takes management, planning, different team structures and a different sort of approach to the fundraising packages.

So if you do want and can employ such people, then that means the other factors which will be needed will follow-on: time, budget, strategic vision. If you don't have the right people then there's no need for those other things.

But it's still not necessarily just that...
There's also one more difference which charities need to adopt, and that's a new mindset. Many database managers of the traditional fundraising systems will sadly have become used to being limited to only being able to work within the constraints of those systems, finding workarounds or paying a lot of money to their supplier and even then waiting to get extra work developed for them - or even having to say No to users when they are asked to provide requested functionality.

So to find yourself in a position where you could now theoretically say Yes to so many of the things requested by your users is of course exciting, but it also means knowing how to progress such requests. How should you configure or develop the systems? How should you ensure you are definitely doing what is best? (Don't just do what is asked for immediately - question such user requirements to make sure they are definitely what is really wanted and what will achieve the best results. e.g. Don't just add another tick-box field…). Do too much too quickly and you may introduce confusion or not do things properly; too slowly and it won't have the possible impact it could have. Do it without planning and you could find yourself having to unravel things and start again. Do it without understanding of database development and you could end up with a worse system, more unmanageable than that which you started with.

Don't let any of this stop you from buying and implementing the CRM systems and then developing them. Just make sure you have got the right building blocks in place first. The right people.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

All CRM systems still need a Database Manager

Holistic Data Management 
With the proliferation of the newer, generic CRM systems into the NFP marketplace (i.e. Salesforce, Microsoft CRM etc), it can be easy for a smaller charity who has never before had the opportunity to use such powerful systems to believe that such systems are so easy to use that they won't even need a "database manager". Please don't believe that. You will need someone, whatever they are called, to manage the database/data to some extent, no matter what size you are.

Just because you are going to run the new database through your browser - which may indeed make it more user-friendly on some occasions - that doesn't mean that it will be so easy that it will "run itself". Someone in your organisation still needs to "manage" it in one way or another.

The good news is that with some of these systems (and indeed, some 'traditional fundraising databases'), such a person doesn't have to be an old-school techie. They possibly won't need to write SQL code, learn a complex report writer or understand entity-relationship diagrams. But they will need to be "data aware" - data savvy as I often call it. In fact, job titles such as "Data Manager" and "Head of Data" are often more accurate and more suitable than "Database Manager" or "Database Administrator".

This is because someone still needs the following attributes: to be able to understand how data is structured and recorded on the system; to be able to review a new user request and then recommend whether a new field is added or whether new codes should be appended to an existing look-up table; to understand and interpret what benefits the new database can bring to your fundraisers and fundraising. To control duplicate records... Someone still needs to have some level of control so that not every user of the system is adding data (and codes) in any old way they want (because it is so easy to do so now…) And so on.

Because if you don't have good data, standardised procedures and trained users who understand what they are doing on the database, then don't be surprised if you can't create the reports you need, or you take much longer to segment the database for targeting your donors - or, after a few months of installing the new system, you find your users criticising it because it isn't what they were promised…

The database - and the data - is the very base of a charity's infrastructure for their information needs. New CRM systems may make data management easier but you still need someone to manage that.