My main prediction is that this year will see the emergence of Microsoft CRM as a real competitor to the traditional fundraising/membership systems. This is because of several new benefits realised by the most recent release (v4):
- Flexibility. There has been an increasing awareness over the last few years amongst the medium to larger charities that package solutions are not always flexible enough for many of their extended wishes and requirements, and/or users want to customise systems more themselves. The more savvy package suppliers have already realised this constraint and the next generation of their packages are already being designed with this in mind, so that although a solution may still be based on a core package, they will offer far more scope for bespoke development or in-depth customisation around the package but still with future-proofed upgrades.
And this is where Microsoft CRM looks good. Adding fields and forms, changing field and entity names, and even workflow, all this can be done without any programming knowledge. And if you want more then customisation using dot net is fully integrated.
- User Interface. CRM's user interface is built-in to Outlook or a web browser. This is a signficant thing. If a user can click on their InBox and Calendar then CRM is just another click further down. The basics really are that easy.
- Improved data query tools. This is a key area of functionality and Microsoft has significantly improved their querying, reporting and data extraction tools in v4. Reporting uses Microsoft Reporting Services with the ability to drill-down directly into records and although ad-hoc querying may still not be quite as good as some of the leading fundraising packages, a more experienced user can do reasonably sophisticated queries and segmentation.
- Cost. Purely in terms of licenses, CRM is inexpensive. This is of course only one part of any implementation cost - a signficant CRM implementation will still not be cheap - but at least the software itself is good value.
- Beyond fundraising... By definition of CRM's background, it is not limited to fundraising or membership. If you want to incorporate your volunteers, suppliers, other contacts etc, then you can do this. Of course, many fundraising/membership packages can also do this so it is not unique, but it has a very good base to start from.
But it's an interesting time for database technology in the sector - watch this space to see if I am right about how it develops!