Monday, May 31, 2010

Microsoft CRM for Charities: Where Are We Now?

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18 months ago, I discussed how I thought Microsoft CRM Dynamics was about to cause a stir in the charity sector. So was I right? Well, yes and no - it has certainly started to be used within the NFP sector and adopted by some sector software suppliers as well, but maybe not as quickly as I had expected it to. But now with the recent announcement from Microsoft that they are launching a specific version for charities, and that this will be released in the UK later this year, does that mean that now is the time that it will truly expand into the sector? Here's a few new thoughts on that:

So far, MS CRM has proved mainly beneficial for small to medium size UK NFP organisations and primarily for one of two scenarios: either where there is a specialist need and where CRM is a heart of that need (e.g. outcome and performance management, registration requirements), or where it could be implemented across the whole organisation for multiple needs but where sophisticated fundraising functionality is not a requirement or the central need (e.g. contact management, events, volunteer management). Similarly, in a few instances I know of, it is being implemented at larger organisations for all their contact management except fundraising. All this is being done in-house at some charities but often it is with the assistance of specialist MS CRM suppliers, some of which are carving a niche with their NFP sector experience.

This is mainly because fundraising - and membership in many instances too - has specific requirements which either take time and money to implement or which can simply be better served (at the moment) by a dedicated fundraising/membership software package.

This is not to say that MS CRM cannot achieve the same functionality or benefits, it is just that to get to that point takes time, resources, knowledge and money. In particular, requirements such as Gift Aid management (not over-complex these days but still a niche requirement), direct debit processing, some income processing requirements, membership management, payroll giving support and so on are needed for most fundraising/membership charities with a high enough income or advanced requirements, and many organisations still see the traditional fundraising/membership software packages as providing better solutions for these needs. Microsoft's original press release announced "support for online payment solutions" but I don’t know yet whether this initial implementation will be suitable for UK organisations at this time. And, of course, there could be all sorts of other issues which need addressing for UK charities for it to be truly suited to them.

That said, an alternative approach is emerging, with CRM resellers now creating 'templates' for MS CRM with built-in fundraising and membership functionality. Organisations such as Touchstone Systems, Pythagoras and IMMIX all now offer such solutions, and this may well create a new market for the product. And in some ways, these sort of offerings are an excellent concept: a good, solid system which will continue to grow and be enhanced over the years to come, with fundamental support for charities' requirements, but with the ability to customise it to an organisation's specific needs as well. It's a nice approach.

So is MS CRM really appropriate for UK NFP organisations yet? I personally believe that MS CRM (and similar offerings such as SalesForce) are still mostly suited to small to medium size charities who can and want to implement a single database for all their supporters and contacts. If they have a larger fundraising/membership constituency then it won't have the advanced fundraising oriented functions of the traditional fundraising packages (e.g. Blackbaud, IRIS, ESIT etc), but if an organisation wants to manage all their contacts in a single database with a wide breadth of functionality then Dynamics CRM is definitely an option. Maybe just not yet if there is a need for specialist fundraising and income support (unless they use one of the companies listed above) but I believe that will come, either from Microsoft or their partners/resellers and when that happens, that will put the cat amongst the pigeons for the traditional software package suppliers to the sector.

Finally a word on cost: MS CRM software license is very cheap - whether it is the price in the Microsoft Press Release or through the UK Microsoft resellers such as CTX or through a special offer such as Caltex provide, but organisations need to be aware that the major costs in implementing it will be in configuration, customisation, implementation et al - whether they use an external company or internally. And that can add up. Interestingly, Microsoft's Press Release actually says "Customizations for nonprofits and NGOs are offered free of charge". That’s some statement! I wonder what sort of flexibility and limitations that has?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How to Manage Software Presentations During a Procurement Process: Part 2

This is the second part of my blog about how to manage the presentation process within a procurement process. In my previous post, I detailed how I suggest using pre-demo meetings before such demonstrations, so in this blog I explain how I would manage the presentation itself and provide a list of questions you could consider asking the suppliers at the demos.

For the presentation itself, if possible, ask each supplier to structure their presentation in the same way. For example, an initial few minutes on the supplier, then a demo of the software, and then Q&A. And within the demo, it can be useful to ask each supplier to show how they would approach a set of the same requirements. Thus, if there are, say, half a dozen specific issues which you want to cover and ensure the software supplier can manage for you, then ask to see how they would approach them. This way, you can see clear differences (or similarities) as to how each supplier works and you might well learn some interesting and different thoughts and approaches along the way.

Of course, you need to allow for some flexibility. Some suppliers might suggest they initially give you an overall picture of the software before showing you individual elements which you have asked for, and that is probably fair. After all, you aren't trying to trick them, you are trying to ensure the software is right for you, and if that is the way that the supplier thinks is best then let them do it. And if they then veer off-track and simply don't follow you requests, then you can consider whether that is a black mark against them for the whole process.

When it comes to questions you could ask the suppliers, then of course you will need to cover at least the functionality and/or services you are looking for. But there are many more questions you could ask which could help you and give you an insight into the supplier, their solution and their whole approach. The following are some of my favourites which I have built-up over the years:

• What doesn’t your quote include? [This is an interesting and useful question as it should re-enforce for you and the supplier exactly what is involved]
• What does your Support Contract/Cost include? [e.g. Does it include: unlimited phone calls to their help-line? All new versions/upgrades?]
• Do you offer a guaranteed response time when I ring up for support?
• How do you record/manage bug reports / Do you have a structured process for when things go wrong?
• How do you provide fixes?
• How often do you release new versions/upgrades, and how are they distributed?
• How do you manage Quality Assurance (QA)? What are your internal testing processes?
• Do you provide remote support? Is this charged for?
• Do you have a user group?
• Can I speak to/visit some reference sites?
• And more general questions about the company such as its size, age, goals etc.

Some specific questions you could ask are:
• Can I speak to one of your clients who used to be unhappy but who you managed to 'turn around' and make them happy? [When I was a salesman years ago, this was one of the most insightful questions I was ever asked; any supplier can give you at least some references who are happy with them, and no-one is going to give you references who hate them! So something like this sort of question is fair to the supplier, lets the supplier show you what they are made of but still gives you good client feedback]
• What could you improve in your software? (What are your weaknesses?)
• Who do you consider are your major competitors?
• What is the main thing that sets you apart from your competitors?
• Can we meet other people in your company? Can we visit your offices?
• What are your future plans?
• How do you keep up-to-date with new technology?

It can be a difficult skill, but it is often what a salesperson doesn't say which is just as revealing as what they do say (e.g. especially if you ask what the weaknesses are in their product!). Listen out for when they avoid answering any particular question, ask it again if you feel it is valid to do so, but either way, note what happened and you can consider later if there is anything you thus need to be concerned about.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Communication is at the Heart of all Good Relationships

Does your charity have a communication strategy? Do you ensure that one person will not receive two (or more) letters from your organisation on the same day (and maybe even from different departments)? Do you respond in the way your donors/contacts want you to? Do you let supporters opt-in to just the information they want to receive?

If not, then it's probably time you did.

Whether you run multiple database systems (and by that I mean databases, spreadsheets, email lists and all the rest) or you have a single, centralised database, either way this applies to you. If you have multiple systems then you must ensure that individual staff members cannot simply decide off their own back that they are going to do a mail-shot from their system, and if you have a single database, then although you will be able to enforce some control, you could have just as many problems with individual users demanding to use the data for their marketing and communications.

If you don't control this then your supporters and donors will get annoyed and that isn't going to help you at all.

Do consider if you can offer your contacts the opportunity to opt-in to just what they want to receive and hear about. E.g. specific events/types of event, fundraising requests, volunteering opportunities, generic newsletters, emergency appeals and so on. And how - email, letter, telephone. It can be quite a scary thought that you will no longer be able to contact everyone about everything but it will work better for you. You will be targeting your supporters better and more appropriately, you will lower your costs, you should get better response rates, you should get happier supporters and you will be working more efficiently.

Communication is at the heart of all good relationships – including yours and your supporters.