Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Should you ever invest in a short-term CRM solution?

Thorpes Bridge Junction 
Every now and then I am asked by a charity if I think it is all right if they buy a database as a “short term solution”. And for short-term, they usually mean “cheap”. This is normally asked because, for whatever reason, they (say they) can’t invest at this moment in what they feel would be a long-term database but they have to have something now.

My instinct is nearly always to say No, that’s not a good idea. But I have been thinking recently if I am always right to say that:

Why I say No
I normally say no to short-term solutions for a number of reasons:
  • It will still take a fair amount of your time and effort, assuming you are doing at least a semblance of a requirements gathering and procurement process, and just because you intend to spend less or only see it as being needed short-term, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily take less time or require less effor. In fact, if you are going to put in this time, why not do it “properly” and get a "proper", hopefully long term solution.
  • It is quite likely it will cost you more in the long run. Not only will you have to repeat the above process at a later date (i.e. the needs analysis and procurement), but you will have to invest initially in a database and then invest again at a later date – with all the associated professional services – and of course have to pay a second time for data migration. That means it is extremely likely that you will pay more in the long term than you would do if you spent the time, effort and money now to get your ideal system now.
  • Short-term can be an excuse for doing things cheaply and therefore not comprehensively – or to put it bluntly – badly. I am often told it “doesn’t matter” because it is “only short-term” and “we will do it properly” when we are ready. That just means poor decisions all round: a potentially poor system, a non-thought through process and on-going business processes and quite possibly, a system which won’t support your fundraising needs even in the short-term.
  • Short-term solutions frequently become long-term solutions… How many times have you implemented any sort of system or process as a “short term solution” only to find you are still using it months or years later.
It’s worth asking, Why can’t you get the investment for a long-term solution?
If you are having to think short-term because you haven’t got the budget for a long term solution, then it might be worth going back to your business case and trying to show why it is so important that you do get the correct and necessary budget for your particular needs. Do you need to show your SMT/trustees the benefits you will get? I would always encourage this first.

What about the “But there is new technology happening soon…” question
One reason I am sometimes told that an organisation only wants to invest short-term is because there is some great new technology which is just about to be launched in a few months... Maybe so. The thing is, new technology is being launched every day! If we wait and wait for “the next big thing” then we will wait forever. You have to do a well structured procurement process, invest in a system which (as much as possible) will be "future-proofed" and invested in by the supplier for the foreseeable future and take the plunge.

So, is there ever a reason to say Yes to a short-term solution?
I guess there are a few scenarios I can think of where I would consider saying Yes to short-term:
  • If you invest a small amount in a product in the first place which you intend to invest more in later. In fact, this is quite common and in some instances perfectly good business sense. If you need to start using the database in one department/team and then build-up the system across other teams in your organisation then why not. If you only have a small budget now but you can get started with this and apply for a larger budget for the next year, then yes, this is an option. You still need to do all that in a ‘proper, structured’ way, so that you know you are buying a system which will be scalable in the future, but if so then that could be fine. This is therefore not the same as just "buying short term" because what you doing is planning long term in a good, structured way but simply investing less initially.
  • If you are, say, a small fundraising department who needs a system now, but where the long term strategy of your charity is a broader organisation-wide CRM system. In which case, as long as your charity recognises they will be spending money later on integrating/moving you to a new system, then short-term thinking could be appropriate.
  • There are of course a few good, low-cost fundraising and membership databases for charities and it is better to consider those in a well thought-through process than just buy one for the sake of it.
But what if I really have no budget for a new database?
I know, this is always a potential problem, especially for smaller organisations. And the temptation is therefore to just "get something in now" because we have to have something, and to worry about it later. But, if this really is due to severe budget restrictions, then this doesn't mean you still can't go about procuring a new database using a good process. Read my recent blog post, What should you do if you really have zero budget for a new CRM or Fundraising database?


sean said...

or rent temporarily in the cloud http://civisites.com, we're sure you'll stay

Graham Mitchell said...

It's not always necessary to think in terms of "buying a database". OK, it is likely that there will always be implementation costs in one fo it another, but there are some outstanding software tools available that are free to use. Open source is an option that all charities should be considering, and in particular the excellent CiviCRM.

Joseph P. said...

Short term could not be a reliable that you can't spend more save much. It's just your spending amount for a short period. I'd rather suggest long term but significant project would do.

Joseph @ Small Business CRM