Sunday, September 29, 2013

Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics for Fundraising: Are We Nearly There Yet?

social crm dissertation wordle

It's been over 18 months since I last gave my 'state of the nation' view on the shape of the (now not-so) "new" CRM systems in terms of their applicability to fundraising technology needs, and a lot has happened since; so here's my latest opinions:

Who's using Salesforce and MS Dynamics for Fundraising?
It's noticeable that even in the last 6-12 months, there has been a shift in the mindset of some mid-large UK charities which, for the first time, is starting to pay dividends for the CRM suppliers. It's well known that Barnardo's are the first large UK charity to be implementing Salesforce for fundraising, Greenpeace International are now doing so too, another national UK charity is implementing Microsoft CRM Dynamics for their supporter relationship management system with another to start soon, and Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research have been using CiviCRM for a while (as have MSF outside the UK). And there are more in the pipeline for all these systems. Plus, of course, there are many more NFPs using these solutions for non-fundraising applications.

So why now for larger charities?
Although Salesforce, Dynamics et al have been adopted by charities for several years for non-fundraising solutions, and although smaller charities have been using the systems for their fundraising needs, why are we now seeing the mid-large charities start to take this route? There are probably a number of reasons:
  • There are naturally less such projects for the larger charities and those organisations that are/have been looking have taken until now to have made decisions - equally, such projects are not cheap, so there are of course fewer of them.
  • It has still taken until recently for the sector to truly believe, and to have it really shown to them, that these CRM systems can provide the fundraising functionality they need - for too long, suppliers had just been saying "yes, we can do it" without any real supporting evidence or suitable background to make the larger charities comfortable. They aren't all there for all areas of fundraising but there's been huge steps.
  • Inevitably, some charities have waited until someone else took the initial leap into this space, but with Barnardo's, Greenpeace and others now doing so, it makes it that much easier to see the benefits and possibilities.
  • It has taken some time for the resellers and business partners (implementers) - not the software suppliers themselves - to show their credibility in being able to sell and implement these systems for fundraising. Not in terms of technology but in terms of showing the charities that their in-house fundraising knowledge, and how technology can be used for fundraising, is good enough to support such implementations. That said, I think this is still a challenge.
  • The acceptance of the cloud is growing every day in the NFP sector, and there is less concern over security than there used to be. This has probably never been such an issue for IT staff at charities, but it did un-nerve trustees earlier in the cloud's evolution.
  • Amongst the "templated solutions", the functionality itself has improved.
  • The CRM software vendors and their partners are darned good at marketing!
  • And last but possibly not least, some charities have grown tired of waiting for some of the traditional fundraising database suppliers to provide viable, cost-effective new releases and versions which they need for their fundraising. And there are definitely a lower selection of viable options now from such suppliers than there were some years ago.
So are the CRM suppliers having it all their own way?
Certainly not. The traditional fundraising database suppliers for large/mid-size charities, companies such as Blackbaud, thankQ, ACS (ex-IRIS) etc, have also been selling their software, some with good volumes, and so although the CRM systems are denting their sales they still haven't overtaken them. At least not here in the UK. And on the lower end, AdvantageNFP Fundraiser, Harlequin, even KISSS still sell plenty of systems.

Similarly, it is not just Salesforce and Dynamics who are selling 'CRM' systems. CiviCRM, a "CRM" system created especially for NFPs, is definitely growing in popularity here in the UK and even more so worldwide (and I'm going to be dedicating a blog to CiviCRM in the weeks to come); are becoming an interesting option having recently made several sales to the membership sector; and I hear occasional things about Zoho and vTiger, but not that much. Sadly, SugarCRM doesn't seem to have made the inroads into the sector which I thought it might do (unless anyone can tell me differently?).

What's Next?
So what does all this mean now to other charities who might be looking to replace their existing fundraising database? Is it really any different to a few years ago in terms of what they can get or expect from 'generic' CRM systems?

Well, yes and no.

Yes it is different in that they won't be trailblazing (so much) any more, and they can hear and learn about other charities' experiences. Yes, in that (some of) the resellers and partners implementing these systems are more fundraising savvy now and should offer better professional services. And yes in that the cloud (which many CRM suppliers are tied to) continues to grow in acceptance and popularity.

But No, in that, at the end of the day, it still comes down to what is right for each charity depending on their needs, and the technology is just one aspect of any such decision. As I have expounded many times, there is no point buying a cloud-based solution or a whizzy CRM database just because it is that if it can't deliver what you need to support your fundraising operations. And that hasn't changed. There are still good, solid options for fundraising packages and there are good, solid reasons for charities to buy those, as well as CRM solutions.

I'm going to be blogging a lot in the coming weeks about some of these considerations, and some of the lessons I've learned when helping charities procure and implement both CRM systems and traditional fundraising databases, and those lessons are equally as important - more so? - compared to the software you ultimately use.

Finally, one last thought for now: I think the number of viable, good fundraising database solution suppliers has shrunk in recent years, especially for larger charities, and one great benefit the CRM providers have done is given charities a whole new approach which they can at least consider - and that is definitely a good thing, whatever they end up actually buying.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Why now may be the wrong time to be investing in Fundraising Software for larger charities

Always the wrong Time (reloaded)

These are interesting times for large charities and their fundraising database needs. They are being stretched like never before in terms of delivering technological support to the fundraising teams and they are being asked to do things they didn't have to consider a few years ago - and being expected to deliver it.

But if that means that they - you - are considering replacing your existing fundraising database right now, then I would encourage you to think twice just at this moment.

Why? Well because the suppliers to this market are all in somewhat a state of flux. Take the 'traditional fundraising database' suppliers: Blackbaud are still selling The Raiser's Edge 7, which, although still provides solid functionality, is showing its age, and Blackbaud know they need to release some sort of replacement - or replacements - whether that is called RE8 or something else. But that's unlikely to happen quickly. Yes there is also Blackbaud CRM but that is probably still just for the largest users and still to really make in-roads into the UK market.

And two of their main competitors, thankQ and what was IRIS, have both relatively recently been acquired by other companies: thankQ by the Access Group, and IRIS by Advanced Computer Software (ACS). I think, in the long run, both acquisitions should be good news for their clients and prospective clients, but we are still in the early days of both takeovers, and they are still finding their feet in terms of business approach and in terms of their own next generation of software.

Which surely then means that the new (generic) CRM solutions should be the right thing to consider? Well maybe, but maybe not. They too are going through a few changes. Yes, they are growing their customer base (not quickly for fundraising applications, but steadily), but they both have their own challenges in terms of applying their technology and platforms to fundraising needs, and there is also the question of knowing which reseller or partner one should use if one does want to buy one of these systems.

Because there are a lot CRM partners out there. You could go for one of the big consulting firms, many of which have an arm specialising in, say, Salesforce and who have huge development skills and CRM backgrounds, but what is their experience of fundraising and working with charities? So think instead of a smaller, specialist partner, who knows, say, Dynamics and who also (says they) know fundraising. Could be good if you choose the right company but there are so many around and even those with some sort of track record in the sector still have minimal experience of implementing these CRM systems compared to the likes of Blackbaud, thankQ and ACS.

And we are all still learning about the CRM systems' true capabilities as of today - and what developments in CRM systems really means for us tomorrow as a large charity in terms of commitment, resources and budget.

So what do you do if you are a large, or even mid-size charity and you do need to replace your fundraising database now? Well, if you genuinely have a burning platform then you of course need to get moving. Or if there are other, genuine risks to the continued use of your existing system or you can positively show that your fundraising income is being hurt by using your current system (and I mean really show that - not just maybe, sort of just think that because it, say, can't "do social media"), then yes, again, you should start planning.

But if not, if you just think you might need to be moving soon, or you've heard that someone else has replaced their database with X or Y, then I would caution you to consider. I think that in another 12 to18 months, some of the above questions will be ironing themselves out. Blackbaud should hopefully be able to publicly give some timescales for their next steps, we will know more about the acquisitions of thankQ and ACS, and Salesforce and Dynamics should have more live sites up and running and actually doing their fundraising on their platforms.

Of course, in 12 to 18 months time, some other great unknown will raise its head and I'll be saying wait until… Nah, surely not.