Sunday, October 27, 2013

CiviCRM: A great example of Open Source Benefits for Charities

CiviCRM is almost certainly the NFP sector's leading open source CRM system. And if you want an example or two of why this is, then, aside from its standard functionality, the following should explain a lot: Just recently, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, who use CiviCRM, wanted to integrate Civi with JustGiving and so they developed an integration piece to do this - and they have made that available for free for all other users of CiviCRM. Prior to this, the recent HMRC Charities Online gift aid update meant that changes were needed to the existing CiviCRM Gift Aid functionality, and again, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research developed the changes required and made them available to the Civi community. And even before that, when there was no Direct Debit processing or Gift Aid functionality available in CiviCRM, a third-party Civi partner, NFP Services, developed these features - although they did this as part of a paid-for development - but thereafter, those functions are now available to all other Civi users.

And if a CiviCRM user wants a new function which hasn't yet been developed in the core software then, although they can of course enhance the system in-house as Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research did, or pay a developer to create that for them - and there are a number of CiviCRM approved service partners here in the UK as well as worldwide - they can also add it to the 'Make it Happen' campaigns on CiviCRM's website where ideas can be put forward and multiple Civi users can contribute in order to fund the development.

This shows the appeal and benefit of CiviCRM to some charities: collaboration and joint development (as well as good software). And shows the all the great things about the Open Source community - and yet it also highlights some of the dangers too.

The benefits are clear: open source is free software, although please remember that it is just the software which is free; the implementation, developments, training, data migration, any consultancy/project management etc, and of course the hosting or in-house servers, all cost money. And it has a great ethos for charities, and an ever-growing and broadening community using and supporting other users. And by its very nature it tends to attract developers who believe in not just the software but the whole approach.

But the fact it is not driven by a commercial organisation means that when statutory or regulatory requirements change (as highlighted above), then a user and/or the community needs to get the software updated to manage that. And although the software is constantly being developed and enhanced, it doesn't have the same financial clout which some of the larger commercial CRM suppliers have and as it isn't a dedicated fundraising database then there is a different incentive to the 'traditional' fundraising database suppliers. Of course, this approach is the very thing which encourages some organisations to use CiviCRM (!) and as it states on Civi's website, "CiviCRM’s development roadmap is primarily generated from the ground up".

CiviCRM has a lot going for it. It is one of those systems where it feels there should be a natural, cultural fit with the NFP sector. It has decent functionality and it is growing its user-base here in the UK. It isn't a "traditional" fundraising database system, but neither is it a "generic" CRM solution (a la Salesforce, MS Dynamics etc). What it is is a "CRM" solution which has been created specifically for the nonprofit sector, and as such, with in-built functionality specifically created for charities. And because it is not oriented at just one "type" of solution for charities (i.e. not just service delivery, not just case management, not just fundraising, volunteer management etc) it has a degree of flexibility similar to that which the CRM solutions also offer, if maybe not quite so in-depth. (It's unlikely, of course, that CiviCRM will ever be as big as the major CRM players because it is sector-focused).

And all this on a platform which is flexible and where even non-technical users can create reports, add features such as new fields (and tables), adapt forms and so on. Try that on some other systems…

When I discuss different database options for charities, I often pigeon-hole software suppliers as "traditional fundraising database solutions" or "generic CRM solutions" - CiviCRM is neither but that is no bad thing, and if you are considering a new CRM system or fundraising database then putting CiviCRM on your radar could be well worth it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The need for The Solution Owner role when implementing CRM systems

Middle Man 
For many years, I have discussed and promoted the need for a Project Manager (PM) for organisations who are implementing new fundraising databases and CRM systems. But I've been very aware that, sometimes for mid-size installations and definitely for large implementations, that there is an additional role - or skill-set - which is required and which goes beyond what a traditional PM would normally offer, although sometimes it falls on the PM. Which is the need for someone to become a central 'hub' to the project in terms of understanding the holistic solution - not the PM aspects. i.e. The Solution Owner.

The key thing for such a role is that it should be someone who understands (or can learn to understand) not only the charity's requirements and strategies but fundraising/charity requirements more generally, as well as CRM, software and technology. The reason for this is because the implementation of sophisticated, flexible (and often expensive) CRM software systems is of course not just about the software but about building/configuring and using it with the people and processes in mind - and understanding the whole approach, design, dependencies and implications of design. Something I discuss constantly.

This means that when someone on the project, or a user or manager in the charity, has a question as to how the solution will work or how something fits in, or queries what will happen if we change something or what it will mean if something is left out and so on, then that person can be in a position where they can provide an answer - or know who they should ask in order to get an answer. It's a key need.

Ultimately, the role provides the charity with a central point of contact for design understanding and fundamental decision making and would usually also help provide requirements information.

Clearly this is not just Project Management. Historically, when I have done all this, I have called myself a 'Project Manager Plus'. But the more I have worked on implementing larger fundraising databases and with the new 'CRM' systems, the more I have realised just what a critical role this 'Plus' bit is in any such implementation (whoever does it!).

Recently, whilst working on one project, this specific role - the 'plus' bit - was described to me as The Solution Owner, and this struck a cord with me - it is indeed what I think such projects need. (On top of the project manager, business analysts, trainers etc, as appropriate, depending on project size and complexity).

One thing I should emphasise is that this is not a technical role, not a Solution Architect, nor a post-implementation Solution Owner (a role you do sometimes see advertised for), where it is more likely that it will need someone who is closer to the technical aspects of the system.

And as I stated above, the principle thing is that such a role should ideally be someone who understands the business - fundraising - and technology too. That way, they can help the charity and advise them on specific options as the project progresses.

I've also come to the conclusion that this is an especially indispensable role when implementing the (new) CRM systems where you can do so much with such systems and where it is not just a matter of configuring an existing vertical sector solution (such as a fundraising or membership package) - although it is by no means exclusively a requirement for CRM. Without such input, there is a real danger that you could go off down one route without understanding the implications, that you could over-customise a system too much when a simpler, alternative option could have been better, or you could lose track of just what is dependent on what and what interacts with what, which a central resource should be able to resolve. And the project team, client-side and supplier-side, will not have a single point of reference to help co-ordinate central requirements.

The Solution Owner is, IMHO, becoming a pivotal role for CRM and database implementations and is only likely to become more so.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

CRM Dynamics template market for membership solutions already refining itself

I did some work recently for a membership organisation who wanted to buy a new database and they decided that Microsoft Dynamics CRM was the right solution for them. However, having decided that and having looked at one vendor of a Dynamics membership solution, their trustees asked them to review if there were other companies who could also provide a suitable membership system on Dynamics. Which, when I looked, was an interesting experience.

Just before I go on to what the outcome was, I should say that I think this sort of situation may start to become more common in the charity and membership sector. It may be that some organisations even choose a platform before even talking to a reseller - a practise which is certainly done in the commercial sector - but even if an organisation looks at 'traditional' package suppliers and CRM providers and plumps for CRM, then it will become far more common for them to be comparing at least 2 such business partners, or even more. And as long as we do this ethically and openly then this is no bad thing.

What my client wanted was a supplier who already had a membership "template" built on Dynamics for a UK organisation. They weren't a large or complex organisation so it made sense. And so I talked to a number of suppliers who I knew had or were planning to have such templates. And what I found was the number of options had shrunk considerably in the last 12 months.

For a start, several companies who used to sell such templates don't now. And I got some interesting feedback  from those companies as to why this is the case (NB I am paraphrasing here):

  • We moved out of the sector - fair enough I suppose, although disappointing for the organisations who had already bought into them;
  • We found that a template couldn't support everyone's needs - understandable from one angle but I'm not convinced that should matter so much if you have a good foundation and a solid approach. There is nothing wrong with starting with the basics and developing each installation differently and appropriately for each client;
  • And even: Our solution wasn't as good as others on the market so we stopped selling it. Honest at least!
  • There was also more than one who, tellingly, never got back to me when I tried to email or phone them…
Which means the market has shrunk to about 1/3 of the options I knew of a year ago, and I was left with only 3 suppliers who still sell UK membership "templates" for Dynamics: Excitation, Pythagoras and Silverbear. Additionally, m-hance offer a "modular" approach where they don't exactly have a template but do have different, appropriate modules they could provide for a membership solution; a perfectly sound approach too. Plus there were a couple of others who are still developing theirs.

What does this mean to you?
It shows that you need to take so much care when buying a new system such as this. Yes, one of the benefits of Dynamics (and similar CRM systems) is that if you do your initial implementation through company X, and then company X goes bust or you fall out with them, then at least you still have your Dynamics solution and you can go elsewhere for your support. But it’s not what you ideally want. Like any similar procurement, you want to buy into a company who is not just supplying you software but who is also going to be a good business partner for years to come, who can bring new things and ideas to the table, who gets to know how you work and who understands the membership sector. That's a real benefit.

You should also be aware of any Intellectual Property (IP) issues in such procurements. If a supplier is claiming IP on any of its software deliverables to you then what would that mean if you did want to move away from their support or if they did decide to stop enhancing their specific offering any more?

As a final caveat, I'm not suggesting templated solutions such as this are the only way to buy Dynamics for membership solutions, and I'm not endorsing the above suppliers. I can't say if they will still be selling their solutions in 12-18 months time. But the approach is certainly one option you can take. And I'm equally sure there will be other, new developments which could become good options in the future. The most important thing is to do a solid procurement and selection process and then you will be as sure as you can be that your final decision will be the right one.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

How Not to Buy Software? The Astonishing Stats Provided by Capterra

How not to buy software
Software resource portal, Capterra, has recently published a report on the findings from a survey they ran which examined how organisations make decisions when buying software - and it makes interesting and sometimes scary reading. For example, "1/3 of software buyers don’t demo any solutions before they make a purchase" and "another 22% just choose the first software they look at!" And very interestingly, "the more demos and options that software buyers considered, the less confident they were in their selection." Hmm.

And this survey included nonprofit organisations in its statistics…

Who gets involved with purchases?
The report details the types of staff involved in the buying process:
  • CEO/Presidents were involved in 40% of the software purchases - and this level of person is most likely to be involved in software which includes "marketing" (read fundraising) and one of the sectors which they’re more likely to be involved in software purchases is the nonprofit sector…
  • IT Personnel were involved in 55% of all software purchases. Although it does also say that one of the software solutions IT staff are most likely to be involved with is Database Management, which I hope means that more than 55% of database purchases involve IT staff to some extent…
Interestingly, the Most "Diplomatic" Software Purchases included CRM Software, where "job titles across all levels of the organization were equally represented in the software decision making process." I'm glad to hear a wider range of staff are involved in CRM purchases, but I'm not sure if I really want lots of people involved in the decision making process. (More about that in a future blog post...)

Of course, what is harder to quantify is what "involved" means for a purchasing decision. If it means being kept in touch and maybe ratification then that is very different to attending demos and making a final decision.

What do people look for in software?
One of the most interesting sections of the report is a table showing "The Most Important Factors in Software Selection". It's very interesting (some might say encouraging?) to see "Low price" and "Vendor's market share" so low in the table, and despite all the cloud-hype, "platform" is still only #9 on the list. Both "vendor responsiveness" and "software reputation" come above that - which shows how important the supplier itself is to the buyers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, "Features/functionality" is listed as the most important factor. It's hard to get away from that. This is of course one of the downsides of "lists" like this - yes, functionality is important, and, for example, I often drone on about how it doesn't matter if software is/isn't in the cloud if it can't operationally support a charity - but I always encourage charities to consider features as just a percentage of a decision making process. Equally (more?) important are all the other issues such as supplier support, ease of implementation and so on. So it's not quite as simple as saying that the #1 factor necessarily outweighs others.

What can we learn from all this for a UK charity looking to buy new fundraising or CRM software?
Can a survey taken across a variety of industry sectors in the US also apply to CRM software selection for UK non-profits? Well, 50% of the survey's respondents have less than 100 employees in their organisation and 64% less than 500, so that's not so far off. And the "important factors" list tallies with my experience of UK charities' processes - not that that makes it right unfortunately. (And if you look at Capterra's website, then the Fundraising & Membership Software lists include names such as Blackbaud, Donor Perfect and Wild Apricot, so these are not insignificant companies).

But there is another table in the report which nicely sums up what organisations need to understand more, consider more and where they can do with help - and that is the Most Difficult Parts of the Software Selection Process table, which lists 3 key issues:
  • Getting a clear picture of how well each possible software option could meet specific needs;
  • Being able to make comparisons between software companies/vendors;
  • Absorbing and understanding the information available about different software solutions.
This therefore shows what you need to be doing and considering when buying software. Which, I realise, can be easier said than done. Which is why I hope that posts elsewhere on my blog give guidance to how you can address such concerns. And there are other great websites with other useful resources such as LASA's Knowledge Base and TechSoup; and the various sector events held by the Institute of Fundraising, sector media and exhibition conferences, all of which can also help - look out for the free seminars at some of these. And use your peers too - the experience of other charities does help.

There are many more fascinating and enlightening stats in the report, not all of them so relevant to all the work we do in the UK fundraising/CRM software market, but still a great read!

You can download the full report from Capterra's website.