Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What Small Charities Need to Know about CRM Systems: Free ebook

I have just published a new, free ebook:  What Small Charities Need to Know about CRM Systems. Buying a new CRM system or fundraising database can be a daunting experience for any NFP organisation, let alone a small charity. And although I publish a lot of information on this blog which I hope is useful for all charities, there are some points which I think smaller organisations need to particularly be aware of or specifically consider. So I have brought these issues together into a new, free ebook.

Which in some ways was quite difficult! Because when I read back over my blog posts, so many more of them are equally appropriate for small charities too! I have therefore limited myself to just twelve areas which I believe should give a small charity a solid understanding of what they need to know about CRM systems and fundraising databases. But if you want to know more, then there's lots more on all my other blog posts.

Who this Book is Intended For
The book has been produced for people whose day job is not the procurement or implementation of new databases - which for small charities is probably almost everyone! And you do not have to be technical to understand it. It is for fundraising managers, chief executives, trustees, fundraisers, office managers, volunteers and those working in supporter services, but of course I hope it is equally useful for database staff and charity IT staff too.

If there are any points you think I should have included in this book then feel free to add them in the comments below.

How to Download the Book
You can download the book from my website: http://www.itforcharities.co.uk/free-ebooks/.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Are charities really ready yet to take full advantage of CRM platforms?

ready (or not) 

So often during procurements and marketing pitches, the undoubted benefits of CRM systems are laid out by suppliers for charities. This is understandable and correct - why shouldn't charities know what they could be achieving and the benefits of such platforms.

However, I sometimes wonder if most charities, or even some are really ready to take full advantage of such technology. I don’t mean from a fundamental or standard operational angle, clearly those systems have every chance of giving charities what they want for the start of any such project. But how many organisations have the people, the time, the resources, the clarity, the strategy, even the budget to really take it a step further after the initial implementation?

This is not because I don't think that charities don't want to, I'm sure they do, and not because they don't have the vision or understanding. Again, I am sure some charities do and I hope such organisations are getting the tremendous benefits which such systems can bring.  But I wonder if that is still done by just a minority of NFP organisations.

Why not?
If you consider all those factors listed above then the one over-riding thing which I think has the most impact on this is: People. People are the problem and the answer. Because it is the people which make the difference in taking full advantage of CRM platforms.

Consider skill-sets. Clearly charities have had people supporting their fundraising and similar databases for years but traditional fundraising packages have needed different skill-sets to those which the CRM systems require in order to exploit them to the max. For example, whereas the fundraising packages were in many ways more limited, the CRM systems are almost unlimited in their potential. But to achieve that potential you need someone with Business Analysis skills to be able to find out from the users, the fundraisers not just what they want but to interpret those wishes so that they can be implemented in a CRM system. This is not often something I find in mid-size charities and only sometimes in larger NFPs.

Then you need developers. Sometimes this will only require comparatively fundamental 'admin' type staff who will simply need to configure a CRM system, but for the more powerful and far-reaching benefits you may need specialist developers who can code the systems and get so much more from them. And this will mean new skills, new programming languages and a new understanding of how to get the most from those advances.

All that takes management, planning, different team structures and a different sort of approach to the fundraising packages.

So if you do want and can employ such people, then that means the other factors which will be needed will follow-on: time, budget, strategic vision. If you don't have the right people then there's no need for those other things.

But it's still not necessarily just that...
There's also one more difference which charities need to adopt, and that's a new mindset. Many database managers of the traditional fundraising systems will sadly have become used to being limited to only being able to work within the constraints of those systems, finding workarounds or paying a lot of money to their supplier and even then waiting to get extra work developed for them - or even having to say No to users when they are asked to provide requested functionality.

So to find yourself in a position where you could now theoretically say Yes to so many of the things requested by your users is of course exciting, but it also means knowing how to progress such requests. How should you configure or develop the systems? How should you ensure you are definitely doing what is best? (Don't just do what is asked for immediately - question such user requirements to make sure they are definitely what is really wanted and what will achieve the best results. e.g. Don't just add another tick-box field…). Do too much too quickly and you may introduce confusion or not do things properly; too slowly and it won't have the possible impact it could have. Do it without planning and you could find yourself having to unravel things and start again. Do it without understanding of database development and you could end up with a worse system, more unmanageable than that which you started with.

Don't let any of this stop you from buying and implementing the CRM systems and then developing them. Just make sure you have got the right building blocks in place first. The right people.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

All CRM systems still need a Database Manager

Holistic Data Management 
With the proliferation of the newer, generic CRM systems into the NFP marketplace (i.e. Salesforce, Microsoft CRM etc), it can be easy for a smaller charity who has never before had the opportunity to use such powerful systems to believe that such systems are so easy to use that they won't even need a "database manager". Please don't believe that. You will need someone, whatever they are called, to manage the database/data to some extent, no matter what size you are.

Just because you are going to run the new database through your browser - which may indeed make it more user-friendly on some occasions - that doesn't mean that it will be so easy that it will "run itself". Someone in your organisation still needs to "manage" it in one way or another.

The good news is that with some of these systems (and indeed, some 'traditional fundraising databases'), such a person doesn't have to be an old-school techie. They possibly won't need to write SQL code, learn a complex report writer or understand entity-relationship diagrams. But they will need to be "data aware" - data savvy as I often call it. In fact, job titles such as "Data Manager" and "Head of Data" are often more accurate and more suitable than "Database Manager" or "Database Administrator".

This is because someone still needs the following attributes: to be able to understand how data is structured and recorded on the system; to be able to review a new user request and then recommend whether a new field is added or whether new codes should be appended to an existing look-up table; to understand and interpret what benefits the new database can bring to your fundraisers and fundraising. To control duplicate records... Someone still needs to have some level of control so that not every user of the system is adding data (and codes) in any old way they want (because it is so easy to do so now…) And so on.

Because if you don't have good data, standardised procedures and trained users who understand what they are doing on the database, then don't be surprised if you can't create the reports you need, or you take much longer to segment the database for targeting your donors - or, after a few months of installing the new system, you find your users criticising it because it isn't what they were promised…

The database - and the data - is the very base of a charity's infrastructure for their information needs. New CRM systems may make data management easier but you still need someone to manage that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My New Book: 102 Tips on How to Buy Fundraising Databases and CRM Systems

I have just published this new book: a collection of 102 tips for charities who want to buy a new fundraising database or CRM system. It is compiled from a number of articles I have published on my blog plus a series of brand new tips and in-depth analysis and advice.

It is written for people whose day job is not the procurement of new databases - and you do not have to be technical to understand it. It is for fundraising managers, fundraisers, database managers, charity IT staff, those working in supporter services and indeed for anyone who has been given the sometimes daunting task of buying a new fundraising database or CRM system.

It covers the basics of procurement (strategic advice, costs, software demos, project management) but also delves into more detail on supplier management, considerations about database development, the whole tender process and a chapter dedicated to the 'generic' CRM systems (Microsoft CRM, Salesforce et al) which are challenging the more traditional fundraising database packages.

It is available as a paperback on Amazon, on Kindle and as a simple, instantly downloadable PDF document. It costs £20 (+ VAT for UK/EC residents).

I hope it inspires, assists and enhances your buying process, whether you are already comfortable with a procurement exercise or even if you have never managed one before. Think of it as your own consultant seated by your side as you go along – only at a fraction of the cost! I hope you find it useful.

Where to Buy It...
The book costs £20 (+ VAT for UK/EC residents), and is available from:

Paperback version on
Amazon UK or Amazon US
Kindle version on
Amazon UK or Amazon US

Monday, January 19, 2015

Differentiating Suppliers of the Same Software Platform


An interesting challenge is arising on CRM platforms. With more and more companies producing 'templates' for fundraising and membership solutions on the same platforms (mostly Dynamics and Salesforce), I am finding that I see quite similar looking software from different suppliers. Which leads me to ask myself: if the platforms are that good and are right for my clients, and the software is starting to blur into the same sort of solution, then how do I distinguish between the different offerings?

First, it's about the supplier
What this shows straight away is the importance and significance of the supplier themselves. i.e. their approach to your project, their empathy with your organisation and staff; the people they employ; their sector knowledge. The added value they can bring to the project and to your organisation. All the usual sort of stuff I discuss frequently on my blog, but with a different level of emphasis because of such a need for comparisons and differentiators.

And that to me is still the most important thing.

But it is the software too
There is more you can also do to look at the software more deeply. Even if it looks similar (which it probably will because it will be on the same platform) it will of course be different when you look closer, especially in the areas of fundraising or membership. Some of the specifics you could consider include:
  • How are the companies actually presenting the core data which you want to see? Is it truly intuitive? Is there flexibility in its presentation? Have they understood how fundraisers want to see and use such data?
  • Look especially more deeply at the most critical parts of the software. For most charities who are doing fundraising this will be the income management. i.e. If a supplier is offering you a solution with some sort of template to manage your cash donations and regular donations, then how have they structured that? Have they used the platform's standard entities? Have they used custom entities? How have they created a system where you can record a pledge and its instalments? How have they created a system which enables you to create a direct debit mandate and then record all the future payments against that? And do they really understand regular giving itself? And how about reporting of this area - that takes some thinking about. This will start to show-up differences and suppliers' comprehension of this crucial area.
  • What about batch entry of income? What about the data entry of more complicated aspects of some fundraising data - e.g. in memory relationships, corporates and their contacts?
  • How have they actually coded the system to process direct debits? Can they manage high volumes - not just your current levels but if you increase them too?
  • Do they understand Gift Aid and how have they linked their system with HMRC's Charities Online?
  • How have they optimised the more common CRM elements for charities' needs? e.g. opportunities, leads. Have they shown how you major donors and HNWI fundraisers could get the most out of such systems?
In addition to all that, you also need to consider how different suppliers are considering the future of your software. Do they see it as a 'product' whereby they will be providing functional upgrades in the future? Or is it just a system which you are buying 'as is' and then build on enhancements as and when you want to? Neither way is right or wrong, it's down to your requirements and wishes. And depending on how you want to develop the system in the future, consider also the intellectual property (IP) aspects of the solutions.

Finally, you'll notice I haven't mentioned cost. So, yes, cost does of course distinguish and separate suppliers, but it's never as simple as saying that the cheaper solution is the one to go for. There is so much more to cost than that! Have a look at my blogs on cost factors and indeed, everything else about procurement.

Monday, January 12, 2015

My Predictions for NFP CRM Systems in 2015

Fortune Teller 

It's that time of year when people predict what's going to happen in the next 12 months and so I thought I would join in. So here goes: these are my predictions for what will happen in the arena of UK NFP fundraising databases and the CRM market in 2015:

1. The increasing adoption of Salesforce and Microsoft CRM Dynamics - especially for the larger charities looking for a new system. In the last 12-18 months, for the tenders for fundraising databases that I know of amongst larger charities, more have been won by a company selling Salesforce or Dynamics - and I think this pattern will continue at the moment. Blackbaud CRM will also be in the mix but it has not been as successful of late here in the UK (outside the Higher Education sector) and ACS's CareNG does not seem to be competing at the same level as the others right now.

So at the moment, for larger charities who are also looking for a development platform, I believe Dynamics and Salesforce will top the sales.

That said, I wouldn't be at all surprised if one or two larger charities implementing CRM systems for fundraising find it tough going. There are still very few sizeable UK charities using such systems for their dedicated fundraising database and I think some may find it takes longer and/or costs more than they expect.
  • As a 'sub-division' prediction on this, I also think that 'templated' versions of Salesforce and Dynamics will grow in popularity - i.e. offerings from third-party suppliers with some built-in charity functionality such as Direct Debit management, Gift Aid etc - both in terms of client adoption and new templates being developed by more companies. Plus Salesforce's own NGO Connect adaptation could be interesting to watch if it is developed for the UK market.
2. The mid-size charity market for fundraising systems will see a battle between Raiser's Edge NXT and Access thankQ CRM. Both Blackbaud and The Access Group are bringing out new products in 2015 as successors to their existing Raiser's Edge and thankQ systems and it will be interesting to see which moves ahead. It looks like The Access Group will release their new offering first so that could give them a head start, but Blackbaud's new technology and financial clout should see them pick up new clients later in the year.

That said, Raiser's Edge NXT still has some questions hanging over it as I have highlighted before in another blog post, so it will be very interesting to see how that does develop.

I also believe that CiviCRM will win deals amongst mid-size charities but it needs one or two more significant implementations in the UK to really get it to be more widely adopted. (And of course Salesforce and Dynamics will also be an option for this level, but for those organisations with 'pure fundraising' needs there would need to be a good reason to be building from 'vanilla' for such systems - hence, again, my prediction for the growth of CRM fundraising templates.)
  •  I also think that Blackbaud's existing Raiser's Edge 7 is not going to disappear for some time. It (like other similar products) still provides solid functionality for charities' operational fundraising requirements, so despite its age and shortcomings it will probably continue to sell for at least this year, and carry on being used for at least the next few years by many existing clients.
3. Extensibility will be increasingly more important. In terms of system flexibility, adaptation and development, charities are now moving on from accepting the limitations that the more traditional fundraising databases have offered historically. The goals, wishes and requirements of fundraisers (and therefore the database team too) means that such restrictions are almost certainly no longer acceptable for mid-size/large NFPs.

Thus the need for the increased power and flexibility of system extensibility has come to the fore. Charities want to be able to change forms and screens, insert entities and fields and add data integrity/business rules etc more easily than they have been able to in the past. And they want to be able to do this themselves, without having to be technical geniuses. But they also want to at least have the option of being able to get down-and-dirty with programming code if they desire to do that and if they are capable of doing so, and to be able to use such code so that they can extend the database beyond what it was originally developed for - but in such a way so that it won't break it in the future when new standard upgrades are released.

The CRM systems are leading the way in this but the new products from Blackbaud and thankQ are catching-up in some (if not all) areas and some degree of extensibility will no longer be a nice-to-have for new implementations.

4. Charities will want to integrate their fundraising/CRM database with their website and other data sources more tightly and with more automation… but they will still find it hard. This fundamental need is not new of course; and my point here is really a bit of an 'anti-prediction' in that although I predict the increasing desire for such integration, I still think it is going to be hard for more automated integration apart for those charities who have a decent budget and good in-house technical skills, or for the more 'common' data sources such as JustGiving.

Ironically, from the point of view of attempting to be Nostradamus, I hope I am wrong about this prediction.

5. Software companies and salespeople will continue to push Mobile/Social Media/Cloud as their innovations. Which is hardly a radical prediction, is it! After all, this is already happening. And of course these technologies do offer the potential of great benefits and the ability to interact with our fundraising/CRM systems.

But why I have highlighted this area is because I want to add that you shouldn't follow these trends blindly and you shouldn't be buying a new system just because it offers such capabilities. Instead, work out why or how such technologies could be used with your database. For example, it is not just a matter of recording tweets in your CRM system (I mean, are fundraisers really going to look through hundreds of tweets on a fundraising database?); it is not just about seeing a supporter's Facebook page from within the CRM (although that can offer some speed of access); and it's not just about accessing your database from your mobile/tablet without a good business reason, no matter how flashy the salespeople make that look. Although, yes, mobile access for event fundraisers at an event, for development staff visiting alumni, for member access - absolutely, that sounds good. So do it where it's right to do so - but not just for the sake of it.

A final note on this: I should add that there are of course many more fundraising databases available (AdvantageNFP, Harlequin, KISSS etc) and CRM systems (Workbooks, SugarCRM etc) - see the itforcharities website for such lists - and my references to the systems above do not mean that they are necessarily right for you or your particular project. If you do look for a new database then you need to do a proper analysis and procurement exercise and select whichever system and supplier is right for your organisation.