Tuesday, February 03, 2015
Are charities really ready yet to take full advantage of CRM platforms?
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.
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.