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How to get the most out of your CRM system

Melanie May | 28 January 2021 | News

Getting the most out of your CRM system is dependent on a number of factors, from choosing the right one, to resourcing the project properly, and then ensuring it’s well integrated and maintained.
Here are some tips from the experts.
Choose the right one in the first place
The first step to getting the most out of your CRM system is to select the right one in the first place. This means being very clear about what you want it to do both in terms of the requirements, and the improvements you expect it to make – in other words, the desired outcomes. This list can then be compared against the systems you look at.
Julie Pitt from PtG Business, says:

“I see a lot of small charities saying we don’t have much data, we need a CRM, what do you recommend? The issue with that question is that you’re then putting the decision in the hands of the best sales person.
“One of the really big issues is a lack of understanding that even if you’re a small organisation, you need to understand both what your immediate needs are, and your long-term needs. Think about your five-year fundraising strategy.
“Come up with a no frills list of exactly what you need a CRM to support you with, and prioritise.
“The basic priorities are number one, the business critical stuff – if you don’t have this, you can’t function, then number two is the need to have but can negotiate – so where you’re more flexible on what that functionality looks like. Number three is the bells and whistles. These are the nice to haves – a bit like a car dealership saying look at this model’s lovely colour and leather interior – but nothing to do with what you need it for.”

Consider all the costs
Problems can often occur because the project costs haven’t been wholly considered at the outset.
Allen Reid, Director of Client Projects, Hart Square says:


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

“People often forget where the costs are. Firstly there are the supplier costs in terms of licensing, the software, and the services they provide, such as training, but the cost of resourcing the project internally is also often forgotten or under-estimated. People will tend to observe the cash outward cost but client-side projects are often under resourced.
“One of the other most common surprise areas is the integration. Think about all the platforms and channels you operate on, or want to, such as Virgin Money, PayPal, and GoFundMe. Think about regular giving, and Gift Aid sign ups, and processing costs.
“The 360-view is something people have been talking about since the 1980s – but if you’re going to achieve that you need to look at all the places data comes in from and ensure they’re all supported, and that every business process is also supported – or people will still end up breaking out into spreadsheets.”

Implement it properly
Don’t expect it just to work after simply switching it on. Fundraising CRMs are among the most complex systems to implement because they hook into so many critical processes, says Azadi Sheridan from Productle. Investing in their design and testing then is critical for success, and you should plan to spend a large portion of time reviewing and ensuring the CRM performs well for you before going live.
He adds:

“The CRM has to align with your business practices to perform well. Whoever runs the CRM project needs to be able to either define how they want the software to match their existing processes or be in a position to change their processes to align with the software. Too often this task is given to a junior “techie” staff member rather than someone who is able to say whether the system really improves how the charity runs. CRM implementation is also a team job requiring work to define needs and testing from experts from around the organisation.
“And, don’t forget to invest in data migration. Make sure your data is structured and as simple as possible, so you don’t pay for expensive programming to fix this. Ensure too that you know what you want to do with that data in the new CRM – so you don’t have to pay repeatedly to migrate it in different ways. That normally means paying for some expertise in the new CRM so that you’re sure you are making good decisions. Make sure too that you take the time to test it goes into the new system well.”

Maintain your system
Like everything, your CRM system needs to be maintained if you’re going to continue getting the best out of it into the future.
Sheridan says:

“Good data management is all about structure and appropriate planning for the future. Having people in your organisation or available who have the key competencies to make the most of your investment is key. They should be able to maintain a system by making minor tweaks, understanding users’ changing needs to be sure the system continues to meet them and doesn’t become antiquated.”

And finally, take advantage of all that it can help you with
Yes, it’s a database, and yes it will help you engage better with supporters, but it’s also much more than that – so take advantage of its full functionality.
Julie Pitt adds:

“Smaller organisations are often spending too much time on back office processes facilitating the running of the business. A good CRM set up in the right way with the right data will reduce a lot of that for you, so scope out the systems available properly and get something that reduces as much of your back office admin as possible so you can focus on fundraising. Fundraisers need to spend as little time as possible on back office, particularly if you’re a sole fundraiser, and this is what a CRM can really help you with.”

 Reid agrees:

“A CRM is also a team productivity tool. It helps you to see what you need to do today, to see where you are in terms of events, targets, communications and responses to those, for example, and to allow you to have better insight and delivery into all of that.
“It allows better collaboration on tasks and it’s also pushing back the line at which you need a tech person, by enabling you, with drag and drop, to pull out sophisticated information.”

And this is as critical now as it’s ever been. Shaf Mansour at The Access Group says:

“For charities looking to make a difference during hugely challenging times, CRM systems can make it straightforward to not only manage, track and build ongoing relationships with supporters, but also to offer access to in-depth data to inform decision making.
“A CRM’s reporting and analytics dashboard provides an at-a-glance view of key benchmarks such as income, attrition or new donors, while also allowing for more detailed analysis of in-depth data.
“Providing trustees, departments or regional branches within the charity with access to custom dashboards can also help to create a wider understanding of performance across the whole organisation. Using a cloud-based CRM provides a 360-degree view of the whole organisation and its members, which can be accessed remotely, forming a vital evidence base to inform strategies.”