Nonprofit Development Operations and Technology (Video, Podcast, Transcription)

View this video directly on YouTube (and subscribe to our channel!) Recording of a webinar presented in partnership with Community IT Innovators.

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Webinar: Ask the Experts on Nonprofit Development Operations and Technology

In this video, four of Build’s experts lead a discussion about the challenges facing modern development/fundraising operations. We answer questions from the audience about development operations and technology challenges, and share insights and experience from our combined decades of experience in nonprofit strategy and constituent relationship management (CRM).

The Questions

We shared our thoughts in answer to the following questions:

  1. What have been the major fundraising development, technology trends and evolutions over the past three to four years? (4:38)

  2. It seems that Salesforce has dominated the market. Do you think, Microsoft or any other company has a chance to be competitive? (10:55)

  3. What should non-profit fundraising and development look for in the future evolution of CRM technology? What are the kinds of improvements or enhancements that we should expect to see maybe over the next year or two or even longer than that? (13:08)

  4. Do you think there are more advancements that can be made with data visualization or have those peaks been reached? (19:08)

  5. I’m starting an individual giving program from the ground up. What should be my major focus points? (25:24)

  6. What are the potential pitfalls in selecting a new CRM system for my organization? (34:59)

  7. Our CRM seemed perfect during the sales pitch in but reality, there are a lot of workarounds that are taking up a lot of my time. (44:00)

  8. What’s the role of leadership and supporting good constituent relationship management practices? (51:56)


Peter Mirus: Hello everyone and welcome to our webinar for May 2018, presented as a partnership between Build Consulting and Community IT Innovators.

In this webinar, Build Consulting’s panel of experts will be answering your questions submitted regarding non-profit development operations and technology. We received a number of excellent questions from the audience in advance which we boiled down into six that we plan on answering during the session and if we have extra time, we’ll take additional live questions from the audience towards the end. This is an informal collaborative discussion.

If you would like a more comprehensive answer to a particular question or something that speaks more directly to your individual situation, please do contact us. We’ll be happy to have a conversation with you and information about how to reach us will be shared at the conclusion of this webinar. Finally, this webinar is being recorded and the video and slides will be made available to all registrants within the next day or so. My name is Peter Mirus and I’m a partner at Build Consulting and I’ll be the moderator for today’s session. I’ve spent the last two years, helping non-profit organizations develop and implement their communications developments and technology strategies.

Before we get started, please remember to ask questions via chat, if you have any. Feel free to connect with us on Twitter. Avoid multi-tasking. You may just miss the best part of the presentation. And finally, as I mentioned the links and the recording slides will be shared after the webinar.

Before we get started into the Q&A just a few little bits about Community IT and Build Consulting. We’re both invested in working exclusively with non-profit organizations. We have a strategic orientation towards helping our clients make informed decisions and we collaborate with our clients to make sure that they can feel empowered and own the choices that they are making regards their technology.

Build Consulting provides three different kinds of services.

  • First is outsourced interim CIO services.
  • We perform projects in which we do a wide range of strategic assessments or technology road maps as well as system selection and implementations
  • And with Build’s team we provide outsourced data managers to non-profits. With deep development operations and non-profit CRM expertise.

Joining me today are Peter Gross, Jo Butler and Kyle Haines all from Build Consulting. Peter, can you introduce yourself?

Peter Gross: Absolutely. Hi, everybody, I’m Peter Gross. I’m one of the partners at Build Consulting. Similar to Peter, I’ve been in the non-profit and technology business since the early 90s and I have been working with this great team at Build in various capacities for many, many years. So, really happy to be here and appreciate everyone’s questions.

Peter Mirus: Jo.

Jo Butler: Good afternoon everyone. My name is Jo Butler and I’ve been a Build team CRM Manager for about a year and a half. Before Build, I worked my whole career on the other side, from the other side, working for non-profit organizations on conservation, healthcare and international development. So, I have a real fondness for working with fundraising and development opportunities and I like to think that I have a good understanding of all the intricacies of both systems and processes. I’m very much looking forward to our discussion today and thank you very much for having me.

Peter Mirus: Thanks Jo. Kyle.

Kyle: Good afternoon. I’m Kyle Haines. I’m also a partner at Build Consulting and like Jo, I spent some time working in non-profits. My start was in the fundraising department in a non-profit in the Pacific Northwest and so while I enjoy a lot of different topics related to non-profit technology, today’s conversation is one of particular interests and I’m looking forward to getting to spend some time with my colleagues and actually hearing some of their ideas and some of their thoughts on some of the questions that we got today.

Peter Mirus: Thanks Kyle. Without further ado, let’s move onto the first question from our audience. Again, these questions were submitted in advance. We have six of them and it is:  

  • What have been the major fundraising development, technology trends and evolutions over the past three to four years? (4:38)

So, for those who are head down in their own particular solution or might not have been in the business of selecting new solutions for their organization, recently – What’s changed? What’s been happening? and Kyle, I’d like to go to you first on this one.

Kyle:  I mean, it’s funny, because when I started in fundraising, we were actually using a DOS based program and so, there have been evolutions over the last 28 years. But I think the pace of change in the last three to four years has been somewhat remarkable. And I think probably the biggest change as everybody is aware of is this idea of software as a service where you have software that’s hosted in the cloud. But what’s one of the bigger changes that I’m seeing is this idea of platform as a service where organizations are looking at CRM platforms and approaching it as an enterprise wide CRM exercise. And two examples would be Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365. Both of those, we’ve actually blogged about it, I think Peter Mirus, you’ve written a blog piece and so have you Peter Gross. This in some ways, has been a seismic change for some organizations and some have been successful and some haven’t, and I think some of the questions we got speak to this. But what this has meant for organizations is that they have to be more attendant to the change implications of CRM projects in a way that before the last three or four years, they perhaps didn’t as those systems primarily impacted single departments.

The second one that I can think of is that there has been an increased emphasis on linking engagement in CRM. So, when I started those were two disparate systems. And I think more and more people are interested in a set of systems that give organizations better visibility into how they manage constituent relations and how they engage with those constituents. And this just means that there is a large quantity of data coming oftentimes from multiple systems.

Jo Butler: Yeah, I’ve been really impressed about how many smaller sort of software companies have created really robust solutions to specific fundraising needs and so, it takes the pressure off non-profits to find that sort of single CRM solution that everything sort of well, example like a of course, marketing or peer-to-peer plug-in or platform. And there is also a number of integration tools that help various systems talk to each other. They are making managing those multiple plug-ins a little less daunting and cumbersome.

Peter Gross: Yeah, this is Peter Gross. I would build on something Kyle said earlier like the phrase, seismic change associated with platforms as a service. I also started out in fundraising a long time ago. And back in those days, people had pretty much single point solutions. They had a fundraising solution and they had a financial solution and maybe there was another solution but they were, for the most part things that were built by vendors and they sort of knew who to go to from the perspective of getting support for that particular solution. You might not have always liked the answer, but I think part of the seismic shift that people moving to platforms in Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics is really that it has caused us and our clients to have to rethink what support looks like for that. For a couple of reasons. One is that Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics really have a different support structure. They don’t have the same kind of intimate knowledge of the specific functionality that’s non-profits are often deploying and the other reason is that often cases, and we’ve seen this probably more in Salesforce than in Microsoft Dynamics recently, is every one of the installations implementations of Salesforce has a different set of apps. Those apps are often differently customized and so being really careful about what, not only can we get it built but how do you support it over time has really forced us to think differently about what that looks like.

Peter Mirus: That’s a great point Peter and in addition what has been said by Kyle and Jo and Peter, so far, I’m thinking about one of my clients right now who was doing a selection with for a CRM and once they start getting a little bit more into the leads about what a CRM platform was and how they might be interacting with something like Salesforce, they realized that they needed to also plan for what other systems that they were going to be using over the next three years say. They had to select what the ERP of the future would be. They had to select their HRIS system of the future, the human resources information system. So, what I’m seeing increasingly is full sort of cross organizational selections happening at once, even if the implementation is gonna be phased. Kyle are you seeing anything similar to that?

Kyle: You know, I think that’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought about before. A client that I have been at most recently, that’s actually precisely what happened. The move to Salesforce, sort of spurred them to take a look at their financial system and they ended up moving to a cloud based system primarily for the benefit of being able to better integrate with Salesforce. And obviously I was aware of those two things. But I don’t think I had ever specifically tried to link together those two things. But I think that’s an interesting idea.

Peter Mirus: I’m gonna go ahead and mix in a question from the audience here since you’ve mentioned Salesforce and the question is,

  • It seems that Salesforce has dominated the market. Do you think, Microsoft or any other company has a chance to be competitive? (10:55) Peter, would you like to take a stab at that one?

Peter Gross: Sure. So, I think yes, absolutely, other companies have a chance to be competitive. I think, you know, certainly Blackbaud and some of the more traditional fundraising solution companies as well as online communication companies, I think there is a tremendous amount of diversity in the marketplace. So, I think we are not in danger of Salesforce sort of dominating the market and I think we’ve started to hear rumblings that Microsoft Dynamics maybe moving more in a non-profit oriented direction as well. I’d say, we really don’t know what that looks like or when it’s coming about. But in some ways, I would say, the Salesforce entrance into the market has provided competition for, you know, what has always been the sort of elephant in the room which is Blackbaud and I think it’s been to both companies’ benefit that they are both there because it’s spurring innovation, it’s spurring a desire probably to beat each other and thus to roll out more and more functionality that will support et cetera, et cetera. So I don’t have any concerns about the marketplace being dominated because there is a lot more interesting choices than there used to be, at least from my perspective.

Peter Mirus: I think that’s a great answer and we certainly are seeing an interact with different vendors, you know, pretty much every month such as Every Action and Roy solution and a number of others. One that was just mentioned in chat is CiviCRM, we position them or I at least usually see them more used by small to mid-size community and activists organizations, that’s not necessarily where they are exclusively. But that seems to be the sweet spot for CiviCRM implementors.

Let’s go ahead and move to the next question. We can always circle back to this later, if there is more questions about it. And that is

  • What should non-profit fundraising and development look for in the future evolution of CRM technology? What are the kinds of improvements or enhancements that we should expect to see maybe over the next year or two or even longer than that? (13:08) Jo, let’s go to you first on this one.

Jo Butler: Okay, sure. Let’s see, I think definitely a rise in user friendly analytic tools. So, non-profits now have more control over analyzing their data and making thoughtful business consideration based upon these improvements in AI. So, by using a constituent’s behavior, predictive analytics can help implement sort of a smarter marketing campaign, help identify prospects for example. But ultimately they’re just tools, right. I would never recommend eliminating the human element for those processes. It’s only when you sort of combine the technology and the human element when they are in balance that you can really see the data deliver the results you need, you want.

Peter Gross: Yeah, that’s right. So, this is Peter G. again. I think that’s exactly right, what you just said and I would even take it a step further. Again, hearkening back to the good old days of my beginnings in this industry. You know, it used to be that we had a whole lot of data. We could report on that data and that we sent all the data off if we were in, if we were doing heavy direct marketing off to a firm that could crunch the numbers and do the analytics and all that kind of stuff and I think what we are seeing now to Jo’s point is that a lot more people have access to a lot more analytics and a lot more insight. And I think if I was, and I am, advising non-profits on some of these developments, we now are in a position where we have to start to get people caught up to how do we actually take all of these analytical information, all of these insights that are being provided to us by, whether it’s Salesforce or Raiser’s Edge NXT or any of these other pieces that are sort of hand delivering intelligence to us. How do we analyze it, how do we understand it and how do we incorporate it into a strategy that we can actually be able to take advantage of it?  

The phrase that’s been running through my head over the last six or nine months has been data literacy because I think, people just have a hard time. More and more data doesn’t necessarily make our jobs more and more easy or doesn’t make it easier. I think the better we get at it, insisting that all of us become more literate at managing and understanding data and being able to take those great insights and turn them into action. To me, that’s the next frontier of all this. I think, we already have so much technology that we still have to catch up to and if we do, we are gonna be able to take much better advantage of it and turn it into really actionable insights.

Kyle: I think it’s interesting and it’s interesting that I think that the question you asked Peter was about, you know, sort of technology was at the core of the question and I really like what Peter Gross said about data literacy because technology really can’t make us more data literate. And I think, you know, to build on what Jo and Peter said is I think building greater internal data capabilities and staffing around those capabilities is going to be one of the things that organizations are gonna have to be forward looking on. And I think building on what you said Peter, this idea of drawing a distinction in data between what’s interesting and what’s actionable and oftentimes I see organizations spend lots of time looking at data that may be interesting but it actually doesn’t roll out anything actionable. And I think that’s a piece of data literacy. How do we get organizations and their leaders to be craving information that’s actionable, not just interesting?

Peter Mirus: It’s a great point Kyle. Yeah, in regards to all of what you panelist have said in your responses, I remember reading a survey a couple of years ago from non-profit organizations in the U.K. and one of the things that it found was that, I think it was over 60% of organizations collected sort of M&E or monitoring and evaluation data about their programs and their operations effectiveness but only 5% actually used that data that they collected to improve operational practices. So, there is definitely a lag between not just the data collection and the ability to visualize and analyze the data and the desire and organizational alignment to leverage that capacity for improving outcomes. It’s been a huge stressor placed by funders on the non-profit community to show data and use that data to improve their outcomes. But the reality isn’t catching up quite to that as much as I had thought and hoped it would, you know, four, five years ago.

One of our audience members asked,

  • Do you think there are more advancements that can be made with data visualization or have those peaks been reached? (19:08)

I think that there is more advancement that can be made in data visualization and I’ll just throw out an example there. One of the things and I was privileged to see a couple of years ago was a demo of a product that was a three dimensional rendering of data visualizations within a virtual environment. So, I put on a pair of goggles and all of a sudden, I saw objects representing the data, field data and was floating in front of me in the air and I was told that within a couple of years, I would be able to put on a pair of gloves and interact with it, Ironman style. So, that’s something that’s gonna come first to government contractors and things of that nature that’s not technology that’s immediately gonna be moving into the non-profit space. But there is a lot of interest around how VR can be used along with data visualization and also storytelling to help influence funders and demonstrate new realities as it were. Go ahead Peter.

Peter Gross: Yeah, so, if I can add on to what you just said Peter by taking a 100% opposite direction. Just a quick reference for folks to look up because I think that in this topic of data literacy, I think would find it interesting. So, there is a book out by Charles Duhigg. He wrote one book on the power of habits and he wrote another book called “Smarter, Faster, Better”. I think that’s what it’s called. It’s a terrible title but it’s a great book. And he talks about a group of teachers in an education system, public school system and I think it was Ohio and they had this great new computer system that had all these data about students and outcomes and initiatives and you know, all of these things and they found that teachers just weren’t using it or weren’t getting the kind of insights out of it and what they ended up doing was actually taking a bunch of that data and putting it on index cards, putting it on the middle of the table and having groups of teachers interact with the data and organize it as a way to actually understand and make insights out of the data, which they did at a much higher rate than they did when it was in the computer. So, I’m not arguing for everyone to go back to index cards but rather as a way to say, this leap into understanding how to make sense out of data is more than just a computer issue. It’s actually a, it’s a mindset issue and there is a lot of interesting ways to get people more comfortable and more literate with managing data.

Kyle: I mean, it’s almost in some ways, you’re talking about a virtual reality experience, Peter Gross in that exercise, even though it’s not virtual, people are actually physically touching and interacting with the data, itself.

Peter Gross: Exactly.

Kyle: So, I mean, I think that gets really interesting.

Peter Mirus: Yeah, there is definitely a lot of technologiy that’s been developed that isn’t in non-profit’s hands right now because it’s not sort of available on the mass market. But just to cycle back to one of the points that was made earlier, I do think that in general, the technology is already beyond the average organization’s ability to take advantage of it. Whether it’s a question about data literacy or internal data analysis capacity or whatever that might be. So, there’s definitely more work, more immediate work to be done in the short term around developing staff capacity and for taking advantage of say Tableau for example, than there is for actual advancement in the technology. As far as the vast majority of contemporary non-profits are concerned.

Kyle: You know, interesting Jo and I were in a meeting earlier today and we are using data visualization even in just a rudimentary way to approach data clean up and to help the organization understand with something as granular as constituents for those of you who are on the webinar who work with Blackbaud products or work with Raiser’s Edge. You know, we were exploring how do we use a tool like Power BI, how do we use that…

Kyle: I was just saying, Jo and I were in a meeting earlier today, I’m sorry for the bad audio quality. I’m not quite sure why that is. And we were using data visualization to approach something even fairly prosaic like constituent codes. And talking about how we could allow our client to interact with that data to understand how a single field and the way they used it impacted their ability to analyze data. So, I really like the theme of interactivity that’s come up in what Jo said and what Peter Gross said and what you also said, Peter Mirus.

Peter Mirus: Yeah, I think one of the best ways to really get buy in for data quality internally is to visualize the data because for some reason, where you’re just doing numbers around, it doesn’t have the same impact, showing a pie chart that says that a huge 40% segment of constituents for which don’t currently have a code or don’t currently have estates on their address or whatever the case might be. Well, let’s keep the movement and go into the next question. And that is, oh,

  • I’m starting an individual giving program from the ground up. What should be my major focus points? (25:24)  I’d like to start off with Kyle. Kyle, you have a lot of experience in this area.

Kyle: I do. I have a lot of experience and a lot of interest especially when I get to think about individuals. Because there is a lot of behavior associated with individuals and it’s oftentimes easier for us to understand individual behavior versus organizational behavior and when I think about doing anything that relates to people and relates to individuals, I really want to understand what I want their journey to be through an organization. And I think of a constituent journey a lot like a flowchart and it just shows the steps of a constituent, a constituent’s interaction with you and any decisions that they might make or you might make along the way.

And I think, I would want to start with any organization, getting agreement around what that journey should be because from there, I can then began to build: what are the processes and the data and the people that we need to support that journey in a way that’s high quality?  

I guess, one thing, I would just add is: oftentimes the work we have to do is make sure that journey is actually aligned with best practices.  For example, in your constituent’s journey, we all know that acknowledgment letter should go out quickly. If your journey makes it impossible to get acknowledge donors quickly, you probably need to look at the journey and understand its processes again. So, starting with this idea of visualizing the journey I think oftentimes helps the entire organization understand its role in something like an individual giving program before I dive into what are specific processes? What are the data? What’s the data I need to collect and those sorts of decisions.

Peter Mirus: So, you’re saying that, that visualization and that process needs to anticipate even the selection of the technology.

Kyle: Yeah. It absolutely does. And I think that it, I think in some ways, because this is such a high stakes group for so many non-profits, it’s an easy way for the entire organization to understand the role they play in that journey. Especially because these are the folks often, for many organizations, that sustain the organization financially.

Jo Butler: Yeah, if I could add something just to the constituent’s journey, something that I have been reading up on lately and I have been observing is, you know, the constituent’s offline experience versus the online experience and so, I would probably recommend sort of an integrated online/offline giving strategy.

I think it’s important that, you know, you are keeping up with newer giving mechanisms in conjunction with traditional snail mail solicitation and I think that integrating fundraising will require assimilation across the entire process and commitment to become more constituent-centric. So, you know, sort of commit to better focus on, you know, programs, your departments and channels just by making small tweaks like share things, images, offers in the mail and email, keeping a website that manage, encouraging offline donors, online. And so the constituent experience is a sort of a different one depending on which avenue, they wish to donate. Does that make sense?

Peter Mirus: Absolutely. Peter G, would you like to add anything?

Peter Gross: Yeah, I mean, I would just add on, I think to what Kyle was talking about with the journey piece because one of the things, I’ve always found interesting and I’ve watched Kyle do this kind of exercise is, you know, in that journey, it’s interesting to think about, so if you think about an individual giving programming, any organization could probably identify 8 to 10 to 12 even more ways that potential actual or potential donors end up making their way onto their radar screen. Whether that’s a question of their alumni or they are, they’ve attended an event or they live in the community or they have signed up for a newsletter or they’ve requested more information about something or just a whole variety of things. And when you represent that visually, it asks a whole bunch of questions, sometimes answers some of them, but leaves you with a sense of, of the kind of questions that you would want to be able to answer.

So, if they came in expressing interest in some particular part of your organization, you might be able to test and see how likely is that person to be able to convert into a donor versus someone who maybe sent in a memorial gift for someone that they knew but they didn’t have a particular connection to the organization. And I think the more you think about sort of the inputs and the outputs and sort of what analysis you can get out of your system, that diagram is the kind of thing that helps you put into context, as opposed to just looking at a list of, you know, 10,000 constituents and 5,000 gifts and trying to make sense of it. When you start to create it graphically, it gives you a creativity and an insight that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. And it can be a little bit of you know, it takes practice. It’s something we have been doing for a long time but we were certainly bad at it when we first started. But it’s a different way. It’s an easier way to actually communicate with your colleagues because pictures always work better than words and you can always hang words off of pictures, if you need to. But starting with that visual approach that journey or flow approach, to it is really, really helpful.

Peter Mirus: That’s great insight. And I’m gonna actually backup a step from where you guys are at with the visualization of the constituent’s journey and suggest that the question be asked: Who are our constituents? One of the best and the most insightful things that I’ve helped that has been helpful to a lot of non-profits including as well as for-profits when I was in that arena was helping clients do an audience analysis just to determine who their audience, how their audience was broken down and who they were and what relationships should be prioritized that goes to inform. brand strategy, it’s informed communication strategy and development strategy as well. So, knowing who your constituents are and really understanding them, even if it require some sort of market analysis study or survey. When people hear those kinds of words, they often think, expensive but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case and again, that’s where a Survey Monkey account and just good knowledge of best practices can be a big help for you because if you have the right best practices, then you can implement those kinds of learning processes that are relatively low cost.

Kyle: I just want to note that my microphone was stuck on mute and that was exactly the point that I want to make as I was on Peter’s Gross talk. You know, I think embedded in my answer was a little bit of my bias towards thinking that individual, the individual giving program is extremely important and I think I explicitly said that, that it was some of the most important constituents. But I need to get agreement across an organization that, that in fact is the case and every organization, how they are engaged with and interact with constituents and can’t treat them all equally. And the intro of what you added Peter Mirus, that’s what I took from that is that the starting point before you get to journey is probably understanding: how important is this constituent group or this audience and how much am I willing to invest in that experience and into that journey and how does it relate to the business objectives of the organization?

Peter Mirus: Yeah. And again, that’s, that helps indicate what is necessary as opposed to what’s desirable or helps to take a lot of the guesswork out of what you need to do strategically and tactically. We didn’t really touch on technology selection, too much in answering this question but the next question really speaks to that and that is

  • What are the potential pitfalls in selecting a new CRM system for my organization? (34:59)

I think that this is a question that if it’s not explicitly voiced, we see it in the eyes of our clients, oftentimes, especially if they’ve been through failed CRM selections or implementations before and it’s especially, the pitfalls can be especially damaging now in the CRM as a platform era where you know, when you’re selecting a CRM, it’s, you know, it’s potentially integrating with or directly built in with things like learning management systems and human relation systems and even the entire accounting systems that are on the Salesforce platform among other platforms, so… Peter G, what would you say are the potential pitfalls in selecting a new CRM system?

Peter Gross: Yeah. I have a couple that I would point out. The first one is the assumption going in that the selection process should start by looking at the capabilities of the other CRM systems that are out there and it’s an easy thing to do because when you’re frustrated with your current system, it’s very comforting to go out and look at systems that appear to be easier to use, more functionally robust, have cleaner data, largely because it’s sample data but nevertheless, they have cleaner data in them and so, it all feels much more comforting. But the single, I would say the single biggest challenge that I’ve seen in folks actually adopting new CRM systems which in our view starts at the selection process is really an inability on the part of the organization to gain agreement about how it wants to do its business. And I would go back to this individual giving question and some stuff that Kyle said, you know, if your individual giving program and how you’re analyzing it and executing it is gonna rely on pulling information and constituents from a lot of different departments, those things are frequently brought down and not successful because of a failure to gain agreement across the organization. Now, that has very little to do with technology, that has to do with the organization. But being clear on what the expectations are for how your business is going to run is the most important thing you can do in advance or in the beginning of starting a selection process. Because if there is clear articulation and agreement on first: how we run our business, second how that turns into processes and requirements and data requirements that can be communicated to vendors in order to be tested and see what solutions are working, everything else becomes easier from there. In almost all cases, selections that lead to implementations that go badly, go badly because of business reasons not because of technology reasons.

The second, the second pitfall, we see is a tendency to isolate the selection of the CRM in a particular department and that’s often fundraising. Although, we have certain seen sometimes fundraising development, we have certain seen times where the organization is sort of handed that off to the IT or IS department sort of run with it because A, you know, because it’s a piece of technology. But the truth is that even in an organization that is sort of heavily fundraising centric, a CRM or a fundraising system is an enterprise system and that it affects programming areas, it affects finance. Obviously, it affects IS or IT, the executive suite as well as external constituents. Sometimes to a greater or lesser degree. And those stakeholders that are heavily affected by the selection should be in the selection process from the beginning. Now, sometimes some of them might be more heavily involved and some of them might be more in a consultative role occasionally. But what we like to say is that the implementation begins with the selection and we want to model the behavior that we are expecting to engender in the CRM system, in the selection process as we are beginning it. And involvement is the only way to make that happen.

Jo Butler: Yeah, I would totally agree. I think that a really avoidable pitfall is just to include individuals that perform or manage the business processes that you’re looking for the new system to improve. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a solution that doesn’t meet your needs and you have unhappy staff. I would also, you know, make it a priority to give staff that are involved in the selection for the time and resources to be thoughtfully involved by providing ten or potentially delaying other organization priorities, so that this system get the most important and not just a side project that people have to fit in to their already busy day.

Peter Mirus: Kyle, do you have something to add to this?

Peter Gross: Are you on mute and saying wonderful things on mute Kyle?

Kyle: No, I was actually thinking about what Jo had just said, you said it as well Peter. I mean, one of the biggest pitfalls is this feeling of lurching and software selection, when they are done well, they take a ton of time and energy. And implementation are no different and implementations are hard. And I would want to be sure that if sort of this idea of CRM wasn’t working for my organization, and when I talk about CRM, I’m talking about more than just the technology. If it’s not working for my organization, I would want to make darn sure that technology really was to blame. Because this feeling of lurching, we have seen it. It saps energy and saps morale and people should especially executives should be attendant to the amount of energy that this work takes on top of what the work that we all normally have to do in our lives at non-profits.

Peter Gross: Yeah, and this is Peter Gross. I would just expand on that Kyle because I think that’s absolutely right and I probably would reorder mine to say that the first pitfall is assuming that the problem is the technology. And it might be, but the solution almost certainly starts outside of the technology and leads later to whatever the right technology might be.

Peter Mirus: Yeah. This is Peter Mirus again. I would just say also in addition to what my colleague just said that for all of the presentations that we make about data management or data quality particularly as having to do with CRM, the questions about how to make sure those things happen well always comes back to leadership. And I don’t want to get, that’s a, that idea of leadership and technology change is one that we can go on forever and we’ve done a past webinar on change management and that’s a factor in it. So, if you want to go to the resources section of the Build Consulting website at, you’ll see that.

But I did also want to call attention to those who are interested in the idea of leadership and technology change efforts that the top article on our blog right now, the most recently published that is, is called The Top 5 Ways Non-profit Leadership Should Support Technology Change Efforts and by our colleague David Deal based on his considerable experience in this area and it uses CRM example of a successful CRM system and implementation and a failed implementation as being the example for that. And there is a lot of great information in there for leaders, that leaders can take advantage of and that we certainly can help bring to the attention of non-profit leadership where others inside of the organization might not feel they have the voice to make those points.

Want to go ahead and move onto the next question. And it is a doozy:

  • Our CRM seemed perfect during the sales pitch in but reality, there are a lot of workarounds that are taking up a lot of my time. (44:00)

Striking out the cuss words that might be included to that statement. Is this common? That’s a great question and one that we get a lot. So, let’s see, I think, I’m gonna go to Peter G on this one. Why don’t you kick us off Peter?

Peter Gross: Sure. So the short answer is, it’s unbelievably common. I would say a fair number of the projects that we have been involved in have involved some sort of expectation of the perfection of the system that is coming in and part of that is that sales engineers or solution engineers or demo folks are just really good at demonstrating a software. Partially because they’re really good at it and partially because they structured it in such a way that you’re not seeing all the sausage being made when it’s going, when you are going through that exercise.

And I think there is a couple of ways to think about it. One is, we try to structure when we run selections with our clients, we try to structure our demos in a way that is specific enough in what we are asking the vendors to do, so that we get to see a little bit of an example of what a day in the life looks like for a particular process for a particular staff member. That’s not gonna 100% solve the problem but if you just allow the vendors to show what they want, they are gonna show you all the candy and they are not gonna show you the vegetables.

The second one is more just the general perspective about selecting CRMs that you should always expect that when you get a piece of software, no matter how you feel about it, it’s gonna be some combination of, it should do a fair amount out of the box, maybe that number is 60 to 70%. There is gonna be some of the remaining percentage that’s gonna require you to do that process differently unless, you really want to have a workaround. And then the rest of it may either be, maybe there is a little bit of a workaround and there is a customization, if you can make the business justification for the cost associated with it. And there is sometimes that case to be made. And some, you know, those percentages are just guidelines as Jo will tell you having been through an implementation where it was more like 60% custom in terms of the expense of the project. They do vary. But I think you should always go into implementation particularly of a CRM expecting. We are not gonna be able to do exactly the way we do business now. It’s going to have to be adjusted in one way or another.

Jo Butler: Yeah, I think that, I’m reading this question as in, it’s already been implemented and I’m sort of stuck now with this solution. So, getting over the grievances, I would probably, you know,  think about before working out that time consuming workaround that this might be a great opportunity to review the business process itself,

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a person and you know, we’re assessing sort of the business process and I say, why you’re doing it this way and they come back and say, I don’t know. This is how I was taught to do it. And so, you know, perhaps work has been made overly complicated over time. And not because of a strategic business need. So, I would always question why the organization needs it to be this way and then if there is sufficient reasoning. Obviously, you need to work around the limitations of the software. But I would also, you know, as far as solutions, I would look to some of the apps, I mentioned earlier that could potentially integrate with the system that was chosen versus manually doing the time and workaround.

Kyle: I mean, I think the lousy thing about going third is that Peter and Jo always steal all of the good answers and I have to really work to find something that’s active.

Peter Mirus: You don’t have to come up with anything, if you don’t want to.

Kyle: Well, maybe the one thing I would add is going back to this, you know, I think both Jo and Peter said this that if there is a perfect system that doesn’t have any workarounds, I haven’t seen it and I would love for somebody on today’s call, if they have seen it to let me know what it is. And it’s really about doing the software selection process well. And Peter Gross talked about some of the things that comprise that.

Going back to what, I think one of the first questions I was talking about this idea of platform as a service and an organization wide CRM system, if that’s the vision, it means that there are going to have to be workarounds. There is just not enough money in the world that is gonna build a CRM system that requires no flexibility in how departments and people work. So, I think Peter and Jo offered some specific examples about how to get at those instances, how to address them. But I think it’s really about setting the stage at the beginning with the organization, with your organization saying: We need to do the selection well. We need to get the percentage as high as we possibly can around what this solution does for us natively and matches how we work. But we also have to be willing to change how we work. And to answer the question why are we doing something differently? and how important is it to mesh up the software to what it is that we are doing. Especially, when you’re talking about fundraising specifically.

Peter Mirus: I just want to close the book on this question by offering some advice to the audience and that is there might be some room for hope within your current system, I mean, not everything is learnt during the sales process or even in the initial training. I mean, I once had a client that was doing something really complex, manual reporting outside of the system data export first and then manipulation that was taking a good 8 to 12 hours a month and in reality, it literally just two clicks that they weren’t aware of inside of the system that would have produced the exact same report in less than two minutes.

So, there is always, it’s always good to go back and take a look at, get a refresher. A lot of organizations skimp on training and as a result their system admin and other staff have a very low awareness of everything that their systems can do. So, there is room for, there is room for hope for improvements within the context of the existing systems often, it can just be sometimes a matter of becoming more familiar with the platform.

We only have a couple of minutes to tackle the next question, which is good because we kind of anticipated it earlier and that is

  • What’s the role of leadership and supporting good constituent relationship management practices? (51:56) And we already touched on this. But I would invite Jo, if you have anything to add to this experience. I know, you’ve been through the wars with a couple organizations whose leadership was out of alignment, so…

Jo Butler: Yeah. You know, I can say obviously that sometimes, it’s not obvious but leadership plays an integral role in any successful CRM adoption and management. And I think, you know, like you said, we touched on it previously, and I think it was Peter G’s comment that the database, itself may be maintained by the IT or development department, but the organization I would say, institutional intelligence which is usually the constituent data. So, all leaders from CIO down to, you know, program managers, they should understand the importance of that great data management and sort of be cheerleaders. Be vocal about the importance of CRM.

Some things that we’ve instituted across organizations with Build Teams is, you know, non-profit establishing sort of a CRM governance structure that’s made up of staff from a variety of different levels, and departments and so, even if the object of that, it’s, you know, seen as an organizational priority. One of the other things that I’ve suggested was to incorporate CRM entry use, interaction into staff annual goals to make sure there is some sort of accountability. Because otherwise, you know, if it’s not part of their goal sometimes just an additive and you know, it’s not given the importance that it needs. But yes, successful adoption of any new protocol like indisputably fast from the top down.

Kyle: Yeah, if we have time, I would just add a couple of things to build on that. I think there is two things that leaders in the organization have to do. One is they have to use the system themselves. I use this example a lot but if my 89 year old father can build a family tree online with thousands of entries, then there isn’t a single executive in the world that has an excuse not to use a system to add and consume information. The second thing is, I learnt this early on in my career doing implementation at a university in New Orleans was: if you’re holding meetings, just use it as an example because that’s what the example at the university. When they held major gift meetings, they didn’t allow information to be analyzed, in other words, the reports to get created and handed out, that didn’t come out of in that case the Raiser’s Edge. If it wasn’t in the Raiser’s Edge in a particular example, it simply didn’t exist. And you’d be amazed how quickly that sets the example of having high volume, high volumes of and high quality data in the system. Because no one was allowed to bring their own excel spreadsheet to say, look how much work I did. You didn’t do it in Raiser’s Edge, you didn’t exist. That’s what I would add.

Peter Mirus: Kyle, you want to add something on it real quick at the end here?

Kyle: Yeah. I mean, if you don’t have a leadership on board, you should either pump or stomp on the brakes as hard as possible. Especially, if you’re talking about making additional investments in CRM and effective leaders understand that CRM is more than just a piece of technology as I think we have hit on multiple times. And maybe if you don’t hit the brakes, maybe you should even take the keys out of the ignition and throw them out the window into a lake. You just absolutely have to have leaders involved in communicating and supporting the importance of CRM.

Peter Mirus: Great. Yeah, we’ve seen many projects scuttled by inconsistent or a lack of leadership being involved in these kinds of projects in all the ways mentioned and as I mentioned earlier, if you go to, you will see the article that I referenced that will help you to understand more of the aspects of that.

So, in closing today, and this is a good segue into the slide. If you would like more information on this topic and other related topics, you can visit our blog or learning resources section of our site and you could subscribe for a newsletter by going to We generally send things out once or twice a month. So, we are not gonna send you a lot of stuff and but it’s gonna be high value.

And then, again if you have any questions that didn’t get answered today or you didn’t want to send in using the webinar, we didn’t hit everything that met your expectations, let us know. We would love to chat with you. You can reach out to us on Twitter or LinkedIn. You can also just send us an email directly to the website at

And before we close, just a quick pitch for next month’s Community IT webinar in June. There is gonna be an announcement going out about that soon. I’m not sure what the exact date is but it’s Encryption 101. And the idea of this webinar is that encryption is rampantly becoming the preferred method for securing information. So, Community IT is gonna talk about the basics of encryption. How it’s currently used in popular systems such as websites and email and simple tools for using encryption as secure devices and information. So, it’s something especially with new compliance regulations coming out later this month is getting a lot of attention right now. Understanding exactly what encryption is, how it works and what its vulnerabilities are, if not complemented by other security mechanisms are very important.

Now, that was our time. Thank you all for joining us today. 

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