Is it Time to Make a Change? Four Steps Every Organization Should Take Before Upgrading CRM Systems

Is it Time to Make a Change?

Four Steps Every Organization Should Take Before Upgrading CRM Systems 

We all strive for our organizations to become data-driven, but to get there, we must have a strong infrastructure of systems, technology, people, and processes to support robust and effective data management. Client relationship management (CRM) systems are an integral part of this infrastructure, capturing data and bringing it to life through reports and visualizations allowing us to automate, personalize, and apply results strategically to support growth.  

These days, if your organization is considering upgrading to a new CRM system, the wide variety of options requires careful review of your existing technical and people ecosystems to make an informed decision.   

The following steps will guide your planning process as you contemplate a CRM conversion. 

Obtain Buy-in from Senior Leadership 

It is important for senior leadership in advancement and information technology to be in communication regarding systems and technology enhancements.  

Rapid technology and software changes require due diligence on our part to know these products and understand their value to the organization. 

Critical elements beyond the cost must factor into your decision-making process. Your organization must decide how a conversion fits into your overall fundraising and engagement strategy and assess staff appetite for change.  

Additionally, you must evaluate staffing requirements, business process needs, automation capabilities, reporting and analytics, and other factors specific to your organization. With all this complexity in view, leaders in both Advancement Services and IT must agree that it is time to make the shift.  

Regardless of whether the case for a conversion is made by leadership or for leadership, here is some of the information that must be gathered to educate and equip key stakeholders within your organization. 

  • Senior leadership in advancement must assess the preparedness of advancement staff and decide if there are adequate financial and personnel resources for staff members to implement a new CRM while still in their current roles. 
  • Senior leadership including the head of Advancement Services must understand the willingness and ability of IT to review products and help with the implementation. Ideally, IT will assign a representative to be part of this process to help guide decisions.  
  • Advancement Services must conduct a technical needs assessment that reveals gaps in the current system. If your internal capacity is limited, an outside firm can also assist with this process. The technical assessment reviews specific tasks required by staff to perform their duties, clarifying end-user needs by program and function. End users are invited to highlight the most vital functions for their day-to-day work, giving them a stake in this process.  
  • Stakeholders must make a concerted effort to review business processes and decide if changes are required going into the conversion. Look toward simplifying your business processes, when possible, with the goal of improving efficiency. Take the time to review your acknowledgement process to ensure donors are receiving the right touchpoints, define guidelines for event management, and assess prospect management policies to help fundraisers manage their portfolios. There are a myriad of business processes to choose from! 

Familiarize Yourself with the State of Your Current Data 

Assess your data practices and decide if your data aligns with classification structure and data governance policies. Your institutional policies and advancement policies should drive decisions that standardize your data for accurate and reliable current and historical data analysis.  

Methodically reviewing your data tables to find hidden issues and validating your data prior to conversion is critical. This decreases data challenges in the aftermath of the conversion. Moreover, documenting policies and procedures related to data storage ensures consistency, accuracy, and trust in the data pre- and post- conversion.  

Critical elements beyond the cost must factor into your decision-making process. 

Don’t underestimate the need for stakeholders to have trust in the data. If you don’t already have one, consider creating a committee to oversee data management practices and engage end-users from all departments in decisions about data storage and usability. This regular communication creates transparency and goodwill. 

Assess the Gaps in Your Existing Technology 

In the lead up to any CRM conversion, your team will undoubtedly have any number of questions, including: What technology do we need to support and grow our fundraising and engagement efforts, and will a new CRM meet these needs? As I mentioned, a technical assessment will clarify your specific requirements and pinpoint gaps in existing technology, which will assist you in finding the right vendor and product. 

Rapid technology and software changes require due diligence on our part to know these products and understand their value to the organization. Having a partner in IT who understands the full set of resources at your organization is important. This person can play a key role in everything from assessing integration options, to explaining how an API (application programming interface) works, to troubleshooting the decision-making process from a technical perspective.   

Think Ahead About Usability 

A new CRM will increase expectations by staff that data will be “easily accessible.” Take time to define what that means at your organization. Ask non-technical staff for examples of what data they need and how they predict accessing it and using it. Create use cases or stories from these conversations – scenarios where your team examines the way the system is accessed to improve usability. When the time comes to evaluate CRM options and reporting tools, this will provide you with enough information to choose a system that best suits your organizational structure and needs. It is equally important to involve technical staff in discussions around reporting and analytics to give them the tools they need to be successful.  

A CRM system conversion requires strategic discussions and a critical and honest review of what your institution has now versus what it needs to elevate your programs. It is an exciting time in our profession to see new ways technology can enhance our work. Stay confident and know that you have resources to help you along your journey. 


To access the unabridged version of this article and additional insights on data management, fundraising analytics, and more, download our playbook, Data That Drives Growth

Mary Carole Starke, Vice President brings nearly 30 years of experience in Advancement Services to GG+A, and consults with clients on a number of technology, data, and operations-related projects. For guidance on your organization’s data management processes and systems, contact Mary Carole at mstarke@grenzglier.com. 

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About the author

Mary Carole Starke

Vice President

Mary Carole Starke is a Vice President in the Advancement Services practice area at GG+A, where she consults with clients on a number of technology, data, and operations-related projects including advancement technology; prospect management; gift and records processing; organizational analytics; and more. She brings nearly 30 years of experience to…