CRM Systems and Change Management: 3 Principles to Help Your Team Adopt New Tools and Technologies

CRM Systems and Change Management: 3 Principles to Help Your Team Adopt New Tools and Technologies 

Constituent Relationship Management systems (CRMs) are at the heart of any advancement or development office. While, at a minimum, they hold information about our constituents and their gifts, more advanced CRMs also enable fundraisers to proactively manage their prospects – from identification through solicitation and stewardship – streamlining activities with reporting and analytics.  

Ultimately, we must realize that as donor expectations for engagement change with technology, our CRMs need to change with them. Because newer CRMs help fundraisers proactively engage with donors with automated suggestions and strategies based on past donor behavior, these types of tools are powerful for ensuring that all constituents are engaged strategically.  

Once you understand how someone is affected by change, it’s important to tailor your outreach and training to address it.

At the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), I coordinated the transition from a legacy system to a cloud-based hybrid CRM system. A few years after that conversion, we updated to a comprehensive cloud-based CRM. As with any implementation, there were challenges related to data migration and transformation, configuration, and custom programming. However, a challenge leaders often overlook is  managing the change for users – not just introducing them to a new system, but also helping them to trust the new tool and equipping them to effectively harness the technology and its capabilities.  

Three change management principles guided our team in helping our colleagues adjust to new processes and new way of thinking about our CRM. If your advancement team finds itself in a similar transition, let this framework help you navigate bumps along the road, manage your expectations, and support a positive outcome. 

Help People Recognize Why Change Is Important  

People are more likely to accept and adapt to changes if they understand why a change must be made. Simply telling someone to use a new system will not motivate that person to use it; they must know why the old system no longer meets business needs and how a new one will better serve your institution and donors.  

One significant way to help users recognize the importance of change is to involve them in decisions regarding the new system. Give them plenty of opportunities to provide feedback on the legacy system before implementing your new CRM. For example, ask about which features they want to improve, and which ones they would like to keep. Record and share this feedback with everyone regularly so that they understand the challenges and opportunities. When your new CRM is live, you can refer to the information you gathered to show them the positive effects of the update and their input.  

Remember, updating your institution’s CRM is not just about implementing new technology tools. Rather, it is about reevaluating, redesigning, and implementing new processes that better align with institution needs and  constituents’ expectations for how we engage with them. Likewise, managing change to a new CRM is not just about training users on a different way to enter a contact report, a new gift, or some other piece of data. It must involve working with them to understand why this information is important, which information is most important for managing relationships, and how your institution will benefit from getting this information. 

Understand How People are Affected by Change  

In any and every fundraising program, there can be a variety of roles and working styles. Managers, development officers, assistants, and others are all affected differently by systems change. It is important to understand the impact of new processes and tools on each of these roles so you can ensure your solution meets everyone’s needs. 

In addition, different types of users have different reactions to change. Across roles, while some may reject change, others will fully embrace it. And some may officially accept it but revert to their old systems. Acknowledging discomfort with change will guide you in engaging with users. For those who reject change, focus on why they are reluctant to adjust. Perhaps the new system seems too complicated or confusing. For those who officially accept it but revert to old systems, find out what about these old systems is preferred over the new system. And for those who embrace change, ascertain why, and share these ideas with colleagues who are more reluctant. 

Document and acknowledge comments and criticisms to ensure that users feel heard. Acknowledging their discomfort with the new system and proactively addressing their needs and concerns will help to build their trust and reflect your commitment to helping them in their work.  

Proactively Address the Impact of Change  

Once you understand how someone is affected by change, it’s important to tailor your outreach and training to address it. This holds true for any new initiative, not just a CRM conversion. 

If users are rejecting the change because it is too complicated or confusing, consider shorter or simplified orientation and training. For example, 30-minute sessions or a one-page “how-to” guide might make the material more digestible. 

In addition, consider offering subject-matter specific training. Since individual giving officers use the system differently than corporate and foundation relations officers, be sure to provide training that anticipates their needs specifically. Moreover, managers will likely need specific training to assess performance. 

Finally, if some users remain reluctant about change, meet people where they are. In addition to open invitations to workshops and information sessions, try to attend regular team meetings across user departments. If the annual giving team meets weekly, schedule time on the team’s agenda to talk about the new system. Establish a consistent cadence with updates. If users know that they will get an update every Monday morning, they know when and where to find support if they are having issues.  

A plan to continue providing training after implementation keeps new and current team members up to date with the system. The CRM will likely include upgrades to improve efficiency and address bugs in the system. So, as the CRM continues to evolve, users will need ongoing training, along with regular reminders of key features and functionality.  Refresher training and outreach will be key to ensuring fundraisers and other colleagues continue to use the system. 

While it is important to choose the right CRM for your fundraising office, it is just as important to ensure that all of your users embrace the new system. Engaging with users early and consistently with thoughtful change management strategies can help to ensure a successful transition. 

To learn how to evaluate your readiness for a CRM systems conversion, or to access additional insights on data management, fundraising analytics, and more, download our playbook, Data That Drives Growth 

Rowena Montoya, Vice President, brings more than 20 years of experience to the firm, with expertise in advancement services, prospect management and research, annual giving, and more. For guidance to help your institution navigate technological and systems change, contact Rowena at rmontoya@grenzglier.com. 

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About the author

Rowena Montoya

Vice President

Rowena Montoya, Vice President, brings to GG+A over 20 years of experience in advancement services, prospect management and research, annual giving, and more. She has demonstrated success in fundraising program design and implementation, as well as a thorough understanding of higher education fundraising and donor relations procedures, practices, and principles.…