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CRM And The "Big Bang"

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When it comes to CRM implementations in the nonprofit sector, there is one thing the entire ecosystem agrees on - start small, build a strong foundation with key features and functions, then iterate over time.  

There are dozens of articles out there that will tell you why CRM implementations fail, and on nearly every one of those lists, is that the ‘big bang’ approach to software implementations simply does not work.   This is where the nonprofit cuts over from the old to new system at a single point in time.  It is also where everything under the sun is promised in addition to a full data migration and multiple integration points. And the result is often a highly customized system that takes months, if not years, to build.  And whereas the promise is for a full transition to happen quicker, that hardly ends up being the case.

There are several problems with this approach.  To name a few...

  • Nonprofits evolve and requirements change.  And if it takes two years to implement a CRM system, the problem the organization is trying to solve at the end of the implementation, may be different than the one at the beginning.
  • Highly customized systems are not only costly to implement, they are costly to change.  And if your highly customized CRM is a built like a “house of cards” where one change or new app can make everything collapse, you’ll be reliant on consultants for years to come and never be able to took full ownership of your system.
  • Change management is nearly impossible.  Moving to a different technology platform can be daunting, but what if all your daily operations that you’ve perfected all these years change overnight?  From how you enter and process gifts, to reconciling with finance, to ensuring donors are acknowledged?

Vendors, partners, and consultants will all tell you that a phased approach is best.  Make small changes, get user adoption, gather feedback, and make smart enhancements from there.

So if all agree, why do so many organizations still implement CRM in a ‘big bang’ approach...yet somehow expect a different result?

To be fair, there are cases where a legacy system is being sunsetted or a subscription isn't getting renewed, and the nonprofit has no choice but to do a "lift and shift" quickly.

In other cases, leadership does not want to allocate, reallocate, or hire resources to support multiple mini-phase projects.  From a staffing and resource perspective, they’d rather get it all done at at once, so everyone can get back to their day jobs afterwards.

But most commonly, is the failure in the consulting services model itself (yeah, I said it!). Having been part of professional services my entire career (both in and out of the nonprofit sector), the financial model is the same...and it's no secret - get the most resources billable for the longest amount of time possible.  And when it comes to CRM, the only project model that will supports it is, you guessed it...the all-at-once “big bang” approach.

So if you’re considering a CRM implementation in the near future, consider how the project can be broken down in to small phases.  Perhaps a platform change and a partial data migration comes first while integrations stay in place. A subsequent phase could replace one integrated system while the remaining data is loaded.  And net new features and functions come last. There’s many ways to phase things out depending on your requirements, and the professional services firm you hired shouldn’t be the one driving the conversation.

Which leaves us to our final recommendation - find a partner you can trust.  Consultants need to understand more than your requirements and budget. They need to understand your mission, understand the true problem that needs to be solved and all the social, emotional, and functional dimensions that come with it.  Only then can they become your advocate. Only then can they earn the right to be your trusted advisor.

At OneTenth Consulting, we subscribe to the  “crawl, walk, run” approach to all our CRM implementations.  Through our discovery workshops, we help assess the overall work to be done and build out an implementation roadmap that helps transition you to your new platform first, followed by low effort/high value enhancements, then subsequent mini-phases with increased complexity over time - all while allowing the previous phases to guide, inform, and evolve the roadmap accordingly.

Considering a CRM system for your nonprofit?  Or looking to make a change? Let us guide you through the process.  Give us a call for a free consultation today.

Elevating you, elevating your cause!