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How to Move to a Proper Donor Management System if You’re Still Using Spreadsheets

Chris Houghton Posted on 23rd May 22 by Chris Houghton

3 helpful tips to help you modernise your small charity comms.

Over the past 20 years the world has seen immense change in the role of digital technology in our daily lives. The internet, affordable personal computers, and phones and tablets - none of this was mainstream at the turn of the century.

But many people who work in and govern charities have been doing what they do for decades. They started before most organisations had access to digital tools and, despite adapting and evolving slowly, the most effective charities in the modern world are digital from the inside out. One way to help usher in fundamental transformation in any charity is to move from paperwork and spreadsheets to a cloud-hosted database.

In this article we’ll look at how your team can swiftly modernise its approach and with it, grow its impact dramatically.


Technology drives cultural change

Pre-pandemic video usage for meetings was mostly seen as the preserve of those working remotely. These days, it’s commonplace. We all adapted seemingly overnight. Yes, it was a global disease that triggered the move to video, but it was the technology that shaped the way we communicate. And when the time came, few people said “we can’t afford it” or “I don’t have the time to learn”.

Technology literally changes culture. You can use the same principle in your charity.


How to transform your donor management with a CRM

Moving your data and comms to a fancy new cloud-based system has not only the benefits of improving how you work, but can also create a sense of pride in the way you work. If you hold your ear up to the third sector and listen closely enough, you’ll hear the distant cries of a distressed comms manager putting out data-related fires! To move from spreadsheets to a more modern way of working, a way that you’re not ashamed to tell people about, here are a few tips.

1) Challenge the current way of thinking

This first step is the toughest part. It involves bravely challenging the way things have always been done. If you’ve suggested a big change in the past and you’ve been met with responses like “spreadsheets are free to use” and “this way is working fine”, it’s time to ask some reflective questions. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • How much does our current process cost in terms of time/stress?
  • What problems does this current way of working present?
  • Which tasks are the most laborious/boring?

These open-ended questions are designed to prompt a discussion. A closed question such as “are you happy working in this way?” - one that you believe the answer to is “no” - will almost always be given the opposite response (often stubbornly so!). What’s more, it can create tension. Use open-ended questions to invite reflection and disarm.

If you’re seeking to change opinion, the best approach is to lead people to their own logical conclusions.

2) Do some background work

If you’ve identified a challenge in your data or comms that you want to fix but you suspect there might be some push back on whatever you suggest, it’s time to clue yourself up on the many questions and objections that people often have about change. Just reading this article is a great start! Here are a few things you can do behind the scenes:

  • Start a trial with one or two CRM systems that you think could work and begin using them. If you feel comfortable to do so, invite other members of the team to really help figure out if it’s the best tool for the job.
  • Take down notes when a colleague complains about the current processes. There are often amazing ideas here, shrouded in misgivings, that you can reframe for use in a conversation about how to do things better.
  • Prepare a presentation for the team that outlines the benefits of using a CRM over your current outdated methods. This is far more constructive than joining in with complaining and can help start a healthy conversation about where to take things next.

What you’re essentially doing here is building a case for change behind the scenes, one that can be presented when the time is right.

3) Engage a CRM team

As part of your background work or with your team, you might book a call with a CRM provider to find out how you can migrate your data to an online system. Most teams care deeply about helping prospective customers choose a platform that is right for them, so it makes sense to use this time to get all the answers you need. A few questions that you might want to ask include:

  • How many records can we store?
  • Does it matter what format our current data is in?
  • Will you help import our existing data?
  • How long does it take to get up and running
  • (and of course) How much will this cost?

Moving to a donor management system, rather than a manual system of spreadsheets and files, can be assisted greatly by speaking with those working in tech. They’re there to help, with no obligation for you to buy, so make sure to take advantage of it.


The world continues to change

It can feel like you’re always playing catch-up. Every charity conference and webinar is telling you that the way you’re doing things is wrong, and often, there’s a product to buy at the end of it. It’s unhelpful to be constantly trying to adapt to the latest thing, but there are some cornerstone practices that technology can support. Donor management is one of those things, and as you know, a little investment into the online space can pay dividends here.

So if your organisation is still struggling against the weight of years of paperwork and outdated procedures, now is the time to change things up. Your team, and your donors, will thank you for it.

If you’re ready to start your CRM journey, book a call with one of our friendly team members today.

Chris Houghton

About the author

Chris Houghton heads up the team at Beacon. He's focused on using data and technology to empower nonprofits to do more good.

Want to talk about charity CRM? You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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