Blog posts

How to Put CRM at the Heart of Your Comms as the CEO of a Small Charity

Chris Houghton
July 26, 2022

Two simple steps to becoming a comms-oriented charity

Running a small organisation is a double-edged sword. On the one side, you have fewer people to manage, which can reduce HR complexity and the need for so many processes. On the other side, less resource means that the people who are there face a greater workload.

But the good news is that, regardless of your team size, life can be much simpler if you embrace a CRM mindset to manage external and internal comms. This might sound a little intimidating, so let us explain.

Ask, and your CRM will answer

Right now there are charities all over the world leaking time and productivity by doing things the old way. They’re holding paper records or trying to maintain offline spreadsheets. Their bookkeeping consists of a box file bursting with receipts. This makes managing and submitting paperwork a real challenge, and can you imagine the headache if their accounts needed to be audited in the future?!

Organisations that run in this way are lacking a centralised knowledge base. Data is scattered all over the place, creating management woes that compound over time. The elegance of a CRM is that data is not only kept securely in the same place, but it is formatted in such a way that records can be pulled up easily and on-demand.

More and more small charities are adopting a CRM to keep them organised and to empower them to do their work more efficiently and effectively. If you’re toying with the idea of joining this new breed of charity, we’ve whittled down the process of getting started into two solid steps.

Step 1: Integrating a CRM means seeing it as your “single source of truth”

There we go again with the fancy statements. What’s a “single source of truth”? In the pre-CRM days where donor information was kept in multiple places, it was common for those records to be maintained in one place but go out of date in another. Imagine five separate reports each containing information about the same donor. Imagine that the donor relocates. Now imagine updating the donor’s address in five places. Now scale that up to hundreds - or even thousands - of donors.

If you felt a pang of anxiety just then, we hear you! So put simply, a “single source of truth” means that there is one donor record to rule them all. Edit the record, and it changes everywhere. This not only saves a tonne of time and ensures data veracity but hopefully, helps you sleep better at night too.

A CRM is essentially a database, and if databases are generally gobbledygook to you, it’s important to start seeing it as the knowledge centre of your organisation. One of the earliest database systems was called Oracle. It’s title was derived from a huge database project developed by the CIA and it’s not hard to see how they came up with the name. An oracle, after all, is a person who possesses extraordinary insight. Below are a few practical ways in which this idea of keeping everything in one place can serve you:

Bring order to your appeals

Many charities run multiple appeals at a time and often, these extend into different areas. For example, you might collect donations through JustGiving as well as your own website, but you might also run campaigns on social media as well as physical events such as fundraising coffee mornings.

That unwelcome twinge of stress appears again when you think about how you manage the data for these seemingly disparate campaigns. But by integrating a few simple processes, all of this useful information can be captured inside your CRM and formatted in such a way that makes using it easy.

Manage your enquiries

There are at least three very common ways in which modern organisations engage with stakeholders: email, phone and social media. Once again, in the pre-database era this information might have been kept in various locations and would have been poorly maintained. But by funnelling all contact records into your CRM, data can be stored safely and correctly, and you can dip into it any time for follow up communications.

Handle requirements that are specific to you

One of the best-kept secrets about CRM is that it can be tailored to your specific needs. You might feel that your requirements are too unique, and that you need to fashion your own ways of dealing with these complexities, but the truth is that a flexible database can mould itself to your processes. It doesn’t matter what data you need to hold and track; you can store records on everything from animals to ready meals to vehicle parts; CRMs aren’t only for donor management.

It is by seeing and leveraging your database in this way, as a centralised knowledge hub, that helps you put it at the heart of your ops.

Step 2: Keep the CRM on your team’s radar

The second step to becoming a CRM-oriented organisation is to keep it in view at all times. Too often, databases are something that the team feels “burdened” with. It’s easy to protest if this fancy new way of doing things seems like it just gets in the way. You can get around this problem by introducing a weekly check-in with your team.

Stand up and be counted

“Agile” is without doubt a buzzword, but it can be found in all areas, including the third sector. Originating from the software development industry, it is an idea that prides itself on getting stuff done. It has found its footing in the charity world as many organisations feel cumbersome and slow. Agile helps whizz past this traditional way of working to make things happen, and your CRM can support a more agile approach. This is achieved in the “standup”.

A standup is a regular check-in with your team. We run one every morning here at Beacon, which helps to keep the team in sync, and support one another when needed. You might not need a standup every morning, perhaps once a week is adequate, but remember that it's focused on getting things done and overcoming problems before they escalate.

In our standups, we all stand up together and take turns to answer the following:

  • What did you do last week?
  • What will you do this week?
  • What is blocking your progress?

As we have already seen, CRMs can contain everything your organisation needs to operate. Events, campaigns and even tasks can sit inside your CRM. When checking in with the team for a weekly stand up, your CRM can act as the portal through which you can actually see who is doing what. This is a great way for managers to track progress on various activities, but also a wonderful way for team members to organise themselves.

Example of beacon task management

Putting these two steps into action

It really is simple to put CRM at the heart of your comms, both internal and external. But we would be lying if we were to say it was easy. We suggest that you open discussions with your team around data management and comms to glean an insight into how they feel it currently works (or doesn’t!). Using this information you can gently begin the approach to developing a more CRM-oriented mindset.

As always, the team here at Beacon are always happy to offer some guidance. Book a call with us to get started.