Blog posts

Implementing a CRM when you’re new in post at a small charity

Chris Houghton
April 22, 2021

How to handle internal politics and turn rebellious resistance into eager enrolment.

As a newcomer to a small charity, you have the opportunity to change how things are done. You are uniquely positioned to offer insight into areas that others know very little about. Digital comms, in particular, is a skillset that many charities lack.

But starting afresh is easier said than done. You’ve probably lifted the lid on a huge box of projects started by your predecessors. Where to begin!? Adding form to your fledgling comms strategy feels challenging from day one, hamstrung by decisions made before your time.

One such project, often picked up only to be put down again, is CRM.

When implemented thoughtfully, a CRM database adds immense value to charities of all sizes. It essentially runs the organisation. The best CRM software enables you to track donor records as well as manage fundraisers, events, memberships and general processes. For keeping in touch with supporters, a good CRM is truly magic. Without one, it can feel like you’re trying to manage donor data in the dark.

If you want to make a mark in your new role, integrating a CRM could be a wonderful way to shape how the charity functions for the better. But achieving this is not without its challenges. Let’s begin by addressing the first and most problematic issue faced by small charities seeking to implement a CRM database: culture.

The unfortunate truth is that humans are generally resistant to change.

Perhaps the tallest hurdle for changemakers is successfully altering the mindset of colleagues. Without first achieving this, all the processes in the world won’t engage your team in adopting your ideas.

For charities who have dabbled with CRM in the past, the challenge can be softened. But for those obstinately keeping paper records, it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

But there are strategies for making change. There is no silver bullet, but below you’ll find a handy list of ideas to help gently nudge your team toward a more marketing-savvy mindset.

1) Our donors deserve better

Everyone, from trustees to volunteers, recognises that donors are fundamental to the sustainability of most small charities. If you’re not using a CRM, you are not giving your supporters the full experience. They deserve better.

From basic record keeping through to sophisticated automation, not only does a CRM make your life easier, it ensures that donors are communicated with effectively. What do your comms currently look like? There is probably scope for improvement. A database enables you to develop donor journeys that are tailored to them. You can’t do this without a CRM, meaning that your generous supporters might be missing out on important messages. Over time, they might forget about you.

By openly stating that your donors deserve better, you are acknowledging a fundamental gap between how you would like to nurture them and the reality. When used delicately, this argument strikes at the heart of what it means to govern a small charity. It could open up a conversation about how you treat donors, and how you might improve. Then, implementing a CRM just makes sense.

2) We need to move with the times

Recent data shows that almost two-thirds of charities “do not plan to adopt customer or data analytics skills in the future”. This might sound like a frightening statistic, but the same research also indicates that younger charities are leading in the digital space.

Forward thinking people working in small charities now have the opportunity to shine.

The fact is that all organisations, big and small, face existential threat if they don’t adapt. We've all got to keep improving to survive (and thrive!), so why put it off?

When communicating the need for a CRM to the team it’s important to emphasise the imperative to move with the times. Too often, comms managers tinker around the edges, setting up accounts on the latest social media platforms. This might temporarily please the higher-ups who’ve heard about these cool new technologies, but they’ll fail without a more comprehensive approach.

CRM is the cornerstone of any modern strategy, so once again, talking about modern governance ultimately leads to a conversation about data management.

3) Our data is not secure

When the GDPR came into effect, a lot of organisations were hit hard. They needed to put a huge amount of effort into updating their policies, assessing their processes and cleansing their data. In many cases, charities were left with much less data than they originally had.

This exercise, whilst valuable from a housekeeping perspective, has not necessarily altered the culture though. Many small charities are still keeping physical records or holding data in unsecured spreadsheets that get emailed around the team.

Not only is this bad practice for the two reasons we’ve just outlined, it also means that sensitive information could easily be compromised.

A CRM database ensures veracity of data, and even the smallest charities are beginning to recognise the importance of this. Looking after your faithfully-shared donor data is the least you can do.

When you broach the topic of how this vital information is stored, the subject of CRM naturally occurs.

From enrolment into evangelism

So far we have tackled the common mindset and cultural barriers that prevent so many small charities from embedding a CRM into the way they work. But winning the argument is really just the beginning; the next, and arguably tougher challenge, is adoption.

Fast forward 6 months from reading this article. Trustees and colleagues have been won over and you are now in possession of a comms platform: your CRM is up and running.

But there are problems. Sue in Fundraising is still sending out dozens of emails every day, BCCing contacts she keeps on a spreadsheet. Max in Operations manages a nationwide team of volunteers, but he’s lost his login details to the CRM.

We all start off with good intentions but the reality of the daily grind forever tempts us back to the way we’ve always done things. Despite a period of enrolment, it can be difficult to put into practice the new stuff we’ve learned, even if it makes things better. But the true power of CRM is that it reduces the common problem of people working in silos.

Let’s take a look at how you can get your team finally working together.

1) Establish regular check-ins

One of the most powerful ways to change culture and behaviour is to talk about it. Your CRM, much like your comms strategy, will be under constant review. Engage your team by bringing them into this process. It’s quite likely that somebody in your organisation has found a better way of doing something. You might have ownership of the CRM project, but you’ll find more sustainable adoption if you involve the people whom the project affects.

2) Promote patterns and processes

If you can establish simple processes early on, ones that make life easier, your team will be much more likely to stick to using the new CRM. Make life harder and they will quickly abandon it.

Can you impress by automating a process that was once manual? Can you provide shortcuts to completing monotonous tasks? Is it possible to “wow” your colleagues from the outset? New ideas are adopted more eagerly and can be sustained forever if you lower the barrier for entry and have processes in place to achieve common goals. In other words, the best CRMs fit into your ways of working.

3) Have an open door policy

The best CRM solutions offer a wrap around care that makes picking up the software a doddle. But as the advocate of the change, you must make yourself available to the team for quickly seizing on problems to help them when needed. When onboarding your colleagues into the CRM fold, make it clear that they are heard. Listen to their concerns and feedback, and they will thank you with enrolment.

Your persistence will be rewarded

By following the advice in this article, you will not only deploy a CRM database into your charity, but you will succeed in changing how the organisation literally operates. You’ll evolve the way your colleagues work. Your advocacy of this approach will result in neater data management, happier stakeholders and a more empowered team.

This is digital transformation in action, and by enrolling your team into a CRM mindset, your charity could be a key changemaker within the third sector.

Start your journey today by signing up to a free 14 day trial of Beacon. Want to learn more about what a CRM can do? Download our free ebook.