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The secret of the "bespoke" CRM

Chris Houghton Posted on 26th Apr 22 by Chris Houghton

3 ways that a CRM can be customised to meet the needs of your charity.

When you hear the word “bespoke”, what comes to mind? A nicely tailored suit, perhaps, or a fitted kitchen designed to your exact specifications. To develop something bespoke is to cut it to the exact requirements of the buyer, and in the world of CRM, customisation is something you’ve probably heard talked about often.

Bespoke, or tailored, often goes hand-in-hand with premium. If something has been made for you, it must be of the highest standard. There is a perception that bespoke is special, and that special must cost a lot of money.

But the truth is that modern CRM software can be both bespoke and affordable, because the technology available is now so well-supported and accessible. That’s not to say that what you can get isn’t premium; it is to say that in CRM terms, it is usually bespoke. Let’s take a look at why this is the case.


What makes a CRM “bespoke”?

A CRM database has a lot of work to do. In effect, what it does is handle the day-to-day running of all your comms. As each organisation is different to the next, it would be easy to think that you need something unique, something designed especially for you.

But at its heart, a CRM is simply a database that stores records. These records reflect the entities within your organisation, and this could refer to donors, staff and other stakeholders. It could even refer to non-human entities, such as physical products or digital downloads. But because most databases are inherently flexible, the bespoke nature of the CRM is not so much in its design, but in it’s design for you.

A good CRM will mould itself to the way your team works. It will mirror your processes and plug the gaps where inefficiencies arise. When a CRM provider speaks of a bespoke CRM, what they’re really talking about is how they will configure the system to meet your individual needs.


How might a CRM be tailored to your charity’s needs?

So far we’ve learned that the underlying system behind the CRM is not bespoke. It is a solid piece of software upon which a tailored service can be built for your charity. But what might that look like in practice? Let’s explore three scenarios.

1. Custom record types

Imagine two very different charities: one grants reconditioned laptops to families in disadvantaged areas, the other rehomes cats and dogs that have been abandoned. Totally different stakeholders, operating in completely different areas.

If you worked at either of these charities, you might consider your needs to be unique. But a CRM provider would not develop technology for you, they would configure their existing system to your needs. The laptop charity, for example, might wish to keep track of its donated computer hardware inside the CRM. At any time, they could login to the CRM and find out where the laptop came from, how old it is, when it might expire and who currently has possession of it. The cats and dogs charity, on the other hand, might wish to keep track of where the animals are in the rehoming process along with their medical records.

These unique requirements would be satisfied by creating custom “record types” (or "object types") for each charity, ensuring that the end result is bespoke to the charity in question.

2. Import of existing data

Along with creating unique data structures for your organisation, the CRM provider might also offer to import your existing records. This is a process that will likely include some manual configuration to map data across from your existing system to the new one.

Again, nothing “bespoke” is being developed here, at least not at the infrastructure level, but the service you receive to import that data will certainly be tailored to meet your individual needs. The quality and efficacy of this service will depend on the CRM provider.

3. Configuration of automation rules

Perhaps the most powerful feature of the CRM is the ability to trigger actions based on specific events. For example, if a donor has not contributed after a set time, the system may send a gentle appeal email asking for a donation.

This functionality might be delivered by the CRM, or by linking to a partner application such as Mailchimp. But the point is that, once again, there is no custom software development happening; it’s all achieved through the configuration of existing tools. Easy! (ish).


To get a bespoke CRM, understand your needs

Most CRM providers work closely with implementation partners, who will immerse themselves in your organisation to understand your processes and figure out how to optimise various tasks to make your life easier. But it’s a good idea to get to grips with your core pain points first, before speaking to a CRM specialist. This will help them to help you, and aid your decision-making process before buying.

Get your team in a room, pull out some large sheets of paper and brew a pot of coffee. Then, explore some of the following themes:

  • What does a typical donor journey look like? How might it be improved?
  • How well do we nurture long-term supporters?
  • Which tasks bore the team to tears?
  • What are the shortcomings of our current CRM (if applicable)?
  • How could our lives be easier?

This is some top-level stuff, but you don’t need to start digging into the detail at this stage. Simply understanding your overarching goals is enough to begin the conversation with a CRM provider, and they can figure out how to configure it to your individual circumstances.

We have prepared an “out of the box” version of Beacon for you to experiment with freely. Sign up for your 14 day trial here. Alternatively, arrange a demo to get your questions answered.

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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