Moving in to Your New Nonprofit CRM

You’ve done your research, you’ve gotten that all-important expense approval, and now you’re ready to “move in” to your new nonprofit database/CRM. As a former development professional who managed several database moves (and now helps NeonCRM clients with training and strategic implementation every day), I know that a project like this can create a dizzying combination of both excited and overwhelmed feelings.

It’s helpful to remember that there are two discrete sets of processes when moving to a new database: conversion and implementation. “Conversion” is moving things (like data) over from your old system. “Implementation” is determining how best to use your new system and configuring it appropriately. Both are critical, and your new database will only be successful if you invest the proper resources of time and (sometimes) paid services.

Designate one main point person for the whole project

A project like this involves a lot of moving parts, from data to training to creating and updating internal workflows and processes. Things tend to go a lot smoother if there’s one person managing the entire process, even if they are delegating parts of the implementation to others. This person should be responsible for working directly with the implementation team at your new database company, keeping tabs on project timeline and expenses, and answering any internal questions about the implementation.

Clean out the garbage during conversion

Nonprofit databases have a disturbing tendency to fill up with “garbage” data. This data might have seemed relevant or useful when it was entered, but now it’s just taking up space and making it harder to you to find what you need. For example, do you really need an account for everyone who was on your city’s top 100 most wealthy list in 2005? Make some tough decisions about what you don’t need to bring with you to your new CRM and clean house.

Some possibilities:

  • Drop all data entered before a certain date
  • Drop all accounts that do not include transactions (such as donations, event registrations, etc.)
  • Drop all accounts with a certain outdated designation, such as a code or flag

Implement the system differently for each of its users

Many nonprofits are tempted to take a “one size fits all” approach to implementation and training – for example, they may ask their staff to attend all of the trainings that their database company offers. But training should really be tailored to how each staff person is going to use the system. Your accountant does not need to know how to send email blasts, and your marketing and communications person does not need to know how to enter donations. Save everyone’s time and make sure that staff are only trained on what they need to know. Remember, if some staff members take on more or different responsibilities later, they can always learn more.

Document, document, document

According to the 2013 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey by Nonprofit HR Solutions,the average rate of turnover for nonprofits in 2012 was 17%. This means that, unfortunately, the chances are high that you and your colleagues will not be with your organization forever. As a result, it’s best to keep good documentation on your conversion and implementation processes, as well as how you are using your new database. We recommend keeping hard and electronic folders with all of the data related to the project, including billing and contact information. This will save your eventual successors a lot of headaches and set the organization up for long-term technological sustainability.

Keeping all of this in mind will help you have a clean, quick conversion along with an implementation that sets your organization up for years of success with your new database. A move like this can be stressful, but just remember that when it’s all said and done, you’ll have a new database home that will help you work better and smarter toward your mission.

To learn more about nonprofit CRMs, make sure to check out our comprehensive donor database guide!

What lessons have you learned from switching nonprofit CRMs? Leave a comment below and let us know. Questions, comments, or concerns? Connect with me on Twitter at @bethany_lang.

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