Kate White, Manager at Superhighways, and Alice Linell, Data and Evaluation Adviser at Superhighways, answer some additional questions following their hugely popular webinar on choosing the right CRM system
A customer relationship management (CRM) system is essential for the daily operations of most charities. CRMs give charities a 360-degree view of interactions, allowing them to navigate the complexities of fundraising, donor engagement, event and campaign management, and so much more.
But CRMs have a reputation for supposed complexity, particularly among charity professionals who are not regular users. Our webinar (above) with Kate White, Manager at Superhighways, and Alice Linell, Data and Evaluation Adviser at Superhighways, aimed to show charities how they could overcome the supposed complexities and choose the best possible CRM.
Kate and Alice covered so much ground, but time constraints meant they were unable to answer all of the questions during the session. They have kindly agreed to provide some written answers to the most popular questions, which should give charities even more insight into choosing the right CRM system.
Is a CRM specialist needed to set up systems to meet charity needs?
For ‘off the shelf’ CRM systems, it’s about working in partnership with the CRM provider. So appointing a lead internally who drives the project forwards and understands user needs and systems requirements. The lead can then liaise with the CRM provider selected, and together customise and configure the CRM to create functionality required.
But if you are using the ‘build your own’ systems to set up your CRM – eg, Civi, Zoho, Airtable, and so on – you would need a good level of expertise to get these up and running.
Here it would be advisable to look at working with a consultant or agency that can help you build and configure the system to work with you at the point of set up.
It’s worth noting, though, that you’ll also need to think about how you access ongoing support and sustain a fit for purpose system as you deliver new projects and services and so on.
How do you know when it’s time to start using a CRM system?
The earlier you start with a CRM database the easier your life will be, as moving data into a database when you have a lot of it can be a time-consuming business.
If you currently have no database and are using spreadsheets, Word documents or paper, the huge plus of a database is that you can lock down data entry with drop down fields to keep your data neat and tidy and you can cross reference data so you don’t need to duplicate data.
It’s worth having a look at a simple entry level system that could be either an off the shelf solution for what you are currently doing or a low code/no code build your own database. No need to go for some all singing, all dancing solution. Start simple with something you and your team can quickly get to grips with. You can then move onto something more complex when the team feels they’re ready for the next jump.
At what point should you consider replacing an existing CRM?
For larger organisations with an existing database, the key to knowing when to start looking around for a new solution is by listening to your staff and volunteers.
If everyone groans every time you mention the database, if people are having to enter the same data in multiple places, if people are spending hours doing their monthly reporting, if your staff and volunteers stop using the database for everything and you find Excel spreadsheets and Word documents full of data popping up all over the place, then it’s time to change.
If you have an inkling that you need something new the best thing to do is to follow steps one to three of our process, mentioned in the webinar above.
So identify your data stakeholders (direct and indirect users of your system) and get them talking about how they feel about current systems and ideally completing a user profile so that you can identify their frustrations and pain points with the current system.
Then, as a team, map out what you currently use. Don’t assume you know what everyone is using. People always have sneaking Excel sheets you didn’t realise they used!
The most important thing is to make it a team review and solicit opinions from everyone from frequent users to the clients who ultimately benefit from your systems to your funders to find out what they think of your current systems
Which CRM systems are easy to customise? What should charities look for if customisation is needed?
This really comes back to first of all defining your user needs and system requirements. When then comparing systems, you’ll want to make sure either all that you need is possible within the CRM as is, or with some adjustments and customisations here and there.
If too much needs customising, maybe it’s not the right CRM as a starting point. So don’t just look for what’s customisable.
But looking at potential customisation is future proofing. Think about delivering new projects. Will you easily be able to set these up? Could you, for example, add a drop-down list for status of client on this project adding in your own select options?
There may be some instances where customising would have repercussions for existing data in the system, so it’s a balance and you’d want to be able to talk this over with the provider before making a change that affects previous entries.
What are the primary costs and benefits of bespoke or off-the-shelf CRM systems?
Bespoke tends to be more expensive, but you are paying for customisation that really aligns the system both with your CRM functional requirements and the way you work.
There may be a longer lead in time and it’s harder to test the system beforehand with bespoke, so it’s really important to be keeping in close contact with the developer as this happens.
You need to also think about ongoing maintenance and development. Are you wedded to that one developer? What happens if they are no longer able to support you? Remember that any future development costs will need to be paid for by you alone.
Our advice would be to definitely cast your net wider to determine that there isn’t an off the shelf system that already exists which can meet your needs.
Off the shelf are usually more affordable. You’ll be able to pilot and get a feel for the system and talk to others already using it. There will be support and training in place for all users. There could also be a road map of future improvement and features that you can feed into and then everyone on the platform benefits with costs split across all users.
Do you need consent before adding people to a CRM database?
Consent is one of the six legal bases for processing data under GDPR – so you’ll need to check which of these relates to your work. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has produced a diagnostic tool to help with this. The ICO has also produced a guide to recording and managing consent if this is what you decide on.
You’ll also need to check you are explaining why you are collecting the data, the purpose you will be using it for, and where it is being stored (if outside the UK) in a clear privacy statement.
Are larger CRM systems more restrictive and less customisable?
On the whole, bigger organisations tend to have more complex systems tailored specifically to their own needs. This doesn’t make them more restrictive, but it can make them more cumbersome to change, as even a small change needs to be considered in the light of the organisation as a whole.
Databases basically fall into two main types: off the shelf and customisable. Off the shelf solutions offer less flexibility and are less customisable, but you benefit from using the same system as other people in the same field and upgrades to the system with new features are available to everyone.
Customisable databases offer the ability to tailor your database more to your needs but that requires in house skills to make those changes, a mindfulness about documenting changes and an understanding that one small change could have a big knock on effect.
What are some of the best and most cost-efficient simplistic CRM systems?
We have listed some examples of off the shelf systems that are a good match for smaller charities who are delivering services and want a database to support monitoring and evaluation of their activities and ability to capture their outcomes – see our blog for further info