The Top 3 Things You Need to Do to Smooth Your CRM System Implementation

#3: Don’t overlook change management. What? Change management? That fluff? Come on, we’re all adults here. We’re all professionals. We don’t need change management. We can count on everyone to support the effort and do what they’re supposed to do. We hate our current system and cannot wait to start using the new one. Wrong. I recently trained a large number of users in preparation for a go live, and I had a number of students who could out-pout my 9-year-old daughter. It sounds funny, but it’s not. I’ve encountered this kind of behavior with every client I’ve ever worked with. Passive-aggressive behavior like that, which probably showed up at other points during the implementation project, can lower everyone’s morale and inhibit buy-in. Getting real buy-in is key to getting back up to full speed quickly and realizing the expected ROI that drove you to make a change in the first place. Such behavior slows and lowers the quality of decision making during the implementation as well. Address it proactively and continuously.

#2: Train Train Train. I can’t emphasize this point enough. I have yet to see an organization anywhere that provides enough training for its staff, and this applies generally – I’m not limiting this to training users on a new system. Typically the majority of users-to-be of the new system get a few training sessions right before going live, which is not nearly enough to have them ready to do their jobs only a week or two later! Hand-in-hand with involving staff strategically throughout the project (which is crucial for adoption) I recommend providing training early on (and again before going live, of course). What I most commonly see are staff who are pulled in sporadically to help with some piece of the project – process testing, validation of converted data, etc. – but who struggle and get frustrated because they don’t know nearly enough about the basics of how to use the new system. Providing the opportunity to get genuinely comfortable with the new tool early on leads to more engagement throughout the implementation process as well as higher confidence and competence when things get real.

#1: Dedicate people resources. The biggest thing that organizations do not anticipate and are not prepared for is the massive workload created by an implementation (and, often, by the ongoing demands the new, more powerful system creates once live; you’ll probably need to staff up permanently as well.). Expecting key staff to balance the demands of their day-to-day jobs with those of the project leads to a great deal of stress, and neither priority is fully served. Get help – dedicated project staff and consultants can not only balance the burden, but the right expertise will help your organization have a much more successful experience.

Be sure to join me and my Zuri Group colleagues at the 2015 AASP conference in Chicago next month. I’ll be speaking on this very topic – successful CRM system implementations. I hope to see you there.

Brandon Ferris
Senior Director of Strategic Services and Fundraising Counsel
Web:               Zuri Group
Twitter:            @datadrivenbf


Finding and Keeping Good Fundraisers

This article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy discusses some emerging thinking on the ways and places nonprofit organizations are searching for good front-line fundraisers, who have long been in short supply – a situation which continues to worsen.

The article references findings indicating that poor management and unrealistic expectations play a significant role in the high turnover among fundraisers. I agree with this assessment. My own take on this particular issue starts with the observation that the fundraising industry is absolutely obsessed with metrics and metrics-based individual performance evaluation. So much so, I believe, that the day-to-day experience for fundraisers subject to organizational over-emphasis on metrics is changed dramatically for the worse, and the quality of their work (or anyone’s work in any industry) can suffer because they’re forced to focus on the wrong things.

There’s common saying to the effect of “if you measure it people will pay attention to it.” The exact phrasing doesn’t matter; the essence, which pervades American thinking, is that if you measure things and make damned sure people know they’re being measured and that there’ll be consequences for failing to meet certain standards, they’ll do what you want them to do and their performance will improve (just typing those words out starts to make them seem absurd to me.).

Here’s the flipside, the unintended consequence of that line of thinking (unintended, yes, unforeseeable, not a chance): If you measure it, people will pay attention to it.

Wait, didn’t I say exactly the same thing? No. What I mean, and what most people realize intuitively, experientially, or both, is that if you over-emphasize metrics, people will focus on doing whatever it is they need to do to make their numbers, which very often is not at all the same thing as doing their core work to achieve real business goals. This doesn’t make them bad or immoral. It makes them logical and normal. If you’re told that a set of metrics will be the basis for determining whether you get a raise, get a promotion, or get to keep your job, then those metrics are going to become job #1.

We all know this, and we see and decry it everywhere. “Standardized testing forces teachers to teach to the test!” we lament. And yet we can be quite blind to this same dynamic in our own pursuits. How does this manifest in the development world? Examples include meaningless “contact reports” (“I saw prospect so-and-so in the parking lot at the grocery store.”), prospect poaching, top prospect hoarding, etc.

In any industry it looks like employees telling the boss whatever they think the boss wants to hear and keeping silent about known problems (who wants to give the boss fodder for checking a box on a form that says the employee isn’t “positive” enough?).

Sometimes the ways we measure and evaluate employees even puts them at odds with their teammates. If my performance evaluation is all about the number of records I update and the percentage of correct entries, how likely am I to put aside what I’m doing and focus on helping a major gift officer figure out an importance piece of information? If I am under tremendous pressure to complete a certain number of visits, contact reports, and asks, what are the chances I’m going to take the time to understand data so I can ask for in the right way (instead of blaming advancement services for “getting it wrong.”)?

It also looks like development officer job-hopping. A person can only endure a certain amount of pressure, micromanagement, shaming (group portfolio reviews?), “constructive feedback,” threats, and criticism before they look elsewhere. Of course, they’re likely to find similar conditions elsewhere, but when you reach a point at which you don’t feel safe in your current position, you don’t feel as though you’re being listened to and treated fairly and like a person rather than a set of numbers, and the anxiety is ruining the quality of your life, just about anything else starts to look more attractive.

In the dominant American management paradigm the nature of the manager-subordinate relationship is a hierarchical zero-sum (“I have to give you at least one ‘needs improvement’ so you’ll have something to work on next year,” “I can’t give both of you 5s, someone has to have a 3.”) game based on intimidation and carrot-and-stick methods (almost all stick). Clearly it’s not working, but little attention has been focused on the root issues.

Sadly, carrot-and-stick methods are ingrained in seemingly every aspect of our lives – the way we parent our children, the way we deal with behavior in the classroom, and, unfortunately, the way we manage employees. But the pervasiveness of the approach doesn’t mean it’s effective, or that it’s the only way. Perhaps we’re so far down that road we can’t easily conceive of another paradigm.

Of course, many will object that the problem isn’t the metrics, per se, it’s that they’re the wrong metrics. That’s a topic for another time. Suffice it to say for now that after decades of “management by objective,” we’re still trying to find the perfect annual review to motivate, grow, inspire, and retain employees (Hint: it doesn’t exist).

If you’re genuinely interested in diving deeply into the fundamental flaws in the way we manage and evaluate people, you absolutely need not take my word for it. There’s a great deal of research and thinking on this subject from many experts and luminaries, including giants such as W. Edwards Deming. Other significant names include Alfie Kohn, Charles Jacobs, and Samuel Culbert, to name a few. It’s a shame their work is not well known. I hope that fact will start to change.

I am not suggesting at all that there shouldn’t be accountability for fundraisers. Nor am I suggesting that there shouldn’t be quantifiable goals and targets. I’m suggesting we do things differently. There are alternatives, which we explore in a future post.

Brandon Ferris
Senior Director of Strategic Services and Fundraising Counsel
Zuri Group

Donor Recognition or Stewardship?

In her seminal book Donor Centered Fundraising Penelope Burk laid out the case for the vital importance of good donor stewardship, using extensive research data showing the close connection between simple, personal stewardship (she is a particular advocate of calling donors – all donors – directly to say “thank you.”) and donor retention. She found that the simple act of calling and thanking donors, particularly first-time donors, dramatically improved retention rates.

Burk also argued that stewardship should not be confused with recognition – names on walls, etc. – and that what donors want is quality stewardship demonstrating that their giving has made a difference. If stewardship is done well, according to Burk, there’s little need for recognition. I’ve worked with a few nonprofits who have really embraced this philosophy; some have ditched the annual report of donors altogether. What a relief not to have to worry about getting angry phone calls from donors who didn’t like the way their name appeared in a publication!

In this article from a slightly different perspective emerges. According to the author, billionaires are quite taken with the idea of being very public about their giving. I wonder if things are starting to shift in that direction overall, or is this just an ego-oriented behavior of the mega-rich?

“Small Data:” The ONE Piece of Analytics Every Fundraiser Should Know

The phrase “big data” is everywhere now. Most of us are so well aware of the amazing things companies like Google and Amazon are doing with the oceans of data they collect about us that we’ve come to expect this level of sophistication to be the norm. Most nonprofit organizations aren’t able to collect the amount or kind of data the giants can, but they can still use analytics very effectively to achieve better fundraising results.

Because big data and everything associated with it has become such a part of popular consciousness, I believe that our industry has come to:

  • Expect too much from our data. We simply do not have the ability the collect the amount or type of data that Google does.
  • And yet, in opposition to the bullet above, overlook some very fundamental and useful data we have at our fingertips.

The latter bullet is the one to which I refer in my title. To find out whether you know the ONE thing I’m talking about, try to answer this simple question right now:

What percentage of the constituents in your database have NEVER made a gift to your organization?

That’s it! Simple enough.

You’re forgiven if you have to run a query to get the answer this time, but I would suggest this should be top-of-mind knowledge from this moment forward. Why? Because knowing this critical piece of information and using it to inform fundraising business decisions is the first step in becoming a data-driven fundraising operation.

Here are four things you can do with that simple piece of information that will save money, improve fundraising results, or simplify your operations:

  1. Reduce the number of times your long-term never givers are solicited each year.
  2. Rank long-time high capacity never givers lower than other high capacity prospects when making assignments. This is especially important when you wealth screen thousands or tens of thousands of records.
  3. Purge the oldest records of never givers from your database if you can (not alumni, for example).
  4. When you do send an occasional mass appeal to the oldest never givers, craft a message that emphasizes participation over high ask ladders.

You’ve probably already come up with more ideas. These may sound like obvious decisions to make, and yet I still commonly see a proclivity for “shotgun” tactics aimed at everyone in the database. If you cannot start with simple tactics such as these, it will be that much harder to achieve higher levels of sophistication and take full advantage of all the power your data has to offer.

Analytics-based fundraising, data-driven fundraising, call it whatever you like, is fundamentally about prioritizing your resources and efforts – targeting your dollars, time, and people toward the prospects most likely to make the biggest impact. Start with small data and build your way toward becoming a data-driven fundraising team.