Skip to main content

5 Common Challenges When Switching Your Nonprofit CRM

Are you worried about switching CRMs? Here are five common concerns....and how to overcome them.

5 Common Challenges When Switching Your Nonprofit CRM

Everything is fine.


Your nonprofit donor management system is fine. Maybe it’s just spreadsheets and hey, that may be old school, but it works. Or maybe you started years ago with a great constituent relationship management (CRM) solution and, as time has passed, you’ve integrated with an email automation provider here and an event provider there and so sure, it’s a little cobbled together, but it’s fine. Or the company you started with has been acquired and conglomerated and now you have solutions from multiple organizations, but they all serve a purpose and do what they need to. 


It’s. All. Fine. 


Until someone comes to you and says, “I need lifetime donation records for our most-engaged donors over age 50 who live in the Midwest.” Or maybe that person says, “What’s the most effective way to find college students who are most likely to respond to a text-to-give campaign?” 


Then, as you scramble to find all your passwords and try to layer data together from different sources, you realize your ability to get the data you need (and the anxiety it’s causing you) is the opposite of fine. There must be technology that will help your nonprofit thrive, and it’s time that you looked around and thought about a new system. 


But moving all your data from your imperfect tech stack to a shiny new all-in-one is going to be hard, you think. 


And you’re right. Changing your technology is hard.


There’s a lot that can go wrong and give you a bigger headache than you had to start. Every day, I talk to people who know there’s a better answer, but they’re almost paralyzed with worry at the thought of undoing what they have now for something that may or may not be better. 


In the three decades I’ve spent talking technology with clients, both in sales and as the owner of a sales consulting company, I’ve learned a thing or two about why people are scared to switch from a legacy system to something new. In this article, I’m going to tell you five common problems I hear, and I’m going to share with you the secrets I tell them to overcome their challenges. 


Spoiler alert: a lot of these nervous nonprofits become our clients, so I promise I’m offering road-tested advice. 


Challenge #1: No one in my organization is going to buy into this change. 


Change is scary. And when what you’re doing seems to be working, it seems impossible that anyone will welcome change.  


But there’s you! You’re going to be the champion of change!


  • Your secret weapon is going to be knowledge, so you’re going to read about new technology.
  • You are going to research what a CRM can do to advance your organization’s mission and wrap your mind around what a CRM can’t do.
  • You’re going to figure out what your pain points are, and then you’re going to look at a solid group of competitors to see if any of them focus on what you need.

For example, let’s say you’re a small nonprofit and your focus is on influencing policy change. Your needs could include peer-to-peer fundraising or advocacy software. Or maybe you’re a health-based organization and you rely on easy-to-use online donation forms. You want to make sure your solution’s got you covered. The best way to determine fit is to ask the company for a demo. It’s free, it’s fast, and it’s customized to your pain points.


Then, when you have all your data and you’ve narrowed the providers down to three or four firms, you’re going to present all that information internally. You’ll be able to explain that:


  1. An all-in-one CRM gives you and the rest of your organization in-depth information about your donors.
  2. All your donor information can exist in one place, and...
  3. You’ll be able to smash your fundraising records when you know that if you call Sally at 2:10 pm on a Tuesday she’s going to give you $100 instead of the $50 she’d give you at 11:50 am on a Thursday. (Yes, a good CRM will tell you that.)

And then you’re going to ask your colleagues the zinger of a question: what happens to the (children/plants/animals/veterans) your organization exists to help if you don’t smash your fundraising goals? What if you keep doing things the way you’ve been doing them, collecting a very generous $50 and never considering that, with a little intel, it could be an even more generous $100?


Is it possible that the very success of your nonprofit depends on the right technology?


Armed with the facts about your options, a recommendation for the next steps, and the big-picture look at why your nonprofit should stop at nothing to soar, you’ve done a very good job of getting those internal decision-makers to think hard about what you’re proposing. 


Challenge #2: It’s going to cost too much. 


There are a few costs to consider. 


There’s the cost of a new system and the full cost of whatever you’re currently spending. So add up the cost of MailChimp/Constant Contact, event software, and the cost of internal staff transferring data between systems. Think about how much of each donation your payment processor keeps. This will give you a good idea of what you’re spending. 


Then read this quick article on how all-in-one CRMs structure their cost. Good software companies will accept clients of all sizes and the cost scales up or down depending on things like how many contacts you have, so this article will provide you with an idea of where you fit and what your costs might be.  


Make a list of all the features you have access to now, how many systems you use, and how much you spend. What features do you wish you had that you don’t? 


Then compare that to the cost and features of a new all-in-one CRM. How do they compare? 


(Another spoiler alert: we’ve never lost a client because their old system was less expensive and more effective than a comprehensive CRM.) 


Finally, consider the cost that might keep you up at night: the cost of doing nothing. The cost of the status quo, the cost of the $50 donation instead of the $100 donation, the cost when the good you’re trying to do is limited by technology.


While this isn’t a dollars-and-cents consideration, people who devote their lives to working for a cause generally appreciate the value of human considerations, too. 


Challenge #3: It’s going to be hard to learn a new system. 


I won’t sugarcoat this: you’re right. It’s sometimes even hard to learn how to use the newest iPhone (no home button! I still don’t get it!), so a CRM is going to have a learning curve. 


Here’s where you need to ask your potential CRM providers if they have a client bill of rights. 


And if they don’t have a formal document etched on a scroll, at least make sure they will: 


  • Designate one project manager or point of contact so that you have one phone number to call if things get wonky.
  • Provide training and plenty of opportunities for questions and answers.
  • Provide resources and tools for success, such as a help center or 24-hour phone number.
  • Respond to emails and phone calls within—at a minimum—24 hours, if not sooner.
  • Offer transparency, keeping you updated on the process.

I would be remiss if I didn’t stress the importance of a good implementation process. As you’re interviewing companies, push them about the implementation process. Find out if the team is understanding, patient, and knowledgeable. You need to like the people who are going to teach you about the new system, and you need to make sure they’re going to listen to you.


Having a good implementation team makes learning a new system much easier and a lot less stressful. 


Challenge #4: Data migration will be a mess. 


Now I’m going to say something that might shock you. A good CRM doesn’t migrate your data. Don’t let that be a selling point! A good CRM manages your data and keeps many data points in one profile. It doesn’t speak to your old system (spreadsheets or technology) and know how to import multi-layered data into a new system and get everything in the right fields so you can pull specific reports. 


So the million-dollar question you must ask is this: if the CRM doesn’t migrate my data, who does? And the only right answer is this: a company specialized in nonprofit data migration. We’ve used the same company for years and we trust them, and they do an amazing job for our clients. Make sure there’s a lotta love and trust between the CRM provider and the data migrator—this isn’t a place to cut corners or speed through with a mediocre company. 


Challenge #5: My vendor will disappear after the software is implemented. 


This hits on a human worry: someone ditching you after the sale. My advice is to ask about long-term clients: how many does the firm have? Can you talk to them? Funny story from CharityEngine about this…many years ago, Wounded Warrior Project was a pretty small charity. We hit it off with them and they liked our software, and thus began a close partnership. They’re still our client, they’re one of the top 50 charities in the United States, and the Director of Technology and Digital Fundraising who hired us in 2008 just joined the Charity Engine team. Not to toot our own horn, but that says something about how our clients feel about us. 


More than anything, what you want is a partner. You want one main point of contact throughout your experience so one phone call gets you results. You want an advisor who knows technology and who has your charity’s success as a number-one goal. And you’ll be able to tell as you talk to different firms what their philosophy is on this. Pay attention to your gut and you’ll never be abandoned after implementation. 


So now you're thinking you might want a new nonprofit CRM...


Did you see yourself in any of those common problems? If I didn’t hit on exactly what you’re worried about, shoot me an email and I’ll try to explain how to mitigate that concern. 


As you start to think about taking a baby step and, say, doing a little research (like reading this guide to selecting a nonprofit CRM), remember this holy grail of expectations for a happy CRM client: 


  • You have a partner.
  • You have an all-in-one system that helps you communicate with your donors with care.
  • All the data about your donors is in one place, so you know everything there is to know about them.
  • All your functionality is in one place, so if you run a campaign that includes direct mail and an online auction and a text-to-give campaign, you know how much money you raised from each effort, and it’s all synced. 

Can you really have all that? Oh, yes. And we’re not the only ones who can give it to you! Start talking to some firms and see which offer you the right things. When we look at the big picture, nonprofits are doing good in the world. Technology should power you to be great.