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How to build solid foundations for a new CRM

There are four important areas to explore before investing in a new CRM. Here, we take you through them.

Well before the advent of technology, organisations have been collecting information to help their operations run more smoothly – from details of their key audiences in rolodexes and the CEO’s head to filing cabinets of ‘useful’ documents and hand-scribbled notes stuffed in drawers.

Now, with the plethora of membership and donor databases, campaign tools, casework systems and email platforms, organisations are thinking about which CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) might offer a one-stop-shop for their data and help them deliver their day-to-day activities. 

Choosing the right CRM – or growing the right ecosystem of platforms – can be daunting. So, before any expensive decisions are made, it’s worth spending significant time figuring out exactly what you need from your tech. 

Here Vic Barlow, Agenda co-director and the Association of Teachers and Lecturer’s former director of communications and membership, shares her recommendations for where to start:

1. Always start with your strategic plan

The activities you undertake, the data you capture and the insight this data reveals help you learn what’s working and where there are opportunities to change or try new approaches.

So, thinking about your organisation’s aims for recruitment and retention, fundraising, reaching more service users and expanding your influence

What activity could be delivered by a digital platform? What information could be collected to support your work? What reports would be useful to let you know what’s happening now and in the future?

2. Map out your activities and processes

As well as looking to the future, it’s important to understand what activities and processes already happening across your platforms – and on paper – so you can take a view on what needs to be included, scrapped or improved on a new system.

Take the opportunity to map out all your members, donors, volunteers, service users, stakeholders, etc. touch points, when and how you are making contact and asking them to do something, and what data is captured and shared in the process.  

It’s key to undertake this exercise across the relevant teams to get the big picture and not miss out important steps.

3. Dig deeper into each activity and process

By working across teams to dig deep into your activities and processes, you can identify all the people who would benefit from improved functionality and better data collection and reporting – and you can think where there are ways a CRM could help reduce workloads, improve your audiences’ experience with you, support decision-making or better demonstrate your impact.  

4. Talk to staff, reps, volunteers, donors and members

As well as mapping out existing activities and processes,take some time to capture aspirations and ideas for better and new ways of working. Thinking about the future might mean challenging resistance couched in ‘ways we’ve always done things,’ which might stall the project while agreement is reached.

Nonetheless, working with staff and stakeholders from the start will improve buy-in further down the track. It will also make the mapping much more comprehensive, avoiding any costly mistakes.

In a nutshell

Understand exactly what you need by looking first at your strategic plan, then asking questions about what data and functions would support this work.   

Spend time researching, mapping and consulting teams, and avoid retrofitting the CRM. This will work out much cheaper and increase buy-in from across the organisation.  

Look across all current activity and processes, whether digital, on spreadsheets, on paper or in people’s heads, to see what can be integrated into a one-stop-shop – and ask colleagues what their aspirations are for the future.

A version of this blog first appeared on Unions21 in April 2022 

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