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Lessons from an Accidental Techie

Posted by Cheryl Black at Feb 18, 2011 08:58 AM CST
Categories: Fundraising, NPtech, Productivity, Technology

Success SignOn Tuesday the NTEN blog shared the story of Melissa, an accidental techie who upon bringing a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system to her last organization, committed a downright fail. In her own words:

What I neglected to concentrate on: making sure others in the organization understood the benefit of the new system, the reasons for the change, and -- perhaps most importantly -- that the executive director understood and bought into the concept of a CRM.

Melissa knew that implementing a CRM system would give her organization access to information about donors, volunteers, advocates and beyond all in one neat and tidy spot. But as you just read, she neglected to communicate this nonprofit-world-rocking benefit to her whole team, including the executive director. And - yikes! - it gave her some challenges in making this potentially really positive change a reality.

Since none of us have time to reinvent the wheel, I received permission from Melissa The Accidental Techie and NTEN's Brett to share the important lessons she learned the hard way. Here you go.

Beyond the general idea of the importance of executive buy-in here are some more specific lessons-learned for anyone looking to propose a transition to a CRM (or really, any big technology project):

  • Cultural Change:Making the transition to a comprehensive CRM can take more than just moving the data if you're coming from an organization which stores data in simple databases or spreadsheets. You’ll likely also have to work on changing the culture of the organization to think more about working within the CRM system as part of their daily work rather than treating it as a back-end database where people enter information into as time allows. The more constituent interactions in the CRM from all organizational employees, the better your nonprofit will ultimately serve your constituents.
  • Executive Buy-in: For everyone in the organization to make that culture shift, the interest in the transition has to come from the executive-level. Most people don't like change, and adapting to this sort of CRM system is a big change. If the people at the top of the organization don't fully understand the CRM they can’t adeptly promote the project, and you'll likely find the resistance from the rest of the staff.
  • Strategic Planning:If your current data storage solution is somewhat complex, consider taking the transition in stages -- but make sure everyone understands the importance of moving toward the ultimate goal of having all of the data in one place instead of independent database/spreadsheet silos. If you’re starting with multiple databases, move the data from one which employees from various sectors use first and commit to moving the other, more specialized databases in the next phase in the not too distant future. After some of the staff start using and seeing the benefit of the constituent management features, they'll quickly become your best champions for why the rest of the information needs to be in one central location.

I hope Melissa's experience will help you with your next technology change or upgrade. If you have other suggestions to share with nonprofit techies, accidental or intentional, please post them here. They'll make all our lives a little easier.

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