Fuel Your CRM Strategy with 10 Simple Steps

When it comes to defining your organization’s digital strategy, one of the most critical considerations is your organization’s CRM strategy. No matter how hard you try, you can’t get away from it—and you don’t want to, for good reason.

CRM is a critical part of your organization’s digital technology engine. The more work and attention you give it (with the right mechanical parts), the more thrust and firepower it’ll provide for propelling your .org forward.

CRM Strategy: It’s All About Audience

If you do your homework, you’ll quickly find the typical definitions of CRM and CRM Strategy. Depending on the sector (nonprofit or for-profit), you’ll either see Constituent Relationship Management or Customer Relationship Management—both represented by CRM and both essentially the same at heart.* What they mean is that you have a tool (i.e., a database) that contains data on the people you care about and interact with (i.e., your contacts or audience).

Whether that database is in Excel or Access (“uh oh” **), or a more sophisticated tool like Salesforce, the point is that you have an organized and actionable way that your contact/audience information is being stored. From that core step of organized and actionable data, the strategy follows.

It’s Just a Database. Why Does It Matter So Much?

Think about it: your CRM database is the rolodex or central clearinghouse for information about contacts and audiences you and your staff actually know. John Advocate or Jane Donor. Funder X. Media Outlet Y. Partner Z. Yep, most likely, all of those important people and .orgs that you care about (and who care about you) are stored in that single database. You can use that data to determine things like: who is located in Arizona? Are they all on your mailing list? Do they attend your conference every year? Which people from Arizona are both on your mailing list and attend your conference every year?

Also, as a result of a single tool, with the ever-improving functionality and features of modern-day CRM databases (especially in the age of cloud computing), you’ll then have a ton of great options for how to use that database (and its data) to manage interactions with those audiences and turbocharge your organization’s operations, strategy, and goals in countless ways. This involves everything from email campaigns to engagement profiles, event registration, website advocacy actions, membership dues, online community access, purchase history, activity tracking, and more.

Hey, You’re Talking To Me. Let’s Get Started.

So… if you find yourself at the beginning of starting or revamping your organization’s CRM Strategy, there’s a lot to consider. You may be starting from scratch***, re-injecting life into an existing approach, or switching CRM database tools. Whatever the case, you’ll have lots of decisions and many words of advice that are all useful, but keeping in mind these 10 simple tips will point you in the right direction.

  1. Learn about CRM. Know what it’s for, and where you’re going. Start by doing your research. Know as much as you can about CRM, your organization’s data, and what functions/features you need most. Sites like Idealware have many good resources like this: 10 Things to Consider in a CRM. Understanding data concepts like “one to one” or “one to many” can help, but all of this fluency is merely a lens towards understanding how your .org needs your specific database to work.
  2. Know what strategic stage you’re at. Try to assess how staff are collecting or using their audience data. What is their operating mentality or approach? And perhaps consider if you are a “Constituent Chaos” or “Constituent Centric” org.
  3. Evaluate the health of your data. Familiarize. Clean up if necessary. Whatever your audience data is contained in, and wherever it will go next—take a look at the actual data itself. Become very familiar with it, and determine if it’s (a) very complete, (b) accurate or error prone, and (c) clean or messy.
  4. Pick the right system. Then the right partner. Not all CRM tools are created equal. There are categories like CRM, Association Management System (AMS), Donor Management System, list/marketing solution, etc. They can all claim to be a CRM tool, but they may have a core purpose that varies. Strengths and weaknesses will therefore vary. For example, see this report that compares Donor Management Systems. Once you know what CRM is right, then you can look for an implementation partner that specializes in that tool.
  5. Understand related tools & integration (CMS, email marketing, etc.). Very likely, you will have other tools or systems integrated with your database. These may be email marketing (using another software like Pardot or Hubspot), your web CMS (Drupal or WordPress), or possibly your accounting software (ex. Financial Edge).
  6. Consider other digital channels and promotion. How does your database and its related tools fit into any strategic planning with your other digital channels like your website and social media. Are you using those channels to build your newsletter list or collect vital audience data? Are areas of your website access controlled by your database?
  7. Know how you want to use core features and your data. Think about what typical communications, operations, or program needs are being met with your new CRM database. Will you mainly focus on tracking program activities, building mailing lists, mining the data for reports, holding member transactions, or some other use? Is it a mix of three, four, or more of these.
  8. Plan ahead for reporting and operational intelligence. One of the most powerful aspects of a database is the ability to build dashboards, create reports, and learn new trends among your data. Try to put time into thinking about this and how this “operational intelligence” can yield new insights or opportunities for your department, other departments, or .org leadership.
  9. Ensure proper staff to support – it takes time and effort! Ensure staff expertise. Plan to budget ample staff time and dedicated cost. If the cost isn’t used for outside vendors and database software costs, it will consist of staff time—b/c someone hasto manage and nurture it.
  10. Need a staff adoption plan (ensure they love it). Most likely you’ll have multiple or many staff using your CRM database and conducting various tasks. So be sure to think ahead on how you’ll incentivize and get those and other staff using the database for their work. And continuing to use it as the months or years go by.

Final thought

If you’re thinking an extra step ahead with your CRM Strategy, hopefully you’re considering how you can further drive worthwhile action and sign-ups through digital channels like website and social media. Remember, your digital tools (website, CRM, email, social media, analytics, etc.) should never exist in isolation of one another. They should be part of a comprehensive digital strategy.

* This can sometimes mean a critical difference in tools, but not always. Salesforce frequently uses Customer Relationship Management b/c of its sales origin, but offers the Nonprofit Starter Pack and is an excellent CRM option for nonprofits.
** If this is you, start planning your CRM strategy right away!
*** Again, see note about Excel or Access. Yes, this still happens that .orgs are keeping things in spreadsheets even when they shouldn’t be.