How to Spot the Most Common Pitfalls of a Nonprofit CRM Implementation and Get Help Early

When you purchased your CRM technology, you assumed the best: That the technology would be flawlessly implemented through a well-managed project from start to finish. Your staff would enthusiastically buy-in and your organization would get closer to achieving its mission.

Then reality set in.

Maybe it hit you when your data was wrong and gave you unreliable information that you realized your implementation was headed for failure.

Or maybe you realized things had gone off the rails when your staff started reverting to their old methods of doing things, like using Excel spreadsheets instead of the CRM software that you just invested in.

If you catch the early warning signs that your CRM implementation is not off to a good start, you can stop everything and reverse course.

Knowing what to look out for can save you time, stress, and avoid an implementation crisis with your new CRM system.

7 Early Warning Signs Your Nonprofit’s CRM Implementation is Failing

There are well-managed, on-time, successful CRM implementations, and then there are ones that take nonprofits completely off-course, negatively altering their timelines, goals, and budgets.

If you start to see any of the following things happening at your organization, it’s time to pause before it’s too late and you’re dealing with a failed CRM implementation:

  1. Your staff stays silent. When staff doesn’t speak up during early discovery meetings, it’s likely because the staff hasn’t bought into the new CRM tech. There’s another scenario that tends to happen, too. If you only hear from one staff member or one department and no one else chimes in it’s because not everyone agrees with that one person or department. They don’t want to start an argument or cause any discord, so they stay quiet.
  2. Departments are disconnected. You’re one organization with one mission. So why do different staff levels or departments seem to have a different understanding of your nonprofit’s mission? One department may describe your mission as feeding hungry people. The other would describe your mission as remediating food deserts. If there seems to be little to no interconnectivity between departments and staff levels, the silos start to rise higher and higher until departments are disconnected.
  3. Change orders run rampant. Change orders pop up when implementation consultants don’t have the information they need, or they have constant conflicting information so they need clarification. If your volunteer management department tells your implementation consultant one thing that conflicts with what the donor relations department said, your consultants will likely have to change the scope of the project.

  4. Surprise data pops up. When you’re going through a CRM implementation, surprises aren’t good. Especially if they’re in the form of surprise data coming from rogue databases (read: Excel spreadsheets). The new CRM technology should be the only place data is coming from and if it’s not? Your staff will have the answer.
  5. Excitement isn’t shared. When staff learns about a new CRM technology your organization is implementing, you might not be met with the excitement you’d expect. This is because all a staffer will think about is that it’s going to take more work for them to be trained and learn a new system. Diverging enthusiasm between leadership and staff about what the new CRM tech will bring to the table is not the way to start a new implementation.
  6. Your staff is unconvinced. When a staff member or department learns about the new CRM technology and expresses their doubt about the new system being sufficient for your organization, there’s something else going on. Usually, there’s an undiscovered need behind your staff member or department’s doubt that the new CRM technology will do what they need it to do.
  7. Discovery turns into complaining. It’s normal for nonprofit teams to have complaints during the implementation process. But if discovery meetings turn into constant venting sessions, re-hashing why the technology doesn’t work, something’s off. The goal of a discovery meeting should be to capture what doesn’t work so you can solve it in the new system. What happens instead is you’ve put a Band-Aid on fixing the old way of doing things in a new system.

How to Steer Your Off-the-Rails CRM Implementation Back on Track

Just because you’ve noticed a couple of warning signs beginning to surface, doesn’t mean your CRM implementation is doomed. Knowing what you can do to level-set and start fresh can keep your nonprofit — and staff — working smoothly.

The first thing to do when you notice any red flags emerging isn’t to sweep them under the rug. You have to stop everything. Usually, there’s no incentive to stop — you’re up against time and a budget. But by stopping and acknowledging there are fundamental issues to address, you create some breathing space for solutions to surface.

Instead of treating these issues as blockades to accomplishing your CRM implementation, see them as opportunities to deepen your organization’s engagement with itself. Reconnect disconnected staff members and disjointed departments. These are all opportunities to repair the fractures your organization has suffered.

Lastly, create a framework for implementing solutions. Maybe you start weekly tactical meetings to discuss the issues you’re addressing and how they’re being solved. Your framework could also look like creating a form of case management to focus on improving data.

Giving your staff a chance to pause, acknowledge the tensions and challenges everyone’s facing, and devise ways to approach those opportunities (remember, they’re not roadblocks!), restarts momentum in a different direction.

Recognizing the harbingers of an impending CRM implementation crisis can give you the insight you need to make the right decisions for your staff, your organization, and your CRM investment.