When beginning the process of researching potential Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) systems for your organization, you may be thinking “where do we start?”. Here is a breakdown of the 6 steps to successfully implementing a CRM:

1. Is your Organization Ready?

You want to be sure that your organization is ready to take on the process of buying and implementing a CRM system. This includes evaluating if you are adopting one for the right reasons. A CRM itself is not going to fix an organization’s internal issues around collaboration. However, wanting to bring together your data on your constituents in order to serve them better, is a good place to start. The buying and implementing process can also be time-consuming, so be sure you are committed.

2. Identifying your Nonprofit’s Needs and Priorities

In this step, you should take a look at your goals, your current assets, and your parameters. For goals, consider both short term and long term goals. For your current assets, take inventory of all places you currently store your data. Write down the file type, owner, use, etc. For parameters, look not only at your budget, but also the hardware used in your office, and the processes and procedures your new CRM will need to support. Need helping putting together a needs assessment? Look at these quick tips for a needs assessment.

When it comes to determining your budget, keep in mind that budgets will vary greatly from organization to organization based on their needs in a CRM. To give you a place to start, estimated costs should be broken down into one-time costs and ongoing costs. This is because some vendors make it very inexpensive to get into their system, but costs may rise over time. On the other hand, some systems have high start up costs, but are less expensive to maintain. In addition, consider costs you might incur outside of the actual CRM like data cleansing, new computers, etc.

3. Getting the Most out of Demonstrations

By this point in the process, you should have your potential CRMs narrowed down to your top 2-3 choices. Be sure to get a custom demo from each vendor that illustrates key tasks that you’ll be doing in a CRM. Try to have at least two people (preferably the same two people) on each demo and take good notes.

4. Understanding the Written Proposal

Be sure your written proposal from each vendor addresses the following things: products/key features, ownership and data privacy, support and training, detailed estimate/cost outlook, responsibilities (both yours and theirs), timeline, and opt-out options. If any of these things are missing or unclear, be sure to ask the vendor.

5. Comparison

For this step, go back almost to the beginning of the process. Review your Needs Assessment to make sure the final choices are still a good fit. Also review your demo notes again for anything you may have missed or forgotten. Don’t compare your final options simply on the features they provide – also consider the trustworthiness of each vendor, how your sales process went with them, and ask for references from some of their current clients.

6. After Launch

The process does not end with your final decision. Once your system is up and running, require that all staff who will use it go through formal training. Three months after launch, evaluate how things are going – are you are happy with the current configuration, and has everything in your contract been fulfilled? One year after launch (and every year going forward), re-evaluate your CRM’s configuration to determine if there are things that are inefficient or unused, new things to standardize or integrate into your CRM, and keep your data clean by running data services (such as National Change of Address – NCOA).