Pitfalls to Avoid When Implementing a New Nonprofit CRM

July 20, 2023 / Comments Off on Pitfalls to Avoid When Implementing a New Nonprofit CRM


Implementing a new CRM is an exciting but potentially stressful process. During the implementation, nonprofits will face many common hurdles such as needing to find new integration solutions, determining what data to migrate, and ensuring the consultant they work with will be a reliable long-term partner. 

Nonprofits implementing their first CRM or upgrading from a solution for small organizations often have limited knowledge about what challenges they may encounter, let alone how to navigate those challenges. To ensure your CRM implementation goes smoothly, this guide will walk through four common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Not assessing your current technology beforehand. 

Your CRM is the centerpiece of your technology stack, impacting nearly every aspect of your digital outreach strategy and internal processes. To prepare for a new CRM, perform a technology assessment to ensure all of your current software is up-to-date and will function correctly after the implementation. 

Technology assessments involve analyzing each software solution you currently use, including your CMS, fundraising solutions, project management tools, and any other platforms you regularly use alongside your CRM. When looking at each piece of software, follow these steps:

  • Establish each of your software platform’s purposes. What is this solution helping you accomplish? Is it helping you achieve your overall goals? For example, a nonprofit might examine a third-party email tool they used with their previous CRM as they prepare to implement a new CRM that is more scalable to allow for future growth. With this context, they might assess the email tool based on the number of messages it allows them to send and how many templates they can create and save. 
  • Talk with your staff about how they use each platform. Meet with your staff and conduct interviews about how they use your software. Ask specific questions about what tools they use the most, if there are any workarounds they need to use regularly, and what features they wish the solution had. Be aware that staff from different teams might use your software differently. Accommodate for this by interviewing multiple individuals from each of your nonprofit’s departments. 
  • Determine whether your software will integrate with your new CRM. Check each platform’s integrations and whether you will need a middleware solution or workaround. For software that does not integrate smoothly, consider whether there is an easy replacement. Often, the replacement might be the new CRM itself, particularly if you choose a solution with a wide range of apps or multiple out-of-the-box features.

When taking inventory of your current technology, make a note of anything your implementation consultant will need to be aware of. Most often this will be a list of platforms that will need to be integrated or replaced. 

Not creating a timeline.

The length of the implementation process will depend on your new CRM. For instance, CRMs for small nonprofits that primarily have out-of-the-box features that require minimal customization can be implemented relatively quickly. In contrast, more complex solutions for large organizations have implementation timelines that span multiple months. 

To keep your project on track and ensure you maintain board buy-in, be sure to allocate time for the following aspects of your implementation:

  • Initial software purchase. Buying a new CRM often takes several weeks at a minimum. This process includes researching CRMs, communicating with sales executives, scheduling demos, and signing a licensing agreement. Your sales process should already be well underway when you approach a technology consultant for your implementation project.
  • Implementation preparation. Schedule time for assessing your technology, researching technology consultants, and preparing your data for migration. Data migration may take a particularly long time if your current database has issues with data hygiene. Determine what data you need to move to your new CRM, what can be safely deleted, and what new data hygiene practices you will implement to keep your new CRM organized. 
  • Custom development. If you are implementing a CRM that requires additional configuration to function, ensure you work with your developer to set an informed timeline. This should include time for communicating your overall vision for your CRM, development, feedback implementation, and testing. 

When considering your timeline, determine how you will manage other projects that may occur during your implementation. For example, how will your team operate and store data during your implementation? Additionally, have contingency plans ready in the event that your implementation goes over schedule.

Relying only on internal help.

Your nonprofit’s staff will be essential for many aspects of your implementation, particularly in providing feedback on newly developed custom features. However, while your team has expertise in your everyday operations, external consultants can offer an outside perspective. 

Specifically, a consultant can help you with these aspects of your implementation:

  • Data management. A consultant can help assess and migrate your data. This includes file and email migrations, payment portal transfers, and Domain Name System record updates. 
  • Technical development. Your technology consultant will help you integrate your third-party platforms, configure your system, and develop new features. Ensure you select a consultant who has experience with the specific CRM you are implementing. When researching consultants, explore their past projects and take note of which CRMs they specialize in. 
  • Training. After implementing your CRM, have your consultant lead training sessions with your staff. Determine whether to have your entire team attend or choose a few individuals who can then communicate what they learned to the rest of their department. If you choose the latter strategy, ensure you have thorough training documentation other team members can refer to. 

Working with a consultant who provides long-term support can actually save your nonprofit money. Rather than hiring a new internal team member to oversee your CRM, nonprofits that work with a consultant that provides long-term support can reach out as needed to resolve technical issues and handle new projects. The overall consulting fees for this support are highly unlikely to exceed that of hiring a new team member.

Not creating documentation.

Throughout your implementation, keep records of all your technical changes, process updates, and training notes to stay organized. If errors do occur, look back at your records to determine what likely caused the issue. 

If requested, certain nonprofit consultants can help create much of this documentation for you. These consultants will create notes about your technical updates as well as training documents that you can share with new team members that join your nonprofit after your implementation. 

Additionally, track who is responsible for various aspects of your implementation. This will help you accurately assign access permissions, follow up with specific tasks, and ensure there is accountability in the event that something does not go as planned. 

A new CRM can set your nonprofit up for growth, speed up operations, and generally improve your ability to fulfill your mission. Ensure your initial setup process goes smoothly by having clear goals for your implementation, factoring in potential setbacks, and leveraging external help.