CRM for Non-profit

I am often asked to implement free or discounted CRM for non-profit organizations, my hope in this blog is to help non-profits understand the value of CRM software.

While there are several CRM packages that are free or next to free for non-profits, they frequently produce results on relation to cost.  One of the main reasons for this is that much of the setup/implementation is left to the organization itself.  This is a daunting task when many non-profits run with a limited staff and volunteers, most of which are not software implementation experts, let-alone CRM business strategy experts.  Non-profits seem to fall into the do-it-yourself mode of CRM implementation even more-so than for-profit organizations and the affects can be even greater (see my blog on the costs of doing-it-yourself).

Rather than a long, drawn-out process, it is critical that a non-profit receives return on investment (ROI) rapidly through their CRM implementation.  It is equally critical that the software be configured and simple to use (since an untold number of volunteers may need to be trained on a regular basis).  This is where the non-profit should rely on a CRM consultant that understands these values and that can help them to work through the processes quickly and efficiently.

When you think about it, CRM for non-profit is even more complex than a for-profit organization.  Often non-profits have to track:


  • Donors
  • Gifts
  • Memberships
  • Capital Campaigns
  • Alumni
  • Partnerships


All while attempting to keep each informed as to what is happening with the money collected.

Corporate America is turning more and more to CRM software to enable them to better understand their customers and be proactive to each customer’s needs.  They understand the value of each customer and realizing that maintaining a customer takes more than an occasional phone call or email.  If that is true with Corporate America, it should be even more so with non-profit organizations.  Let’s face it, America’s pocket book is getting tighter and people want to know that their charitable contributions are appreciated, acknowledged, and worth-while. 

Finally, without a business partner helping with the support of CRM, many non-profits lose focus on CRM and end up with a patchwork of databases that are neither user friendly or functional.  The main question to ask when considering an investment in CRM is what will it do to the bottom line, and who is best able to help with it.  Consider these facts:


  • Many volunteers that are working on databases for non-profit organizations are frustrated by the inefficiency of the system (often entering data into multiple sources), and the lack of usage of the data in future endeavors.  Volunteers participating in what they see as non-productive process have a much higher burn out ratio.  What would your organization be like if it had a lesser turn-over of volunteers?
  • Often a non-profit will use a score of volunteers to do what one automated process can do, thinking that they are saving money since volunteers are free.  Can you imagine what would happen if your organization were to repurpose those volunteers into doing something more mission oriented?
  • Non-profits are competing for America’s share of the charity wallet with antiquated systems and poorly-executed processes highly dependent on volunteers.  Through automation of processes and responses non-profits are able provide a consistency of action in prospect and donor follow-up and appreciation often increasing donations by at least 10% annually.  (This means more than simply implementing a CRM database, it requires set-up of processes and the automation of those processes.)  What would a 10% increase in your gross contributions look like for your organization?


Ultimately, whether the software is free or not, the success of CRM software depends on the implementation execution of a good business strategy.  My best advice is do what you do best (the mission of your organization) and rely on CRM experts to help you achieve success with your donor/support database.

Luke Russell 

Resolv, Inc.

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Comparison shopping for CRM software

This blog post looks at the hows and ifs of comparison shopping for CRM software…


CRM comparisonIf you have read many of my blog posts (like “But wait, there’s more”), you will know my belief on CRM:  CRM is a business strategy, not a piece of software.  However, CRM software is a tool that can help you with your business strategy, and there comes a time in the life of most businesses (especially those that have a well-defined business strategy) where the purchase of CRM software becomes important. 

Typically, when at this stage, companies ask various vendors for demos and quotes and then work to compare each.  The problem lies in the fact that not all CRM software systems are the same, and not all quotes provided from vendors cover the same things.   For example one vendor will provide a quote for software, another for software plus installation, and yet another for software with installation and data conversion.  Another vendor may quote on configurations and customizations as well.  How do you know which to choose, since the prices are all over the board and there is no consistency from one vendor to another on the services portion of the implementation?

First off all, let me state that if a vendor is looking to simply sell you software and not help with the configuration/customization and data conversion, they are doing you a disservice.  They are basically leaving the setup and configuration to you, who I am assuming is not a CRM expert.  This will drastically delay your ability to receive a quick return on your investment, and will possibly frustrate you to the point of exhaustion.  If you haven’t read my blog on “Do-it-yourself, or not?” it will help you to understand the pitfalls of doing things on your own.

Next, as you are reviewing the quote, be cautious if your vendor is not including anything for configuration/customization.  I have been implementing CRM systems for 13 years now, and have yet to see an out-of-the-box implementation, even in phase one.  The customizations are not always extensive, but they do exist.  It is unrealistic to think that a CRM software package will track all the right data and function exactly like your company does out-of-the-box.  Usually, vendors that do not disclose customization costs in the first estimate are either unfamiliar with matching CRM software to their client’s business strategy, or they are afraid to share numbers because it may price them out of the sale.

Finally, do not be afraid to discuss the various quotes with a vendor or vendors.  If you have a vendor that stands out, and that has demonstrated the ability to understand and solve your business issues with a particular software tool, but feel that they are not priced accordingly with another vendor, it is a good idea to ask them to help you compare the two estimates.  While they may not be able to fully interpret some other vendors quote, they can give you some insights and questions to ask for more clarification.

Ultimately, it is a difficult thing to comparison shop various vendors and different CRM software applications.  After reviewing quotes and looking at demos, it usually comes down to a gut feeling.  Which vendor seemed to understand your business needs (not features and functions), and which vendor do you feel the most comfortable trusting with your customers and your financial future? 

Luke Russell 

Resolv, Inc.

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CRM and Back Office Integration …

The what, when, and why of back office integration in 700 words or less …

I know that my blog posts can get rather lengthy at times, and so I will attempt to tackle this subject in 700 words or less.

In a meeting with a prospect today, I am reminded of the complexity of back office integration.  However, even more-so, I am reminded of the importance of it.  Let me start with the later and then I’ll take a quick shot at the complexity.

The importance of CRM and back office integration:

Integration between CRM and your back office provides your sales team (and all customer facing individuals) immense amounts of useful data.  Just to name a few:

  • Sales by account by year for the last several years: This shows the customer trends and a declining trend is usually a good waning sign of an unhappy customer.
  • Sales by product line:  This lets your customer facing individuals know what product lines the customer is using, and presents opportunities for cross-sale.
  • Aging of accounts:  This will help in collection efforts as your sales people will know the customer’s payment status.
  • Order status: This lets your salesperson know where an order is within the system and will help them to be proactive in negative delivery situations.
  • Credit limit visibility:  This will help your sales team to know if an order is within the approved credit limit and help them to take the necessary actions prior to accepting an order that is beyond the limit.        

The complexity of CRM and back office integration:

While this blog is not meant to be an all inclusive check list for the potential issues and problems of back office integration, I will touch on a few key points:

  • Integration may provide access to data that you do not want made available to all users in the CRM system.  Be sure to set security to handle these situations.  For example, it may not be necessary for all users to see cost information.
  • There is always a discussion as to what to do about changes to account information (Account name, address, phone number, key contacts, etc.).  Should we allow anyone to change this data in the CRM system and sync it to the accounting system, or require customer changes be made in accounting and pushed to the CRM system.
  • Where should quotes begin, in the CRM system or in the accounting package?  Should all quotes be an opportunity in the CRM system?
  • In many CRM systems, sales orders and invoices are two separate sets of tables.  Is it important to have one, the other, or both visible in the CRM system?
  • Along the same lines which data should be aggregated (orders or invoices)?  Aggregation of the data displays the total sales by month by year for a multi-year period.  An example is in the following screen shot taken from SalesLogix, a popular CRM application:



In my experience over the past 12 years, back office integration is a critical element to sales force enablement.  However, it doesn’t have to happen in one massive phase.  In fact, it is probably better to do it in steps.  Start with the area of biggest pain.  If quotes and payment information are your biggest issues, do that first.  Then add in data aggregation in another phase.  Follow that up with invoice or order visibility.  Spreading it out over phases will help you and your consultant to more easily manage the integration and it will help you to keep the costs down while ensuring that the integration is working as you need.

Luke Russell 
Resolv, Inc.

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IT in charge of CRM implementation?

This is the second of three posts related to the “Been there, done that” thinking of Customer Relationship Management.

Let me begin by saying I have the utmost respect for IT people!  If you have never lived in the IT world let me give you a quick glace at what they face on a regular basis:

  • Computers and computing systems have become business critical, so critical that many IT people are on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week
  • Most upgrades and installations are scheduled for nights, weekends and holidays
  • IT is frequently blamed when things don’t go well or when a computer/system fails, and they are seldom praised when things work
  • Technology and software is changing at an alarming rate, and many IT people are expected to be experts on all software systems, the moment they come out

Why am I telling you this?  Because, even though your IT people work hard at keeping your systems up to date and functioning, they may not be the best people for driving customer-focused change within your organization. 

I am frequently asked “isn’t software selection and implementation the job of our IT department?”  The answer to that is no.  Your IT department should have input into the software selection process, but they should not be making the selection.  The selection needs to be made based on your company’s CRM needs, and should be made by someone that is customer facing and that will ultimately be using the software.  While you may have the best IT department in the United States, they are still IT, not sales, marketing or customer service.  They do not talk to the customer, and most likely do not understand Customer Relationship Management from your business-strategy point-of-view.

As far as implementation of software, it is task of IT to assist in the CRM software implementation, but I would not ask someone who is unfamiliar with a product to implement it.  The goal would be to have the consultant implement and train the IT in the support and maintenance of the CRM software.   The main role IT in the CRM implementation is to help with the data integration to other systems and to ensure the data integrity of the links between CRM and other systems.

Remember, implementation of software is just a small component of a CRM system implementation.  The other areas affected are your business culture and process. 

Luke Russell
Resolv, Inc.

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Do-it-yourself, or not?

In response to my last post, here is the explanation of the first reason for CRM failure … 



Often I am asked if a company can implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system on their own.  The answer is: Yes, but should you?

The number one reason for lack of success in a CRM implementation:  doing it yourself.  Why is this?  CRM consultants and vendors are experts in the field.  They understand what a CRM implementation will do to your sales force, your customers, and your processes.  A consultant has experience in what has worked in the past, and what hasn’t.  They can help you sidestep many mishaps that only come through experience.  CRM consultants can also advise you as to where to focus your money to achieve the greatest return on investment. 

Frequently internally implemented systems will begin without properly prioritized goals, or worse, they begin without any documented goals.  A consultant will insist on goals, and will attach a priority to each goal based on potential ROI, and how it affects the customer facing parts of your business.  Once goals are set, a consultant will review each and measure each from the customer perspective.  Internally implemented CRM usually puts process above customer experience, even though the “customer” is the cornerstone of CRM.

The process of goal setting, ROI tracking, and customer focus are all great reasons implement CRM with the help of a consultant; however, there is an even greater reason for not doing it yourself:  PRODUCTIVITY.  Not only do internally implemented CRM systems take more time (double or triple the amount of time to implement), companies that implement on their own notice a much sharper drop in productivity for a longer period of time.  This is illustrated in the following three charts.

The first chart is the ideal implementation.  You will notice on the chart that there is a company performance baseline.  This is an indication of the company’s performance before CRM implementation.  The goal is that after a CRM implementation performance should rise.


Don’t let yourself be fooled, the ideal never happens.   A CRM implementation does require you to refocus some of your employees’ energies for a period of time.  This refocusing usually causes a slight drop in performance.  The second chart is an example of what usually happens in a consultant implemented CRM.  There is a slight dip in performance for a short period of time, and then performance begins to rise.

Finally, the third chart is the most telling.  This is what performance looks like after an internally implemented CRM system.  The dip in performance is catastrophic.  Often the project is abandoned due to poor company performance.

While it may seem like doing it yourself will save you money, there are thousands of examples of the opposite.  You have probably experienced this in your personal life at some point.  Have you ever had a simple plumbing job that would have taken a plumber thirty minutes to do, and somehow you managed to devour an entire Saturday working on it?  The same is true with CRM.  You can fumble your way through it, and end up spending thousands more in wages and lost revenue than it would have ever taken to hire a consultant.

Rather than ask “can we do this ourselves?” you should ask “should I take my employee’s time and resources away from their main job to learn and implement CRM software?”  Let your employees do what they do best.  Focus on the customer.  Let an expert guide you through the process of CRM implementation.

After all, it’s your company! It’s your process! It’s your money! 

Luke Russell
Resolv, Inc.

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Scrap the demo … define the need!

I receive several calls each month from organizations looking for a demo of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package.  Most of those asking believe CRM is something you can purchase.  However, CRM is not available for sale on a shelf, because it is not software.  If you are not familiar with my definition of CRM you will find it here.



CRM Software is a tool that can be used to help organizations manage the relationships with their customers.  Software also can help people within an organization to be more productive and better informed as to their customer’s historic purchase patterns, future needs, and overall strength.  Finally, software can alert of instances requiring attention, automate processes, and automate communications related to processes.  However, this all happens within the boundaries of an organization’s customer-centric business strategy.



Why would I say that CRM is not about software when part of my job is selling software?  It comes down to one simple philosophy:  I am only interested in implementing CRM software in cases where the implementation of software is in alignment with the organization’s customer-centric business strategy.  In this case, CRM software implementation will be a part of the solution for specific, defined business needs.



Think about this for a moment:  If you were to take your current practices of customer communication and tracking, and your cultural beliefs about your customers and your sales process and simply automate them would you be any better off?  Or, would you simply be taking poor practices and a less-than optimal customer culture and making them happen more quickly?  Ultimately, CRM software is only as good as the customer-centric business strategy that drives the implementation.



Luke Russell
Resolv, Inc.

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Do you have an expensive Rolodex?

Over the last 12 years (yes, I have been doing CRM consulting for 12 years now) I have seen many CRM systems implemented as an very expensive Rolodex, basically to perform the function of Contact Management or Sales Force Automation.  There is a difference between Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Contact Management.  So I thought today I would help define each step in the Contact Management to Customer Relationship Management chain:


Contact Management is typically contact based, and is more or less an electronic rolodex.  It is a mailing list for a specific user or group of users, and is normally not integrated across the entire organization.  It frequently does not meet all of the data needs required for managing leads, prospects, and customers, leaving many stand alone islands of data throughout the organization.  Often companies will know they need to move up from contact management when they begin to have multiple contact management databases or when they have to use outside programs like Microsoft Excel or Access to track additional data about their prospects and customers.  Contact management is a great first step into CRM, and Sage software with over 4,000,000 users of ACT! is the world-wide leader in this category.

Sales Force Automation is frequently account based, and includes enhanced note taking and opportunity tracking capabilities.  It allows for the tracking of more data though configuration, and can be deployed organization wide.  Making the step to sales force automation normally eliminates the need for many of the separate islands of data, leaving only one or two spreadsheets or outside databases for tracking additional data components.  Very often, sales force automation will include basic integration into the back office.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is account based, and includes advanced marketing management, opportunity management, quote management, contract tracking, support issue management, and forecasting to name a few key components.  Basically, it encompasses data from every aspect of your relationship with the customer.  It is fully customizable eliminating all need for outside islands of data about your customer (outside of your accounting/ERP system).  It can be fully integrated with back office and manufacturing and can be deployed across the entire organization, including remote offices anywhere around the world.  Sage SalesLogix is an excellent example of a true Customer Relationship Management tool.  Sage SalesLogix has been the industry innovation leader since 1998 and is consistently winning industry standard and user satisfaction awards.

Hopefully having an understanding of what CRM includes will help you as you focus on the business goals that you are looking toward CRM software to help you accomplish.  Don’t forget that your CRM strategy and corresponding software implementation is an ever-evolving  part of your organization.   While CRM is not about software, we do have a couple resources on our website that will help as you are evaluating software:

Luke Russell
Resolv, Inc.

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