Those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future, as they say in the classics, and this certainly rings true for not-for-profit organisations.
The battle to stay relevant is a continual challenge for NFPs such as charities, as they grapple with the ever-increasing competition for donors and supporters.
Technology is a key factor but with the speed of change, it is important to stay ahead of the game to mitigate risk, increase donor engagement and protect relationships.
This realisation was one of the factors at the heart of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) deciding to move to a new Client Relationship Management (CRM) system.
The charity’s Chief Executive Officer Barbara Ryan said their vision was to have a greater understanding of the people that support them. This vision, coupled with an awareness that some new technologies were not supported by their outdated CRM, it was clear that it was time for a change.
“A successful fundraiser and board member is someone who knows their local market and are good relationship builders,” she said.
“With an effective CRM, fundraisers or key people may leave an organisation but their relationships don’t have to leave with them, they can remain connected to the cause rather than the person.
“CRMs allow us to capture and map the client journey and give NFPs a better chance of connecting with donors, to tailor the relationship with them over time.
“From there, we can better support families of seriously ill or injured children and deliver on our mission.”
However, a new CRM is not simply flicking a switch to bring a new system online.
Customise technology – but only where it’s necessary
The management and leaders at RMHC’s 12 chapters around Australia floated the CRM replacement idea at the end of 2018 and it gained traction in the following 12 months. It was rolled out over 18 months, first to its Perth chapter then across the country.
“We wanted to address the limitations that our teams saw in our old systems,” said Ishani Karunanayake, Technology Manager at RMHC Australia.
“We had identified capabilities in other systems that we couldn’t access without change.
“RMHC wants to provide fundraisers with the best tools to perform their role and ensure that they are set up for success.”
Ms Karunanayake said NFPs or any organisation should consider challenging internal processes and examine whether extensive customisation is really necessary.
“The only way that’s possible is if an organisation has developed a clear vision about where they want to be and how the technology can support the business process,” she said.
“The ability to deploy out of the box systems will reduce the need for extensive customisation.”
A new CRM can help drive fundraising, but implementation may identify other aspects of the technology stack which may not be up to date.
Pitcher Partners Sydney managing partner Adam Irwin, who has worked closely with RMHC, said there was more to a CRM journey than simply installing a shiny new piece of technology.
“CRM technology talks to every part of the business or organisation, but if the other systems don’t talk back, processes will not be as streamlined as they could be,” he said.
The cultural element of new technology
The implementation process was complicated further by the COVID-19 pandemic and personnel changes, which drove home the value of knowledge sharing.
“Organisations should ensure they have practices in place to document or share information, because it will smooth the bumps if key staff leave or new hires are made,” Ms Karunanayake said.
Then there’s the cultural shift necessary to bring staff along on the journey.
Denise Lumsden, RMHC’s General Manager Corporate Services, says organisations should not underestimate the change management element required when upgrading systems.
“Start conversations with staff early, and deliver education and training programs that will embed good workflows,” she said.
“This will help bring everyone on the journey and make the change easier.
“But most importantly, get people excited – they’re getting something to help make life easier, not an obstacle.
“Work with staff to stay focused on the big picture and remember that the short-term discomfort that comes with change will be forgotten once the new system is up and running.”
Even once the system is embedded, the culture piece doesn’t stop.
“When your new system is in place and you have strong engagement, you then must ensure CRM education is built into your onboarding process for new staff,” Ms Lumsden said.
Making the argument for technology investment
CRMs and websites are the top two focus areas for technology investment by NFPs in the next three years, according to data from Pitcher Partners recent Not-For-Profit survey.
In Pitcher Partners’ first NFP survey in 2019, 40 per cent of respondents had introduced, or planned to introduce, a CRM within 12 months – three years on, that has only risen to 60%.
Most organisations know an effective CRM can deliver benefits but it’s still a hard sell for a not-for-profit. There’s nothing sexy about a CRM and boards are wary of using resources for its core purpose.
“NFPs and charity boards may only want to invest in the cause or mission, which of course is understandable,” Ms Lumsden said.
Mr Irwin said there are several reasons that NFPs are hesitant about implementing or investing in their CRMs, despite knowing the benefits.
“They may lack the time, knowledge and resources to implement or update the system, or there may be confusion over managing integration with existing systems,” he said.
“It could just be as simple as CRM investment or upgrade plans were shelved during the pandemic, which is understandable given how hard NFPs were hit with staffing challenges and fundraising pressures.”
Ms Lumsden said the lesson for charity founders and leaders is to invest in technology to assist with fundraising and to run their NFPs like a business.
“A CRM is not a shiny new toy but an investment in a business tool,” she said.
“Our board is thinking long-term when it comes to investment in technology such as a CRM because competition for donors is now higher than ever.
“The way forward is technology; we don’t have a choice.
“It’s an important piece in donor stewardship. A good CRM allows us to, create great experiences with our organisation and better understand and respect donor needs while delivering our mission to support seriously ill children and their families.”