Planning Your CRM Implementation Using CiviCRM

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Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM

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by Brian Shaughnessy Joseph Murray | March 2011 | Open Source

CiviCRM is a web-based, open source Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system, designed specifically to meet the needs of advocacy, non-profit, and non-governmental organizations.

In this article by Joseph Murray and Brian P. Shaughnessy, authors of Using CiviCRM, we will do the following:

  • Identify potential barriers to success and learn how to overcome them
  • Select an appropriate development methodology
  • Build a balanced team
  • Get started by measuring baseline metrics, creating a vision, and creating a plan


Using CiviCRM

Using CiviCRM

Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM

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This article speaks to people who have the responsibility for initiating, scoping, and managing development and implementation for the CRM strategy.

If you already have CiviCRM or another CRM operating in-house without a CRM strategy, it's not too late to be more methodical in your approach. The steps below can be used to plan to re-invigorate and re-focus the use of CRM within your organization as much as to plan a first implementation.

Barriers to success

Constituent Relationship Management initiatives can be difficult. At their best, they involve changing external relationships and internal processes and tools. Externally, the experiences that the constituents have of your organization need to change, so that they provide more value and fewer barriers to involvement. Internally, business processes and supporting technological systems need to change in order to break down departmental operations' silos, increase efficiencies, and enable more effective targeting, improved responsiveness, and new initiatives. The success of the CRM projects often depends on changing the behavior and attitudes of individuals across the organization, and replacing, changing, and/or integrating many IT systems used across the organization.

Succeeding with the management of organizational culture change may involve getting staff members to take on tasks and responsibilities that may not directly benefit them or the department managed by their supervisor, but only provide value to the organization by what it enables others in the organization to accomplish or avoid. As a result, it is more challenging to align the interests of the staff and organizational units with the organization's interest in improved constituent relations, as promised by the CRM strategy. This is why an Executive Sponsor, such as the Executive Director of a small or a medium-sized non-profit organization, is so important.

On the technical side, CRM projects for reasonably-sized organizations typically involve replacing or integrating many systems. Configuring and customizing a single new software system, migrating data to it, testing and deploying it, and training the staff members can be a challenge at the best of times. Doing it for multiple systems and more users multiplies the challenge. Since a CRM initiative involves integrating separate systems, the complexity of such endeavors must be faced, such as disparate data schemas requiring transformations for interoperability, and keeping middleware in sync with changes in multiple independent software packages.

Unfortunately, these challenges to the CRM implementation initiative may lead to a project failure if they are not realized and addressed. The common causes for failure are as follows:

  • Lack of executive-level sponsorship resulting in improperly resolved turf wars.
  • IT-led initiatives have a greater tendency to focus on cost efficiency. This focus will generally not result in better constituent relations that are oriented toward achieving the organization's mission. An IT approach, particularly where users and usability experts are not on the project team, may also lead to poor user adoption if the system is not adapted to their needs, or even if the users are poorly trained.
  • No customer data integration approach resulting in not overcoming the data silos problem, no consolidated view of constituents, poorer targeting, and an inability to realize enterprise-level benefits.
  • Lack of buy-in, leading to a lack of use of the new CRM system and continued use of the old processes and systems it was meant to supplant.
  • Lack of training and follow-up training causing staff anxiety and opposition. This may cause non-use or misuse of the system, resulting in poor data handling and mix-ups in the way in which constituents are treated.
  • Not customizing enough to actually meet the requirements of the organization in the areas of:
    • Data integration
    • Business processes
    • User experiences
  • Over-customizing, causing:
    • The costs of the system to escalate
    • The best practices incorporated in the base functionality to be overridden in some cases
    • User forms to become overly complex
    • User experiences to become off-putting
  • No strategy for dealing with the technical challenges associated with developing, extending, and/or integrating the CRM software system, leading to:
    • Cost overruns
    • Poorly designed and built software
    • Poor user experiences
    • Incomplete or invalid data

However, this does not mean that project failure is inevitable or common. These clearly identifiable causes of failure can be overcome through effective project planning.

Perfection is the enemy of the good

CRM systems and their functional components such as fundraising, ticket sales, communication with subscribers and other stakeholders, membership management, and case management are essential for the core operations of most non-profits. This can lead to a legitimate fear of project failure when changing them. However, this fear can easily create a perfectionist mentality, where the project team attempts to overcompensate by creating too much oversight, too much contingency planning, and too much project discovery time in an effort to avoid missing any potentially useful feature that could be integrated into the project. While planning is good, perfection may not be good, since perfection is often the enemy of the good.

CRM implementations risk erring on the side of what is known, somewhat tonguein- cheek, as the MIT Approach. The MIT approach believes in, and attempts to design, construct, and deploy, the "Right Thing" right from the start. Its big-brain approach to problem solving leads to correctness, completeness, and consistency in the design. It values simplicity in the user interface over simplicity in the implementation design. The other end of the spectrum is captured with aphorisms like "Less is More," "KISS" (Keep it simple, stupid), and "Worse is Better". This alternate view willingly accepts deviations from correctness, completeness, and consistency in design in favor of general simplicity, or simplicity of implementation over simplicity of user interface. The reason that such counter-intuitive approaches to developing solutions have become respected and popular is the problems and failures that can result from trying to do it all perfectly from the start.

Neither end of the spectrum is healthier. Handcuffing the project to an unattainable standard of perfection, or over-simplifying in order to artificially reduce complexity will both lead to project failure.

There is no perfect antidote to these two extremes. As a project manager it will be your responsibility to set the tone, determine priorities, and plan the implementation and development process. Although it is not a perspective on project management, one rule that will help achieve balance and move the project forward is "Release early, release often." This is commonly embraced in the open source community where collaboration is essential to success. This motto:

  • Captures the intent of catching errors earlier
  • Allows users to capture value from the system sooner
  • Allows users to better imagine and articulate what the software should do through ongoing use and interaction with a working system early in the process

Development methodologies

Whatever approach your organization decides to take for developing and implementing its CRM strategy, it's usually good to have an agreed upon process and methodology. Your processes define the steps to be taken as you implement the project. Your methodology defines the rules for the process, that is, the methods to be used throughout the course of the project. The spirit of the problem solving approaches just reviewed can be seen in the Traditional Waterfall Development model and in the contrasting Iterative and Incremental Development model.

Projects naturally change and evolve over time. You may find that you embrace one of these methodologies for initial implementation, and then migrate to a different method or mixed-method for maintenance and future development work. By no means should you feel restricted by the definitions provided, but rather adjust the principles to meet your changing needs throughout the course of the project. That being said, it's important that your team understands the project rules at a given point in time, so that the project management principles are respected.

The conventional Waterfall Development methodology

The traditional Waterfall method of software development is sometimes thought of as "big design upfront". It employs a sequential approach to development, moving from needs analysis and requirements, to architectural and user experience, detailed design, implementation, integration, testing, deployment, and maintenance. The output of each step or phase flows downward, like water, to the next step in the process, as illustrated by the arrows in the following figure:

Planning Your CRM Implementation Using CiviCRM

The Waterfall model tends to be more formal, more planned, includes more documentation, and often has a stronger division of labor. This methodology benefits from having clear, linear, and progressive development steps in which each phase builds upon the previous one. However, it can suffer from inflexibility if used too rigidly. For example, if during the verification and quality assurance phase, you realize a significant functionality gap resulting from incorrect (or changing) specification requirements, then it may be difficult to interject those new needs into the process. The "release early, release often" iterative principle mentioned earlier can help overcome that inflexibility. If the overall process is kept tight and the development window short, you can justify delaying the new functionality or corrective specifications for the next release.

Iterative development methodology

Iterative development models depart from this structure by breaking the work up into chunks that can be developed and delivered separately. The Waterfall process is used in each phase or segment of the project, but the overall project structure is not necessarily held to the same rigid process. As one moves farther away from the Waterfall approach, there is a greater emphasis on evaluating incrementally-delivered pieces of the solution, and incorporating feedback on what has already been developed into the planning of future work, as illustrated in the loop in the following figure:

Planning Your CRM Implementation Using CiviCRM

This methodology seeks to take what is good in the traditional Waterfall approach— structure, clearly-defined linear steps, a strong development/quality assurance/roll out process—and improve it through shorter development cycles that are centered on smaller segments of the overall project. Perhaps the biggest challenge in this model is the project management role, as it may result in many moving pieces that must be tightly coordinated in order to release the final working product.

Agile development methodology

Agile development methodologies are an effective derivative of the iterative development model that moves one step further away from the Waterfall model. They are characterized by requirements and solutions evolving together, requiring work teams to be drawn from all the relevant parts of the organization. They organize themselves to work in rapid one to four-week iteration cycles. Agile centers on time-based release cycles, and in this way, differs from the other methodologies discussed, which are oriented more toward functionality-based releases.

The following figure illustrates the implementation of an Agile methodology that highlights short daily Scrum status meetings, a product backlog containing features or user stories for each iteration, and a sprint backlog containing revisable and reprioritizable work items for the team during the current iteration.

A deliberate effort is usually made in order to ensure that the sprint backlog is long enough to ensure that the lowest priority items will not be dealt with before the end of the iteration. Although they can be put onto the list of work items that may or may not be selected for the next iteration, the idea is that the client or the product owner should, at some point, decide that it not worth investing more resources in the "nice to have, but not really necessary" items.

Planning Your CRM Implementation Using CiviCRM

As one might expect, this methodology relies heavily on effective prioritization. Since software releases and development cycles adhere to rigid timeframes, only high priority issues or features are actively addressed at a given point in time; the remainder issues falling lower on the list are subject to reassignment for the next cycle.

Using CiviCRM Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM
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Food Pantry Association of Greater Metropolis

Throughout the rest of this article we will use a case study to help introduce concepts and explain how to configure, customize, and use CiviCRM. While the organization and names are entirely fictitious and not intended to refer to actual organizations or people, the organization's needs and how it operates are intended to reflect common patterns in the non-profit and advocacy sector.

In our case study you are in charge of all administrative functions including computer systems and finances for The Food Pantry Association of Greater Metropolis. FPAGM is the central organization in the food pantry system in the city of Metropolis and its surrounding areas. The pantries, known elsewhere as food banks, range from small faith-based groups to a few larger not-for-profits in the center of the only large city in the area. The pantries provide the poor with food to be taken home for consumption later, and are kept particularly busy during the winter months in this city of approximately 2.1 million people.

FPAGM envisions a community where no one suffers from hunger. Its mission is to provide cost-effective shared services to food pantries in the region. Operationally, FPAGM does the following:

  • Provides wholesale food pickup from business donors, storage at a depot, and regular delivery of needed supplies to pantries
  • Shares best practices amongst food pantries and food pantry donors
  • Begins assisting pantries in dealing with problematic individuals who abuse the system or staff
  • Represents the concerns of the pantries to local and state advocacy efforts, often by undertaking research and developing policy submissions

The FPAGM Board of Directors consists of four officers and five members-at-large. Your boss, the Executive Director, oversees the work of five full-time staff. In addition, the organization receives regular volunteer support to assist with daily operations.

As before, most staff resources are taken up with providing food distribution services for the pantries. Affiliate members and other food providers contact the FPAGM when they have surplus food available for pickup. The association owns three vans for transporting food from the providers to a warehouse attached to the FPAGM offices, and then distributing it to the pantries.

The FPAGM staff also handles distribution. The pantries place requests for food and the costs (measured by weight) are tracked against their accounts.

This system allows the pantries in the region to focus on providing food and services to clients, poor members of the community, without much need to identify food supply sources. The association also benefits from economies of scale, particularly with warehouse space, staff, and vehicles required to distribute food to the pantries.

The association hosts two training events and an annual conference that draws attendees from the entire state who are involved in food pantry support.

Right-sizing the process

It's important to ensure that the process and methodology you adopt for your CRM initiative is appropriate to your organization's culture and size, the complexity of its existing systems, and the scale of your CRM effort. This goal of "right-sizing" the process to fit your needs is essential, both for you as the project manager/decision maker, and for any consultants you engage in the process. Besides having familiarity with your methodology of choice, the project team (organization leaders, staff, and consultants) should understand and appreciate how you have right-sized the project. For example, if you represent a small organization with two to five staff members, a volunteer board and committee structure, and 3,000 contact records, building too much structure and process into your project will impede efficient progress rather than helping it. You need enough structure to make sure that the project is well-defined, well-managed, effectively tested, and implemented on time and within budget; but not so much structure that you spend all your time managing the methods instead of implementing a CRM.

Other things being equal, larger, older, and more hierarchical, formal and bureaucratic organizations tend to need a more formal approach with more documents, more approvals, and so on. Smaller, newer, flatter, matrix-managed, and more flexible organizations will find it easier to move along the spectrum towards the Agile methods.

Tiny organizations or initiatives may not need to iterate because the scope of work is too small. A project intending to replace a single existing CRM system with CiviCRM may find it better to proceed in a single product rollout to reduce the effort involved in running old and new systems in parallel. By contrast, replacing a number of separate siloed systems with CiviCRM can be grouped into one or more iterations for each system being replaced.

Sometimes, it can be useful to pilot CiviCRM in an important, urgent, or easy area. You might want to reach for a low-hanging fruit by automating event registration for the first time. Another strategy would be to tackle the toughest area first, so that you don't get half-way down a path of converting to a new CRM before you realize there are some aspects of your needs that will require more customization than originally envisioned. By tackling the elephant in the room first, you can reallocate resources to ensure your critical functionality areas are fully addressed.

Building the team

A critical factor in the success of your CRM initiative will be deciding who is on your strategy and implementation team. The size of the team will obviously vary between organizations; those with three staff members will have to do things differently than those with 300. While this section is oriented towards larger organizations, the principles apply to any size.

The implementation team includes the people who will play a direct role in the ongoing project development. Not everyone affected by the CRM initiative needs to be on this core team tasked with driving the strategy and implementation. A good working group seldom is larger than six to eight people, and very often, a smaller group can be more effective. What is most important is that this team should be representative of the different voices of the project—organization, leadership, end users, developers/implementers, important stakeholders, and so on.

Usually, it is immediately clear that the involvement and cooperation of some individuals in the organization will be necessary for the success of the initiative. In addition, it is important to have a variety of people representing different roles on the team. The team members must bring the right mix of expertise and experience to the project, be willing to work together to effectively accomplish what needs to be done, and work in order to ensure that the perspectives and needs of all the affected parts of the organization are heard and weighed appropriately. If you have tight links to external stakeholders, involving them in your CRM strategy development and testing before roll-out can dramatically improve the success of your initiative.

From a human resource perspective, a transformational initiative such as this one is a great opportunity to provide emerging leaders with a stretch assignment for their talent and ambition, experience in matters beyond their current job responsibilities, and exposure across the organization. The senior team members can evaluate and provide feedback to them as they stretch their wings.

As representatives for the initiative inside and outside the organization, the team members are ideally placed with the goal to advocate and evangelize for their own sub-constituencies in support of the overall CRM vision. What do we mean by that? Each member of the team should represent a voice in your organization— management, front line staff, communication, accounting/bookkeeping, event coordination, advocacy, end user constituents, developers, different kinds of external stakeholders, and so on, each with their own expectations, goals, and concerns with the CRM implementation. The combined diversity of perspective is essential in order to achieve a well-balanced and effective team.

You'll need to judge whether people who are likely to be resistant to change, or to the initiative in general, should be brought into the tent early or late. Their opposition or reluctance may be due to their personality, a pattern of conflict with a team member, institutional factors such as loss of control of data or budget, or perceived criticism, as systems and work in their area of responsibility are targeted for improvement. Our experience is that it is usually better to bring them in early so that their voices can be heard and their concerns addressed during the implementation. Obtain their buy-in to the project early in order to reduce the likelihood of them poisoning the perception when it's time for organization-wide adoption. This also makes it less likely that they will be taking pot-shots at the initiative from the sidelines, and will be unable to legitimately claim at their end that their concerns were not given due consideration. Acknowledge and incorporate as many positive aspects from the existing ways of doing things as possible and ensure that there is adequate opportunity for familiarization and training with the new system in order to encourage that buy-in. Skeptical voices are valuable when they help to provide a reality check on optimistic ambitions, but can become poisonous if they veer towards unreasonable negativity.

The ideal team may include:

  • An executive or board sponsor of the initiative who is able to:
    • Articulate the vision
    • Allocate adequate resources
    • Resolve issues that may arise between departments
  • One or more key functional managers with the following functions:
    • Communication, including newsletters
    • Events, which may include different parts of the organization such as those responsible for annual conferences, educational programs, outreach events, a speaker's bureau, and fundraising dinners
    • Volunteering recruitment and management
    • Case management including intake, assignment, and follow-through
    • Membership management
  • One or more key staff users, especially administrative staff, who operate the existing system(s) and know how normal transactions and exceptions are actually handled. It includes individuals with deep institutional knowledge about how and why the processes and workflows developed will be particularly helpful.
  • Technical expertise, in-house and/or consultant, covering:
    • CiviCRM
    • Your CMS, either Drupal or Joomla!
    • Software systems to be integrated into CiviCRM, if any
    • Legacy software systems to be replaced by CiviCRM, if any
  • External stakeholders, especially when their stake in your organization's success is significant.

    Your Executive Director at FPAGM, Mojan Ahmed, undertook a systematic review of the organization and its processes, three months into her tenure. The six-month exercise has included the board of directors, staff, key players from the food pantries (also known as food banks), food donors, volunteers, staff from local politicians' offices, and a bureaucrat from the city. A key outcome of the review was the decision to invest in a new information system. Her judicious selection of stakeholder representatives has resulted in early assurances that the city government and a local philanthropic foundation will provide grants that will cover the anticipated cost of the CRM implementation and associated training together.

While not necessary on the core team, it can be quite useful to involve representative users at various points in the process:

  • For feedback on the existing system, and how it could be improved
  • For feedback on the design of the new system
  • As testers of the user experience
  • As testers of functionality in the system

Factors to consider while selecting users is to ensure that there is:

  • Good coverage of the functionality in the system by selecting users who play diverse roles, such as:
    • General public
    • Members of the organization
    • Events administrator
    • Volunteer
  • Testing by users with different levels of technical sophistication and appropriate interfaces as expected by their role:
    • Techno-phobes
    • Tech-savvy users
    • Power users

The ease of setting up and administering online surveys these days means that you should consider whether it may be more efficient and effective to survey a larger number of constituents, rather than having meetings and testing sessions with a smaller number. The former generally provides better quantitative data on known questions, while the latter provides better qualitative data that can lead to new insights and out-of-the-box thinking.

As you construct your team and consultation/feedback mechanisms, it's important to keep in mind that the best CRM initiatives involve changes to work processes and organizational culture, as well as implementation of new information systems. Communication about the CRM initiative will necessarily occur via your team, consultation protocols, and training sessions, as well as the other mechanisms such as staff newsletter articles that you may want to put in place, particularly in large organizations. The efforts expended on consultation and involvement of staff and volunteers throughout the process can lead to worthwhile results with respect to organizational change, even if few technical changes take place. Your aim should be to develop proper organizational alignment with the CRM vision and objectives, which will help people feel more responsible for things they have contributed toward, approved, and shaped.

Two months after the arrival of the new Executive Director of FPAGM, Mojan Ahmed, there was an unfortunate showdown with the longest serving staffer, who insisted on continuing to respond to last minute requests from pantries (that is, food banks) for changes in their orders. This often led to a need to do special runs to suppliers, unpaid overtime for volunteers and staffers needing to redo the work, and occasional delays in deliveries the next day. Backed up by the Board, Mojan prevailed. Now that they have become used to getting their orders in by the agreed upon deadline, pantries are finding that the service has improved in other areas, such as deliveries arriving on time with fewer errors and omissions in their contents.

As your team and methodology falls into place, consider using a project management tool to help track issues as they arrive, document every step of the process, define milestones and release targets, and keep your team members honest. This is particularly important if you are a large organization with many stakeholders involved in the process. Having an electronic "paper-trail" to reference is critical as you work through the decisions, define specifications, and roll-out the software. There are a number of excellent web-based project management tools that can be used for this purpose.

Using CiviCRM Develop and implement a fully functional, systematic CRM plan for your organization Using CiviCRM
Published: February 2011
eBook Price: $35.99
Book Price: $59.99
See more
Select your format and quantity:
        Read more about this book      

(For more resources on this subject, see here.)

Getting started

At the beginning of a CRM project you'll need to do some planning, whether this means creating a feature backlog for the discovery phase of an Agile process, pre-planning for an iterative process, or the initial work in the planning phase for a Waterfall process. What planning you should do and when you do it will vary depending on the process adopted for your CRM project, the general management practices for approving and analyzing projects in your organization, and possibly the requirements of external funders such as foundations and other grant-giving organizations.

The following outline of preliminary activities includes some items that may not be required by less formal and less structured organizations. Even if, despite our advice to the contrary, you're treating your CRM project as limited exclusively to the technical implementation of one or more CiviCRM components like online donation processing, we'd encourage you to review this section for ways to make it a success.

While the list is arranged according to the general order it should be done, you should expect and plan for iteration. The later sections will expand on certain items, particularly the ones associated with requirements for specific components of CiviCRM, but it's better to start at a broader, higher level.

Creating a baseline

Assuming that improvements are desired, develop an inventory of the current state of customer relationship management in your organization:

  • Create a list of the main types of constituents that interact with your organization such as volunteers, donors, attendees, board members, staff members, website visitors, and so on.
  • For each type of constituent, list the important types of interactions that can occur with your organization.
  • Identify actionable metrics that measure the quantity and quality of relationships. Wherever possible, collect information for each metric or put in place ways of collecting the information in order to create a baseline of information about constituent relationships. Ideally, these metrics should provide meaningful ideas on what you should do. The trend revealed by the number of new twitter followers per week is better than the total number of twitter followers, since the former will help you perceive spikes more clearly that will help you identify effective message language or key influencers to reach out to.
  • Create a technical inventory of all systems that interact with constituents. At a more detailed level, perhaps in later phases, create a data dictionary of all tables, fields, and their meanings related to constituent information, transactions, and interactions.
  • List the known pain points in the current way of doing things that need to be addressed, for both internal resources like staff or key volunteers, and external constituents like case clients or website visitors.
  • SWOT analysis (internal strengths, internal weaknesses, external opportunities, and external threats) is a good tool for some of this work.

    FPAGM Memberships
    An example of the kind of baseline information that is good to collect is memberships.
    FPAGM is simplifying its organizational structure in various ways, including moving from nine to three membership categories. Historical differences between the small rural church pantries and the larger urban, secular, non-profit organizations, and between the small restaurants and large food distributors, will be dealt with through board representation, program operations, and fees. The new membership categories are:

    • Regular: Food pantries in the region are eligible to become Regular Members of the Association, and all but one has already done so. Pantries who join the Association agree to adhere to a code of conduct, which includes statements concerning non-discriminatory practices and a willingness to work collaboratively with other pantries towards the goal of fairly and charitably reaching the needs of the area's poor. FPAGM currently has 43 regular members. The annual fee is $250.
    • Affiliate: Organizations that donate food to pantries in the region are eligible to become Affiliate Members of the Association. 127 have done so, including a produce distribution centre, two food wholesalers, a grocery store chain, several other local grocery stores, and a large number of restaurants. These businesses support the Association through their involvement in the organization, as well as through providing surplus food for distribution to the pantries. The annual fee is $100.
    • Supporting: Individuals or organizations that embrace the mission of the Association and support it through monetary donations and through service or in-kind may choose to become Supporting Members. FPAGM currently has 56 supporting members. While the minimum annual fee is $50, some have given considerably more.
    • The Regular and Affiliate categories operate on one-year membership periods from January 1 through December 31. Supporting members operate on a one-year rolling period by default, though the size of the gift may dictate a longer membership period at the discretion of the Executive Director and Board of Directors. Employees of any member organizations inherit membership benefits by virtue of the parent organization.


Developing the vision

Develop a shared vision for the desired state of your CRM and its place in your organization:

  • The vision can be the basis of planning goals and metrics for measuring success.
  • During this work, focus on the mission of the organization, and how it is realized through relationships with constituents.
  • List CRM functionality and features that helped motivate the project, for example, online events registration, including payments.
  • List possible ways of overcoming current pain points, for example, data silos between staff or departments.
  • Focus on the user experience of your organization in the typical interactions that your constituents have with you. Alternate between big picture identification and examination of constituent segments (either analytically through data analysis or anecdotally through staff and expert exposition), and close up details of specific users and incidents.
  • Pay attention to the funnel(s) of prospects for high-value types of constituents. Depending on your organization and mission, these may be volunteers, activists, donors, new members, or others such as the public your organization is trying to educate about something. Clarify the steps on the ladder of engagement for these types of constituents (for example, website visitor, newsletter subscriber, online activist, event attendee, donor, in person volunteer, or board member), and the value proposition at each step. Consider new business activities such as creating a free monthly newsletter to acquire prospects, or premium members-only pre-event meet and greet gatherings to help with volunteer recruitment.
  • Put specific energy into brainstorming:
    • Ways to reduce time-consuming and repetitive tasks of staff and volunteers, for example, making more processes self-serve online
    • Eliminating some tasks altogether if they do not adequately help the organization to realize its mission
    • Imagining new ways to accomplish your mission, for example, beginning to use viral marketing and social media
    • Optimizing business processes for external experience, internal efficiency, and general usefulness before automating them
  • You may want to consider articulating the desired goals and metrics using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) project management criteria for more controlling and formal organizations or DUMB ones (Doable, Understandable, Manageable, Beneficial) for less management-heavy ones (visit

    The food pantry needs of the greater Metropolis community have grown significantly over the last few years, and FPAGM seeks to find ways to increase the operational efficiency while providing greater levels of service to its members.
    Further, your members have expressed a desire to increase networking and cooperation among each other. In particular, they want to learn from shared experiences and find ways to discourage people from abusing the services provided (pantry hopping). Recent resistance from the city government has forced the Association to take a more aggressive role in state and local advocacy such as ensuring that laws and regulations that support the mission of the organization are put in place. This means that FPAGM must look for ways to present its issues, concerns, vision, and constituents in a more public fashion.
    All of this has led your organization to begin the process of rebuilding their website and implementing constituent relationship management software. You chose Joomla! as the content management system for your website because of its ease of use for administrators and the variety of extensions available for building the site functionality. You've selected CiviCRM for your contact management needs because of the diverse toolset it will provide, both for your immediate contacts, members, event management needs, and future goals in order to begin case management tracking.
    You anticipate using online membership forms to solicit members, profiles for member contact detail management, event registration forms for training events and the annual conference, and contribution forms for members to place orders to the organization for food delivery. They also plan to have online donation pages and may begin having periodic campaigns for more focused fundraising efforts.
    You plan to develop appropriate metrics as your next step in developing FPAGM's CRM plan.

Creating a project plan

Create a preliminary project plan as follows:

  1. Determine the project scope.
  2. Estimate a timeline for software release(s), major stakeholder communication, training, and other project milestones.
  3. Estimate the monetary, human, and technical resources required, providing the basis for a preliminary budget of the total cost of ownership for all phases of the project, including both the implementation and ongoing annual costs.
  4. Estimate the benefits in terms of the following:
    • Cost saving through efficiencies (staff time able to be redeployed, switching some communications from postage and printing to e-mail, and so on)
    • Increased revenue generation (donations, ticket sales, and so on)
    • Mission-oriented success metrics or proxies for them
  5. Sample metrics may include:
    • Clients served (number of cases, time to resolution, number of repeat clients, client evaluations of service and organization, and so on)
    • Number of events offered
    • Ticket sales (number and value)
    • Donations (number of donors, frequency of giving, recency of latest donation, and average amount of donation)
    • Bequests arranged and received
    • Memberships (number, geographic, sectoral, or other sort of coverage of target audience)
    • Volunteers (number, frequency, recency, average number of hours, higher value kinds of volunteering, and so on)
    • Grants (applications received, processed, average time of processing, number approved, and so on)
    • Newsletter subscribers (number, churn rate, opens, click-throughs, completions of calls to actions, and so on)
    • Media (number of mentions, reach, and tone of coverage)
    • Web traffic (number of unique visitors, repeat visitors, length of stay, forwards to friends, number of Facebook fans, number of Twitter followers, number of re-tweets, and so on)
    • Search engine (page rankings for various key terms)
  6. Set out the assumptions underlying the plan.
  7. Identify risks to the project success that will need to be reduced, mitigated, or otherwise managed.
  8. Combine the budgeted costs with the estimated benefits to develop a projection of the financial and non-financial return on investment.

Depending on the scope of your project and how you view it with regard to your overall mission, a more extensive environmental analysis (such as the SWOT method: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) could prove useful during this stage. Though you may look at the CRM initiative as largely an IT function, the reality is that it will impact every facet of your organization, and thus should be viewed from this macro level. A review of business process re-engineering could also be considered as an early activity because of its general importance and opportunity to think cross-functionally.

Total cost of ownership

We just mentioned in the previous section the need to calculate the total cost of ownership in order to provide a sense of the expected return on investment in a CRM initiative. The initial cost of acquiring and deploying software systems is usually a fraction of their total cost of ownership. This is especially true for enterprise systems like CRMs that tend to have longer effective lives.

Although CiviCRM, Drupal, and Joomla! are free open source software projects, they do have costs associated with them. In addition to training for users, administrators, and any in-house developers you may have, there is a need for on-going maintenance and support of your software and data.

Security upgrades or patches need to be applied regularly to your CMS software. CiviCRM includes security fixes in its general releases. We recommend upgrading at least a few times a year as new versions are released (for example, 3.2), but not necessarily for each point release (for example, 3.2.2). One advantage of this is the ability to take advantage of new features as they are released. If you have customized or overridden CiviCRM functionality, you should expect there to be some costs associated with modifying the custom templates and software on your site during upgrades.

A major reason why software costs are ongoing for organizations is that organizations are not static. What your organization does and how it does it, will change, both as you implement your CRM initiative and after it is put to bed. The interlinked nature of work processes and software systems means that you will need to continue to adapt, reconfigure, and re-customize CiviCRM for as long as your organization uses it.

A second area where organizations need to plan for ongoing resources for a CRM system is keeping their data clean. Depending on the nature of your constituents and the ways you collect data directly from those constituents, you may find issues with incomplete, incorrect, and duplicated constituent information. Automated merging and elimination of duplicates can lead to problematic results. Manual work reviewing potential duplicate records is time consuming, but essential.

A properly conceived CRM initiative will yield benefits that more than cover the total cost of the system in terms of improved relations with constituents and cost efficiencies realized from labor-saving automation.


In this article showed us how to review critical steps and considerations as you plan your CRM implementation.

Further resources on this subject:

About the Author :

Brian Shaughnessy

Brian Shaughnessy is the owner and principal of Lighthouse Consulting & Design, a web development firm specializing in Joomla! and CiviCRM implementations. For over ten years, Brian worked with an association management company providing services to not-for-profit professional, trade, and charitable organizations. Upon starting his own business, he channeled that experience into effective implementations of CiviCRM for not-for-profits. He has worked with organizations around the world, helping to achieve greater efficiencies and expand functionality through CiviCRM.

Brian has served on the CiviCRM Community Advisory Group and helped author the first edition of Understanding CiviCRM (later renamed CiviCRM: A Comprehensive Guide). He has worked with the core development team to provide end user training and maintains a strong working relationship with the project leaders. Brian has also been active in the Joomla! project, serving on the Google Summer of Code program as a Joomla! mentor. He has provided professional Joomla! training through

I’d like to thank my family for their support while writing this book, and to Joe for helping spearhead the project and partnering as co-authors. I’d also like to give particular thanks to the core development team and CiviCRM community for helping make a terrific piece of software. Lobo, Dave, Kurund, and the developers spread around the world – thanks for bringing the power of an open source CRM to the not-for-profit community.

Joseph Murray

Joseph Murray is the owner and principal of JMA Consulting, specialists in e-Advocacy, e-Consultation and Citizen Engagement for progressive organizations. He has extensive experience on non-profit boards, at senior levels of government, and running electoral, referendum and advocacy campaigns. JMA Consulting has provided CRM systems to hundreds of political campaigns tracking interactions with tens of millions of voters, as well as providing Drupal and CiviCRM strategy, implementation, development and training services to numerous non-profit and advocacy groups.

Joe has served on the CiviCRM Community Advisory Group, and is a Director of the Toronto Drupal Users Group.

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