Did you really just read that?? Is this woman crazy? While I do admit to being a little nuts at times (my mother would say all the time), on this point you gotta trust me.

When it comes to becoming an organization focused on delighting constituents (i.e. constituent engagement), implementing and optimizing CRM (a constituent relationship management system), is the easy part if you work at an organization whose culture isn’t constituent centric. And chances are that if you work at a nonprofit that’s been around 10+ years, has 10+ employees, and 10+ constituents, that’s you.

Organizational change and evolution from a business unit, process, and progran-centered culture to one that revolves around the constituent and donor experience is a hot topic, with lots of advice being dispensed from very reputable sources. Consultants like myself are full of helpful advice on just how to do that. “Pivot toward constituent engagement,” we like to tell you. Or, “management must embrace and imbue a constituent centric attitude throughout the organization.” Last time you were at the pharmacy, did you pick up the constituent engagement attitude dispenser in the specialty item aisle?

My point here is not to down my own kind. Rather, I want to acknowledge that the change required by an organization to transform to make meaningful use of CRM is more difficult than we’d often care to admit.

Here are a few observations on ways to start thinking about how to make that change.

  • Get executive buy in or you’ll be swimming upstream. That is just a cold, hard fact. Does this mean you can’t build your own CRM fiefdom? Sure you can. And, you can wait for the benefits of what you’ve done to be eventually acknowledged.  Once you’ve shown impact to the bottom line, maybe even the executives will change their mind. But, if you don’t have a C-level champion, and one who can get stuff done, you have a long road ahead of you.

So, step 1: figure out who at your organization is in a position to say “we are doing this and that’s that.” See what you can to get them on board. Use case studies, board members, major donors, promises of home-baked goods, to champion your cause.

  • It takes time for people to change, so keep beating the drum. So you’re the executive that’s on board with constituent engagement, and you’ve pronounced “that’s that” but your staff seem to be going about their business the usual way. Are you assuming it’s because they just ‘don’t get it’ or maybe because they don’t want to change their process?

Could be. But look at your internal structure and ask yourself: how are my employees incentivized? Does our culture and reward structure support collaborating to engage constituents?

Let’s say your development director owns offline marketing and your director of communications owns online marketing and online giving. How would you behave if you were the development director with $100K lying around as the fiscal year winds down? Would you give it to the marketing person to use for an online stewardship effort that they could claim the “benefit” of in their bottom line, or would you pre-pay some of your future production costs to make your own future bottom line look better? I bet the answer would depend on how your performance would be measured.

So step 2: Ask yourself: How do we measure staff performance? Do they each have a number to meet? Or, are they collaborating toward an organization-wide goal and everyone wins if the goals are met?

  • One department or one program at a time is just fine. Got a particularly stubborn (and maybe influential) detractor? Not in a position to change that equation? That’s ok.

So Step 3: Change what you can.

In fact, even if you don’t have that problem, you probably don’t want to swallow the whole constituent engagement cake whole. Start with digestible bites. That’s how we do it when we’re working with our customers to move to CRM – in phases.

Maybe you can bring together the events and advocacy folks, and get them to create a combined calendar–sort out the “this name is mine” business (let’s say we can all agree that during a legislative session, advocacy wins if someone has to).

Or, bring together your communications and development teams to align offline production schedules with online message planning. Yes, your offline folks need to know 4-6 months in advance. How do you make that happen?

Your daily affirmation:

A final point here, and I want everyone to look in the mirror and repeat this until you believe it:

Unless you’ve never heard the word CRM, you are not behind yet.

Constituent-engagement is the holy grail of our industry. Yes, there are the leaders and the laggards, but, if you are thinking about it, dreaming about it, trying it, you’re in the race. Don’t feel like you are lagging behind because everyone else has it figured out. They don’t. Even the fancy pants commercial folks don’t have it all figured out. For proof, ask one of their CMOs or CTOs about social media interaction attribution (and duck).

Interested to see how fellow nonprofit are measuring up (and rating themselves) in the CRM race? Check out Convio’s Integrated Multi-Channel Marketing Report.

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