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Choosing a charity CRM? Don’t overlook the 2 biggest risks

When a charity is choosing a CRM solution, there are several important considerations. Which CRM includes the required features? Which has the integrations that I need? Which will make it easiest to migrate our data? Which one is the best value for money?

In truth, the selection should be more nuanced than that. Donorfy CEO, Robin Fisk, has been working in the charity CRM world for over 20 years and sees two common mistakes:

“While charities are increasingly tech-savvy most don’t understand the risks involved with projects that contain a lot of consulting time to build the solution they require, neither do they pay enough attention to life after the implementation”.

In this article we look at ways to manage those risks.


A successful CRM project delivers the expected quality on time and on budget. Achieving all three does not happen by accident.

CRM vendors’ proposals comprise two main parts: the software itself, and the time - usually paid by the day or hour - for consultants to implement the system. This includes data migration, customising the software to meet the charity’s needs, project management and training.

Put simply, implementation = risk.

The greater the element of implementation, the greater the risk of going over time and over budget.

The most predictable part of the solution is the software. It should be clear to you what it does, how it does it and you will probably have had a trial system to play with. Most CRM products will require an element of implementation but not all.

Implementation can be costly, stressful and is usually the reason why CRM projects fail.

A CRM product that, in order to meet your needs, requires excessive implementation is effectively a bespoke solution. Which makes you the only charity in the world using it, leading to expensive running costs and future development.

Commercial CRM platforms offer great flexibility and power, but require lots of consulting time to bend into shape for a charity

It makes sense to choose a specialised charity CRM which is closest to your requirements and requires the least implementation time.

While the software cost is predictable and will not change, implementation costs have a tendency to creep. On the face of it you might think that tying the vendor down to a fixed-price implementation is one way of mitigating the risk of going over budget.

That rarely ends well.

No vendor worth their salt will fix the implementation costs because it is simply impossible to predict everything that is going to happen in a project that could last months. And the vendor will be less than enthusiastic about finishing off a project where they have already spent more time than they can charge you for.

The best way to minimise your risk is to minimise implementation costs. Go for a CRM solution that already does most if not all of what you need. Be prepared to compromise a little and maybe fall into line with how the product wants you to work.

It’s far less painful than pouring more money into a never-ending implementation. And you don’t want to be the only one in the world with a system like yours.

Living with your CRM

Once you’ve gone “live” on your CRM you then need to live with it. Like all good relationships this is a process of give and take, continuous investment, the odd disagreement, but is ultimately rewarding and positive.

In other words, it takes two. The vendor’s responsibility is to be responsive, helpful and even generous when you have a question.

You will have done your research but this is where you truly find out whether your vendor is a customer-focused organisation, or one that “knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”!

One way to test this is out is to ask for a trial system, and use their support service during that trial.

Your responsibility as a client is to be able to express your question clearly, and be open to reasonable, creative solutions. Help them do a great job for you.

Remember that CRM is a practice, not just technology - invest in training and be positive about getting people using it and loving it.

Remember, a heavily customised solution will be harder for the vendor to support, which means higher costs for you, so we’re back to minimising the implementation costs.

There’s a saying among the more cynical CRM vendors that the client is never happier then when they have just signed on the dotted line for their shiny new CRM. But we know that doesn’t have to be true - happiness can extend throughout the implementation and into a long a happy relationship.

Donorfy is award-winning, charity-specific CRM that works straight from the word go.

Want to try it out? Start your free 14-day trial now.