Why CRM projects are hard, but worth it

It is 15 months since NCVO went live with a new CRM system (aka a database, ‘CRM’ stands for customer relationship management). In this post I will talk about why we invested in a new CRM and the benefits we hope it will bring. In a later post I will share my tips for a successful CRM project.

CharityComms recently found that over a quarter of respondents to a survey don’t use a CRM. That really surprised me. Then again, CRM projects are very difficult, and there can be many barriers to overcome. However, done properly it can deliver real benefits.

So, what do we expect to get back from our investment in CRM?

Better relationships

NCVO is a membership organisation. We wouldn’t exist without our members; they are the reason we’re here. Developing strong relationships relies on understanding the relationships that we have with people and the organisations they work or volunteer for. People in the CRM world will talk about the ‘360 degree view of the customer’, which means being able to see all of the interactions that someone has had with your organisation.

We are working hard to capture as much as we can in CRM. Why? So that we can use that to build better relationships through understanding what people and organisations value and want from us.

In the voluntary sector people wear many hats. We’re also able to connect data about someone in their professional role, with their role as a trustee of one or more organisations, and potentially as a volunteer at yet more organisations.


Anyone who works at an organisation with more than maybe 20 people will recognise the constant frustrations of ‘siloed’ working. One part of the organisation working on an issue with no idea of what another part of the organisation is doing in the same area (or at worst, aware but competing!).

The 120 or so staff at NCVO all work at such a pace that it can be hard to co-ordinate, but CRM is helping us to do that. We busted silos when building the system, by making sure that teams doing similar things used the exact same forms and workflows. Instantly they have a view of what others are doing. And when we look at our relationship with a person or organisation, the attempt at a 360 degree view described above can throw up new opportunities to work together to better meet the needs of our members. We love #silobusting (the hashtag is used on Yammer, a tool we use for internal comms).

Better decision making

The value of data is very much part of NCVO’s DNA (one of our five organisational values is ‘we will use evidence’). Our evidence-based policy work and our Almanac programme are well known, but this value also extends to how we make decisions internally. In the past it has been hard to capture ‘business intelligence’ (another term often used), but our CRM gives us lots of potential. There is lots more that we can do and this is a priority for us now.

To be able to achieve more

Everyone in the voluntary sector knows about trying to achieve more with less resource. Finding those ways for CRM to help us be more efficient has been high on our list of priorities. A lot of this relies on integration between CRM and web, for example pulling data from online bookings directly into our CRM is high on the list.

We manage all of our thousands of enquiries through the CRM (we don’t have a dedicated help desk, so enquiries are answered by all of us). By building up a knowledge base of answers to the most common questions we’re asked, we are saving lots of time and responding more quickly.

Security for our data

Data security is rising up the agenda of organisations in all sectors at the moment. Our CRM is hosted in the cloud rather than on a server in the building, making business continuity planning easier. And, unlike our previous system, it provides a good audit trail meaning that we can diagnose and fix any corruption of our data.

Data protection legislation requires us to host our data within the EU and ensure that data doesn’t cross the Atlantic, even for backup purposes. We made sure that we had a guarantee from our hosting company, in writing, that this was the case.


What do you think are the main benefits of CRM? Share them in the comment section below or tweet us @NCVO @meggriffithgray.

In my next post I will be sharing my nine tips for a successful CRM project.


Digital will transform your organisation – practical tips for leaders

This session will explain why now is the right time to put digital technology at the heart of your organisation, and will share tips and examples of the impact this can have.

Find out more about NCVO Annual Conference 2016


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Megan Griffith Gray, Director of Strategy and Transformation Megan is director of strategy and transformation at NCVO and is responsible for the organisation’s strategy, planning and reporting. She also leads the digital, marketing and technology functions.

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