Is there any such thing as a ‘perfect’ CRM system? As you’d expect, it’s a question we are asked a lot – if only there was a simple answer.

When we’re asked to assess a non-profit organisation’s existing CRM system, or embark on shortlisting a potential replacement, we often hear comments such as: “If only we had ‘X’ CRM system, then we’d be sorted.”

It would be nice to think that having the right technology available was as straightforward as that, picking up the latest trend or the most talked about option.

The fact is though, that every organisation’s requirements are unique, and just because a CRM is well-known, or highly regarded, or even just well marketed, doesn’t mean it will do all that is required for the range of different organisations which exist in the non-profit sector. Or even for more granular niches within the sector such as professional membership bodies, trade associations and trade unions, or charity fundraisers, campaign groups, and service delivery charities.

Is the grass always greener?

In our experience in the non-profit sector, there are a handful of solutions which many organisations envisage would definitely make their operations more efficient if only they had the money, the time (or both) to implement them.

Many believe that their existing CRM system doesn’t meet their needs, and there is often a perception that a “bigger and better” system is right for them. The grass is always greener…

Sometimes it’s very easy to get ‘hooked’ on using a particular CRM system. Starting afresh with a new solution is a much harder task.

When you consider the unique processes, structures and services that make up a single organisation, it’s virtually impossible for a system to exist that genuinely ‘ticks every box’. A car cannot be all things to all people (a sporty, convertible people-carrier, with a large boot, great mileage on an electric motor, and cheap parts!). Neither can a CRM system. They each have their core strengths and weaknesses, which is one of the reasons there are so many good options available.

The more features the better?

The myth regarding the ‘perfect’ CRM has possibly risen from some of the market leaders making their systems appear to offer far more functionality, integration and flexibility than others. Certainly there can be benefits to the wider range of additional features that larger systems offer, but they could be features you may never use anyway.

Equally there is a strong option to run your non-profit using a number of specialist systems which are integrated with a core CRM, an approach often described as “best of breed”. This model is viable and is highly beneficial for some non-profits; where that is the case then the importance of the integration capability of your core CRM becomes a significant differentiator.

How to choose a CRM that suits you

It may sound simple to suggest you choose the CRM that best suits your organisation, but in practice you need to do just that, which you can achieve by assessing:

  • what exactly you want
  • what your known future requirements are
  • how flexible, adaptable and extensible you want the solution to be
  • what fits within your budget, and
  • over what timeframe you expect to realise the benefits

Making the move to a new CRM can often be a financial and reputational challenge for all involved, so why go for something which sounds great, but in the end doesn’t deliver?

Changing technology is not always the answer

The support and expertise we provide to a non-profit to clearly define exactly what their technology needs to do, and where it may be failing to live up to expectations, can sometimes result in a surprising outcome – no new CRM at all.

An organisation’s CRM system may well be able to do all that is required, but it isn’t performing due to a lack of training, investment, configuration or confidence, . Through customised training, and business process reviews, we’ve seen systems rise from the ashes and become what everyone had wished for.

Similarly it may be that the core CRM itself is absolutely fit-for-purpose but it needs to be better supported and augmented by the rest of your digital solutions (either existing or to be implemented).

Fundamentally, you need to ensure that your CRM and related technologies fit in with your organisation’s culture, internal resources and skillsets, and that the whole ecosystem is coherent. There might be no such thing as the ‘perfect’ CRM, but there can be one that fits your organisation perfectly, if it’s implemented in the right way.