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How to Build a CRM That Works for You


How_to_Build_a_CRM_That_Works_for_You.jpgPew Research Center recently conducted a survey to determine who did – and didn’t – go online. The folks who don’t use the Internet? About 39% of adults ages 65 and older. That compares to only 3% of 18-29 year-olds.

With just about everyone – and everything – accessible online and at the touch of a button, individuals now feel they can access needed information and connect with others just as easily as attending events and seminars in-person or networking one-on-one.

Years ago, if an individual was an architect, he or she would join the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Associations and non-profits were assured of members, and in turn, a steady stream of dues and contributions. The Internet has dramatically shifted this long-standing way of operating.

The effect for non-profits is that they now need to think about how to sell themselves and the benefits they offer more effectively, while staying front and center before both current and prospective members.

To tackle this issue and build a profile of members and prospective members over time, many associations and non-profits use customer relationship management (CRM) systems. CRMs provide busy executives and staff with reminders to follow-up, reporting metrics, and tracking features that help in identifying behavioral trends and specific interests of members and prospects alike.

Here’s the rub: recognizing that everyone is busy, associations and non-profits should build their CRM selectively. Rather than gathering all of the details they would like at once, ask questions here and there to gradually build member (and prospective member) profiles. Doing so allows the organization to start small -- asking basic name and contact information and whether the individuals prefer communications by phone versus email, for example – and avoid lengthy, off-putting questionnaires.

Once you are ready to go back and ask for additional details, explain why a certain piece of data is needed, such as providing emails that will be more targeted to specific interests. Members and prospects will be much more willing – and likely – to provide details when they know why they are being asked and what is going to be done with their personal information.

A data rich CRM provides a huge advantage: fundraising. Properly designed systems catch leads on the website and then automatically save information directly into an organization’s CRM. An individual can be easily recorded in the CRM tool - even if that individual doesn’t resurface for several years, a non-profit can still continue to build and target that prospective donor, member, or volunteer. A CRM can begin to paint a more detailed picture of what interests an individual and what he or she supports and attends.

Changing with the Times

There is a saying in the business world: Change or die. This might sound a little extreme, but the point is that every organization needs to be constantly evaluating changes internally and externally in order to stay relevant.

Many organizations are still using big, hulking legacy software systems that are old and outdated. Whether they are association management, donor management, or customer relationship management systems, these dinosaurs chew up precious time and resources. New systems allow for greater efficiency and streamlined operations.

The bottom line: don’t try to keep up with changes in technology all at once. Build profiles about your prospects over time. Make incremental changes such as improving your site’s search or adding mobile friendly features. Use a subset of your data as a starting point with a new CRM. Experimentation may seem like more work - the long-term benefits to your organization will pay off, however.

Adam_Headshot.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Adam Hostetter, Design & Development Lead at American Technology Services, Inc. (ATS®), a leading provider of comprehensive IT, web design and development services. Founded in 1994, the company has a strong track record of providing high-quality services to non-profits. For more information email the author at

Topics: Customer Relationship Management CRM