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Nonprofit CRM Discussions at Connections 2019

By Chris Thomas June 25, 2019

Alison Meyer leads a Customer Advisory Board in New York
Alison Meyer leads a Customer Advisory Board in New York

I was something of an introvert when I was a kid. That’s not right, I was the worst kind of hermit: A recluse computer hacker. I dabbled in some things I choose not to detail herewith, but I realize now that what I spent most of my time (alone) in my room doing (ironically enough) was connecting with a community of fellow computophiles via services like Compuserve, The Source and bulletin board systems. (I date myself, but I own it.)

Years later, running digital programs for nonprofit organizations, I realized communities drive movements and have the power to change the world. CRM, especially nonprofit CRM, is about people, and people rallied around a mission is the engine that propels organizations forward to succeed in their work.

For me, therefore, nonprofit work is a natural fit for digital solutions. Creating communities of practitioners and strategists who use technology to do this important work has become interesting business, and I’ve had the pleasure and honor of spending the past week at the Connections 2019 event in Chicago, as well as in New York, with some of our great, innovative nonprofits, discussing their wants and needs, providing sneak previews of our roadmap plans, and hearing their views on innovation and organizational transformation. We are organizing these interactions as part of a new Customer Engagement Program at with the aim of creating consistent, credible bonds and insightful relationships with our key customers. We’re engaging up and down organizational hierarchies, including both strategic C-Suite Councils as well as practitioner-focused product manager-driven Customer Advisory Boards (CABs).

Senior leaders in nonprofit marketing gathered for an innovation exercise over lunch at Connections 2019 in Chicago.

The Councils and CABs are organized around roles within organizations and the big subjects that nonprofits need to tackle. We have a Technology Leadership Council (CIO/CTO executives) who focus on subjects like innovation and organizational transformation, and at Connections, we booted up an Engagement Leadership Council consisting of CMO-level execs who will think about issues such as the latest in digital fundraising, how to engage new, tech-savvy constituencies, and how to bring people in for the cause but convince them to stay for the mission. Next year, we will cover organizational stewardship with a Transformation Council that will allow Executive Directors/CEOs and Board Members from different organizations to communally address challenges such as why tech is still an ‘operational’ cost in nonprofits when it’s so crucial to strategic program success. The key to these Councils and CABs is to create a regular cadence of interactions that keep the discussion going and develop measurable progress and thought leadership around the topics we address.

At the Connections 2019 event, we gathered some great marketing leaders from organizations including ADL, Pension Fund of the Christian Church, Be The Match, United Way Worldwide, American Heart Association, American Marketing Association, Compassion International, and National Multiple Sclerosis Society for a lunch session. ADL’s Vice President of Brand and Marketing Amy Blumkin gave a powerful presentation on the anti-hate mission of the group, and how they are using Salesforce solutions to unite their 25 regional offices, create a CRM platform strategy that enables understanding of their constituents based on measurable data, and improve their ability to produce reports/dashboards. We discussed how to create a more personalized experience for your users, which in turn requires a new way of thinking about how outbound communications from an organization becomes less linear, raising the expectation for more interactivity and personalization that makes the participant feel like they are a part of the organization’s momentum rather than simply a donor. Internal change management was another topic. Technology is transformative: you invite it in with certain expectations, but soon realize its potential to radically change almost every aspect of your organization once it is unpacked. This is why it is the purview of not only IT, but also marketers, CEOs, operations staff, and practically every other discipline. Community and thought leadership across the board is necessitated by this reality.

Brainstorming session with what we do well (yellow stickies) and where we need to improve (blue stickies)
Brainstorming session with what we do well (yellow stickies) and where we need to improve (blue stickies)

After Connections, I travelled to New York to partner with the Industry Solutions Product Team for a CAB meeting based on fundraising solutions and a sneak preview of our upcoming roadmap developments. In the room were ADL, ASPCA, Christian Broadcasting Network, Citizen Schools HQ, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, New Leaders for New Schools, PPFA, SCS Noonan Scholars, WGBH/CDP, Young Adult Institute, BGCA, and RAND Corp. These are individuals who use these tools day in and out, and I was deeply impressed by the passion, knowledge and focus they possessed on what worked and what didn’t, what we should do more and less of, and where they experienced the most pain. We talked about data hygiene and data migration (a universal and evergreen problem), connecting to external data sources, the peculiarities of payment processing, batch data import, the opportunity for leading in the creation of best practices, and how improved reporting capabilities would engender excellence in storytelling.

These were gratifying experiences. We get caught up in the magic of technology and the business and tech puzzles it creates – enigmas we in the software industry get to figure out every day. The end result, however, is about people and how the magic can augment our aspirations to create a better, more humane world. Our network of Councils and CABs will help us deliver on solutions and push thought leadership to do just that.

For more on how CRM helps nonprofits build constituent relationships, get this e-book. This e-book was created in partnership with Idealware through a series of nonprofit interviews. The research findings discuss how nonprofit CRM can be used across a wide range of programs and area. If you already have a CRM, it will help you gain additional value from the platform you already have by taking a human-centered approach to designing your processes, data, and measurement.


About the Author
Chris ThomasChris Thomas is interested in how digital enables change in the world. Before joining, he was Chief Innovation Officer at the Sierra Club, ran the Digital Products Program at Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, and has held leadership roles in both tech startups and Fortune 500 companies. Connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter: @cxthom