Zuri Group has had the good fortune of helping dozens of our clients plan and complete a successful CRM Implementation. A well-organized selection process (see some ideas on that here) should have you well-positioned, but once you sign, there will many more things to consider as implementation begins.

Of course, things like an effective kick-off week are important. Having the logistics dialed and understanding current state practices definitely matter. But, as your team is wrestling with getting office space and picking an issues management tool (you know, the easy stuff), here are five things you may have overlooked that you’ll want to make sure you consider, or they could derail your implementation plan.

Culture: The thought leader, Peter Drucker, stated that “culture eats your strategy for lunch.” All of the planning in the world can fail if you ignore culture. This means analyzing who has hard and soft power in the process, aligning project components with the right players, and maintaining open communications. This also means including the least engaged (and sometimes most hostile) people.

Gaps: Whatever you buy, no matter how expensive your new CRM, it will have some gaps. Identifying and understanding these gaps is essential to the project’s success. “Gap” may mean some customization that your vendor will build (but has never been done before, may not work, and may push your go-live back by 6 months!). “Gap” may mean that Alumni keeps their online engagement tool, despite the potential for moving all functions into one stack. Being thorough and honest here is critical.

Risks: Culture+Gaps=Risks (well, sort of). Of course, not all issues, gaps, or obstacles are really risks. You can track the issues that will require time and attention to solve- but, some things will be beyond your control! Will that Dean go rogue? Did the board approve a budget with enough resources? Will your vendor deliver on time and on budget, despite a track record of overages and shortcomings?

Timing: Too fast will kill you and too slow will bore you. For a big shop, under a year is a pipe dream (and someone will get fired). Much over two years doesn’t tend to match how organizations function, how long leadership stays in place, campaign targets, and other realities. Dialing in culture, spec’ing the gaps, and protecting against risks will help you determine the right length of time. There is also the small matter of when to get started (as key institutional dates and calendar and fiscal year-end realities must be accommodated).

Expectations: When you blend the other four considerations, you will be stuck with countervailing forces – don’t go too fast or too slow, work this into the organization’s calendar that never seems to have a down moment, sell folks on the 360 degree view of CRM knowing it has gaps, persuade folks that technology is key when offline principal and major gifts may drive the bus, which all boils down to managing expectations. A project charter is a great start. Weekly updates, transparency, one-offs with key players, a Champions Committee, and other steps will help. Being disciplined and focused is important. Expectation management cannot be underestimated in successful CRM implementations.

And, one last thought: inherent in all of these considerations is that perhaps most important to success is to be honest – honest about culture, gaps, risks, timing, and expectations. Because, as we all know, this will be a marathon and not a sprint, it will take a village, and, whenever possible, avoid mirroring the Dilbert cartoons…


Chris is President of Strategic Services at Zuri Group. His areas of expertise include fundraising strategy and systems, staff and resource management, database management, business intelligence and data reporting, database conversion projects, gift and data processing, and technology needs.

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