Five reasons why charity CRM projects fail

CRM projects rarely run like a well-oiled machine. Mike Guy, lead consultant for charity data mangement specialists Actually Data delivers some top tips for a smoother charity CRM implementation.

Guest Writer | 1st Aug 18
Image of team planning a project. CRM projects rarely run smoothly- it's important to be aware of the potential pitfalls.

In theory, CRM implementation projects should be simple – you choose a system, move your data over, work out how your business processes need to change and off you go! But as easy as this sounds, we all know that they rarely run smoothly. Often when you get the system live it’s a relief as much as a victory. If you’re under budget then you’ve done well and if you’re within the planned time then that’s really good going.

Here are five reasons why projects often come into difficulty:


1: Unachievable expectations

The project pyramid shows the three aspects of a project that you have to balance. You can have a fast, cheap project, but the quality will suffer; you can have it cheap and high quality, but it won’t be fast; and you can go for fast and high quality, but that won’t come cheap.

Image shows project pyramid, illustrating how difficult it is to get the balance of 'fast' 'cheap' and 'well'

The optimum situation is a perfect balance of the three, but in most cases there are pressures which mean that speed and more often cost need to be prioritised. When this happens expectations need to be adjusted so that the quality of the end result does not suffer.


2: Under-resourcing

Through the lifetime of an implementation project, the day-to-day business still needs to be taken care of. You want your best people to be involved in the project but you probably also want them to be doing their day job too.

Assistance is available on both sides, consultants can help with the project workload (although they will never be able to do everything for you) and temporary staff can be brought in to help with the day-to-day running of things.

The best course of action is to get assistance on both sides, but concessions will need to be made, reducing targets for fundraisers for example will help people to meet the requirements of the project without getting too stressed out over completing their other tasks.


3: Decisions decisions

Implementation projects are all about decisions – where should the data go, what should the new processes look like, should one aspect take priority over another? It is important that the people involved in the project are the right people to make the decisions. You don’t want the finance team making marketing decisions because the fundraisers are too busy to be involved.

It is also important that should decisions need to go to senior staff, they make themselves available to contribute as needed so as not to delay the project.

Finally, trust is essential. Beware of people who don’t want to be involved in the project, but who want to influence the decisions made – these backseat drivers can slow a project’s pace or even derail it if they are allowed.


4: Moving goalposts

Before the project starts, work should be done to outline the scope, including limitations, so the target is clearly identified. There will be situations where this needs to be changed but those should only be when absolutely necessary.

Whenever there are changes and things are brought into or taken out of scope there will be a likely impact on the cost and/or the timescales of the project. This ties in with point three – decisions will need to be made to either extend the project time and/or budget or limit the scope of the project.


5: Not thinking ahead

Fail to plan and you should plan to fail. Don’t forget to plan the first few months after you go live as well. There are periods during every project where time required will be greater than at other points.

You can even out the peaks and troughs by looking ahead to the future phases and making sure that, where possible, preparation work is done in advance.

Writing scripts for functional testing, identifying records to check for data testing and preparing letter templates and reports ready for the launch are some of the easiest ways you can make the later stages of the project easier and more effective.


In essence, the key take-aways for a (hopefully) smoother project are:

  • Take time to plan
  • Be flexible
  • Have contingency and be prepared to use it
  • Leadership need to buy in to the project
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice
  • Don’t ignore the help and advice given.

If you are just about to start your project, or are some way through your project, it’s not too late: feel free to drop us an email and we will do our best to help


What are your considerations when implementing a new database or CRM system? How do you make sure that a transition like this runs smoothly? Let us know in the comments below.