• Meghan

What do CRM systems and hammers have in common?

We all own a hammer. Probably a few nails too. Tucked away in a corner of the garage, we own the same basic tool that a carpenter uses to make their living. But, since we own a hammer, does that mean we’re as skilled as an experienced carpenter when it comes to wielding it? When you build something as straightforward as a deck, there are techniques involved that ensure the finished product is robust, well architected, and will stand the test of time. Anyone can build a deck that just might fall over. It’s quite a bit harder to build a deck that’s level, sturdy, and attractive. Ultimately, the hammer doesn’t build the deck. It takes a skilled carpenter - along with their tools, experience and knowledge - to build a quality product.

The same can be said for a Knowledge Management (KM) program, or a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system. Anyone can purchase software and add their constituents. But because we own the tool, are we as skilled as our carpenter? Or in the case of a CRM system, are we as skilled as a system architect with more than 20 years of experience designing robust information structures? Are we as skilled as an administrator who’s learned to spot the patterns of use that can come back to bite us when we need to analyze our data? Can we engineer integrations to share data reliably and efficiently between systems? An information system is just a tool. A complicated tool, yes, but it can’t - by itself - ensure the quality of the data entered into it, nor intuit the nuances of an organization. That’s the job of experienced CRM architects, administrators and engineers- the people responsible for the effective design, usage and extension of these highly-specialized tools.

End users need effective support, including the right structures, approaches and processes in place to truly wield their CRM system effectively. Many times, when an organization’s team members aren’t all on the same page, data aggregated by the CRM system is inconsistent, and its reporting incoherent. Gaining insight into donors' patterns and behaviors becomes difficult, if not impossible. Supplying information to our counterparts in finance becomes onerous. Satisfying our role in our annual audit becomes something we hope to just endure, instead of approach with confidence.

All too often, leadership assigns data entry operators an outsized role in defining their CRM architecture. Additionally, they’re often asked to both document their process, and monitor the result of their own work. While our data entry operators fulfill a crucial role, they’re most often entry-level employees just getting a start with an organization, learning as they go.

Supported by too few checks and balances to ensure the acquisition of high-quality information from available raw data, and lacking the skills necessary to report upon the complexity of the system’s contents, the end result often appears chaotic. Team members begin to blame “the system” for the observed shortfalls. However, returning to our analogy - the hammer is rarely to blame when in the end, the carpenter was unable to build a level deck.

So how do we help?

We align your team with the right places in your organization to deploy their unique talents. We supply the right mix of experienced architects, administrators, and engineering staff. We tailor your existing systems to better fit your needs, and help siloed systems communicate with each other. We support both people and tools through the development and deployment of high quality, well-documented, and efficient processes. All these elements, woven together, help us implement an effective KM program.

In short, we help you become an expert in the use of the tools that you already own.

We absolutely understand that information systems aren’t cheap to buy, configure, or operate. They become even more expensive when we start thinking about adding conversion and consolidation projects to the mix. Expense and aggravation are compounded when you consider lost productivity on your team, and missed opportunities with your supporters. Like our carpenter’s hammer, the tools you have are only as good as the skill with which you’re able to wield them.

If you’re feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, or would just like some guidance, please reach out. We’d love to help you make better use of the tools you own. You can contact us here.

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