Know Yourself: Words of Wisdom Before Beginning Your Human Services Salesforce Implementation

Organizations in the human services sector cover a lot of ground. Your human services organization might shelter the homeless, might feed the hungry, might help disadvantaged youth graduate high school, or might help people recovering from addiction. Some human services organizations have programs covering all of the above and more. For all the variety in the programs human services organizations have, there are a few semi-universal constants that they typically have in common that can have implications for your CRM implementation. Before your organization gets started implementing Salesforce, there are some key points you might want to consider.

In my entirely personal and qualitative experience (earned, however, with several years of experience doing full-lifecycle implementations of CRM systems), human services organizations are among the most fractious and siloed organizations in the nonprofit ecosystem. Human services organizations are often acquired by other organizations with similar programs, and some human services organizations can, as a result, become very large and disjointed. When smaller organizations are acquired, yet preserve much of their own programmatic, budgetary, and cultural autonomy (not an entirely bad thing), they may become very protective of their own clients, donors, and efforts. As you begin considering a CRM, conduct your own internal discovery sessions to have a clear sense of your needs and processes. Outline who should have access to what information, in accordance with the organization’s vision, mission, and culture. While decisions like these can be made in the middle of an implementation, if there is significant divergence between what leadership and staff wants, your organization will have both a technology implementation and a cultural transition to manage at the same time, which can be a big burden to shoulder.

Salesforce, when implemented as an organization-wide CRM system, can be a part of a strategy to break down silos inside of an organization, but that depends almost entirely on one critical factor: the organization has to have made the decision that silos should break down. If that isn’t something the organization feels at a near-universal level, including at the level of individual programs, attempting to use Salesforce as a vehicle for organizational change will be a tumultuous and challenging effort. This can result in an implementation of a system that falls short of its potential.

Should the organization decide that silos need to stay in place, whether that comes from the place of reasoned and intentional decisionmaking or simple pragmatic reality, Salesforce can often be modeled to allow finely nuanced access on a program-by-program basis. The more complex your requirements, however, the more important it is that you have an overall CRM strategy. If you have significantly detailed security requirements, you should know early what you will be implementing and when. Your implementation partner can help you put together a long-term CRM vision if you are not sure what is best for your organization.

Change management for human services organizations can be a fraught and complicated matter, and that’s even more the case if your organization is heavily siloed and territorial. For organizations like this, it may be best to consider a phased implementation. For example, the first phase of the project might be a discovery assessment to help you chart a course, laying the groundwork for what should come in the next and subsequent phases. Your next phase might be for a flagship program or your fundraising department to begin the process. Using a phased implementation has several advantages. First, a phased implementation parcels out the amount of organization-wide change into manageable chunks, preventing the system shock of a total and complete technological overhaul. Secondly, a phased implementation will begin the process of teaching your organization how to do a technology implementation, which is a skill all its own that gets easier with practice. Last, but perhaps most importantly, it simplifies the change management process across the organization by placing a high-performing group on a pedestal, granting them the ability to talk up the solution, build institutional goodwill, and a desire to have the functionality found in Salesforce in other parts of the organization. A little jealousy can be a great motivator!

While there are certainly many considerations for human services organizations moving to Salesforce, don’t let those challenges deter you. Having access to a robust, shared system to know who is donating where, as well as which clients need which services, can be an immensely powerful tool to do good in the world. When implemented with a little foresight and planning, Salesforce can be a powerful vector for organizational change as well.

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