Making the Switch – 5 Best Practices for a Successful CRM Implementation | npENGAGE

Making the Switch – 5 Best Practices for a Successful CRM Implementation

By on Nov 12, 2018


Implementing a CRM solution is a critical step in setting up your institution for success. Having the right CRM system in place means improved communication and enhanced relationships, streamlined daily operations, your team being able to collaborate and work more efficiently, and management being able to have a clear view of your alumni, donors, and constituents.

Marquette University is a Catholic, Jesuit university located near the heart of downtown Milwaukee, WI, that offers a comprehensive range of majors in 11 nationally and internationally recognized colleges and schools. We had outgrown our legacy CRM system and decided to implement a new system that allowed us to achieve our goals of supporting the university’s growing fundraising needs and empowering users from across all 11 colleges with a consistent, comprehensive user experience. Our new CRM solution is successfully bringing together departments across campus and gives us a true 360-degree view of our alumni, donors, and constituents.

When you’re moving from one solution to another remember that you are moving for a reason —don’t try to make the new system your old system – if your old system met all your needs, you wouldn’t be converting. As you transition, keep in mind there are going to be headaches, things in your new system that you can’t do, and that soon it will afford you 100+ other opportunities that your old system couldn’t.

When implementing a new system, there’s often a tendency to recreate the same processes and experience as your old system. If you want you make your new system exactly like your old system, then you’re not ready for a new system. Change is hard. The reality is that if you want to move your institution forward, then change is necessary. At the end of the day, it’s a trade-off to modernize your technology and transition to a new system.

Here are a few best practices I learned throughout our experience that can help your team ensure a successful implementation:

I. Identify Your Implementation Planning Strategy

• Determine critical needs for go live. As a group we met to discuss what each department felt was a critical need, and from there we outlined and prioritized the critical needs.
• Identify any phase 2 or 3 items. We identified any items that could be included in phase 2 or phase 3, which would happen after we went live.
• Determine resources and resource availability. We decided to leverage additional Blackbaud support due to limited resources on staff, hired a developer to work on customizations, and increased the hours for our student interns so they could assist with data entry at go live.
• Outline and share expedited timeline. During our conversion we had to make the tough decision to go live four months earlier than planned due to PCI compliance issues in our legacy system. We updated the timeline to ensure it was realistic and shared with executive leadership. It was important to have the buy-in of our executive leadership because we were not four months ahead of schedule and we needed their support as we continue to work through project-related items while we are live in the new CRM.
• Communicate, complete transparency. We communicated to all departments what would be ready for go live and what would be pushed to phase 2 or 3; and provided new deadlines for phase 2 and phase 3.
• Reset expectations with key stakeholders. Throughout the project we continued to reset expectations with key stakeholders for areas that we knew were important to them, such as which reports would be ready, etc. There were key customizations that would have ideally been ready at go live, but given that we accelerated our project timeline by four months, we knew that they wouldn’t all be ready. For our work, our new student and parent import, scholarship recipient imports and converting students to graduates happen at the same time each year and since they were each several months after our expedited go live we knew that we could go live without them being finished as long as they were ready as their time in the calendar approached.

II. Cost of Delay – Financial and Human Impacts

If we chose to delay, we would’ve needed to recruit additional resources to assist with upgrading our former CRM system. A delay would mean that we would be a lot less productive on the project as we would be putting our time and resources toward the upgrade. Project momentum would come to a standstill during this time, which would potentially push out the original go live date. Another consideration was the loss of skillset and needing to retrain employees as well as burnout and turnover.

You could also run the risk of stakeholders losing confidence in the leadership team, project, and the software. There were substantial increased costs with delay, including upgrade, servers, etc.

III. How to Avoid Pushing Go Live

The number one way to avoid pushing the go live date is to ensure executive support – the people that will back your decisions and ensure the correct resources are available when you need them to be. Ensure expectations of resource usage and that critical needs are outlined in a way that there leaves no room for confusion.
Your timelines must be attainable. Utilize interns and temp staff that you can easily train on simple tasks, i.e. data processing, or get additional help from your technology provider.

Be ready for resistance – you’re always going to have people who preferred the legacy system. You are moving to a new system for a reason – because you have grown larger than your legacy system, the functionality no longer meets your needs or any other host of reasons which should be an indicator that you don’t need to make your new system exactly like your old system. If there are things not critical to daily business operations, don’t push your go live to recreate them, rather spend time in your new system to determine if there is a better or new way to do something.

IV. Considerations for After Your Go Live Date

Stop and take a deep breath, your system may not be where you want it to be right after your system goes live, but it will get there. Stress to all parties involved that just because the system is live it doesn’t mean the project is finished. Set timelines and make sure all parties adhere to them. Don’t forget to set expectations for staff not involved in the project.

Understand you can’t be where you want to be on day one. A CRM system is constantly changing and evolving, it has live data. It’s ok to not have everything ready and where it needs to be, it takes time. Give yourself the grace of time needed to get there.

V. Lessons Learned

• Test as early as possible
• Train as late as possible
• Communication is critical
• Changing business process and culture is difficult, but ultimately yields the best possible result

Read how other universities are also achieving organizational success with the right technology in the customer stories on the Blackbaud Higher Education content hub.


Missy Egelhoff is the Senior Director, Advancement Information Services at Marquette University.  Missy has been a part of the advancement staff at Marquette for nineteen years and just completed her second fundraising database conversion.  As Senior Director, Missy oversees the data, gift processing, reporting and analytics teams at Marquette University. Along with her colleague, Sarah Kordsmeier and Blackbaud senior conversion analyst, Leah Lacourciere, Missy presented on this topic at bbcon 2018.  She has presented at other bbcon conferences and at the Jesuit Advancement Administrators conference.

Comments (30)

  • Shelly Gammieri says:

    Thank you for sharing! You make conversion sound easy!

    • Missy Egelhoff says:

      Shelly, wouldn’t it be great if it worked as easily as it sounded! It is definitely a journey, but totally worth it in the end!

  • Linda Mikelson says:

    Thank you for sharing

  • Karen Stuhlfeier says:

    Good advice. We test everything before presenting it to the rest of the office.We also write a training manual that just pertains to our office.

  • Rachel Bailey says:

    Great points, Missy. It is very easy to fall into the trap of recreating your old processes in a new system. Communication, transparency, and setting realistic expectations are absolutely critical to fostering culture change. Thanks for helping to reinforce these best practices!

  • Barb says:

    Great tips and very timely for my organization!

  • Claudia says:

    Thank you for sharing, I would like to add, engage an expert in your new paltform if possible (that’s not always a rep but could be a seasoned user who can engage your data in a way that will work for you!)

  • Kathi says:

    Document your processes.

  • Heather says:

    Thank, Missy! I appreciate you sharing your experience, and these are some great tips!

  • Jovi Craig says:

    Yes to determining resources and availability!

  • Mary Sommer says:

    Thank you. A good summary of how to approach conversion.

  • Selena says:

    Whew! I’m doing something right with our Scholarship migration!! 🙂

  • Karen says:

    Great article. When I was with a Wisconsin University, this 360 approach is exactly what I wanted to implement. Kudos to you!!

  • Gavin Mann says:

    I’ve been through this process and agree with all your points. Thanks for the article.

  • Sage says:

    Executive Support – from the top down, is essential!

  • Matt G says:


    This is currently my life, so I appreciate all of this shared wisdom!

  • Angie Stumpo says:

    Great tips! So glad we won’t be facing this anytime soon!

  • Joe H says:

    While all of these points are important and necessary, Step 4 – the most “human” step – is something that should be communicated early and often.

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks for sharing this, conversions are always a headache but these tips are really useful!

  • Alicia Barevich says:

    We’re heading down this path, and planning to do these things. Hopefully all goes well!

  • Christina Miller Ferguson says:

    Well said Missy!!

  • Melissa Smallwood says:

    Great info!

  • Juan Guerra says:

    Great tips and very timely for my organization!

  • Amy Dana says:

    I also recommend bringing treats for the staff – people seem to be more accepting of setbacks when you feed them. Or maybe that’s just me.

  • Alice Black says:

    I especially like the communicate often! Many people forget this strategy!

  • KaLeigh says:

    Great points for any tech conversion.

  • Maggi Junor says:

    The problem is always that upper management wants it yesterday and they want it to do everything but will only pay for the minimum. I have more than 30 years experience and I have yet to meet the Director who will say take your time and get it right and make sure you get everything we need.

  • Jo says:

    Before we made the switch to our new crm, we were using separate different programs for our membership and ticket sales. It was quite the hassle for reporting. I’m really glad we moved to Altru where everything was consolidated into one program

  • R.S. says:

    This advice is very complete, and I would add that if your organization is unwilling to take such a thoughtful approach, delay the change until you win their full support.

  • Sunshine Watson says:


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