What Advancement Leadership and CIOs Should Know About Modern Advancement CRM Systems

Mary Beth Cahill |

Former Analyst

Top of Mind: What Advancement Leadership and CIOs Should Know About Modern Advancement CRM Systems
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Many higher education institutions have selected new advancement CRM solutions in the last two years, migrating away from legacy systems of 20 or more years. A key factor is that several widely used legacy advancement systems have been sunset. Another even more causative factor is the inability of legacy systems to support the needs of the modern constituent, which is critical to fundraising and increasing institutional endowments that can augment revenue streams in times of need.

Advancement is also increasingly partnering with IT to evaluate, select, and maintain a new system, especially at institutions where CRM is supported centrally within IT. CRM-based advancement systems require technical knowledge to support the CRM platform and associated advancement applications.

When institutions select and evaluate new advancement CRM solutions, it is critical to understand the vendor’s cultural alignment with the institution in addition to the solution’s functional and technical capabilities. For example, does the solution (functionally and technically) align with the institution’s technology ecosystem and support its business processes? Also, how well does the selected solution work with the institution’s resources and culture? This blog post will explore key factors to consider prior to selecting an advancement CRM.

Before You Begin: Prioritize Change Management       

Since project success is heavily dependent on user adoption, change management is critical. Change management often gets overlooked or is underserved in advancement CRM projects. In recent interviews with institutions that have modernized their advancement system, the lack of adequate change management is one of the lessons learned most frequently called out.

Organizational and cultural change management works to ensure the success and adoption of the new system and its processes. Institutions are addressing change management from both a functional and technical perspective. Research and lessons learned show that the earlier change management efforts begin, the greater the user adoption. User adoption requires repetitive communications and messaging that socializes new and improved processes. Project awareness, collaboration, and trust help drive cultural change and user adoption.

Discover how you can lead change initiatives at your institution in our on-demand webinar.

7 Leading Higher Education Advancement CRMs

Tambellini research shows that at least 80 percent of institutions selected packaged advancement CRM solutions in the last three years versus building custom applications or other strategies.

The US higher education advancement market is broad with seven leading solutions, including the following, listed alphabetically:

  1. Affinaquest Advancement RM
  2. Anthology Raise
  3. Blackbaud CRM
  4. Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT
  5. Ellucian CRM Advance
  6. Technolutions Slate for Advancement
  7. UC Innovation ascend for Advancement

These solution suites vary widely by supported functional complexity, especially in gift processing, CRM platform, cost, extensibility, and available companion applications.

Consider CRM Alignment and Platform Extensibility

While advancement systems have historically been selected as stand-alone applications, institutions are increasingly considering their enterprise-wide strategies for data governance and CRM, which often narrow best-fit options.

Many institutions want CRM platforms that can support future applications outside of advancement. Extensibility involves configuration flexibility, open integration and APIs, availability of partner applications, and more. Institutions want to keep the door open to deploy an enterprise CRM (ECRM.) Even if ECRM is not on your institution’s immediate roadmap, it may be a future requirement. The goal is to avoid being locked out of future innovation.

Most institutions see the selection of a new advancement system as a minimum 10-year commitment. Consider which vendors and platforms can provide your institution with longevity and extensibility by aligning your software selection with your institution’s CRM strategy and culture.

CRM Platforms that Underpin Modern Advancement Solutions

  • Salesforce: Affinaquest, and UCI ascend
  • Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM: Anthology Raise, Ellucian CRM Advance
  • Microsoft proprietary CRMs: Blackbaud and Slate CRM

Two Paths to Managing Advancement CRM Systems

As institutions deploy modern advancement CRM systems, Tambellini Group sees them take one of two paths.

  1. Advancement-Only: Institutions have an advancement services team that assumes responsibility for managing the new CRM and advancement system within the advancement office, except for integrations.
  2. Advancement + IT: Institutions move the technical management of the CRM to IT, and advancement manages the functional aspect of the system. This scenario is prevalent in institutions that have centralized CRM support.

Neither option is best practice. It boils down to what works best for the institution. Tambellini Group often sees institutions select solutions that leverage the same CRM platform they are using in other areas of campus.

Identify Institutional Staffing Requirements

Like any technology transformation, deploying a modern advancement CRM system requires careful consideration around institutional staffing, including required technical and functional skillsets, training, documentation, project backfill, and more.

As institutions embark on an advancement modernization, the best process is to identify and plan for staffing and skill set requirements upfront. Most advancement projects, especially those with a large magnitude, should plan to staff—either internally or externally—a full-time project manager and a CRM developer or administrator. A best practice is for the project management to have experience in both the selected CRM platform and functionally.

Institutions will also need staff to support:

  • Integrations
  • Reporting
  • Testing
  • Change management
  • End-user training
  • Documentation

The institution will need business analysts who serve as ongoing functional subject-matter experts and decision makers.

While many institutions can staff advancement modernization projects internally, others contract with external firms, and some institutions secure backfill for specific job roles. Identifying these skillset requirements upfront gives you the option to include additional staff in the project budget.

Develop a CRM Implementation Plan

There are two aspects of implementation that should be considered as part of a CRM evaluation and selection. The first aspect is deciding who is going to handle the implementation. While some vendors support 100 percent of the implementation (Affinaquest, Anthology, Blackbaud, and Ellucian), others rely on implementation partners (Causeview, Technolutions Slate, thankQ CRM, and UCI ascend).

Implementation costs vary significantly among vendors and represent the largest spend in years one and two of advancement deployment. Since implementation can add significant costs to an advancement modernization—sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars—it is imperative that implementation be fully scoped in conjunction with product selection.

3 Core Options for Implementing Advancement CRM Systems

  1. The institution assumes responsibility for the implementation.
  2. The vendor handles implementation for a fee.
  3. The institution hires a third-party implementation partner.

Set an Implementation Timeline

The second aspect of implementation is establishing a viable project timeline that meets your requirements and deadlines. Some institutions start advancement CRM selections with preconceived, unrealistic go-live timelines. Modern advancement CRM systems are complex solution suites with deployment timelines on par with enterprise administrative systems.

The Average Timeline to Deploy an Advancement CRM

The average timeline to deploy an advancement CRM system is 18 to 24 months. Institutions with basic requirements can often deploy in less than a year on some vendor platforms, and the most complex institutions take more than two years.

The following factors can influence implementation timelines:

  • The complexity of requirements
  • The advancement CRM solution selected
  • Availability of institutional resources
  • The start or end of a capital campaign
  • Other technology projects

Institutions should avoid creating an overly aggressive timeline that adds stress and risk to the overall project.

Do you need help identifying, selecting, or negotiating a contract for a new CRM? Contact us to discuss how Tambellini analysts and advisors can guide you through the process.

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Mary Beth Cahill |
Former Analyst
As a former senior analyst for Tambellini Group, Mary Beth Cahill focused her research on CRM and advancement initiatives. She has led numerous research efforts, specifically in vendor administrative systems and student information systems (SIS) software solutions, data and learning analytics, CRM, learning management, and social networking. Mary Beth was also the co-author of several published industry reports, including Tambellini Group's "Upgrade or Replace" and "Vendor Review" series of reports.

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