The time has come. That Excel Spreadsheet just isn’t cutting it anymore. Your development, marketing and programming departments have realized they need to stop keeping separate databases. IT wants you to move to the cloud. Whatever the reason, it’s time to convert to new constituent relationship management (CRM) software to track your donors and prospects (and possibly other constituents). There are more software options than ever these days, with scalable features and great integration with communications platforms, accounting, wealth screening and more. Here are some tips for ensuring a smooth transition to a new system—before, during and after conversion.

Choosing a Product

There is powerful intelligence in holistically tracking constituents’ engagement with your organization. For example, you can customize their experience, and you can save money by communicating with them only through the most effective channels. The ideal software product will support several departments in your organization with a consolidated solution and may also eliminate the expense of multiple tools or the inefficiency of duplicate processes. Make sure you have the appropriate stakeholders involved in the selection process. Pay for an upgraded subscription if the system’s analytical capabilities are important to you.

Taking the Plunge

The time to clean up your current data is during the conversion process—it’s much easier to do when everything is sitting in an import spreadsheet. Build some extra time into your project schedule for the following:

  • Take some of the vendor’s online training, or play around in a “sandbox” version of the database before you pull your data. Understanding the differences between the new system and your old data schemes, and knowing what you’d like the new system to improve upon, will help you as you create your conversion file.
  • Decide which records you will bring over. If you’re paying for a certain number of records per month in a cloud-based solution, you should figure out a threshold for eliminating folks: Omit those who have not been engaged with your organization for a period of time as well as other constituents who don’t have a good reason to be in your file.
  • Many organizations have rudimentary gift coding in their constituent database and sometimes have more detail in their accounting software. Ideally, the financial data can be paired with the constituent data to create a more complete giving history and build better reports in your new system. If possible, assign all historical gifts a campaign, an appeal and a fund so that you can run comparative reports. Your gift coding scheme should correspond with your chart of accounts so that reports from your CRM and finance systems can be easily reconciled.
  • Databases that have been maintained by different people over time may have multiple codes where you need only a few. Take the opportunity to consolidate field code menus and map information to the places that are most appropriate in the new system. Perhaps notes are better converted as contacts, or constituent codes should really be attributes, etc.

The Punch List

If you have the software vendor assist with your conversion, you’ll have the opportunity for data quality checks before the job is finalized. This review should include running reports, queries/filters and mailing lists in order to quickly get a sense of whether information is in the right places.

Keep in mind that there will always be items to clean up. One of the most common post-conversion needs is creating relationships and adding organization contacts to ensure that mailing lists come out clean.

Last but not least, don’t forget to document code definitions and data entry protocols in order to ensure consistency going forward.

Oh, and don’t forget to give a big thank you to your staff, who shoulder the responsibility for the conversion!