Last week, Attain Partners had the privilege of attending Association of Advancement Services Professionals (aasp) Summit 2022 held in New Orleans, LA. It was a terrific gathering of professionals committed to the practice of their specialized craft in raising funds to allow their organizations to continue their impactful missions. As a certified implementation partner of Salesforce and ascend, Attain Partners was proud to have joined UC Innovation as a sponsor of this event.
One thing we know from our work in higher education is that there is a huge need for modern technology to replace the aging Advancement systems installed 20+ years ago. This was reinforced in almost every conversation during the conference. We believe the Salesforce platform coupled with the purpose-built ascend Advancement product from UC Innovation offer a terrific solution to this problem.
To address this need, this year’s conference had a full track dedicated to the value of leveraging a (new) CRM to support fundraising efforts. There was much discussion on how to select a product as well as an implementation partner. We are very excited to see that clients understand many of the key points we always discuss during the sales cycle as well as the implementation process. The key takeaways from the implementation discussions can be broken down into three main areas: people, process, and data.
The success or failure of an implementation all comes down to the people, and implementing a CRM is no different! It starts with executive support, which is critical to the success of the project. Well-trained system users are also critical. To quote several of the conference presenters, “Train, train, and then train some more!” The training effort should be started early in the project and continue well after deployment. Knowing your audience and how they learn is key to providing targeted training.
During implementation, it is also important to ensure you are managing expectations. Let people know complex implementations, including fundraising platforms, is not just a marathon—it’s a triathlon. It is important to plan breaks, celebrate wins, and be clear about how to define success.
Bring the entire team along with you. Have key stakeholders and users review our vendor’s statement of work so they are clear on what falls within the scope’s parameters. This will confirm understanding, gain buy-in, and, eventually, system acceptance.
In addition, don’t underestimate the importance of change management activities, including a solid communication plan that targets all levels of the organization. Having dedicated change management resources will let your users know they are being heard and their work is valued.
While the people are incredibly important, so is the process. Consider your timeline carefully! Don’t try to rush the project, as this could lead to potentially missing key requirements and losing user buy-in along the way. Take into consideration any major campaigns, the year-end, holidays, and vacations. In addition, have a robust risk management process. The unexpected will happen—having a process in place for risk mitigation will allow you to deal with it in a way that is proactive.
When planning the implementation, consider your timelines carefully. Timelines are often set by the implementation partner, based on their capacity. It is important for an organization to understand its own internal capacity, which may require a longer timeline.
Testing the solution is important, but the people you have doing the testing are just as important. When it comes to User Acceptance Testing (UAT), bring in the power users of the system so they can confirm the solution fits their needs and address issues in this stage. This will also help with understanding and adoption later.
A major activity in a migration from a legacy advancement system to a new platform is the migration of data. This can include millions of constituents and relationships and dozens of years of activities and giving history. Often, this data came in from a system pre-dating the current home, was subject to architecture changes over time, and was populated from a host of peripheral systems, such as online giving and event applications.
All this adds up to challenges in getting the data in a consistent format in its new home, coupled with the need to restructure the data to fit the new system, capabilities, and reporting needs, and not just recreate the old structure in a new platform.
To manage this, the presenters at aasp recommended always prepping your data—before and during the implementation. Keep a focus on making sure the past 10 years are as clean as possible, as that is the timeframe for the bulk of reporting and analysis. Rather than trying to boil the ocean, find areas that can be addressed and cleaned individually. Lastly, support the effort by forming a data governance committee with strong representation and decision-making authority to identify and act on issues appropriately.
While it is no small task to move to a new system for Advancement, the good news is that those making the move have peers at aasp who have gone before them and can offer excellent advice on the journey. The other good news is, Attain Partners, Salesforce, and ascend from UC Innovation have the products and services to enable your team to transform advancement operations by moving to a modern system of record and engagement.
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About the authors
Virginia Berkenkotter is a Certified Salesforce Administrator and Project Manager at Attain Partners. She brings to her role experience in pre-sales, business analysis, re-engineering, and project management. Virginia is able to quickly understand customer pain points and design solutions to meet specific client requirements leveraging expertise from 20+ years of higher education background with technology specialization including 6+ years Salesforce solution expertise, and 18+ years of full life cycle development, business analysis, process design, project management, and pre-sales, with 13+ years Enterprise ERP (Oracle, PeopleSoft).
Leidy Smith is an Associate Business Development Director at Attain Partners. Leidy has spent his career providing innovative solutions within higher education and has been part of the Salesforce ecosystem since 2013. Leidy’s focus is on demonstrating the value of the Salesforce platform and Attain Partners’ services to higher education clients in the areas of student success, recruiting and admissions, corporate relations, and executive education.