Forget CRM Think Community

CRMby Isaac Shalev

Hear me out. CRM is a strategy for reaching our donors, evaluating their interest in and capacity for giving, and then moving them through a funnel to convert them into donors. Since we can track their interactions, we can also measure how effective different types of outreach are in pushing people through that funnel.

CRM is a laboratory for filtering and isolating our best donors out from the masses.

In a CRM environment, we do a lot of A/B testing and other kinds of experiments. We introduce different stimuli, record behaviors, and compare to baselines. We create hypotheses and theories and fit them to our data. We do all this work in order to bring in donations. Those are good goals, but perhaps there’s a better way to achieve it.

The problems with CRM are many. They require an enormous amount of data-gathering and data maintenance. CRM systems can be expensive to deploy, difficult to adopt, and impossible to leverage fully. They require consistent application of policies across all employees in many different departments, and compliance with CRM policies can sap morale and take up significant managerial resources.

What’s the alternative?

Online communities represent an alternative to some aspects of the CRM-centered approach. A community attracts members because of the value of the conversation, the people, and the relationships that are available for people who wish to participate. Communities create their own gravity, pulling people into orbits, both near and far, that establish their relationships to the core values of the organizations. The belief of a community-builder is that a great community attracts the right people to it, and that investing in the community’s health and well-being is more important than investing in outreach.

Online Community is a cafe or pub, where the community filters and self-selects for people with shared values and commitments

A community-first approach values helping your network solve problems they care about and providing social returns. These investments are as important as mission, because mission can’t be achieved without an activated community. The social returns to supporters are usually in the form of relationships and experiences that come to those who invest in a community. As an organization, don’t ignore those returns or assume they’ll happen. Investing time in improving the quality of your donor’s encounters with you is worth a lot more than a clever Tweet or an A/B-tested landing page.

Don’t Throw Out Your CRM Yet

You CRM software is not the same as your CRM strategy. You can still track donors in one place, still view their interactions and manage your moves and contacts. Taking a community-centered approach will require you to re-think some of those metrics though, which is something we’ll explore in a future post.

So who do you want to be, the mad scientist in a lab, trying to come up with the precise formula for engaging donors and converting them? Or the friendly bartender who keeps the conversation flowing and creates loyalty while connecting people?

Isaac Shalev is President of Sage70, Inc.