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CRMs for Civil Society

Submitted by on October 10, 2011 – 5:27 pmNo Comment

Overwhelmed by Interactions

As the famous saying goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Social network analysis backs up the truism. In March 2010 three researchers found that a CEO’s annual salary increases by over $17,000 for each additional connection to an executive from an outside firm.

The problem is that, these days, most of us “know” thousands of people. We meet them at conferences, on flights, at cocktail parties. We exchange business cards and we tell each other with straight faces that we will keep in touch. There is simply no way for us to maintain meaningful contact with every person we meet, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide how to invest our time in order to most efficiently reach our goals.

A 21st century addendum to the 20th century truism might be: “It’s how you know what you know about who you know.”

If this is a difficult problem for individuals, it has become even more difficult for NGOs. Few organizations have records of their interactions with journalists, donors, bloggers, politicians, other NGOs, conference attendees and petition supporters. Nor do most organizations know how to segment their constituents effectively.

Perhaps an advocacy initiative is only relevant to a particular voting district, but because the organization doesn’t know the voting districts of its supporters, it must send out the information to everyone. Or, perhaps some supporters are only engaged in issues around, say, water conservation, but don’t want to receive updates about urban mobility or access to health care. Equally important, some contacts prefer to receive information via email, others on social networks, and still others via text messages on their cell phones.

In my experience with NGOs around Latin America, I have found that over 80% of organizations use a simple Excel spreadsheet to manage their contacts. Usually these spreadsheets have nothing more than the individual’s name, email, phone number, and organization. Occasionally they attempt to capture other information such as the media coverage of particular journalists or the events they have attended, but most organizations seem to give up on such documentation once the spreadsheet becomes unwieldy in size.

Enter CRMs

A CRM — constituent relationship manager — is in its most basic sense, an address book for organizations. But unlike an address book, which merely captures information about individuals, a CRM also documents information about our interactions with them. Over time, this record of interactions shows an organization how particular relationships help it achieve its goals. (Though a bit dated, Techsoup has a helpful introduction to “creating a Relationship-Centric Organization” through the use of a CRM system.)

Introducing CRMs to Civil Society in Mexico and Argentina

The Open Society Foundations is supporting Wingu in Argentina and Telar Social in Mexico to explain the costs and benefits of implementing and maintaining a CRM solution for civil society organizations. After meeting with various NGOs to document their needs and capacities, they will cover, among other issues:

  • What are the basic parts of any major CRM system?
  • What are the pros and cons of the two most popular CRM solutions for civil society organizations, CiviCRM and Salesforce?
  • What is a “CRM strategy“?
  • How to integrate an organization’s social media strategy with its CRM strategy?
  • How to integrate a CRM system with an organizations existing website?
  • What is the cost — in time and money — of implementing and maintaining a CRM system?

Throughout the process both Wingu and Telar Social will document and share their findings with the larger community. At the end of the month we will summarize their findings and publish them here at Información Cívica.

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