Should your nonprofit migrate to a new database?

For many orgs, it’s the the end of the fiscal year. So it’s about that time when devo, IT, program and executive staff across the sector begin to ask the controversial question.

Is it time to ditch our nonprofit CRM / ESP / other database system?

To leave, or not to leave..?

Switching systems is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the thought of a new, shiny platform that melds seamlessly with our workflow is exciting.

On the other hand….it’s still a system migration. And those can get chaotic! The tech is never as straightforward as it seems, and there are often delays. Not to mention the spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of data.

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So it’s not a decision to take lightly. But you probably already knew that – especially with all the grief your current system is giving you.

5 Great Reasons to Migrate Away from Your System

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Let’s start with what you want to hear! Here’s why it might make sense to part ways with your current platform.

1) Your org has the resources to make it happen

Migrations cost– in time and money. So it’s a great sign if your org has the resources to actually support one.

That means affording both the subscription and implementation costs. It also means guaranteeing that your project lead (if that isn’t you) has the capacity and support they need to see this to the end.

2) Your org has outgrown your current system

Maybe you keep hitting limits with all those donation records. Or maybe your org’s needs have skyrocketed since you first implemented your system.

If the functionality in your system suddenly feels lacking, it may be time for more bells and whistles. But that assumes you’ve done #3.

3) You’ve exhausted all options for maximizing the system

You’ve spoken with your vendor’s technologists to resolve issues. You’ve done the necessary work to learn the ins & outs of your system. And you know that what you need is impossible to achieve here.

Database admins can’t perform magic (even if it looks that way sometimes 😉). If you’ve hit a wall with what your platform can accomplish, that’s your cue to explore other options.

4) It’s been on the table for a while

Look, we all have bad days with the system. Including us admins!

But pay special attention. If staff are having more bad days than normal, or if there’s been a nagging feeling across the org that it’s time to move on, then staff may be open to the change.

5) More teams need to use it

This system was configured to meet one team’s needs. But now, you have other departments with database-y needs. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had constituent data in one, central place?

This goes back to outgrowing your current database. Your org has different requirements now. You might just need a different system to fill them.

5 Not-so-Great Reasons to Ditch Your System

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Now, for the gotchas. Be wary if the reason you want to bail hedges on one of these realities.

1) You don’t know how to use it

If the system isn’t working out, so be it. But if you want to bail mainly because you don’t know how to actually use it…well, consider that this is one expensive remedy!

Your org spent money and time implementing this. At least learn the system first, before you determine that it’s worth writing off.

2) Staff don’t like it

I know what some of you are thinking. But my staff really hate it. I’ll never get them to embrace it.

If the entire org hates the database, there’s likely a good reason. But before you upend everything to convince them otherwise, you need to understand why they feel that way. For ex. do they take issue with aspects that fall beyond your control – like functionality and user interface?

Or is it really the fact that your system has tons of duplicates, or that staff don’t really know how to use it? Those things are process issues. And guess what? We can always remedy those.

3) You’ve used other systems that you like better

Now, I don’t know your role. Maybe you’re the new hire brought on to evaluate this, or the actual big boss/ED.

Either way, heed this advice. Don’t jump to derail the way everyone works, solely because you know a better way.

This is a lesson I’ve had to learn & encourage as an admin. Tech implementations aren’t specific to individuals. They are first and foremost about the mission.

Confused? The better tool may not necessarily be better for your org right now. These decisions need to consider the context.

But also, do the work to prove me wrong! 😀 Create a product matrix to compare options. Consider everyone’s needs. Aim to be objective. Check your personal preferences. Let others weigh in. And most importantly, don’t just focus on convincing them. Give them a chance to change your mind, too.

4) Because your data is bad 

Duplicates. Bad emails. Other data horrors. At some point, it may feel like the simplest way is to cut your losses and start over.

Which can be true. But your data has to be virtually unsalvageable.

Because remember, bad data is rarely ever about technology. It’s about the people and process driving it. If your org can’t get a handle on those two things before jumping ship, then no system can ever truly thrive.

5) You saw a great deal on another system

Why are you using this hunk of junk when that sleek-looking system just slashed its price? Or when Salesforce is flipping free?! (p.s I’m a Salesforce Admin. And “free” is a strong word.)

Orgs need to save where they can. That other system may be worth it, but you can’t know that by looking at the price (or the shiny demo video). You’ve got to evaluate against all the major factors to reach that conclusion.

6) BONUS reason: Because your board is pushing it

Delicate dance, my peeps. Your board may be filled with some savvy migration enthusiasts. (Hopefully they’re also offering you tangible help!)

But at the end of the day, your board needs to trust that you (staff person) will know when it’s time. Don’t let pressure drive you. Do let pressure open the door to consider what that migration takes, and whether this is right right now.

In the end – this is art & science.

Like most things, deciding to switch is all about knowing your org, reflecting, and doing the research.

And if you decide to migrate, make sure you know what it takes to knock an implementation out of the park.

p.s. Can you tell I really dig this stuff? If you’re feeling stuck, reach out to me at dee@employedforgood.com. (If it’d help to hear from me regularly, I encourage you to subscribe to the blog!)

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