Implementing a New System? Here’s What Everyone is Thinking.

“Our organization is transitioning to a new system.”

When a nonprofit leader first utters these words, it can turn our worlds upside down. Sure, you’ve heard the terms ‘CRM’ and ‘Sales force’ before. You may know people who’ve had something similar happen at their org. Now, it’s your nonprofit’s turn. Exciting, right?


If you’re not excited, it’s likely because you have more questions than answers about how this affects your process! This is true even if you’re the one making the announcement, because org-wide changes are just that tricky.

That’s why it’s important for staff and leaders to get on the same page whenever a system implementation is in the works. Whether you’re overhauling your donor CRM, investing in a volunteer management platform, or designing a system for your program data, leaders need to be clear, careful and in touch with the concerns of their staff.

Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time building buy-in for [enter-fancy-new-system-name-here].

Here are 4 quick considerations for talking about your nonprofit’s data transition…based on common things leaders say, and how those things get received by their staff!

When Leaders Say: “We’re transitioning to a new system.”

 What Staff Think: “This is going to upend life as we know it.”

Yeaaa, things are going to get weird for a while. New systems call for different ways of working, an adjustment that always comes with challenges. Just remember that there is real opportunity here; the right platform, with the right methodology, can really help move the needle on your organization’s mission. It just so happens that this opportunity also comes with a learning curve!

Tip: Let staff know that you’re going to take this as one unified front. You don’t want to harp on the difficulty piece, but being transparent about this shows others that you’re being thoughtful of their potential challenges.

When Leaders Say: “This will make us stronger as an organization.”

What Staff Think: “My Job is about to get a lot harder.”

The hardest part of any transition is the transition itself, and adjusting the way we work. But this only helps our roles in the long-run! By collecting data at all, we’re building the institutional knowledge necessary for our teams to thrive in the years to come. It also allows us to really own our process, as it becomes easier to assess our efforts and track outcomes.

Tip: You’ll go far if you can successfully communicate two why’s: the ‘why’ behind this implementation, and the ‘why-you-should-care-specifically’ piece. Yes mission matters, but staff deserve to know how adopting this system helps them to be more effective, too.

As best as you can, you always want to empower folks to use new tools – and not just mandate that they do.

When Leaders Say: “This will be an organizational priority.”

What Staff Think: “They’re making me do this.”

I hear you. There’s not enough time in the day to get things done, and now you’re being told to do the technological equivalent of learning to walk again. It’s not ideal…but it does make sense.

We’re creatures of habit. If no one tells us to change things up for the sake of a new system, we probably wouldn’t. You also have to consider the costs. New data systems are expensive after all: they can require hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars, not to mention the staff time and resources that get diverted away from your nonprofit’s work.

When you make an investment that big, you really need people to use it!

Tip: This is not a free pass for leaders to force systems onto people! Responsible leadership means building an extensive roll-out plan so that staff have time to learn, ask questions, and make mistakes with the new system.

When Leaders Say: “This will help us to be more transparent.”

What Staff Think: “They want to know my every move.”

This really boils down to communication. It’s reasonable to assume that we’ll be held accountable for the data that goes into a system. But if it’s going to impact staff performance evaluations in a significant way, then that needs to be crystal clear to folks!

The quality of a nonprofit’s system doesn’t come from the money spent on building it, but the time spent in encouraging staff to adopt it. By making thoughtful communication choices, leaders are entirely capable of setting the tone for a successful system implementation!

Are you going through a transition right now at your organization? What tips do you have?

Share your thoughts!