Going from Excel to Salesforce to manage client data

Are you seeking to upgrade your client database?

If you are considering moving from a spreadsheet (like Excel) to a CRM (like Salesforce), you need to treat the move to a CRM as much more than just a software installation. A successful transition from spreadsheet to CRM requires a nonprofit to address critical questions such as:

  • Who needs to know what about our clients?
  • What are our most important workflows?
  • Who is responsible for what interactions?
  • What exactly is our theory of change?"  
In other words, the software upgrade represents an entire organizational upgrade. As with any meaningful organizational upgrade, some basic ingredients are necessary: leadership willing to shake up established practices, staff buy in, a clear project manager to oversee the nuts and bolts of implementation, and financial resources. On the latter, keep in mind that even software that is free or heavily subsidized for nonprofits (i.e. Salesforce offers 10 free licenses for nonprofits) generally requires professional implementation for success.
We have guided numerous clients in the transition to a CRM and my most repeated mistake in this work is not emphasizing enough that a successful transition is rarely painless or free. It is not for the faint of heart. 
If you want to explore this route, here are four basic steps to get started:
  1. Find an expert to guide you. This could be a pro bono volunteer who has worked with CRMs in a business context, a consultant who specializes in the nonprofit sector, or another nonprofit leader who has gone through the process already.
  2. Do your research on the options. We are big fans of Salesforce for a host of reasons, but there are certainly other possibilities. Keep in mind that many nonprofit CRMs out there are designed for fundraising first, and can be suboptimal for client management.
  3. Establish a budget (as a very rough guide, I recommend the average nonprofit set aside at least $20,000 for the one time implementation process).
  4. Assign a project manager (this should be one person who has authority to tame the flock of spreadsheets roaming your organization).

View more blog entries.