I recently got an interesting question touching on notifying supporters about a move to new software from Hannah, a savvy nonprofit communications professional. It’s one that most software vendors don’t answer:

Does anyone have best practices for communicating a switch to a new CRM to your supporters? We are switching from System A to System Z, so we are considering sending an email notifying people and potentially asking them to confirm/update their personal info. Would appreciate any tips!

Here’s the deal…. Some nonprofits disclose software platform changes. Others don’t.

The way I see it, there are two times you absolutely should spread the word.


Move Privately or Publicly? Consider These Factors

Many organizations move into new systems at some point, so one of these days, you too will be packing up your data and heading to a brand new digital home.

While there are no real ‘best practices’ when it comes to this situation. I’ve seen nonprofit teams spread the word to their constituents, and others that have chosen to keep it quiet. Either of these approaches can be right – it all depends on how you’re using your current system.

The two big influencers are:

Do your supporters log into your current system?
Do you have monthly donors?

There are a couple of other minor considerations, but those two are the ones that need some strategy and planning. If either of these scenarios apply to you, here are some specific tips for how to handle them.


Wait – I Have a Username and Password?

If your supporters regularly log into your legacy system, you’re going to need to tell them you’re moving and help them get access once you’ve launched the new software. Common reasons for people to log in include management of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising pages and accessing protected content (staff and board members sometimes do this).

Their old user name may work but their password likely will not. That’s because their password is protected information, so it won’t be added to the new system.

Here’s how to handle it:
  • About 3 weeks before your new system is live, send a note to your supporters. Tell them that you’re excited to be moving to a new system. Give them a sense of what new features you’ll be offering. Tell them that they can continue to interact with things the same way for now, and you’ll provide more information as the change gets closer.
  • One week before go-live, send another note with the countdown to the move. Prep your supporters by telling them they’ll need to update some information and you’ll be giving them a simple way to do that.
  • When your new system is live, send a “Welcome to our new online community” type of email. Include instructions to log-in/reset their password. Some systems support auto log-in links, making it easier to help people log in for the first time. It’s a great idea to have a special contact email address and phone number for any supporter who needs help.
  • If your legacy software uses a social media log in, be sure your new system can offer this too. Let your constituents know they can continue to access the system with their social media credentials.


The Monthly Donor Dilemma

This one is the most challenging to deal with, and since most organizations are working hard to grow their sustainer giving programs, it’s smart to make a solid plan long before you launch a new system.

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of security standards designed to ensure that all companies that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment. This means that your monthly donor’s credit card data is generally not information that is shared with you, and you won’t be able to continue processing the monthly gifts when you move to a new system. You’re reliant on the donor to start another monthly donation in the new software.

That’s not ideal.

Although it’s sometimes possible to get the credit card information from your legacy system, an organization’s sustainer program can take a big hit – losing up to 50% of those donations. Gulp.

How to handle it:
  • Start the move incredibly early. Hannah decided to publish a monthly donation form in the new system right away – many months before everything else went live.  They changed the link on their website from the legacy form to the new form. This meant that no new monthly donations were started in the old system, so the organization could continue to promote the sustainer program during the new system set up period.
  • Make personal contact with your monthly donors. For Hannah, this meant sending personal email messages and making phone calls. This outreach helped them move most of their donors into the new system, and the personal touch was appreciated by the donors. Win/win!
  • Keep two systems running for 12 months. While this is not anyone’s idea of a good time, this approach allows your current system to continue to process monthly donations. As the credit cards expire over time, you can send a note asking the donor to start a new monthly gift, with a link to your new donation form. Check the expiration dates of the credit cards in your own monthly donor file to decide if this would be worth the expense.
  • For more tips, check out Classy’s recommendations.


How to Position the Big Move

In addition to the big two factors, Hannah had other questions about how to get the most out of the communication about their move. Are there ways to engage people (and not just inform them)?

I suggested that she frame the news as “we’ve improved our supporter engagement options.” We wrapped our chat by talking about these soft (non-dollar) asks:

  • Update their Information. Send out short eblasts asking supporters to update their demographic information and interests. Depending on the software you use, you can often push people into different segments based on their responses or add tags to their record. That’s a nice way of showing that you are interested in them (and gives readers a break in between fundraising messages).
  • Easier Ways to Get Involved. If your new system dramatically improves the user experience, highlight that! Let your constituents know you appreciate their support and are working to make things easier and better for them.
  • Promote New Functionality. Let’s say you’ve added one-click donations or the ability to log in with Facebook. You’ll get more interest and action when you market these features as a benefit for your supporters.

Managing a move to new software can be tricky! If you’d like to reduce your risk and get help from a pro – contact me.