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Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Memberships

Microsoft Dynamics |

This blog post has been written in response to an article on the itforchartities.co.uk blog. In the article, author Ivan Wainewright (an independent database consultant working solely with charities and NFP organisations), discusses a client of his who was specifically looking for a membership solution built on Microsoft Dynamics, and how the practice of selecting a platform before identifying a vendor, is something that’s becoming increasingly commonplace in the NFP and charity sector.

The article raised some very interesting points, and as one of the Dynamics CRM suppliers named in the post, we wanted to expand on some of the points we agreed with.

One of Ivan’s key points focused on NFPs doing a “solid procurement and selection process” and having a partner who is “going to be a good business partner for years to come, who can bring new things and ideas to the table, who gets to know how you work and who understands the membership sector” were particularly insightful.

Dynamics CRM is a very powerful and configurable platform and can, fairly easily, be configured to “look and feel like” a membership solution. However membership organisations may soon realise that they need much more functionality than can be achieved by a surface-level configuration.

We, at Silverbear, took the decision some years ago to focus exclusively on the membership and Not for Profit (NFP) sector. Then having determined what we believed these markets required from a solution (both at the backend (CRM) database and administration side, and the front end web self-service side) looked for a platform upon which to base our solution. The outcome of our selection process was Microsoft Dynamics CRM as we believed in its flexibility, ease of end user adoption, integration with common Office tools and its on-going development roadmap.

But we also knew that we needed to invest in developing those areas that Dynamics CRM doesn’t handle well - or at all, that are so essential to the membership and Not for Profit worlds.

Sample examples of the features needed for a full membership solution which Dynamics doesn't automatically handle are:

  • Membership renewal and lapses processes
  • The handling of complex pricing models
  • The complete end to end processing of financial transactions (including direct debit handling, part payments, over payments, refunds, credit notes, financial allocation, etc)
  • Committee and group membership
  • Events and conference/congress management - a huge area in its own right, including

o   Booker and delegate management

o   Different “package” entitlement and pricing algorithms

o   Speaker, exhibitor and sponsor management

o   Session management, waiting lists, etc),

  • Application and accreditation management, including

o   CPD management

o   Qualification management etc.

Add in gift aid handling, true email marketing functionality, and the host of other things that a busy membership organisation needs to run efficiently and effectively, and the list of things that need building (and that we have now built and successfully deployed to our growing customer base) soon becomes extremely substantial.

Add to this the ability to make all of this functionality accessible by members online and the size of the task in hand is daunting (we know, as we’ve built all of this over a three year period and having invested a sizeable development budget to make it happen).

If you need integration to other third party applications – such as your financial application and your existing web site – then the task, and the required budget, gets larger and larger (for anyone considering working with a company whose solution hasn’t been designed with these capabilities from the outset).

So there is a lot that a membership organisation needs that Dynamics CRM does not offer “out of the box” or even with some basic configuration – although it can be made to appear that way to a buyers eye during a standard hour long demonstration session.

A detailed “show and tell” of different scenarios and key functional areas that you want to see – and not necessarily what the Dynamics CRM supplier wants to show you – is a good way of going beyond the standard “glossy” supplier demo.

Of course, a best practise membership supplier – whatever product or technology it is based on – will look to use what it has developed to meet your needs, and to shape your business processes accordingly, and should be looking to suggest ways of working and showing you a future vision of where you could go as their product moves forward.

So, to further endorse Ivan’s piece on itforcharities.co.uk, if you are considering a Dynamics CRM solution (as with any other solution) due diligence on the product, supplier (their approach, strategy, business plan, etc), and their past implementations are all essential to making the right supplier choice.

However, where Dynamics CRM is concerned, it can be challenging to undertake the deep-dive due diligence required, especially on the quality of the “templates”.  Thankfully Microsoft has provided a quality mark; Certified for Microsoft Dynamics.  CFMD is the highest accreditation awarded by Microsoft and Silverbear Membership has this stamp of quality.  

Dynamics CRM configured for membership management is, in our experience, unlikely to meet all of your detailed business requirements. A membership solution – carefully designed and then implemented on MS Dynamics CRM – has a much greater chance of success and of delivering you a world class membership management platform both today and into the future.

Read the IT For Charities article here