How to Guarantee a Successful CiviCRM Deployment for Your Membership Site!


Use this helpful tool to make sure you are creating a membership site that your members want and will use!

Considering a new CiviCRM deployment for your membership site indicates your alignment with your team’s and members’ evolving needs. Upgrading to CiviCRM can modernize your association for both your internal team and external stakeholders. To ensure a smooth transition, follow change management principles.

The best way to ensure a successful CiviCRM launch with staff acceptance is to follow the wisdom and strategy of change management throughout the process.

Thoughtful Change
This blog is for new CiviCRM users, or a member-based organization planning to build a new website with CiviCRM as the back end. We will address how to incorporate change management best practices into your CiviCRM deployment and new membership site-building process to ensure that your users — your members and your internal staff — adopt and celebrate your new tech. It sure would be disappointing if you built and launched a new CRM and website only to find resistance from your team. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen!

Let’s start with some information about what change management is and the impact it can make on the successful integration of your CiviCRM deployment and membership site into your staff and members’ user experience.

What is Change Management?

Change management involves preparing people for an upcoming change. It’s not only about your technology choices or training. It’s about all the people who will be involved in the change, such as the users, the members, the staff, and the senior leaders.

The change management process in a nutshell: Think about how and what your staff and members want, and how they want to interact. Ask them! They will tell you. Give them the information they need when they want to receive it in the method they want. This article will flesh out more details and strategies to make this happen!

Where does change management fit in?

Change management is complementary to project management. It helps ensure that users — namely your staff and members — accept and embrace the new tools you offer them.

Project management is about delivering a solution. The project managers work out the schedule, and the budget and manage risks through the process of making the solution. But they usually take off on launch and stick around for technical fixes only.

Change management, on the other hand, focuses on how to get our staff and members to use the solution (i.e. the tool, the CRM, the website) your association has provided for them. The solution can be the most beautiful, advanced tool, but when your staff and members reject it, no one wins.

It’s easy to produce the product in a vacuum. The challenge is introducing a change that will be accepted.

When do we start the change management process and when does it end?

The Solution Brainstorming Stage
It starts as soon as possible. We need to explore if your team and members want the solution your association has in mind, namely the CiviCRM deployment. Start with exploring members’ willingness for a change.

Before the higher-ups (i.e., your executive and your board) give the green light to your decision to make the change, we need to consult the stakeholders who will be impacted by the change. We have to ask your staff and your members what their problems are, and what their goals are, and brainstorm solutions together.

This isn’t just a lip-service exercise to “make team members feel included.” It is good business to make sure we clearly understand the problems before investing in a solution. (A good developer will not take on a project or even offer a quote without a detailed understanding of the goals of a project, and an association shouldn’t move forward without this research either.)

The Design Stage
When you have already decided that a CiviCRM deployment is the right course of action, change management comes in at this time: namely, the design process.

The Ninth Hour Stage
The sad reality is that many organizations wait until the final hour. This creates a mad rush to prepare all parties for the change. In that rush, things are missed.

In terms of when it ends, you should expect the change management team to stick around a lot longer than the project management team. It is common that once the project has been delivered, there is heavy lifting to be done for the change management team, once the project has been delivered. We have to make sure that the new tool is integrated into regular use by your team and members. Change management persists until your association’s culture fully embraces the implemented change.

What is the process of getting each team involved?

A CiviCRM deployment generally involves the membership management team, the marketing team, and the financial decision-makers. Each team has its own unique responsibilities, viewpoint, and contribution to make to the conversation. Start with a stakeholder analysis and involve everyone who will be affected by the change. Go beyond the technology in this analysis stage.

When done well, change management takes into account the people over the tech: addressing their attitudes to overcome, developing necessary skills, and considering potential impacts on relationships, etc. Usually, the how-tos for the tech (i.e. the processes and procedures) are easier than changes to relationships and winning over attitudes.

While a survey may seem like the easiest way, nothing will replace the insights that a conversation will reveal. Hearing your team members express themselves will allow you to ask follow-up questions and identify what are the actual problems you are trying to solve.

Look at each unique group in detail and consider the technical aspects, process, and the people impacted. The best way to do this is to talk to them. Have a conversation designed as a workshop. Members generally know what they need, so ask them. You’ll get some incredibly deep insights. 

You don’t need to bring in everyone. Representatives from each level that understand their department is sufficient. Ask them about their preferred support methods, how they want to receive information, their preferred training approach, how they want access to updates and quick references, and what they need from the leadership.

With this information, your focus changes from the information-gathering stage to how to resolve the issues that will come up for your members and the people involved.

A day-in-the-life-of Interviews to Identify Stakeholder Needs
They are useful for documenting processes, but the blindspot of the day-in-the-life exploration is it doesn’t give a full picture of the interactions between different people. For example, what happens when an association staff member interacts with their superior, their subordinate, their coworker, or a member?

Take for example moving to a new location, or the membership website crashing, or an annual important fundraiser or association conference. A day-in-the-life interview doesn’t address changes outside of that myopic view of the activities of a typical day.

Which stakeholders should be brought in and when?
Start early with leadership. Early days are not the time to bring everyone on board because we aren’t sure of the direction your association will go in. You have to be selective about who you start early with. Start with a group of your teammates and members that will be honest with you and tell you what your users are going to like, want, not want, be excited about, and be concerned about.

As you get closer and closer to training and launch, bring more and more stakeholders in your marketing department, membership managers, developers, designers, and other key staff members. Don’t wait until you launch a live course only to find that members want a self-learning program, for instance.

Missing key things when the Pool is Small
Yes, absolutely, things will be missed. But design by committee doesn’t work either. We do our best to pick informed, key people and continue with an iterative process, inviting more members as we go.

We are creatures of habit. Even throughout the process of envisioning change, we can unconsciously start creating a solution that is very similar to the tools we currently use. It is best to have some creative people and experienced strategists involved in the design process.

Make sure your developers can offer experience and strategy rather than just carrying out a proscribed vision. Empower your developers to question your assumptions and offer practical advice.

Change Management Throughout the Development Process

Agile design is a collaborative interactive approach to web design that lends itself perfectly to change management. Agile design is based on the idea that team members work together rather than in silos. You build in phases and demo frequently for review. Every time you get to a release, you have to demo the delivered features to the member community to get feedback in a structured way.

Do not fall prey to the mindset that you are in a rush and there isn’t time for this. Ensure the success of your product launch by incorporating a demo and feedback collection process into your web development timeline. It would be much worse to launch a completed product that the member community does not receive well.

Circle back to consult with your stakeholders regularly throughout the development process. 

Present demos for any created features. Getting their feedback on each piece of development will help inform and improve each subsequent phase of development. This will help troubleshoot issues your users and members will have with the product before your formal launch.

Overcoming People’s Resistance to Change

It is a common idea that people don’t like change. People are not really resistant to change. Rather, they crave comfort. By including your team in the development process they become familiar with the tool before it is even launched. Their involvement creates the familiarity and confidence to successfully use and embrace the new tool.

Presumably, your association is introducing CiviCRM and the new membership site because you need new and improved tools. Your association is likely not making this change on a creative whim. Use your member engagement data to make your decisions around changes. What are you hearing from your team? What are you hearing from your stakeholders? Are your member retention and member engagement rates slipping because the membership site you currently have isn’t serving them? From this standpoint, you are only making a change that will appease your members’ hunger for an improved user experience.

People Most Resistant to Change: Can We Win Them Over?
One of the best ways to figure out what is driving the resistance is a conversation. Make the time to hear them and give them a voice. More often than not, we make assumptions and we stand to learn a lot about how to launch a product that is a real solution by listening to them.

The second tactic is to make them as familiar with the product as possible. Get them involved, give them a task, and ask them to review features along the way. This way, on go-live day, they are familiar with it.

Recruiting Staff Members for Feedback 
Getting your team on board to participate in the CiviCRM role shouldn’t be too challenging, but some team members are keenly interested in contributing while others are reticent or disinterested.

Involve expert communicators who can help connect with your staff as much as possible. Make the communications far more focused on your team than the solution. Focus on the benefit to your staff, not the perks of the new tool.

When communicating with your team about the new tools, make it clear what type of information you are sharing and for what goal. Is this communication sharing information for keeners who want all the details, or truly an important update with required action items for the members?

For example, “We need each employee to log in once just to confirm your password” versus “Here is a detailed update of what we have been up to behind the scenes.” Not all staff members want to get lost in that second option and will be turned off and miss the first one if they don’t know what to expect.

Also recognize that when your association has information to communicate to your staff, it doesn’t mean the staff members are in a headspace to listen. Try to connect with your staff members when they are in a position to give feedback.

Common Change Management Challenges for a CiviCRM Deployment

User acceptance problems occur when creating content types or fields without considering the end user and use case. Building it with the smartest, most well-intentioned people, but without truly understanding your client persona and obtaining feedback on feature demos throughout an interactive process, results in a tool that your stakeholders don’t want to use because it doesn’t solve their problems.

The third suggestion is to ask each team member about their communication preferences. Do they want emails or not, do they want mailings or not? Does your team like chatting with a tool like Slack? Ask them what they want and communicate it the way they prefer for the best results.

Take the time to do research as to how your team wants to receive the training for the new CiviCRM deployment. Allocate your training budget to meet the preferences of your staff. On-demand training videos are preferable to a one-time live training session: your team members won’t remember everything from the live session but recordings are evergreen.

Keep track of the FAQs that come up from your team and provide additional training accordingly.

Getting Used to a New CiviCRM Environment
It depends on the complexity of your work and your website. In general terms, three months seems to be the magic number when people adopt and accept a new solution. For a very sophisticated membership site with a lot of features and seasonal offerings, it may take a long time. 

Training Teammates to New Features
It goes without saying that the features should be easy to use. It goes without saying that your association has tested the features and it’s obvious to your staff and members how to engage and benefit from it.

Include instructions and help text as needed. A good practice is to have a way for your team to get on-demand help with training videos. Have the most knowledgeable member of your team record short video recordings of how to use the features.

Key CiviCRM Features for the Membership, Marketing, and Financial Departments of an Association

Here are some important CiviCRM functions for the membership department, marketing department, and financial department of your association. Below is a short description of each feature. You can find more details and use cases in the CiviCRM User Guide.

We recommend having training for each feature that is recorded so your team members can refer to them as needed.

Membership Management

  • Membership: You can create different memberships at different price points. For example, regular membership, senior membership, student membership, Covid-relief pricing, etc.
  • Groups: You can sort your members into groups, also called segmentation. You can create smart groups with criteria that auto-filter your contacts depending on their behavior.
  • CiviMail: You can send email communications to your staff, members, and other stakeholders. You can create email templates using the email builder and customize them as needed.
  • Reports: You can create reports with sophisticated criteria to help you understand your membership activity. Understanding your members will help you make more informed decisions about the content you create.
  • Events: You can manage your events for members from inside CiviCRM. 
  • CiviCase: You can use this tool to track support tickets.

Marketing Management

  • Reports: You can create reports with multiple criteria to help you understand your prospects and your membership activity. Understanding your prospects and members will help you make smarter marketing decisions.
  • Activities: You can track what your members do to see how they operate and what interests them. This can help guide your marketing to attract more members who are interested in the same things.
  • CiviMail: You can send email communications to your prospective members. You can create email templates using their email builder and customize them as needed.
  • Events: You can manage events for prospects from inside CiviCRM
  • CiviCampaign: This feature allows you to connect specific events, activities, mailing, and contributions together so you can see how they are working together. This helps you track the success of the campaign.

Financial Team

  • Contributions: Here is where you can manage membership dues and donations.
  • CiviGrant: This feature is for organizations that provide funding, i.e. grants, to other organizations or individuals. See more information in the CiviCRM User Guide.
  • CiviPledge: This feature can be used to track a pledged donation and how much has already been received towards that pledge.

Biggest takeaway for a CiviCRM Deployment
Adoption of the tool is not about the tech, it’s about the people. The key to success is getting your staff involved. Organize well-focused focus groups and demos that respect the time of the participants. Provide training as needed with video resources of the training as a reference.

Feedback, Launch, Then More Feedback
By involving your staff and stakeholders in the process of testing each feature as it develops, your association will end up with a product they will accept and embrace.

On-Going CiviCRM Support
The most common reason why people are unhappy with their tech choices is because they don’t know how to use them properly. CiviCRM is a powerful tool with functionality that can elevate how you run your association. However, it can get complicated quickly when paired to track the activity on a public-facing website and a sophisticated membership site.

Given how most associations are resource-poor and short-staffed, it is reasonable to expect that you’ll need ongoing support to get the most out of your CiviCRM deployment.

Unless you have a developer on staff who can maintain the site and the CRM, be sure to budget for a monthly website and CiviCRM maintenance plan for the successful long-term use of CiviCRM.

We have culled the following questions, answers, and suggestions from our podcast interview with Change Management Consultant and Educator, Betsy Bond, President, and Founder of Bonding Change and Prosci Change Management Instructor. You can watch the full podcast recording here.

Get All the Tips from this Blog in one Document for Your Reference
Download the 10 User Acceptance Strategies for Your New Membership Site Project & Worksheet to share with your team, help organize your thoughts, and plan your next steps.

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Farhad Khan, CEO

A tech entrepreneur specialized in creating membership websites for professional associations to increase member engagement. My background is as an engineer for Nortel and Ericsson. I started my own tech company in 2009 to help associations and nonprofits solve their challenges with my digital technology skills.