Discovery Sessions: A Blueprint for Success

There is a discovery phase at the start of all advancement Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) project implementations. The goal during the discovery phase is to understand where you are as an organization, your current processes, and where you want to go. Additionally, during this phase, you identify what prompted you to buy a new CRM, pinpointing your current challenges, and deciding how they might impede your journey.

Essentially, the discovery phase is an investigation helping you identify what’s going on.

The next time you’re heading into your CRM implementation project discovery phase, use this blueprint for success.


Before heading into your discovery session, you’ll need to gather a few documents. Standard documents you should have on hand include current process diagrams, policies and procedures, department policies, and training documentation.

These documents don’t necessarily need to be updated but providing them to your CRM vendor affords a starting point—creating a snapshot of how you work. Gathering your documents ahead of time is an efficient step from a preparation standpoint. This way you won’t need to remember what to report what’s in those documents. Additionally, you won’t need to waste time during the discovery session reviewing documents that can be reviewed in their own.

Use the discovery session to discuss viewpoints or offer other commentaries that may not be clear in the documents.

Before heading into your discovery session, you should begin to recognize your pain points and challenges. This may not be immediately detectable since you’ve been living with them for years—you’ve likely gotten used to them. In the weeks leading up to your discovery session, take note of your frustrations. Have sticky notes handy. If you get frustrated or find something takes too much time, jot it down on your sticky note. Then, either create a complete list or bring your sticky notes to the session. This will help you eliminate the need to think about and identify your pain points on the spot.

In the Beginning

Once you are in the discovery session meeting, be sure that everyone introduces themselves. Stating their role in the institution and how long they’ve been there is excellent information. But to take it a step further, have a business or team introduction that indicates what the team handles in the organization and how they stay organized to get work done. These things are often missed but can be helpful to establish a framework and point of view of the team.

During the Meeting

It is essential to understand the moderator’s intentions. They should set the stage to identify what business areas need to be covered in the meeting. For example, if you want to talk about gift operations, you’ll want to make that clear from the beginning.

After the stage is set, you can identify critical processes that are missing and locate a part of the topic area to be addressed and corrected.

As the meeting continues, focus on keeping it conversational with open-ended questions. If possible, opt to have a visual component. But avoid using a stuffy PowerPoint presentation. Instead, use a whiteboard for an interactive session.

Whiteboarding sessions help those in attendance understand current processes and visualize the future. It also helps validate everyone’s voices and avoid future misunderstandings. For example, as people express their pain points, they go up on a visual meeting board. This visual representation in real-time immediately validates the participant and lets them know they’ve been heard. It also facilitates feedback—a misunderstanding of the content allows for an immediate correction.

After the Meeting

If you used a visual board, it should continue to be available to all participants and be made accessible for a few weeks. Making the board available allows your team to revisit their ideas for clarification. It can also spark a deeper conversation. Encourage comments to continue to be posted even after the discovery session ends—allowing for more ideas to be added as thoughts arise.

Then after you’ve allowed adequate time for review and commenting, establish a method to add to your document repository. Make it easy for people to contribute their documentation for the discovery on an ongoing basis.