The Elephant in Advancement, Top 5 Reasons for Low User Adoption of a New CRM Platform


Here’s what we all agree on—it is vital for an institution to nurture relationships, manage engagement, and drive successful fundraising initiatives. But low user adoption rates after implementing an advancement Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) platform can be frustrating. 


The most cited CRM user adoption challenges across professions and industries are attributed to lack of precise goals, software complexity, and training support. Understanding how and why these challenges arise can improve CRM user adoption.


We discuss five common challenges to consider. 

#1—Insufficient training or familiarity with the technology. 

Institutions don’t always address both training and familiarity with the tool. Training on your advancement CRM needs to happen on two levels. The first level is users need to understand what the tool can do. The what capabilities should include in-depth knowledge and understanding of the CRM’s features and functionality. 


That combined with what is the best way to use it aligns capabilities and best practices with their daily operations. 

#2—Complex and non-intuitive interface. 

You can have a great CRM platform + bad implementation = low user adoption.


If this is true, you’re likely leading one of two extremes. The first extreme is, too often, institutions have the mindset they will keep everything the same from the out-of-the-box CRM. These institutions expect users to use it as-is and work through it from there. This mindset is sometimes considered conservative, but that is an incorrect assumption. 


When you keep your CRM as-is, you’re creating a complex and non-intuitive interface. Remember, the software vendor showed you everything from an application administrator’s point of view, so you know what you’re dealing with. You’re handing off the most complex version to users if you keep it the same. 


The second extreme is over-engineering the entire user experience—adding automation and changing the user interface until it’s unrecognizable. In this extreme, what you’ve likely done is made it look like your legacy system. Essentially, you’ve bought a brand-new tool and converted it to what you’re trying to retire. 


The correct conservative approach is to streamline the user experience, eliminate noise, and focus on valuable tool sets and information. 

#3—Lack of leadership buy-in and support. 

Users follow leadership and watch to see what they feel is essential. This includes social and organizational cues within the institution. If leadership has yet to emphasize the importance of the advancement CRM, the entire implementation, or if they’re not using and promoting it, their employees are less likely to embrace it. Attitude reflects leadership. 

#4—Inadequate donor data integration.

You’ve bought the tool itself, but it cannot live in a bubble. In advancement, an ecosystem of technology needs to work together. There must be a 360-degree view that seamlessly integrates with other systems, otherwise user adoption decreases. This is because if users jump from one system to another to do their job it becomes cumbersome, and they are reluctant to do it.


Unfortunately, even if the inadequate integration is to blame, the new system takes the brunt of it. Users think, “Why should I learn a new system if it doesn’t seamlessly fit into my world?” Integrating the CRM with essential tools—for fundraising and engagement to automate data flows—is critical to the user experience. Doing so increases user adoption rates. 

#5—Lack of clear ROI and impact visibility. 

Users are more likely to adopt and embrace an advancement CRM when they can witness or understand how its impact will make a difference in what they care about. 

  • What are they measured on? 
  • Is there an impact on their goals?
  • Are they measured as an individual staff member or as a department?

User adoption decreases if the advancement CRM implementation or overall project fails to provide clear linkages between the why and what the organization hopes to improve and achieve. Consider sharing your organizational goals regarding: 

  • Key metrics
  • Donor engagement 
  • Campaign performance 

It’s about connecting the dots for users on why they’re doing this and how this new advancement CRM technology will make a difference. Clearly indicating your organizational goals directly impacts adoption and enthusiasm for the system.