A terrarium with green plants sits on a desk next to a computer.

In 2017, Georgetown University launched “GU360,” a comprehensive CRM built on Salesforce’s robust architecture. While GU360’s functionality goes way beyond advancement to also serve students, faculty, and university administration, Affinaquest’s Advancement RM forms the system’s critical core.

The Affinaquest research and content team recently sat down with Kirsten Reppert, Chief Data Officer & AVP of Advancement Operations at Georgetown University, to learn more what Kirsten calls “an ecosystem” and how Georgetown has implemented – and extended upon – the functionality of Advancement RM to meet their institution’s unique needs.

In part one of this three-part series, Kirsten discussed the benefits of using a “managed package” CRM rather than one custom-built from scratch, often called “to spec.” Be sure to also check out Part 2 and Part 3 of the series to learn more about Georgetown’s specific customizations for Advancement RM and how it has impacted fundraising.

How a Managed Package Like Advancement RM Works as a Launching Point

To start us off, Kirsten delivered a hard truth about all advancement CRMs, including Advancement RM.

Kirsten Reppert; Chief Data Officer & AVP of Advancement Operations, Georgetown University: Advancement RM is not the answer to all of your advancement needs—and Affinaquest never says that it is. There’s not a single solution out there that is. Out of the box, no advancement CRM will do every single thing that you need. No one’s going to build your CRM out to exactly what you want and then hand it over for you to just flip a switch and “voila!”

What Advancement RM—a managed package—does is it takes care of the fundamentals for you so that you can decide where your next steps will take you.

A lot of the work is in those fundamentals. Not just the data integrity, but also how does this thing inform this other thing—or not? What fields are prioritized? What is the source of this information? Are we getting it consistently and accurately? What if that source turns off?

Those fundamentals are the foundation of Affinaquest’s Advancement RM, which was built by industry professionals with higher education advancement’s core requirements in mind.

Kirsten: Because Affinaquest’s Advancement RM manages the core parts of our work, we get to focus on how to make those things work to our own, specific advantage. We can create new connections or complementary objects, integrations, components in line with what’s important to us.

We’ve done so much, and we don’t intend to ever be “done.” The industry is growing and we’re growing too. If we had to start at square one to build this out, it’s hard to say how far out of the gate we would be right now. We would not yet be at a place where we could tackle campaign impact dashboards or develop our own custom analytics.

We’re able to leverage the interconnectedness of our work in ways we could only think about before. We built out custom engagement scores. We have a Georgetown score based on the data that we’ve thoughtfully accumulated: volunteering, events, all that sort of stuff. If you know that a certain combination of engagement experiences positively correlate to giving, then how can we engage an audience more thoughtfully to increase their likelihood to give? That’s the kind of mix that seems unique to each institution – and parts of it are of course—but it assumes you’ve got the fundamentals absolutely correct.

The Shared Knowledge and Community of the Managed Package

With the core of Advancement RM in common, Georgetown and other schools using the CRM share a mutual understanding of the system. This, Kirsten says, is beneficial.

Kirsten: If you build everything to spec, there are certainly advantages. But one big disadvantage is that you might isolate yourself from being able to collaborate with colleagues who are thinking about the work in different ways or focusing on areas that you haven’t been able to get to yet.

To cultivate a sharing community and provide opportunities for clients to collaborate, Affinaquest hosts a user summit every year.

How a Managed Package CRM Can Help to Minimize Disruptions

Because Georgetown has used Advancement RM the longest, Kirsten is often consulted as an expert on implementing and using the system.

Kirsten: A number of institutions reach out to me to ask how implementation was and I typically start my answer with some variation of, “Yeah, that was really hard.”

No matter what you do, there’s going to be some disruption [when you transition to a new CRM]. Disruption is inevitable. It will disrupt every process—even ones you didn’t think about at the time and even if you’ve spent hours on change management. There will be a period of time where it feels like most of what you’re doing is managing the disruption and colleagues’ expectations.

If you’re trying to mitigate disruption to any degree, my advice is go with something that’s taken care of at the core because it provides a level of stability when so many other facets of your operation may be in flux. I am fortunate to work with a visionary leader who reminded our colleagues that data conversions are not like flipping a switch from black and white to technicolor. He was so right; they are far from it.

When we went live, we spent a year or more just focused on what we called the “core and critical.” This wasn’t cool, fancy, fun stuff. This was names, addresses, education—the sorts of things that have to be right.

I’ve learned over the years to not let the simplicity of “foundational” data fool you; they are some of the most complex, mind-bogglingly varied, and important elements to your CRM. We have a tendency to overcomplicate things that are actually straightforward, but we don’t have a healthy understanding and respect sometimes for the things that really are complicated. The core data is complicated, but users expect it to be accurate. Core functionality is essential, but many colleagues will never see the hundreds of pages of code, process charts, and testing scripts behind it all.

Let the managed package, like Advancement RM, take care of that. Embrace the diversity and creativity and experiences of other people who orient their work around, and contribute to that shared core, and also innovate on your own. It’s the best of both worlds.

In Part Two of this series, you will learn more about the innovations that Kirsten and her team created within Advancement RM to meet the unique needs of their development program. Don’t miss it!

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