Wednesday, June 17, 2015

CRM for Non-Profits

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is growing in popularity for non-profit organizations, as the price of software and cloud deployment make it easier for both small and large non-profits to adopt CRM.

My company InfoStrat has been working with non-profits for nearly thirty years, and we have witnessed growing adoption of CRM instead of more specialized software.  For most of this time, non-profits focused on software specifically built for their business requirements, such as membership management systems, fundraising systems, and event management software.  These products were custom developed by small companies, and from time to time these companies would go out of business or acquire one another, creating orphan software which was no longer supported or no longer being modernized.  These products were not necessarily compatible with one another, so you could end up with an annual meeting system which was a completely different technology and interface from the membership or fundraising system.

Today, non-profits are more willing to adopt more commercially widespread CRM products such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce because these products are affordable, widely supported and will receive future upgrades.

At our recent webinar "High Impact Web Presence for Lean Non-Profits," we highlighted features of CRM that can make your non-profit more productive.  For instance, it is vital to maintain an authoritative contact list for members, donors, vendors, and other constituents.  Most non-profits want to conduct outreach campaigns such as emails and letters -- a basic CRM function.

CRM vendors offer significant discounts to non-profits.  Techsoup ( is a marketplace for qualified non-profits.  You can search by product name to find the latest non-profit pricing.  Microsoft guidelines for non-profits are here:

InfoStrat helps clients tailor Dynamics CRM to meet the specific needs of non-profits.  For instance, we have added annual dues calculation formulas, and invoice generation reports to Dynamics CRM.  We integrate CRM with member portals to allow membership signup, meeting registration, and contributions.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Responsibility of Entrepreneurship

When I talk to aspiring entrepreneurs, they often tell me that they are drawn by the freedom and power of leading a company, and the idea that they answer only to themselves. The image that I think they may have in mind is the lone captain on the bridge of a ship, setting course and braving the wind and the waves to reach their sunny destination with a treasure chest.

                                       The Rakish Brigantine - Sea Captain in Storm by N.C. Wyeth: 

As an entrepreneur for the last 28 years, all I can do is to gently share the less glamorous reality -- it's all about the responsibility that you take on, not power, not perks, not freedom.

The leader of a company carries a heavy responsibility to all the people who make it a success. Responsibility starts with customers, continues with employees, investors, vendors and more. Even if you are planning your strategy alone, you depend on others to carry it out.  It doesn't take long for the startup entrepreneur to learn that few goals can be reached without enlisting help, building partnerships, and making compromises so that your vision can co-exist with reality.

I suppose that in a way, captains of industry are like sea captains.  They ultimately determine where the ship goes, and bear responsibility for their crew and for the treasure that has been entrusted to their care. May your voyage of entrepreneurship be the adventure of a lifetime. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

High Impact Web Presence for Non-Profits

Non-profit organizations need to reach large numbers of people with their messages, and typically have a small staff and small budget to accomplish their goals. 

Several trends have converged to make it easier to communicate via your website and social media without a large staff of computer or marketing experts.

InfoStrat held a recent webinar to share some of the latest techniques and approaches.

Here are some highlights from the presentation:

  1.  High production values are not as important as they were in the past.  This means that people are no longer impressed by the slickest websites and videos.  In some cases, too much spending can erode the perception of authenticity and make people trust you less.  Even cell phone quality videos are now acceptable.
  2. Content is king.  The quality of your content (writing, speaking, video, images) is more important than ever. 
  3. Multiple channels reinforce each other.  There is no single channel in social media that is most important, although different audiences tend to favor certain channels.  I cross channel strategy is likely to boost the visibility of your content.  For instance, use Facebook to drive traffic to your website and vice versa.
  4. Do it yourself websites have reached a quality level where they are acceptable for many organizations and often look and perform better than custom sites that cost much more. 
  5. Mobile is growing quickly.  Be sure your content will work well on mobile devices -- this trend is picking up momentum.
 If you are not comfortable embracing social media yourself (which you should) then you may find others on your staff who are willing to lead the charge. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Microsoft SharePoint and Dynamics CRM -- Better Together: Part 6

Using Both Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SharePoint

By integrating SharePoint with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, you can easily add this extensive functionality to your solution. Dynamics CRM 2015 includes built-in integration with SharePoint so you can show related documents within a Dynamics CRM form. Dynamics CRM supports integration with SharePoint Server 2010, SharePoint Server 2013, and SharePoint Server Online.
An article in MSDN illustrates the integration options: 
SharePoint integration enables you to store and manage documents on SharePoint in the context of a Microsoft Dynamics CRM record, and use the SharePoint document management abilities in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, such as checking the document in and out, viewing version history, and changing document properties. 

Because both SharePoint and Dynamics CRM are available deployed in the cloud or on premise, there are several permutations of how you can handle authentication and integration. 

You can integrate with SharePoint in two basic ways:
  • Client-to-server integration with SharePoint: This uses the Microsoft Dynamics CRM List Component in the sandboxed environment of SharePoint.  Client-to server integration is supported for both online and on-premises versions of CRM and SharePoint.
  • Server-to-server integration with SharePoint (CRM Online only): This does not require you to install the Microsoft Dynamics CRM List Component in the sandboxed environment of SharePoint or any other additional software to have the SharePoint document management functionality within CRM. After you enable server-based SharePoint integration for your organization, you can’t revert to the client-based authentication method. Server-based integration is supported for SharePoint Online, and SharePoint on-premises only if you have Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online 2015 Update 1.

You can automate many functions such as creation of document libraries triggered by events in Dynamics CRM.  For instance, when an opportunity moves to the stage when a proposal is prepared, you could create folders for the solicitation as well as the proposal, and associate them with the opportunity.    You might also want to use standard document templates to populate the folders.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Upgrade Dynamics CRM 2011 to 2015 Before Adding New Features

If you are considering upgrading from Dynamics CRM 2011, you will save significant time and effort by upgrading before you implement new features and fixes that you may have accumulated over the last few years.

A major upgrade offers the chance to do some spring cleaning, eliminating unused items and streamlining the user interface.  Moreover, Microsoft may have anticipated some of the features you have been seeking and included them in the product.

Here is a good place to start in reviewing what is new:

Dynamics CRM 2013 and 2015 include a major overhaul of the user interface compared to the 2011 version, so you will need to prepare your users for a bit of future shock.    The good news is that you gain instant multi-browser and mobile device support.

You will save time and money because both the upgrade and the new enhancement require testing, so why not do both and the same time and test once?

If moving to the Microsoft CRM Online cloud is in your plans, the upgrade is an opportunity to take the leap.  Once your organization is on Dynamics CRM Online, you will automatically be required to stay current with upgrades anyway.

Be sure to upgrade all the way to the latest current version, Dynamics CRM 2015, rather than stopping with 2013.  The old practice of waiting for a few minor versions doesn't hold up very well. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Upgrading Dynamics CRM, Part 3

This is adapted from the InfoStrat White Paper "Upgrading Dynamics CRM." Download the full whitepaper here:!upgrading-dynamics-crm/c15ht

Microsoft provides a number of Migration Tools to assist you with the move to CRM 2015.

These include both documentation and tooling available within the application. The documentation can be found in the SDK and on the web and covers the process you need to go through to upgrade forms and the design considerations related to how your forms will appear on the mobile and outlook clients.  The in-app tools are in the form designer.  The first thing you need to understand is how to identify the CRM 2011 form and the CRM 2013 form.  Many CRM 2011 forms are all labeled “Information” since this was the name used for the default form prior to CRM 2013.  In CRM 2103 a new set of V6 forms was created which were labeled using the Entity name by default (e.g. “Contact”). You also now have the ability to activate and deactivate forms.

If your goal is to continue to use the CRM 2011 “Information” form style, you have multiple options to get to that format in a CRM 2013 form.  You can either create an entirely new form with the same components or you can merge the CRM 2011 form contents into a new 2013 form.  To use the merge method, you would create a new CRM 2013 form, open  the CRM  form editor and find the button at the top of the screen called “Merge Form”.  When you click that button, you are presented with a Lookup dialog that allows you to select the 2011 form.  When you choose a CRM 2011 form and import it, your customizations from CRM 2011 will be added to the bottom of the 2013 form.  Note that issues have been reported where the merge creates downstream problems due to duplicate Ids.  The issues do not appear until you have to export a CRM Solution and import it into another environment.  If you intend to use the merge you should test this scenario carefully before putting too much effort into upgrading forms this way.

Our recommendation overall is to consider the option of redesigning your forms from scratch and compare the level effort for this option vs. the merge after doing some initial trials.  There is no one right answer to this question and the option you choose will depend on the complexity and design history of your current forms.  There are also significant advantages to some of the new components which are included in the new default V6 forms which are worth considering.

For more details see:


Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Upgrade Policy[1]

If you are using Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, your system will be automatically upgraded within set intervals.   You do have some flexibility on scheduling these updates and choosing which updates to apply but there are rigid rules in place to help keep your Online instance in synch with the latest versions of the software.

Microsoft delivers new features and improvements to the CRM Online service twice a year through service updates.  Microsoft advises customers to run the latest version of the service. In early 2015 Microsoft offered customers the ability to provide consent prior to updating their CRM organization. Customers today have a wide choice of days to choose from to best suit their business, and we will continue to provide that flexibility for service updates. In spring of 2015, customers will have the choice to take the two updates as they become available, or take only one update per year. If a customer chooses to take only one update per year, this update becomes mandatory and the customer will be required to take the update during the available dates for that particular release.

In other words, at any given point a customer must be on the current version (n) or a version prior (n-1). For example, if you are on CRM Online Spring ‘14 (n-2) and chose not to take the available CRM Online 2015 Update (n-1), then you would need to take CRM Online 2015 Update 1 (n) as a mandatory update.

Recent versions of CRM Online

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Spring ‘14 (6.1.0) June 2014
Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online 2015 Update (7.0.0) December 2014
Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online 2015 Update 1 (7.1.0) Second Quarter 2015

Checklist for the CRM Online update

Most of the update process is handled by Microsoft. However, there are a few things that you must do to prepare.
  1. Know when your update is scheduled.

    You will be informed of a pending update in multiple ways. See
    How will I know my organization is ready to update? in this topic.
  2. Involve your Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner.

    If you have a Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner of record, we strongly recommend that you contact them for guidance and assistance. If you do not have a partner, you may consult the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace to identify a partner. Please note that there may be charges from partners for their services.
  3. Watch for communications from Microsoft.

    Microsoft will send you several communications about this subject to keep you informed about the update. They also display a notice to the users of your system in the CRM message bar. In addition, they send email communications to users that have the System Administrator role in CRM. Please make sure the email accounts associated with those user accounts are valid and being monitored. Communications will come from, or for partners, you will also receive communications from the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner Team:
  4. Verify your customizations are compatible.

    You should take the time before your update to verify that customizations are compatible using the
    CRM Custom Code Validation Tool. You should do this early enough that you have time to fix any identified issues. Additionally, Microsoft will run a number of automated tests and if any of those tests fail in your instance, we will email the administrator a list of potential issues we have identified.
  5. Create a non-production (Sandbox) instance in which you can test your customizations.

    Ideally, you should test your customizations prior to update. This will also give you the opportunity to verify compatibility of any third-party customizations. If you identify any potential issues, please work with the solution provider to correct any issues that arise. More information:
    Manage CRM Online Sandbox instances
  6. Notify your users prior to the update of CRM.

    It is a best practice to notify your users that the system will be unavailable during the update. To get more resources to prepare users for the update, please visit
    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Help & Training.
  7. Watch for Update Completion or Reschedule emails from Microsoft.

Once your organization is updated, you’ll receive a notification from CRM Online indicating that your organization is ready to use. 

In-product alert
Admin Center
Update scheduled All Admins Yes Yes Yes
90 days before update All Admins No Yes Yes
30 days before update All Admins No Yes Yes
15 days before update All Admins No Yes Yes
7 days before update All Admins Yes Yes Yes
7 days before update if Admin approved Users No No Yes
Schedule confirmed by Admin All Admins No Yes Yes
Update in progress All Admins and Users No No Yes
Update successful All Admins and Users No Yes Yes
Fallback to secondary update All Admins No Yes Yes
Update rescheduled All Admins No Yes Yes

“All Admins” includes CRM system administrators and Office 365 Global administrators


Because Microsoft provides major upgrades to Dynamics CRM every two years and minor upgrades every six months or more often, customers need to proactively manage their CRM systems and be aware of what is coming out and when and learn how it will affect their current systems.  They must have policies and procedures in place to schedule, test, and deploy new versions on a regularly scheduled basis so they can benefit not only from the improved features and functionality but also to be fully supported by Microsoft.

This is particularly important in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online world where customers are required to be running the current version of the product or the version immediately prior. 


[1] Much of the below information is taken from

Requests for Proposals and the Iron Triangle

One of the unchanging truths of project management is the tradeoff between time, features, and cost.  This relationship is called the project management triangle, iron triangle, or triple constraint.

Source: Wikipedia

The project management triangle has implications for organizations which issue requests for proposals (RFPs).  Typically, the goal of the RFP is to solve for price and to hire a vendor to provide services or a solution.

The more information that an RFP provides on the schedule and scope, the more accurate the cost can be.  Without sufficient details on the scope of a project, the vendor is forced to guess.  One guessing approach is called time boxing.  In this method, the vendor established a schedule and then determines the cost for a typical team to provide services for a comparable project.   Time boxing means that some features must be discarded in order to meet the schedule and cost.

The absence of requirements details, or the inclusion of vague and open-end requirements drives up the cost of bids to cover risk.  Unspecified deliverables have unspecified costs. The result is often that no acceptable proposals are received.

Typically, the budgeted cost is not revealed to the bidders.  Conventional wisdom is that sharing the budget would stop bidders from offering a price lower than the budget and hence make a bargain impossible. 

The reality is that a budget can help vendors come up with realistic and accurate pricing, as well as offering a viable project approach. 

If an RFP contains only one of cost, scope and schedule, it is unlikely to result in a successful procurement.  The best approach is to include all three and ask vendors to show how they can solve the problem best within these constraints.