Blackbaud CRM Design Sessions: What You Should Know

January 18, 2016

Think about the last time you went through a drive-thru window. You looked at a menu, gave your order, and heard someone read it back to you. You paid, received your order and your receipt, and checked to make sure everything was correct before driving away.

Unfortunately, ordering a new CRM system isn’t that easy.

If you’re responsible for implementing Blackbaud CRM, you’ll take an active role in the “design sessions” Blackbaud conducts with your organization. During these sessions, you’ll have in-depth discussions about your operations to help Blackbaud understand how to design the optimum CRM for your needs. Concerned about how you handle householding? You’ll work on that within a core biographical records design session. Complicated annual appeals? That’s direct marketing design. Gift records entry and management? Revenue design.

Typical design sessions include:

  • Campaign Structure
  • Constituent Management
  • Revenue Operations
  • Prospect Management
  • Donor Relations and Stewardship
  • Annual Giving/Marketing & Communications
  • Event Management
  • Volunteer Management

After the design sessions, Blackbaud will deliver documents detailing CRM configuration for your approval. And here is where many project sponsors experience pangs of anxiety, wondering:

  • “Is this what we ordered?”
  • “After so many decisions, does the system truly address our most pressing needs?”
  • “Did we talk past each other and miss something vital?”

Your Blackbaud consultants want to get it right, and they rely on you to assess how their suggested design captures your needs. Misunderstanding at this step can lead to an over-configured system, too few or too many customizations, or gaps in system functionality.

As this could be one of the largest, most expensive projects you undertake in your career, it’s wise to consider your options.


The design sessions, and your careful review and approval of the design documents, are the foundation for successful implementation. Misunderstandings here compound as the project unfolds, as data conversion is mapped, customizations are developed, and system interdependencies are established, all based on the design decisions you authorized.

Some suggestions:

  • Pay attention to the design documents. The first step is the simplest, yet it’s worth pointing out. It’s not unusual that review of design documents is happening along with many other project components. Not to mention your daily job responsibilities. Ensure you allow time and pay careful attention to this part of the project.
  • Involve others. Designate key people in each area to review design decisions, and insist they pay careful attention.
  • Discuss use cases. Running through key scenarios helps identify critical requirements for getting the most out of your CRM.
  • Involve an independent expert. The best way to ensure your design sessions are the best possible are to involve a CRM consultant, such as JCA.

If you’re flying solo with Blackbaud—without an experienced implementation partner guiding the process—you alone shoulder the documentation and verification burden before work can begin. You may be one of those people who thrive under pressure. But as this could be one of the largest, most expensive projects you undertake in your career, it’s wise to consider your options. A dedicated implementation partner will ask the right questions, capture the right decisions, and turn those decisions into validation and testing plans that work.

When considering an implementation partner, look for a team that:

  • Is fully trained and supported by Blackbaud. With the Blackbaud CRM product constantly updating, you’ll want a partner with access to the latest developments and that has a good relationship with Blackbaud professional services.
  • Knows the critical questions to ask both Blackbaud and your staff. Your partner should clearly understand potential pitfalls and how to handle them.
  • Translates vendor-speak into a language you understand and that meets your needs.
  • Has a time-tested plan for capturing your internal decisions.
  • Knows how to use your internal decisions to validate Blackbaud’s system design documents.

Design session participation and documentation is critical to a successful implementation. As a philanthropy professional, you may experience these just once in your career. But implementation partners specializing in Blackbaud CRM participate in these design sessions throughout the year, across North America, in all nonprofit segments — healthcare, higher education, advocacy, membership, and faith-based.

JCA has helped thousands of nonprofits around the world with their technology and operational needs. With years of experience on Blackbaud CRM, JCA knows the software inside and out. Our clients rely on us for operational consulting for leveraging Blackbaud CRM for their unique needs.


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