Case Study

Success Story | Union of Concerned Scientists’ Path to Improve Supporter Engagement and Mobilization

Shannon Abitbol

Consultant

Shannon has over 15 years of experience working with nonprofits in areas of operations, technology solutions, and fundraising. Her areas of specialty include system needs analysis, systems assessment, systems selection, business process documentation, and change management.
May 16, 2024

Imagine going on a trip and having someone else pack for you without asking what you need or where you’re going. When you arrive at your destination, you might find you only have uncomfortable shoes and business clothes to wear for your 10-mile hike.

Even with awareness of your preferences and the best intentions at heart, assumptions would be made, and the outcome would be different than if you packed for yourself or expressed your needs.

We can think along these same lines for nonprofit organizations and their systems. Most nonprofits eventually reach a stage where they need a new Constituent Management System (CRM). This could happen when staff start pushing the current system beyond its capabilities or when the system, which has served well for years, no longer meets the evolving functionality needs of the organization.

Whatever the reason, when you need a new system, you’re heading on a journey. You know what you need, but others may not – though they may try their best to decide on your behalf. Stepping back to include your entire organization, asking for comprehensive input, making a list (and checking it twice!), assessing your options, and choosing with inclusive intent is much more likely to lead to a positive outcome.

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) exemplified this approach when considering its future system design by being thoughtful in their approach to change and including all areas of the organization.

How it Started

Founded more than 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UCS is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to use rigorous, independent science to solve the planet’s most pressing problems.

Joining with people across the country, UCS combines technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future in five key areas: climate, energy, transportation, food, and nuclear weapons.

Fifty Years Later

UCS supporters range from everyday people to the nation’s top scientists, including partner organizations, Science Network members, donors, members, and over 500,000 activists. Using the collective strength of their network, UCS seeks to activate and mobilize their supporters to press for specific changes.

In 2023, UCS realized their CRM system was no longer meeting their needs, particularly struggling to establish a supporter-centric approach.

“Union of Concerned Scientists had grown significantly in both staffing and database needs since our last CRM transition,” said Meghan Ogren, Data Systems Director at Union of Concerned Scientists. “We found that we were pushing Raiser’s Edge to its limits in supporting our unique needs as a national advocacy nonprofit. When we began the process, we knew we had surpassed our current system and needed a better integration of relationship management across advocacy and fundraising, as well as improved reporting capabilities.”

UCS enlisted the expertise of JCA to help them select a system that would best align with their needs.

A Thoughtful Approach

UCS embarked on their journey with a Needs Assessment, an evaluation to help organizations align their technology with their strategic focus. They were aware of the limitations presented by Raiser’s Edge NXT (RE NXT), but they wanted to understand their data ecosystem needs to make sure they were choosing the right system. UCS made a list of representatives from each department and focus area, and JCA interviewed the groups to understand current processes, needs, pain points, and visions for the future.

“JCA supported the needs of a CRM Assessment, giving staff the resources and language they needed to be able to talk about the database systems and requirements while being forward-looking,” said Ogren.

We learned UCS had several constituent-related systems in place and RE NXT was meant to be the central CRM system. Development and fundraising needs were mostly met by RE NXT, but other teams – including those who managed key stakeholders like advocates, scientists, and partner organizations – were using ad hoc processes and other systems to store the information they needed.

Through the discovery process, we found:

  • Though some supplementary systems had were integrated with RE NXT, staff were primarily relying on manual imports and exports and external data manipulation to move data between the systems.
  • Maintaining separate databases took a large amount of staff time, and there was a huge desire to obtain a more accurate, 360-degree view of constituents through a more integrated ecosystem that served the relationship management needs of the entire organization.
  • Because UCS did not have a central source of information, they were unable to view engagement and action from a big picture perspective. This made it difficult to use a data-driven approach to decision-making.

Making a List

After the Needs Assessment, UCS was ready to embark on a System Selection process. Working with all departments and teams, we led sessions to understand, translate, and document team processes into detailed system requirements.

“JCA was a tremendous help in leading us through the process discovering our unique needs, helping us identify pain points and opportunities for growth, categorizing things into needs vs wants,” said Ogren. “From translating our database needs from a series of sessions with staff to a comprehensive list of requirements, to finding a list of systems that could support us, JCA provided strong guidance and detailed support.”

Determining a Path

Set with their detailed list, UCS was ready to begin the search for a system, or set of systems, to meet its diverse business needs. We created a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP), outlining the current state, desired future state, and expectations of a system partner. Their requirements included:

  • Centralized Constituent Management: While RE NXT was the intended CRM system, UCS departments were managing constituent information in other systems concurrently. UCS faced limitations with integrations with RE NXT and leveraging its system functionality to effectively manage all types of stakeholders.
  • Constituent Equality: RE NXT was best intended for donor and member management, making it difficult to track non-fundraising relationships. UCS wanted to select a system, or set of systems, to support all constituent management and engagement needs equally.
  • A Functional Ecosystem: Current integrations made centralized constituent management a challenge. Integration capabilities of systems were a top priority for UCS in the selection process.
  • Accessible Business Intelligence: Because of insufficient system connections and the need for manual data transfers between systems, aggregated reporting at UCS was not robust. Native system reporting capabilities and the ability to connect to aggregated reporting tools were other key priorities.

With these top considerations in mind, UCS used our objective rating scale to review the proposal responses and rate the demonstrated functionality from the vendors. UCS invited three vendors to demonstrate, also inviting a cross-functional team to participate in the demonstration and rate the systems in accordance with their own business needs and expectations.

Building a Thoughtful (and Functional) Ecosystem

After months of review, demonstration, inclusive discussions, and careful consideration, UCS chose Mission CRM as their CRM system. Built on the Microsoft Cloud for Nonprofit platform, Mission CRM is an enterprise CRM built to manage a supporter-centric approach to fundraising and engagement.

Through their decision-making process, UCS worked with Mission CRM to configure the system to their diverse functional needs, including building integrations to EveryAction and Quorum – completing their dream of a thoughtful (and functional) data ecosystem with centralized constituent management –and accessible business intelligence through Mission CRM’s connection to Microsoft Power BI.

“Now, partially through the process of migrating to Mission CRM, we are confident that JCA led us to the correct decision, both with a product that can meet our needs within specific time, capacity, and financial restrictions, but also with choosing a company that we felt good about aligning ourselves with and that could support both the technical customization requirements and serve as a partner in UCS’ work,” said Ogren. “The guidance that JCA provided on our CRM Assessment will underpin UCS work for many years to come.”

UCS’ commitment to understanding their needs before their System Selection process exemplifies the positive outcomes that can result from planning and researching before leaping. UCS successfully navigated the complexity of System Selection by doing a thorough Needs Assessment and focusing on functionality that supported all aspects of their mission.

Now, with the choice made to move forward with Mission CRM, UCS is ready for a new chapter of organizational growth and impact, equipped with the systems necessary to effectively engage and mobilize their supporters towards achieving their mission.