How to have a Successful CiviCRM Deployment for Your Membership Site

2022-01-20 09:16
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Your Membership Site Needs a Change
Thinking about a new CiviCRM deployment for your new membership site is a promising sign that you are in tune with the growing needs of your team and your membership.

Upgrading your membership site with CiviCRM as your CRM will help modernize your association for both your internal team and external stakeholders, such as members and donors. Change is good but it can also be hard. How can your association make sure your CiviCRM deployment will be well received by your team?

The following questions, answers and suggestions have been culled from our podcast interview with Change Management Consultant and Educator, Betsy Bond, President and Founder of Bonding Change and Prosci Change Management Instructor. Watch the full podcast recording on our site.

The best way to ensure a successful CiviCRM launch with staff acceptance is to follow the wisdom and strategy of change management throughout the process.

Thoughtful Change
This blog is geared for new CiviCRM users, or a member-based organization planning to build a new website with CiviCRM as the back end. We will address how to incorporate change management best practices into your CiviCRM deployment and new membership site building process to ensure that your users — being your members and your internal staff — adopt and celebrate your new tech. It sure would be disappointing if you build and launch a new CRM and website only to find resistance from your team. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen!

Let’s start with some information about what change management is and the impact it can make on the successful integration of your CiviCRM deployment and membership site into your staff and members’ user experience.

What is Change Management?
Change management is about getting people prepared for a change that is to come. It’s not about technology choices or training. It’s about all the people who will be involved in the change, such as the users, the members, the staff, and the senior leaders.

The change management process in a nutshell: Think about how and what your staff and members want, and how they want to interact. Ask them! They will tell you. Give them the information they need when they want to receive it in the method they want. This article will flesh out more details and strategies to make this happen!

We are all familiar with project management. Where does change management fit in?
Change management is complementary to project management. It helps ensure that users — namely your staff and members — accept and embrace the new tools you offer them.

Project management is about delivering a solution. The project managers work out the schedule, the budget and manage risks through the process of making the solution. But they usually take off on launch and stick around for technical fixes only.

Change management, on the other hand, focuses on how to get our staff and members to use the solution (i.e. the tool, the CRM, the website) your association has provided for them. The solution can be the most beautiful, advanced tool, but when your staff and members reject it, no one wins.

It’s easy to produce the product in a vacuum. The challenge is introducing a change that will be accepted.

When do we start the change management process and when does it end?

The Solution Brainstorming Stage
It starts as soon as possible. We need to explore if your team and members want the solution your association has in mind, namely the CiviCRM deployment. Start with exploring members’ willingness for a change.

Even before your decision to make the change gets the green light by the higher-ups (i.e., your executive and your board), we have to consult the stakeholders who will be impacted by the change. We have to ask your staff and your members what their problems are, what their goals are, and brainstorm solutions together.

This isn’t just a lip-service exercise to “make team members feel included.” It is good business to make sure we clearly understand the problems before investing in a solution. (A good developer will not take on a project or even offer a quote without a detailed understanding of the goals of a project, and an association shouldn’t move forward without this research either.)

The Design Stage
When you have already decided that a CiviCRM deployment is the right course of action, change management comes in at this time: namely, the design process.

The Ninth Hour Stage
The sad reality is that many organizations wait until the final hour. This creates a mad rush to prepare all parties for the change. In that rush, things are missed.

In terms of when it ends, you should expect the change management team to stick around a lot longer than the project management team. It is common that once the project has been delivered, there is heavy lifting to be done for the change management team. We have to make sure that the new tool is integrated into regular use by your team and members. Change management continues until the change has been integrated into your association’s culture.

A CiviCRM deployment generally involved the membership management team, the marketing team and the financial decision-makers. What is the process of getting each team involved?
Each team has its own unique responsibilities, viewpoint and contribution to make to the conversation. We would start with a stakeholder analysis and involve everyone who will be affected by the change. Go beyond the technology in this analysis stage.

When done well, it takes into account the people over the tech: what are their attitudes to overcome, skills that need to be developed, will relationships be impacted, etc. Usually, the how-tos for the tech (i.e. the processes and procedures) are easier than changes to relationships and winning over attitudes.

Speak to everyone. A survey may seem like the easiest way, but nothing will replace the insights that will be revealed through a conversation. Hearing your team members express themselves will allow you to ask follow-up questions and identify what are the actual problems you are trying to solve.

Look at each unique group in detail that considers the technical aspects, process and the people impacted. The best way to do this is to talk to them. Have a conversation designed as a workshop. Members generally know what they need, so ask them. You’ll get some incredibly deep insights. 

You don’t need to bring in everyone. Representatives from each level that understand their department is sufficient. Ask them how they want to be supported, how do they want to receive information, how do they want to be trained, how do they want access to updates and quick references, what do they need from the leadership?

With this information, your focus changes from the information gathering stage to how to resolve the issues that will come up for your members and the people involved.

A day-in-the-life-of Interviews to Identify Stakeholder Needs
They are useful to document processes, but the blindspot of the day-in-the-life-of exploration is it doesn’t give a full picture of the interactions between different people. For example, what happens when an association staff member interacts with their superior, their subordinate, their coworker, or a member.

Take as an example moving to a new location, or the membership website crashing or an annual important fundraiser or association conference. A day-in-the-life interview doesn’t address changes outside of that myopic view of the activities of a typical day.

Which stakeholders should be brought in and when?
Start early with leadership. Early days are not time to bring everyone on board because we aren’t sure of the direction your association will go in. You have to be selective of who you start early with. Start with a group of your teammates and members that will be honest with you and tell you what your users are going to like, want, not want, be excited about and be concerned about.

As you get closer and closer to training and launch, bring more and more stakeholders in your marketing department, membership managers, developers, designers, and other key staff members. 

Don’t wait until you launch a live course only to find that members want a self-learning program, for instance.

Missing key things when the Pool is Small
Yes, absolutely, things will be missed. But design by committee doesn’t work either. We do our best to pick informed, key people and continue with an iterative process, inviting more members as we go.

We are creatures of habit. Even throughout the process of envisioning change, we can unconsciously start creating a solution that is very similar to the tools we currently use. It is best to have some creative people and experienced strategists involved in the design process.

Make sure your developers can offer experience and strategy rather than just carrying out a proscribed vision. Your developers should be empowered to question your assumptions and offer practical advice.

Change Management Throughout the Development Process
Agile design is a collaborative interactive approach to web design that lends itself perfectly to change management. Agile design is based on the idea that team members work together rather than in silos. Work is built in phases and work — even partially completed work — is demoed often for review. Every time you get to a release, you have to demo the delivered features to the member community to get feedback in a structured way.

Do not fall prey to the mindset that you are in a rush and there isn’t time for this. It will be much worse to launch a completed product that is not well received by the member community. Build into your web development timeline this demo and feedback collection process, to make sure the product being built is on track.

Circle back to reconsult with your stakeholders regularly throughout the development process. 

Demo any features that have been created. Getting their feedback on each piece of development will help inform and improve each subsequent phase of development. This will help troubleshoot issues your users and members will have with the product before your formal launch.

Overcoming People’s Resistance to Change
It is a common idea that people don’t like change. People are not really resistant to change. Rather, they are addicted to comfort. By including your team in the development process they become familiar with the tool before it is even launched. Their involvement creates the familiarity and confidence to successfully use and embrace the new tool.

Presumably, your association is introducing CiviCRM and the new membership site because new and improved tools are needed. Your association is likely not making this change on a creative whim. Use your member engagement data to make your decisions around changes. What are you hearing from your team? What are you hearing from your stakeholders? Are your member retention and member engagement rates slipping because the membership site you currently have isn’t serving them? From this standpoint, you are only making a change that will appease your members’ hunger for an improved user experience.

People Most Resistant to Change: Can We Win Them Over?
One of the best ways to figure out what is driving the resistance is a conversation. Make the time to hear them and give them a voice. More often than not, we make assumptions and we stand to learn a lot about how to launch a product that is a real solution by listening to them.

The second tactic is to make them as familiar with the product as possible. Get them involved, give them a task, ask them to review features along the way. This way, on go-live day, they are familiar with it.

Recruiting Staff Members for Feedback 
Getting your team on board to participate in the CiviCRM role out shouldn't be too challenging, but some team members are keenly interested in contributing while others are reticent or disinterested.

Involve expert communicators that can help connect with your staff as possible. Make the communications far more focused on your team than the solution. Focus on the benefit to your staff, not the perks of the new tool.

When communicating with your team about the new tools, make it clear what type of information you are sharing and for what goal. Is this communication sharing information for keeners who want all the details, or truly an important update with required action items for the members. For example, “We need each employee to log in once just to confirm your password” versus “Here is a detailed update of what we have been up to behind the scenes.” Not all staff members want to get lost in that second option and will be turned off and miss the first one if they don’t know what to expect.

Also recognize that when your association has information to communicate to your staff, it doesn't mean the staff members are in a headspace to listen. Try to connect with your staff members when they are in a position to give feedback.

Common Change Management Challenges for a CiviCRM Deployment
User acceptance problems happen when content types or fields are created without the end-user and use case in mind. It can be built with the smartest, most well-intentioned people, but without really understanding your client persona and getting feedback on feature demos throughout an interactive process, you end up with a tool that your stakeholders don’t want to use because it doesn’t solve their problems.

The third suggestion is to ask each team member about their communication preferences. Do they want emails or not, do they want mailings or not. Does your team like chatting with a tool like Slack? Ask them what they want and communicate it the way they prefer for the best results.

Take the time to do research as to how your team wants to receive the training for the new CiviCRM deployment. Allocate your training budget to meet the preferences of your staff. On-demand training videos are preferable to a one-time live training session: your team members won’t remember everything from the live session but recordings are evergreen.

Keep track of the FAQs that come up from your team and provide additional training accordingly.

Getting Used to a New CiviCRM Environment
It depends on the complexity of your work and your website. In general terms, three months seems to be the magic number where people adopt and accept a new solution. For a very sophisticated membership site with a lot of features and seasonal offerings, it may take a long time. 

Training Teammates to New Features
It goes without saying that the features should be easy to use. It goes without saying that your association has tested the features and it's obvious to your staff and members how to engage and benefit from it.

Include instructions and help text as needed. A good practice is to have a way for your team to get on-demand help with training videos. Have the most knowledgeable member of your team record short video recordings of how to use the features.

Key CiviCRM Features for the Membership, Marketing and Financial Departments of an Association
Here are some important CiviCRM functions for the membership department, marketing department and financial department of your association. Below is a short description of each feature. You can find more details and use cases in the CiviCRM User Guide.

We recommend having trainings for each feature that are recorded so your team members can refer to them as needed.

Membership Management

  • Membership: You can create different memberships at different price points. For example, regular membership, senior membership, student membership, Covid-relief pricing, etc.
  • Groups: You can sort your members into groups, also called segmentation. You can create smart groups with criteria that auto-filter your contacts depending on their behaviour.
  • CiviMail: You can send email communications to your staff, members and other stakeholders. You can create email templates using the email builder and customize them as needed.
  • Reports: You can create reports with sophisticated criteria to help you understand your membership activity. Understanding your members will help you make more informed decisions around the content you create.
  • Events: You can manage your events for members from inside CiviCRM. 
  • CiviCase: You can use this tool to track support tickets.

Marketing Management

  • Reports: You can create reports with multiple criteria to help you understand your prospects and your membership activity. Understanding your prospects and members will help you make smarter marketing decisions.
  • Activities: You can track what your members do to see how they operated and what interests them. This can help guide your marketing to attract more members who are interested in the same things.
  • CiviMail: You can send email communications to your prospective members. You can create email templates using their email builder and customize them as needed.
  • Events: You can manage events for prospects from inside CiviCRM
  • CiviCampaign: This feature allows you to connect specific events, activities, mailing and contributions together to you can see how they are working together. This helps you track the success of the campaign. See more information in the CiviCRM User Guide.

Financial Team

  • Contributions: Here is where you can manage membership dues and donations.
  • CiviGrant: This feature is for organizations that provide funding, i.e. grants, to other organizations or individuals. See more information in the CiviCRM User Guide.
  • CiviPledge: This feature can be used to track a pledged donation and how much has already been received towards that pledge. See more information in the CiviCRM User Guide.

Biggest take-away for a CiviCRM Deployment
Adoption of the tool is not about the tech, it’s about the people. Getting your staff involved is key. Have focus groups and demos that are well organized, focused and respect the time of the participants. Provide training as needed with video resources of the training as a reference.

Feedback, Launch, Then More Feedback
By including your staff and stakeholders in the process of testing each feature as they are developed, your association will end up with a product that will be accepted and embraced by them.

On-Going CiviCRM Support
The most common reason why people are unhappy with their tech choices is because they don't know how to use them properly. CiviCRM is a powerful tool with functionality that can elevate how you run your association, which at the same time can get complicated quickly when paired to track the activity on a public-facing website and a sophisticated membership site.

Given how most associations are resource-poor and short-staffed, it is reasonable to expect that you’ll need ongoing support to get the most out of your CiviCRM deployment.

Unless you have a developer on staff who can maintain the site and the CRM, be sure to budget for a monthly website and CiviCRM maintenance plan for successful long-term use of CiviCRM.

Watch the full podcast recording on our site.


I appreciate your big picture view of the challenge of deploying CiviCRM, but I think you do your readers a dis-service with your blog title.

1. There are no guarantees with CiviCRM "deployments". There are only incremental improvements to what is inevitably complex and difficult.

2. Member sites should never be thought of as a one-and-done as the word "deployment" suggests. That's true of most websites, but really true of membership sites, which can and should evolve over time to meet the ever changing needs of members, the mission and objectives of the organization, and the changing landscape of the web.

Hi AlanDixon, this is great feedback! You are absolutely correct. We will make it a point to add this to the blog to manage expectations.

Agree totally with the comment from AlanDixon, guarantee is an extremely confusing term.