The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Friday, March 11

Peace Corps Response and Organizational Change

"You don't know what you don't know" has become a slogan for my Peace Corps service.  It reminds me to be open and humble enough to admit a need to learn. 

Ten months ago, my host organization, Public, requested a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.  

In their application, they talked about growing as an organization and learning more about organizational development.  They were open to learn what they didn't know.  

That’s why I was excited when I arrive in Skopje.  With 40 years of NGO work, I had a lot of experience to share. But first, I would have to listen and learn more from my new colleagues.
I heard about their mission of educating the public about social issues especially those that impacted the marginalized.  They had ideas for issue campaigns to influence public policy.  Already they were conducting research into homelessness, social entrepreneurship and media bias.  I was impressed.
Early on, I asked if they had a database.  I was thinking that they needed some way to keep track of who, when, where and what they were communicating.  Especially as they increased their influence, there would be more relationships to manage.  They assured me that they had it covered.  So I went on to other projects.

But, "you don't know what you don't know." 

A few months later, I circled around and asked to see the database.  I was curious about the kind of information being collected and how it was being used.  
Surprise.  Surprise.  There wasn’t just one database.  There was a multitude. Every staff person had several spreadsheets and Word documents with lists of contacts.  There were even large stacks  of business cards.  All were created for a specific purpose and none were connected to one another. 
One staff member explained, “We shuffle through business cards, spreadsheets, documents and our memories to make new lists whenever needed.  Sure, it’s time consuming. But it works.”  
I tried to explain how this ad-hoc system might be a drag on their mission.  I got resistance.  I heard comments like, “we’ve always done it this way.”   Again, I tried to explain the waste of time making lists over and over again, but I wasn’t making much progress. 

Here’s where I came face to face with a hard truth.  Change, any change, is difficult.  Even when you say you want to learn, change requires a step into the unknown. 

Then one day, Zarmena on the staff asked me if I knew about CRM.  She had been struggling to manage business contacts.  Her spreadsheet was one of the many.  At a sales training, she heard about CRM and wanted to know more. 

“What’s CRM?” I asked her.  I too didn’t know what I didn’t know.  But a visit to "Google University" soon started my education. 

CRM is a software data base that businesses use to qualify contacts and build relationships with new customers.  It creates step-by-step opportunities for sales and follow-up.  CRM stands for Customer Relations Management. 

I could see how it would help Public.  Instead of selling a product, Public wanted to build  relationships.  Zarmena was focused on relationships with businesses.  She wanted to promote Corporate Social Responsibility.  CRM could help her keep track of progress.  

Other staff wanted to use our research and communications to inform people about long-neglected social issues. CRM could learn their interests and inform them of opportunities to make a difference.
We began an office buzz.   As I continued to learn, I sent out a few web-links.  Some staff, including the Director, were skeptical.  I continued the flow of information of how CRM could make work easier and create new opportunities. Progress was slow.   

And then as often happens when something good is waiting to happen, a tipping point changed everything.  

Klimentina, our Director became a supporter.  She realized how CRM could solve problems because it was a searchable database.  

She had wanted to get back in contact with someone she had met a year ago, but no one could remember his organization's name let alone a phone number or email.  This incident convinced her that CRM would make a difference.  
Support grew.  Lists of functionality and how it would benefit our work were discussed.  Staff became aware of what was in it for them.  Step-by-step even skeptics realized how CRM would help them.    

We entered a search phase for the right CRM.  There were scores of options, maybe even a hundred.  I began asking other volunteers if their organizations were using it.  I found none.  It looked like we would become trail blazers.  

Eventually, we settled on Insightly CRM.  It had the functions we needed without a lot of clutter.  Because of our non-profit status they gave us a 50% discount.  

We were able to install it on all of our computers.  Data entry began in earnest.  Soon those lists in spreadsheets and Word documents would be a thing of the past. 
Yes now, Public has one place for all its contacts.  Yes, Public can sort, track and build relationships like never before.  Yes, Public can manage projects and contact supporters with personalized email.  

Plans are underway to use CRM for fund-raising and the launching of social issue advocacy.  

Public has changed.  It knows what it didn't know before. 

Here is what the staff has to say about liking our new CRM...

"Because it will improve our networking with businesses, NGOs and international organizations.  We'll be able to engage more Macedonians in our mission."

"Because it will help me stay organized.  Now I can keep track of all my contacts, projects and organizations." 


"Because I feel more organized.  I can manage our vendors and all our contacts with businesses."  


"Because it will change attitudes and the values of our audiences as we deliver more targeted advocacy."

"Because our team can collaborate more and become synchronized in our work."


"Because our memories are short and CRM remembers all the details."