Best Practices

From Search to Launch: 5 Tips for a Successful GMS Implementation

For many foundations, the journey to selecting a new Grants Management System (GMS) takes months, sometimes even years. It involves hours of staff time dedicated to discussions, extensive research, and multiple software demos, and that’s before getting to vendor contract reviews and due diligence. 

And as we all know, that’s only part of the journey. After GMS selection comes the implementation — when the real work of change management begins.

Our Senior Director of Client Success, Mike Jackson, likes to say: “The most powerful way to predict the future is to create it.” That’s why GivingData integrates both strategic consulting and hands-on client support throughout our own implementations. Our goal is to ensure a positive, smooth experience by laying out a detailed roadmap to success and then proactively guiding clients each step of the way.

Whether you’ve just started to research GMS options or you’re already on your implementation journey, these five tips from our Client Success team can ease the process and help support your foundation through the change management journey.

1. Be inclusive

Identify everyone in your organization whose work will be impacted by the new system. Get feedback on what they’d like to achieve with the transition to a new GMS, and include all key stakeholders in the system selection process. 

As a team exercise, create a wishlist of features and functionalities that may help streamline your daily work. Prioritize the list and use it to guide your selection process. Engaging all stakeholders in the selection and implementation process will not only give your team more ownership in the success of the project, it will work wonders when it comes to adoption and use of the new system.

When everyone feels included, you’re less likely to encounter roadblocks later on, and more likely to implement a system that works for everyone.

2. Communicate well and often

Maintain consistent communication with your team by sending regular email updates or by taking time during all-staff meetings to share quick updates. Not everyone will need (or would want to be) involved in every step of the process, but providing relevant updates and even meeting recordings can go a long way in keeping everyone engaged and informed.

Once you select your system, the vendor implementation specialists will help to establish a project timeline and set clear project goals. It’s important to share this information with all stakeholders early so they are aware of the expectations and schedule. For example, you may need to work with your finance team to ensure that the accounting workflow process is translated to the new system and that financial reporting needs are met. Similarly, you will likely want to work with your program staff to ensure that programmatic aspects of the foundation's work are well-defined and incorporated into the new system.

3. Be open to process changes

This is an opportune time to consider streamlining your processes because your GMS is likely to offer a broader range of automation tools. Take the time to create a detailed process map, down to the smallest task, and reevaluate it with the new system's capabilities in mind. This is also a good time to evaluate your processes in general. Ask why things are done in a specific way, and whether it’s possible to find ways to improve those practices. You may find that there is no rhyme or reason behind some of the processes other than “this is how we have always done it.”

“One of the top indicators of a successful implementation is how open clients are to adapting organizational processes during the implementation,” says Kim Blanchard, our Director of Client Services. GivingData’s implementation specialists work alongside the foundation's team to help with streamlining of internal processes and provide consultation where process improvements are possible.

4. Create excitement about the transition

Change can be hard, but it can also be exciting! Identify the cheerleaders on your team, and work with them to create an engagement strategy. A good team dynamic will bolster excitement for the transition to a new system. 

Here are some team activities that have been helpful to other organizations during the implementation process:

  • Host a meeting to give a preview of the database features that will delight your staff. 
  • Recognize special milestones in the implementation and adoption process and celebrate those mini achievements through shoutouts, celebration emails, or surprise swag giveaways. 
  • Pull everyone together for a naming party for the system. This idea came from Grantbook, which supported the Alaska-based Mat-Su Health Foundation through its GivingData implementation.The team at Mat-Su Health Foundation named their system Cache — which in Alaska’s tradition refers to a place for keeping valuables safe, such as food reserves or equipment. 
  • Host a release party. Assuming that in-person gatherings are happening again, why not throw a pizza party and get your team together to celebrate this momentous achievement!
  • Host a farewell party for your old system. While it may feel silly, take a moment to say goodbye to your organization’s old way of doing things. Take stock of all the effort that was involved in getting to system launch day, and create a moment everyone can be proud of.

5. Help your staff adopt new habits

Learning and adopting new standards of practice will keep your team organized for years to come. It takes time to unlearn long standing routines, like keeping budgets in Excel spreadsheets rather than relying on the database to do it for you. Adoption can be slow but these practices will help you keep a steady pace forward.

  • Host regular check-in meetings with your team members (or a subset of your team) to provide a refresher on system usage and review the platform’s features and functionalities. Make things easier for staff by creating an easy “cheat sheet” to have handy with steps for completing a specific process in the GMS. 
  • GivingData and most other vendors offer post-launch support through the first few months after launch. Use that time to ask questions about usage, data entry, creating reports, or including new features or functionalities in your work.
  • Use this transition period to standardize your taxonomy. For example, GivingData provides a way to create naming conventions for your documents, and allows for dropdown menus and preset naming structures. Whether it’s how you name documents, templates, or interactions, this is a good time to reevaluate and codify the information for your team. 

Change isn’t always easy, particularly when it comes to integrating a new grants management system. It requires teamwork, vision, persistent optimism, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. A right-fit grants management platform can propel your organization to the next level with new streamlined processes. It can also greatly enhance your relationships with grantees, and maximize your organization’s impact. In the end, it’s a journey well worth the effort.

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