Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Jargon spotted in 2011 - useful or irritating?

Working in a software company we are particularly prone to catching on to the latest 'cool' phrases of management speak. I am as guilty of it as my colleagues - a colleague uses a turns of phrase which seems to sum up a situation or issue very neatly and before I know it, I am using it myself.

In my view, jargon comes in two forms. At some point, a few of these phrases stop being useful, and merely become ridiculous either through over use, or because it is apparent that half of the audience doesn't understand its meaning, and the speaker seems to get a small thrill out of being 'ahead of the game'. Other phrases however will remain as the best description of the case in point, and deservedly remain in the language for years to come.

Below is a list of the items I noted down in 2011. They are not all brand new, but during the year, for me they all fell into the first category. What do you think?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Integrated fundraising strategy - what does it mean?

It means using all the latest technology,doesn’t it? I asked myself this question at the the annual conference of the Institute of Fundraising London Group. This was weeks ago, but two ideas have been going round my head in opposite directions ever since. I spent two days listening to a selection of the capital’s most with-it fundraisers, and although the sessions offered a wide range of topics, coherent and consistent themes emerged. An integrated campaign can yield great dividends, but the direct approach is still the top earner.

What do we mean by ‘integrated fundraising’? Just as there is a recognised need among database specialists to keep revisiting the definition of CRM, so it can be helpful for fundraisers to spell out what they mean by this phrase. Speakers at IoF London made clear that it is much more than running campaigns across multiple departments and multiple channels, as modelled in the table above. It is, (like CRM actually) a cultural paradigm requiring campaign managers to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the fundraising mix. The Battersea rehomer with a story to tell about dogs give new homes after months in solitary, and the visually impaired volunteer rattling tins for the GLFB were just two examples on the day of how the direct experience of the charity’s work can create an emotional connection with the donor that elicits the highest and most frequent gifts.

Of course, it’s not just about the next gift. It’s also about the range of ways that an engaged person can support the charity and ensuring that they have every opportunity to do all of them. I would say ‘cross marketing’ in old speak, but is can also be indirect, so it’s about ‘maximising touch points’ and being ‘demand led’ not ‘supply lead’ encouraging and facilitating ‘pull’ not just old fashioned ‘push'. Now you should be thinking about websites with video stories, mobile apps with incentives to go viral, not just Twitter and Facebook but and Yammer and Sprout.

But here’s the thing.
Along with the widespread agreement that integration is key, there was another story – the real revenue earning activity is still derived to a very great
extent from the warm list. You may say, isn’t online giving up very strongly?
Well it is, but even in the US, 92% of giving still offline and online is still
only really strong where it is supported by mass news media. For most charities, last year’s volunteers, last year’s participants, the regular donors – these are still the bread and butter.

Every cause needs new donors, and new technology is a great way to
attract new segments, but the foundation is still the direct approach to the
warm supporter. Yes, do as Guide Dogs do – get your lottery ticket purchasers thinking about legacies and your volunteers thinking about regular gifts. In other words, practise careful nurturing and growth of the contacts on the fundraising database. Key-note speaker Mark Astarita said it too in another way, when he asserted that
UK fundraising will ride out the tough times better than most countries (especially the US where the main model is still the annual pledge!) because UK fundraisers understand regular giving.
Well I would say that wouldn’t I, working for a database solution company as I do?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Has the IT industry got its head in the clouds?

This year has been all about ‘the cloud’, or perhaps it has been about all about hosting by another name? Like Camberwell in the property market, electric cars in the world of travel, or Ireland as a holiday destination, hosting has been the ‘next big thing’ for a very long time now. The cloud on the other hand still seems new, though it has changed from being a simple analogy for the internet, to the hosting of an application somewhere on the internet, (but you didn’t need to know where), to being used with the addition of the prefix ‘private’ to describe any hosted application. So,it is hosting, but we’ll come back to that later. Anyway, however you label it, as IRIS starts to roll out ‘IRIS Open Hosting’ in earnest, I have been asking myself if this concept is really relevant to my clients, and if so why.

Well, this is a blog not a crime thriller, so I’ll tell you the answer straight away – it is relevant. As to why, that takes a little longer but here goes. Firstly, it’s not just about cost. For a long time, hosting didn’t get off the ground in some markets because to make it work, you probably had to slim down staff in order to recoup the cost of externally managed services, and organisations naturally try to avoid this. Now that is not necessarily the case. True, it shouldn’t cost any more, but there are so many hidden costs that don’t equate directly to staff numbers that it can pay for itself without having to ‘make difficult decisions’. The best evidence for this is from the IT departments themselves. As recently as last year, I would have hesitated to approach a client boasting a large IT department with a hosting proposal, on the basis that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Yet this year some of the largest IT teams we work with have been taking the initiative and raising the subject. There are a number of reasons for this, but I will limit myself to just three.

Firstly, we now all accept that we need a permanent connection to the internet to function for so many reasons, using possible down time to a remote location as an excuse not to do it makes no sense any more. Secondly, clients want stakeholders, (donors, members, customers etc), to be able to interact with them via websites or email at any time of day. That means ensuring that all key servers, i.e. those running email and the CRM database have to be available 24/7 as well as the main web site server. Thirdly, as is so often the case with IT issues, we can’t ignore Microsoft. The men from Redmond are encouraging us all to host all our generic applications – Office, Email, Sharepoint , and why not, when you think of the pain an organisation goes through each time it upgrades to the next version of Windows or Office.

To come back to the hosting/cloud issue, it is useful to talk about the cloud, because it reminds us that we are talking about so much more than moving your key server out of the office, because we are already moving away from local area networks to a world in which everything is online. As the IT Director of a major UK charity remarked to me recently – ‘Hosting has to be the way to go for us, as far as I am concerned, we would be mad not to’. Head in the clouds? I don’t think so.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Are 19 CRM databases really better than 1?

This is the thought-provoking debate prompted by the latest blog by Richard Boardman who styles himself on Twitter as @crmadvisor. As is often the case with provocative statements I found I reacted to this in a number of different and contradictory ways. Firstly, as a leading supplier of Enterprise Wide CRM solutions to the charity sector: “19 CRM systems! What a nightmare!” followed by, “Only 19! We come into contact with charities all the time who say they have hundreds of CRM systems”, and finally “Well 19 may be too many, but you can rarely reduce all the complex relationships in a business to one single over-arching system.”

I can recall more than one instance of implementing a database alongside a team of consultants poring over many-coloured spider diagrams representing every known contact and relationship, only to learn that the [insert catchy name] single CRM project had lost out in the latest organisational re-shuffle.

Richard makes the point that many companies achieve great success with no CRM system at all, although he believes that this is because they never had a senior level business sponsor? He explains that by saying ‘..many organisations simply don’t have the right senior level staff with time on their hands’. I wonder however if the real reason is business need. There is, and should be, a Darwinian element to the rise and fall of systems. If a business, or charity, really needs a CRM it will create one. If that system costs more effort to maintain than the benefit it delivers, it will not succeed.

A core CRM system is an absolute essential for non profit organisations, because commercial accounting and ERP systems are just not suited for the main fundraising or membership application, i.e. the processing of high volume cash transactions with the only deliverable being a highly tailored communication or welcome pack. Cash books and sales ledgers and sales order processing systems just won’t cut it.

As an NFP, there is no doubt, you need a CRM system, but to return to the original question, do you need 19 or should you strive for just 1? At IRIS NFP Solutions, we take a pragmatic approach. On the one hand, many systems that have grown quickly in response to an urgent need, have natural marketing cross-overs with the core system, and should be amalgamated back into a single central system. The much sought after 360 degree view can, and does, provide exponential growth in activity by facilitating carefully targeted cross marketing. However, there may be good reasons in some organisations why even the most obvious candidates (event management, web databases, legacy marketing, regions, sales order processing, etc etc) should not be merged.

Our view is that we should encourage and support the move to an Enterprise-wide system that promotes the 'single supporter view', and we are uniquely placed to support this, but that we should only do this where the synergies are obvious, and the benefits outweigh the risks. Leaving aside the desktop databases, 19 is far too many CRM systems, but equally, one may prove to be an unobtainable mirage.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Government Giving Green Paper - has it missed the point?

It’s been out for a while, so there is no time left to comment on the Government Green Paper on Giving - comments must be in by 9th March i.e. today. However, as one of the big themes is Technology, I am going to have my say for the record. The paper can be downloaded at www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/ and includes details on how to respond and contribute to the debate.

However much this paper tries to claim an altruistic set of motives, at the end one is left with one abiding impression - this is all about saving money. Yes, this is the wolf of the deficit agenda in sheep’s clothing of ‘The Big Society’. You could argue the Government is doing its best to cut out the middle man, by finding ways to get the taxpayer to fund services without the cost of public administration. In fact, the Government wants us to find those ways by ourselves based on its suggestions. However, the Paper rightly asserts that technology holds at least part of the key to promoting growth in the giving of time and money, so whether it is doing it for the right reasons or not, as NFP technology specialists, I and my colleagues at IRIS have an opinion on its ideas.

The key technology ideas referred to in the Paper are, click-to-give sites such as EveryClick, further promotion of event based giving sites such as Justgiving and VirginMoneyGiving, ATM giving, mobile, websites like Givey that act as clearing houses for volunteer time as well as money, websites that encourage discerning gifts such as IntelligentGiving, and so on. There is plenty of discussion of the role of Social Media, Online Causes, and microfinancing.

It seems though that while the authors have trawled a lot of sites for ideas, and spoken to a lot of people, they have ever tried their own hands at raising money for charity. Fundraisers know the key to success lies in building long term relationships with donors and getting them to be involved in the cause. In contrast, many of these technology driven ideas rely on chance opportunity – at your ATM or while filing in your tax return, and the superficial relationships that arise from online encounters. Anyone with school age children will know that their Facebook communities thrive far more impressively than our adult ones because they see most of their online community every day in the corridor.

There is no doubt that mobile will play an increasingly important role, and IRIS clients are already using both SMS text donations and mobile ‘Apps’ to gather funds from donors on the move. Again, the donation gathered on the move should never be seen as an end in itself. The key here is to add that to the sum of knowledge about each donor in the core donor database, so as to optimise future donations by both mobile and offline channels. SMS campaigns have shown that as many as 20% of text donors will offer to Gift Aid their donations, which gives the charity the address of the donor and an opportunity to develop the relationship.

The paper makes much of the statistic that almost half the total donated comes from less than 10% of the population. Increasing the number of people making small adhoc donations will do nothing to change this statistic unless they are turned from occasional to regular givers. One way to do this is to interact with donors through as many channels as possible , online and offline, locally and nationally, through events, corporate tie-ups, product sales and raffles, and the only technology that really supports this strategy is the Customer Relationship Management database.

Of course, new technologies and online participation vehicles have a huge role to play in helping to increase the overall level of giving, and maybe this Green Paper doesn’t mention CRM databases for fear that the Big Society sounds too much like Big Brother, but they must still remain at the heart of any IT driven strategy to increase giving.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

NFP sector Technology Trends 2009

My colleagues at Iris hosted a workshop to discuss Technology Trends for 2009 in the NFP sector. Delegates came from charities, associations, membership organisations as well as consultants specialising in NFP technology and fundraising. Sadly I could not be there as it looked like a good lunch, but thankfully Howard Lake covered it on UK Fundraising so I got to see the top six trends agreed on the day which were as follows:

  1. Social networking/blogging will continue to increase and become more relevant to the NFP community

  2. More demand for data integration – "what we have already must work better together"

  3. Software as a Service (SaaS) will become more prominent

  4. Virtualisation and hardware will need to support 24/7 working

  5. @ Home - more work and leisure time will be spent at home which will pose technological challenges and business opportunities

  6. People will want 'more for less' from their software vendors

If I had written my own list it would surely have contained items 1, 3, and 5. The unspoken slogan of the Obama campaign was after all 'It's the Internet, stupid' and now charities and their consultants everywhere are playing catchup, as nptech blogs bear witness every day.

Virtualisation is a good way to make your hardware budget go even further but let's not think about 24/7 working. I see a lot of Twitter posts from the wee small hours and think, really people, come on, you should be asleep or you will be no good in the morning. Home working is definitely on the up and if it means the motorways are clearer on the days when we do travel than I am all for saving expenses budgets and the planet.

Its the remaining two items that interest me most and on reflection they are even more closely linked than 1,3 and 5. The sentence "People will want 'more for less' from their software vendors" would surely never have come from the pen of a supplier, but it is a fact of life that those of us in the software business have recognised for some time. As an increasing number of sophisticated software tools are made available to one and all online for free, we have to keep providing services that you cannot just download.

One such area is data migration and data integration. This has always been an issue and the fact that data can now be captured through Facebook, Twitter and the rest just gives us a whole load of new variations. The reasons for doing it are the same as the old ones: Data quality, avoiding duplicate effort, avoiding duplicate contacts, understanding the donor in the round, co-ordinating fundraising approaches, exploiting cross marketing opportunities. Its time-consuming getting this stuff right though, so the technical challenge for us is how to enrich and simplify the integration tools so that users can do more of it without recourse to consultancy.

Was there anything missing from the list? Well I was surprised not to see the word 'mobile'. Increasingly we interact with donors as they are out and about, face to face or on the phone. Hand held devises for fundraisers, Twitter on your mobile, text appeals and responses, - its all about the technology in your pocket and finding imaginative ways to use it. One example I saw recently was from Woodland Trust. In this pilot experiment, a post at the entrance to the wood tells you to send a text to a given number. In reply you get a number to dial. When you dial the number you get a guided tour of the woodland on your phone. The text from the visitor opens up all sorts of opportunities for the Trust such as asking for a text donation or even comparing the number with those on its database to get a picture of member activities. It's the kind of example that should make us question whether there are other ways we haven't though of to use technology to interact with supporters.

Well, that's enough of my reactions to the list. What do you think?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Why persevere with Twitter?

Back in early 1984 as a very raw recruit to the IT world, a man showed me the first Apple Mac. "Look he said, I can create a picture and rub it out again with the mouse!" Mm I thought, that is just a solution without a problem. For a year or so, it looked as if I was right, but the Apple Mac caught on, found its niche in publishing and design and the rest is history. I feel rather the same about Twitter at the moment. I have an active 'Facebook' community, but I can't really get my Twitter gang to take off. I'm on the edge of a few interesting groups of Twitterers but its not in my mainstream. I can't help noticing that all the people I interact with on Twitter are social networking evangelists, (is it still as some describe it, a 'geek haven?') which makes it seem a rather cliquey and specialist community. I get limited use of enjoyment from it, and if that is my experience, then why should charities engage with it? Because, like the Mac, it is going to catch on when a critical mass appreciate its power.
Here are a few things I have noticed to keep me going on Twitter:
1. Media influence. In May this year, Twitter attracted attention as the first site to break the story of the
earthquake in China. More recently the BBC used Tweets to get the latest on the Mumbai terrorists. In Twitterworld everything happens in the present moment, with tweeters using SMS and handhelds as well as PC's to post, so a big Twitter network can potentially get a response to a disaster faster than any other medium.
2. Fundraising to date. Anyone who follows
Beth Kanter will have read her stories of successful fundraising campaigns kickstarted by Twitter - I liked the one about the person who realised if every one of the 12000 people in her network gave $2 she could raise $25000, or how Beth herself raised $2,500 in 90 minutes for Cambodian children by sending out a Tweet from the Gnomedex conference.
3. Etiquette. It took years for email etiquette to develop, but the web is full of advice of the do's and don'ts of Tweeting - like everything else in this world, reaching maturity seems to be happening very quickly. Here's a couple of examples for people
at home and at work.
4. Its addictive. Rumours of Twitter fatigue are not hard to find, but there seemed to be a rash of them at the start of this year. Anyone who has marvelled at the hours their children spend instant massaging on MSN should appreciate how addictive this can be. Twitter is MSN for grown ups - most Twitterers are in their 30s and 40s.
5. New ideas keep on coming. This is perhaps the biggest factor of all. I track a number of tags with social networking themes, and in the past month, the most common thread in the blog posts and other sites I have read has been new ways to use Twitter. For example this one from 22/12 on
leveraging your Twitter network, an update on the $2 per Tweet story, or finally this report which shows the latest 'State of the Twittersphere' - if you have any remaining doubts that you should be investigating Twitter, look at the shape of the graph below. In the meantime, I'll keep Tweeting, and look forward to some innovative uses of Twitter by UK charities in the New Year.