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Convio on CRM for Nonprofits

December 06, 2010

Customer relationship management (CRM) strategies and enabling technologies have become vital for profit-oriented companies to permit them to maintain and grow revenues while reducing costs through maximizing customer lifetime value.

CRM has arguably become even more essential for nonprofits: especially during the giving seasons such as Christmas and during fundraising drives such as telethons and those on PBS stations. These organizations rely on the altruism of giving individuals and corporations and whose gains are measured less in goods and services received than in doing good for others and they must practically by definition operate on thin cost structures.


To get insights on CRM from the nonprofit perspective ContactCenterSolutions recently interviewed John Stockton, who is vice president, product management, Convio, which provides nonprofit-focused solutions including CRM.

ContactCenterSolutions: Outline the value of CRM to nonprofits and through that lens what key trends are you seeing in CRM demand and applications and what are the drivers?

JS: To really understand the value of CRM in the nonprofit sector, it’s important to understand a bit of history. The engagement and fundraising efforts by nonprofits is primarily driven by direct mail campaigns and initiatives, but online and digital, social and mobile technologies are having a significant impact on engagement. There is an evolution within the nonprofit sector in terms of embracing technology, and CRM is playing a key role.

Nonprofit organizations arguably need to have stronger relationships with constituents than the corporate organizations have with consumers. For most nonprofits, the organization provides services or programs to one group yet seeks others to fund the mission, volunteer for it and advocate for it. Nonprofits’ constituents have varied reasons for giving, and not understanding those relationships can mean losing their support. Thus simply adapting a commercial CRM system that’s not designed for nonprofit fundraising, volunteerism, advocacy and programs will not effectively support the needs of a modern nonprofit. 

As such, nonprofit organizations are investing in CRM systems that provide them with a comprehensive and, by some measure, segmented view of the relationships they have with their constituents -- be it volunteer, donor, advocate, service recipient or vendor. Nonprofits can also better see the best combination of channels (such as online, phone, mobile, social media, events and direct mail) to engage their constituents to develop the most meaningful and successful relationship for both parties.

For most nonprofit organizations relationships are managed through separate databases, primarily on-premise and are not easily integrated. Most were implemented before relationship channels such as mobile and social media were prevalent ways to communicate. Even before the economy slowed, many nonprofit organizations were realizing the efficiency and effectiveness that could be found by moving to open, cloud-based CRM systems that provide proven ROI and lower the total cost of ownership.

Not only are nonprofits looking to manage relationships across multiple channels, but they are also looking to make more informed business decisions to better manage relationships. This is a growing part of the need for modern CRM systems in the nonprofit sector.

ContactCenterSolutions: Businesses and consumers are going mobile, and social. Is it now possible to untether the smartphones? How have going from 1-to-1 to 1-to-many i.e. social affected CRM strategies?

JS: Mobile and social are certainly starting to play a much more critical role: both for corporations and nonprofit organizations. It’s less a question of “if” and more a question of “when.” Mobile and social are no longer simply technologies but part of our everyday life.

Recent studies show that Gen X (ages 30-45) and Gen Y (ages 19-29) donors are more emotional and spontaneous in their giving. Because mobile and social technologies are such an integrated part of these generations’ lives, nonprofits are developing digital strategies to “meet them where they are.” Basically by allowing them to engage or donate on a 24/7 basis when the urge, moment or emotion feels right.

Using analytics and research into the giving patterns (and leveraging corresponding CRM tools) can help nonprofits go from one to many more effectively and maintain the semblance of a 1-to-1 relationship. Peer-to-peer interactions also help nonprofits scale their relations much more broadly and deeply than they ever could by simply trying to reach one person at a time. Effectively leveraging peer networks creates the potential for nonprofits to engage multiple people indirectly by engaging one person directly. The interactive nature of mobile phones and social technologies makes this a possibility.

ContactCenterSolutions:   CRM installations have been characterized as slow and expensive; sometimes the lead times have been so long the problems they were purchased to solve have disappeared. Are you seeing companies shorten the go-live and payback/ROI times and if so by how much today as compared to a year or 18 months ago? What CRM methods i.e. modular, hosted are buyers seeking in response? Discuss the advantages and challenges of these alternatives.

JS: Best-of-breed, hosted software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM solutions have significantly reduced deployment times and ROI times compared to other solutions. They eliminate the need to procure and install hardware, software and backup/recovery systems, saving time and costs. They provide much richer wizard/tool based customization and interface capabilities that eliminate or reduce the need for expensive and time-consuming custom programming to meet unique business requirements. And by eliminating up front licensing and capital equipment expenses, they enable many customers to see a positive return on their investment in months instead of years.

ContactCenterSolutions: What solutions have Convio devised and will be coming out in response to these trends?

JS: After many years providing CRM solutions to the nonprofit sector and soliciting feedback from our clients, Convio continues to evolve its strategy in terms of products and services we offer to our client base. We have a two-pronged product approach that helps us effectively address the needs of small-to-medium sized nonprofits as well as large, nationwide or global nonprofits:

*          Common Ground Product Suite

The Common Ground suite is designed to be simple, flexible and easy-to-use for nonprofits of any size that simply want a solid database and fundamental fundraising tools to achieve their mission. It is built on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform. It is primarily for nonprofits with no technology staff, which are building a solid database and for raising money.

*          Enterprise Product Suite

The Enterprise product suite is designed to be the most powerful, configurable and open platform on the market to help sophisticated nonprofits manage relationships, analyze relationships and engage constituents through all channels. It is also built in the Force.com platform. It is primarily for nonprofits with technology staff, larger organization and for those that want access to powerful analytical tools and the ability to customize campaigns and integrate databases across multiple locations.

For nonprofits without any sort of IT staff, it is a challenge to deal with on-premise technology and systems that can’t be shared across offices (or even sometimes within the same office). Change is always scary, but our clients who have embraced a SaaS-based CRM approach have had an epiphany and see opportunities and possibility that they never even realized existed before.


Brendan B. Read is ContactCenterSolutions’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefanie Mosca

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