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With the sluggish economy still taking its toll on non-profits, many organizations are focused on taking the proper steps to increase donor and member retention, donations and operational efficiency. Bob Alves, chairman and CEO of Alexandria, Virginia-based Advanced Solutions International (ASI), offers the following technology best practices, and demonstrates how non-profits can get smart by going ‘back to the basics’ and doing more with less in these tough economic times.

Evaluate, select and implement the right software solution. Senior executives in any organization are being called upon to make enterprise-level software and systems decisions as economically sound as possible, while still fully addressing the current and future needs of their businesses. Identify three or four possible vendors through tradeshows, industry directories and referrals from similar organizations. Use criteria, such as support capabilities, product functionalities and the databases’ implementation track records, to narrow down the list.

Invite the vendors in for a high-level organizational review and demonstrations, and have each department discuss two or three items that are most important to them, to determine the best fit. Choose a final vendor and software that will meet the non-profit’s needs. This entire process can be completed in 90 days—saving non-profit executives time and money during the software selection process!

Implement a data-driven organizational strategy, and transform data management from a cost center to a revenue generator. According to Wes Trochill, president of Effective Database Management, at the heart of this strategy is dependable data, and data will only be dependable if it resides in a reliable database—one that is well-managed and understood by not only the IT staff but also everyone who uses it. Eliminating redundancy and shadow databases is key for effective data management. Don’t forget to test early and often—and pursue success, not perfection, when putting data to work.

Non-profits should consider opening up their databases and consolidating them into a single system—once and for all. Organizations should also query their database and use the answers to refine their donor and member outreach efforts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the CEO, who provides the vision of what will be important to the community in the future, and therefore what data should be captured; the CTO, who has overall responsibility for the non-profit’s information management systems; or the development or membership director, both of whom would undoubtedly benefit by knowing as much about their customers as possible—implementing a data-focused strategy will significantly help with day-to-day operations.

Integrate the constituent relationship management (CRM) system and the content management system (CMS). Historically, non-profits have kept these functions separate due to the different types of data managed and the ease in which this information can be accessed and shared. However, by converging these functionalities, non-profits can use demographic data to better tailor their Web site and other content based on donors’ and members’ individual interests.

Organizations can expose data from the CRM to the CMS, allowing users to modify their own profiles. Non-profits can then record this information, as well as donations and event registrations from the Web site, directly into the database. This also prevents staff time from being wasted with rekeying these transactions or correcting mistakes created due to multiple systems. Today, the competition for the time, money, hearts and minds of constituents is ever increasing. By integrating the CRM system and the CMS—and using their Web presence to the fullest—non-profits can effectively stay connected to donors and members, and show their value by extending important self-service capabilities.

Turn to workflow automation tools to instantly launch business processes that would otherwise consume hours of staff time and attention. An automated workflow not only helps to reduce operational overhead and the need for extra resource but also facilitates better decision-making with real-time information delivery. Non-profits can quickly evaluate business changes and respond with corresponding data changes, emails, text messages, faxes and reports—dedicating greater attention to issues central to donors and members.

Organizations should first look at their unique workflow requirements, and think about what applications or tools can best fulfill users’ needs. Non-profits can easily access and piece together demographic, transactional, activity, and channel-preference and motivational data—finding the best way to strengthen their donor and member relationships. They can optimize their management processes, communications and appeals at the very same time.

Simplify e-Commerce and online processes, and focus on developing programs that leverage this data. In an environment where the provisioning and delivery of real-time services are a standard expectation, the processing and handling of transactions quickly is a necessity. As the driver of so many interactions between an organization and its constituents, the database must efficiently and effectively manage these online interactions.

Get personal with your donors and members and allow them to manage their dues and other financial transactions online. Make the payment process as easy and smooth as possible. Be prepared to change e-commerce rules and processes to keep up with emerging trends and new industry standards.

Rather than struggling over their data and technology infrastructure, donor- and member-based non-profits should get ‘back to the basics’. Organizations can streamline operations, maximize efficiencies and contain costs—to not only survive but also thrive after the economic downturn.
This article was contributed by Bob Alves, chairman and CEO of Alexandria, Virginia-based Advanced Solutions International (ASI) Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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