Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The rise in technology tools for achieving and measuring client contact are opening up fresh ways for charities to interact with sponsors, and yet there’s still a long way to go before fundraising truly becomes a digital exercise. While the numbers have grown robustly in recent years, the amount of money donated via online mechanisms worldwide remains in low double-digit percentages.
One NGO is spying an opportunity to better its digital approach by embracing website and customer management platforms that not only provide stronger insights into its existing and new donor base, but also offer better ways to communicate proactively.
Plan International is a global NGO focused on protecting and developing children’s’ rights. Headquartered in the UK, the agency operates in 20 countries but has helped children in more than 50 geographies. The Australian division is a not-for profit organisation with 65 staff that raises about $50m annually, half of which comes from the general public, and half from institutions such as the Australian Government and United Nations.
According to marketing and communications director Ben Holgate, the decision to overhaul Plan Australia’s CRM and website platform stemmed from his commitment to the board to be at least as digitally advanced as any other organisation in its sector. Holgate oversees five areas of business: public fundraising and appeals; major donors; corporate partnerships; branding and communications; and supporter services, including call centre, mailing and fulfilment.
“The holy grail for many charities is to raise reasonable volumes of support through digital channels,” Holgate told CMO.
“While everyone can see the world is moving in that direction, there aren’t many charities that have been able to increase the percentage of funds raised through digital to anything more than early double-digit figures. It’s very much coming through traditional means. The opportunities are there, the question is how we reach out and find the right technology as they arise.”
Plan began its website transformation at the end of 2011, establishing a 12-month timeline which it was able to meet despite design challenges along the way, says online communications officer Damian McDermott. As a first step, the marketing team looked to replace its ageing content management system (CMS), settling on Sitecore’s CMS solution.
“We wanted something strong and robust that had marketing capabilities and was widely supported in Melbourne so it was easy for us to find people to help us develop the sites,” he explained. “We also wanted a platform that would give us a lot of information about who our supporters are through the website, making it easy for them to transact.”
Simultaneously, Plan implemented a new CRM solution, choosing the specialist Blackbaud Enterprise CRM offering aimed at fundraising organisations.
“We certainly aren’t averse to moving into new technologies should they prove to deliver value for us,” Holgate said. “While our website was adequate, we could see the direction for websites was moving away from traditional, essential electronic brochure format, to become more of a quick transactional space where people could grab what they needed and move on. Integration with electronic marketing in terms of email and social media was also critical.”
Plan took a two-stage approach to the website refurb, launching the new branding and redesigned portal first. A month later and following the CRM launch, Plan switched over to a new payment and login engine. This involved changing the signup and registration forms, child sponsorship forms and introducing a new supporter area.
“We rewrote the entire content of the website, sourced 800 images for the site, created a new design, new systems, email templates and a sending system,” McDermott said. “It was a steep learning curve.”
The next stage will see Sitecore used as the foundation stone for a site testing plan based on broader analytics capabilities. “We want to look at what our visitors are doing, how they are actually converting, what’s working and what’s not working to make sure the site is working the best it can for both us and our supporters,” McDermott said.
“Together the CMS and CRM provide a much richer set of statistics and combined with Google Analytics, we’ll be able to make really informed decisions on what is and isn’t working, and what the best way forward is when improving the site.”
Holgate added there are plans to further utilise Sitecore and Blackbaud’s functionality over the next year once the initial education process is completed. “In the first phase we wanted to move to a website that would enable us to use the power of our CRM system better, and also enable us to be more ‘fleet of foot’ by providing content that people could quickly interact with, get value from and move onto the next thing,” he said.
Plan declined to disclose the financial details for the CMS or CRM, but said operating the website is a percentage of overall marketing costs.
“Even though the actual number of new sponsors we get to the website might not be significant, the level of engagement we get from our supporter base and externally is very significant,” Holgate said.
“One thing we have noticed in the months since the website launched is significant increases in traffic and staying power in people visiting the site. It’s difficult to put a figure on that value in dollar terms, but if you look at the relative cost of the new site to the rest of our market efforts, it looks like good bang for our buck.”
With the CRM, the focus is on harnessing the power of the data. “While we are doing that, we’ll also learn how we integrate with the CMS for much more powerful marketing, through particularly mobile and digital media,” Holgate said. “There’s also more to be done in the social media space – we are as good as any of our competitors, but still have work to do to improve.”