Unicef Australia COO reveals her tips for customer tech transformation

Not-for-profit has transformed its technology stack. Here, its operations chief talks through how she got the board to buy-in, and advice for a successful program of work

Want to transform your company’s customer and digital technology stack? Then don’t scrimp on strategy, expect more costs than you originally anticipated, put data at the centre of investment and make sure robust governance frameworks are in place.

That’s the advice of Unicef Australia COO, Sarah Grattan, who spoken during this week’s Salesforce Dreamforce even about how the not-for-profit transformed its technology stack in order to lift donor engagement.

As an NFP, convincing the board to invest in a wholesale change to the way Unicef did business was not an easy ask. But as Grattan put it, it was blatantly clear tinkering with the tech just wasn’t going to cut it.

“I could run my household on a mobile phone, but couldn’t run Unicef in that way,” she said. “We needed to force Unicef Australia into 21st century. With the board, that meant presenting the case for action and conversely, what would happen if we didn’t do anything.”

Unicef has rolled out a host of Salesforce platforms including Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, Salesforce Non-Profit Success Pack, Tableau CRM and also runs Sage Intacct Accounting systems. On top of this, it’s using AlphaSys’ Fundraising Accelerator solution.

Key to getting the board’s buy-in was gathering the facts and building a comprehensive strategy. The first thing was setting out the case for action and illustrate some of the burning platforms present across the Unicef business.

“The reality was if we didn’t invest, the market and circumstances would leave us behind. We then linked this case for action to the strategy,” Grattan said. “Being able to deliver the strategy set out by the board and moving to a constituent-centric model where CX was at the centre of what we were trying to do and we had a compelling value proposition simply wasn’t possible with the old, disconnected tech and systems. They were no longer fit for purpose.”

Grattan’s second step to get the board onside was addressing the governance process.

“The board had more than a few IT implementation failures over time and were aware of how difficult large change processes could be,” Grattan said. “My CEO, Tony Stuart, was supportive and had been involved in CRM projects before that had issues, so he knew what could go wrong. He was alive to the pitfalls that could happen, and set up governance process to protect our project.

“We then had an independent exert to chair our steering committee and keep us all on our toes. And that’s where strong risk management came in – by actively managing that, we were able to do truly risky things.”  

The third element of buy-in was presenting a robust business case. Grattan pointed to her CEO’s decision to ask one board member for a pro bono resource to assist on development as a “masterstroke”.

“This gave comfort that the business case was robust and had some independent oversight. We did the overall business case but this was verified,” she said.

Business benefits

Unicef’s business benefits for transformation were grouped into four areas: Gaining new donors, retaining existing donors, supporting engagement or reducing cost, risk or time. Grattan said the project has met or exceeded each of these metrics.

For example, when it came to donor experience, it was previously common to take 10 days to respond to customer queries. Now it’s less than one day.

“In a world where smooth and fast online experiences are commonplace, if we didn’t do this, we surely would have lost donors to other organisations,” Grattan said. “Also, most questions can be answered in first call.

“We recently gathered a lot of donations quickly for our India appeal responding to the Covid pandemic. We could send thank you receipts immediately Previously, that would have taken a week So we’re seeing much higher retention of those donors as a result.”

Less sexy but clearly important was the ability to automate tax receipts for donors by building a self-service functionality that can cover any time period required. “This is vastly different to what was a manual, labour intensive process previously, requiring phone calls and data extractions,” Grattan said.  

In addition, monthly automated donor payments can now be processed any day of the month. “Imagine if Amazon took 10 days to respond, or you could only purchase on 20th of the month. You can’t do that today,” Grattan said.

Productivity improvements also abound. One example Grattan pointed to was around managing recurring donation processes, which used to take over a week and involved multiple teams and staff.

“It was like a pinball machine getting this done. It also required us to shut down for a period where no changes were made. Now it’s all automated – one staff member might spend 45mins to do it. And those other staff spending time on value-add activities like speaking to donors,” she said.  

“It used to take a week for donor data from website to be synced in system; now it’s every day. We’d be running an appeal and wouldn’t know whether it was working and which channels worked best until after it ended.”

Having put strong foundations in place, Grattan said the team is now building a new website with the goal of real-time information flows.

“Visibility has improved too, which is something we’d not factored into original business case. Now we can also understand trends and use things like external data science tools to gather AI insights, which has improved our fundraising performance,” she said. “For example, we have propensity scoring for people, delivered into our systems, and can test and inform more targeted marketing asks. This then saves us money by not sending excess material out, or to predict churn.”

Measuring satisfaction in the moment with donors is another win and one Grattan described as “life changing” for Unicef.

Change management advice

Of course, such tech-lead business transformation isn’t easy and Grattan had a number of learnings to share. The first was “don’t scrimp on the strategy piece”.

“The 12 months I spent on strategy were critical to the success of the project,” she said.  “What’s more, assume you know nothing – ask all those dumb questions, think again and keep an open mind on what ideas are out there. And talk to your peers. Talking to other charities that had been through this journey taught me the most.”  

Having robust governance and risk measures in place are also vital to being able to dream and act big. “If you can be prepared for what might go wrong, you are in a great position to do risky things,” Grattan said.  

Read more: 4 ways to position digital and customer transformation in the boardroom

What’s also clear is data is the most important aspect to get right. “If you’re migrating from another platform it by definition won’t be the same data model. If you’re going to get external help, get it here,” Grattan said.  

Another big piece of advice was that “everything costs more than you think”. “You might need a licence for every integration… and storage costs a lot of money. Extras were surprising to me and something I didn’t realise in the beginning,” Grattan said.

“Spend time working through your assumptions. The only way to do that is by talking to lots of people and discussing with others openly who have been there before to get a complete picture.”

As final tips, Grattan stressed the importance of keeping it simple to better future-proof your tech stack.

“And choose a specialist NFP partner – this was critical to our success,” she concluded.  

CMO's first-ever State of CX Leadership survey is now open, and we’re looking for all those official and unofficial customer leaders and senior managers to complete the survey! This inaugural report is going to take a critical and important look into Australia’s CX leadership, from role and remits through to skills and priorities.

We need all responses in by Monday 27th September 2021, so please complete our survey now!

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page


Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

More Videos

More Brand Posts



CMO's top 10 martech stories for the week - 9 June

Read more

Great e-commerce article!

Vadim Frost

CMO’s State of CX Leadership 2022 report finds the CX striving to align to business outcomes

Read more

Are you searching something related to Lottery and Lottery App then Agnito Technologies can be a help for you Agnito comes out as a true ...


The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Thorough testing and quality assurance are required for a bug-free Lottery Platform. I'm looking forward to dependability.

Ella Hall

The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Great Sharing thoughts.It is really helps to define marketing strategies. After all good digital marketing plan leads to brand awareness...

Paul F

Driving digital marketing effectiveness

Read more

Blog Posts

Marketing prowess versus the enigma of the metaverse

Flash back to the classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Television-obsessed Mike insists on becoming the first person to be ‘sent by Wonkavision’, dematerialising on one end, pixel by pixel, and materialising in another space. His cinematic dreams are realised thanks to rash decisions as he is shrunken down to fit the digital universe, followed by a trip to the taffy puller to return to normal size.

Liz Miller

VP, Constellation Research

Why Excellent Leadership Begins with Vertical Growth

Why is it there is no shortage of leadership development materials, yet outstanding leadership is so rare? Despite having access to so many leadership principles, tools, systems and processes, why is it so hard to develop and improve as a leader?

Michael Bunting

Author, leadership expert

More than money talks in sports sponsorship

As a nation united by sport, brands are beginning to learn money alone won’t talk without aligned values and action. If recent events with major leagues and their players have shown us anything, it’s the next generation of athletes are standing by what they believe in – and they won’t let their values be superseded by money.

Simone Waugh

Managing Director, Publicis Queensland

Sign in