How the Leukaemia Foundation consolidated its marketing data approach

Head of data and analytics shares the journey to bring together multiple marketing and data systems together to start driving personalisation

As a life-long IT professional, Glen Shields always had an interest in marketing. He even took some marketing subjects while studying at university and ran his own SEO/SEM consultancy for a while.

That experience has boded well for him as he has progressed through his career as a data professional, including in his most recent role as the inaugural head of data and analytics for the Leukaemia Foundation helping drive its martech transformation.

When Shields joined four-and-a-half years ago, what he found was an organisation still managing the aftermath of the change to a federated model, which had taken place a year earlier. This merger had created the need to consolidate multiple marketing and data systems into a single platform – in this instance, Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

Shields said he knew he would have to move quickly if he was to help the Leukaemia Foundation remain on track for its fundraising goals.

“With any kind of merger of bodies, there are inevitably multiple systems around the place, and that is essentially what I walked into in 2017,” Shields told CMO. “We had three different CRMs, we had three different email service providers, we had a number of SMS providers and lots of manual handling of files and experiences.

“The brief was to form the data team, get the data side of things happening better and also to manage the Salesforce environment that we consolidated all of those different CRMs into.”

Glen ShieldsCredit: Leukaemia Foundation
Glen Shields


That task has seen the Leukaemia Foundation creating a consolidated database of more than 3.7 million contacts in Salesforce. An added benefit of the Salesforce relationship has been that vendor’s willingness to undertake pro bono work to ensure insights relating to the Leukaemia Foundation’s email communications can be properly distributed to the people who need them, via the Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud.

“We now have an integration from Marketing Cloud so we have organisation-wide visibility into engagement,” Shields said.  “We can see exactly what email was sent and exactly what that person did with that email.”

One of the key considerations for Shields through the migration has been to ensure the Leukaemia Foundation is working with a clean dataset.

“You can’t do much with data unless you have trust in the data,” Shields said. “A big focus initially was just getting to that point, but then starting to do some of the fancier things with data. It was then about building out the analytics models to get some of the insights out of data and be able to work with it in new and different ways.”

Bringing personalisation to life

Much of Shields’ activity now relates to the Leukaemia Foundation’s marketing priority, which is to engage in a more personalised way with its donors and the people it supports who are living with blood cancer. This includes creating engagement journeys tailored to the different phases that patients go through after their diagnosis, as well as delivering events designed specifically for the parents of young children who have blood cancer, including information tailored to their situation.

"It all comes down to understanding the person and their interests,” Shields said. “It is almost a case of hyper-personalisation. You are giving that ‘journey of one’. Each person is unique, but data wise, there are also lots of similarities between people as well, so some of the stuff we are starting to work on now is getting into predictive analytics and using AI on the Microsoft Azure platform and the tools available there to understand what the next best thing will be.”

Like many charitable organisations, the Leukaemia Foundation has become synonymous with its annual major fundraising activity, The World’s Greatest Shave, which raises between 50 to 60 per cent of total revenue. Shields said the long-term goal is to use data to diversify the Leukaemia Foundation’s revenue stream. But its new data capabilities have already helped to determine the human resources needed to deliver that campaign smoothly.

“We used the AI tools within Azure to determine the casual workforce needed in the contact centre to handle the volume that was expected,” Shields said.

This, plus the newly integrated database, helped the Leukaemia Foundation raise $17 million for its 2021 World’s Greatest Shave – the highest amount raised since 2016 – with a record number of people participating.

Outcomes like these will be essential if Shields is to help the Leukaemia Foundation reach its stretch goal of zero deaths by blood cancer by 2035.

“Creating the strategies that work towards that stretch goal, and then measuring our progress against those strategies, is part of that dashboarding work we are doing at the moment,” Shields said. “But complementary to that is giving our executive team really easy access into organisational health and their understanding of where the business is at.

“Even though I have done a lot of work in that space, there is still more I can do to demonstrate the benefits and the value that data can create, not just in the short term, but the medium and long term as well.”

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