How Starlight Foundation is enacting digital transformation – for good

Charity shares how technology, digital and data are transforming its services and support for seriously and chronically ill children and teenagers

Digital disruption is not a negative thing for children’s charity, Starlight Foundation, it’s an opportunity.

“Digital is another way of communicating with and servicing our community, and it’s also about being more targeted and efficient,” Starlight Foundation CEO, Louise Baxter, told CMO. “It’s a natural progression. If we’re smart about it and put the structures in place, it will enhance everything we do and help us automate it.”

It’s this quest to utilise technology and digital capability for good that has triggered an organisation-wide transformation at the charity, which seeks to improve the lives of seriously and chronically ill children and teenagers.

The first step towards significant technological change happened when Baxter appointed an IT advisory board to Starlight, headed by Origin Energy GM of information technology - CIO, Geoff Wenborn. The group is tasked with looking at where Starlight wanted to get to, and how to get there. It also investigated the IT and organisational capabilities needed, and how to transition legacy IT infrastructure and embrace cloud-based solutions to achieve it.

Technology and digital had been repeatedly identified by Starlight’s employees as areas the organisation had lagged behind in.

“From our regular feedback, the team identified that we were behind from a technological and digital point of view, and we listened to that,” Baxter said. “Everything we do comes back to connecting people and actively being more efficient to deliver wonderful experiences. So it’s also about doing this for the team at Starlight.”

Read in detail the 10 steps Starlight's people and culture teams took to help employees embrace digital technology transformation.

Getting the technology right first

Starlight identified CRM as the core foundation layer required to start building its vision of a digitally enabled future. In August 2014, the organisation went live with a Salesforce-based CRM platform, adding Salesforce Marketing Cloud capabilities to the mix 12 months ago.

“Without the IT infrastructure, you can’t get the data, and from there, the insights,” Baxter said. But it also won’t work without the buy-in of staff.

“There is so much extra work to be done on top of the business-as-usual, and these are complex programs that create pressure points,” Baxter said of the CRM project. “It required constant communications, thanking the team, and keeping enough momentum going for when things finally go live.”

The first-phase CRM deployment has been followed by a series of digital projects, stretching from a mobile responsive website and online payments gateway to a digitally powered community of more than 6000 volunteers called ‘My Starlight’, which replaced a push messaging service.

“The community chats with each other, organises meetings and works together,” Baxter said. “They’re also sharing ideas to embellish wishes for the children we support.”

Another recent advancement enabled by Salesforce is Android tablet sign-on units at the entrances to Starlight Express hospital rooms nationally, known as Orbit. These replaced a paper sign-in process and today boast a user capture rate of 95 per cent.

Because these are hooked back into the CRM system, a visitor who pre-books a room will be recognised when they check-in onsite. In addition, data recorded through the units is being used in a de-identifiable way to provide demographic information on room usage, popular times of days and to better understand overall engagement.

Thinking strategically about data

To further its ambitions, Starlight is working with Starlight advisory board member and chairman of Stackla, Junkee Media and Pollenizer, Tony Faure, to establish a group to support its data and digital strategy.

According to Baxter, no technology advancement can truly succeed unless it has the people and culture to support it. She described the approach Starlight is taking to digital as “a permanent startup model”.

“There’s also that fear of change but equally failure – you have to have an organisational culture where failure is OK,” she said. “What we have done to ensure this is to position innovation as a series of projects and opportunities.”

The biggest ongoing challenge is how Starlight prioritises new projects to better capitalise on its data sets.

“For example, we get a lot of donated goods and services that could be tracked better online, then there’s resourcing our events – we’ve had to do this manually previously, but now everything talks to each other, we can start to change that,” Baxter said.

Up next: We find out how Starlight embraced the technological and cultural foundations for a digital future

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In depth: Building the foundation for a digital future

The man in charge of Starlight Foundation’s CRM and ongoing business systems transformation is head of data, Mike Peppou, who joined the organisation two-and-a-half years ago. He previously spent 18 years in corporate CRM management roles including with News Limited and Optus.

According to Peppou, the foundational change for Starlight was moving from a legacy charity database platform and desktop application to Salesforce’s cloud-based CRM platform. The platform, dubbed ‘Cosmos’, has become the central component of a widening digital universe now encompassing every business application and function.

“In the charity world, we have supporters and stakeholders and they have a number of different relationships with us as donors, fundraisers, volunteers, board members and so on,” Peppou explained.

“The key objective we set ourselves was to have a 360-degree view of our supporters. It’s critical to understand the full picture. Not many charities have achieved that.”

Creating particular urgency around the CRM project was massive growth in Starlight’s regular monthly donors, its biggest source of fundraising dollars. In just a few years, these have grown from a few hundred to 30,000.

On top of supporter relationships, Starlight is on a constant mission to make its communications and fundraising activities more efficient. And given the complexity and diversity of Starlight’s operations, building process controls into the platform was another driving factor, Peppou said.

To do this, Starlight has swapped out all IT systems and embraced cloud computing from an infrastructure and application point of view.

“This has been a key enabling factor for us - you can’t attack the business problems until you have the right IT layer,” Peppou commented.

On the first and vital CRM component, Starlight undertook six months of pre-work and evaluation, then spent seven months getting ready to go live. Peppou said his team scoped the project down to a minimal level to minimise risk and ensure teams were ready to fully embrace the new platform when it went live.

Today, 150 people are accessing CRM in the Starlight office, using core applications in Salesforce, along with another 150 people involved in hospital programs.

Four months after launching CRM, Starlight added Salesforce Marketing Cloud for marketing automation. This has been followed by a series of smaller projects tackling specific business problems and opportunities.

“We’re moving to ultimately having best-of-breed, cloud-based applications for each business use case,” Peppou said. “Some of these are in Salesforce, some are associated tools. For example, we’re looking at rostering at the moment. We have 150 staff working on rosters, and had thought to build an application on top of Salesforce, but decided it is best we go for a best-of-breed rostering app in the cloud that then talks to Salesforce.”

Putting technology into practice: The results

The impact of technology advancement has been profound, particularly in marketing and relationship management. As an example, Peppou points to Starlight’s regular donor communications, which started moved from mass to journey-based communications nine months ago. The business objective is to reduce attrition and keep these individuals donating monthly.

Starlight maintains a brand and communications team that runs all aspects of communications and social interactions and that manages the marketing automation platform day-to-day with the support of Peppou’s team.

“Previously, regular donors would receive regular engagement communications, but now we’ve moved to journey communications so that every week, or two weeks, then every month there’s a series of communications relating to their time as a donor,” he said. “This is 100 per cent automated. It also has to take into account various factors, such as if a donor’s credit card is declined, or operational issues, and modify communications accordingly.

“There’s a lot of data analysis going into it, but we have completely automated that process and that’s the way we are going moving forward.”

The next step is to extend this capability to all donors and fundraisers to account for the many different ways they can contribute to Starlight.

Importantly, Peppou said the transition has been measurable from the start, with a control group maintained throughout the process. Starlight has already seen a 2 per cent reduction in year one attrition for monthly donors, an outcome with the annualised value in excess of $100,000 per annum. It’s a result that’s almost paid for the technology deployment in one fell swoop.

Another project underway is using external data sets to segment supporters, especially individual donors responding to appeals and calls to action, by demographic information. Starlight has built out six segments so far, and while it’s not well-tested yet, Peppou said it’s an example of the data-driven approach employees are striving for.

On the operational front, shifting to the Salesforce cloud has also benefitted administration tasks around community fundraising. Previously, paperwork around these activities could take 30 minutes to complete.

“Now it’s just a button, it takes seconds, and we’re doing hundreds of those each week,” Peppou said.

In addition, CRM is improving Starlight’s supporter interactions through its contact centre.

“We had no real platform of management before and no real processes, so while the experience was well intentioned, it wasn’t great or measurable,” Peppou said. “Now every interaction is a gateway to process. The experience a supporter gets when they interact with us has completely transformed. It’s highly managed and measured, and everything is a defined process.

“That kind of improved experience is hard to measure, but we know anecdotally that it has, and it’s greatly reduced costs.”

Less obvious applications of Salesforce are in action too, such as the Orbit sign-in systems at Starlight Express Rooms. Data recorded is all going into Salesforce but at this stage, is only used in a de-identified way.

“We’re getting the data, and it’s supported by same teams and available to do other things with around engagement,” Peppou said. “It’s another example of taking an integrated approach and we can measure that.”

What was also notable about the project was that it was conducted using Agile methodology. Consultancy partner, Odecee, built the shell of the application first, and conducted live testing in rooms within two weeks of engagement in a minimal way to understand user interactions.

“We have had a couple of attempts over the years on this, and had realised user experience is 100 per cent paramount,” Peppou added.

Organisational structure

While all of these efforts are transforming the roles of many Starlight staffers and volunteers, one challenge Peppou said the organisation is still working on the optimal organisation structure to take best advantage of expanding digital and data capabilities.

“The culture is so strongly aligned to objectives, that it doesn’t matter so much,” he said. “We get cross-functional project teams together and it works well.

“But it’s almost like now you have it, you realise you’re missing bits of the business strategy to ensure the way of utilising it. For instance, supporters are so multi-faceted and engaging with us through so many touchpoints, who dictates what communications they should receive and how often? There’s a lot of best-practice literature around how often to engage with someone.

“We’ve built technology that can say how someone accesses or interacts with us across different channels, such as social network news, EDMs, or responding to appeals. We don’t yet have the role that is the advocate of supporter to optimise across all these objectives.”

What has helped Starlight fully embrace CRM and technology’s potential is a change-willing culture, blended with a “keep it simple and user friendly” approach spearheaded by Peppou.

“CRM can be a nightmare and become complex quickly, so you have to make an effort to keep it simple,” he said. “We had step-by-step guides for all processes from day one, which up to 188 now.”

This was complemented by face-to-face training programs nationally, which have since transitioned to online.

“Many corporates have lost touch with how people deliver this stuff, but Starlight is incredibly well in touch with its people,” Peppou added.

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