Reprinted from Feb/Mar 2011 issue of Convio Connection: interview with Dave Hart, Chief Technology Officer, Convio
You talk to a lot of nonprofit executives. What keeps them up at night?
The biggest concern that I hear over and over again is gaining a 360-degree view of their constituents. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to an executive director, a CIO, or a director of development – they all want more insight into how their organization interacts with its constituents. Without this holistic view, there is a loss of efficiency and productivity, not to mention missed opportunities for engagement.
What does a 360-degree view really mean?
That’s the challenging part because it means different things to different people. At the highest level, it means the individual wants to see as much information as possible about the organization’s constituents – either individually, by segments, or as a whole. But this definition starts to diverge when you examine what types of information are of interest to different people within a nonprofit. For example, an executive director might want a snapshot of where the organization stands on fundraising, with an opportunity to drill down to specific details about communications with an individual. They might also want a solution that enables them to produce reports quickly for review by their board of directors. A director of development or a major gifts officer is more interested in gaining quick access to the latest data about a donor so they can use that information in real-time when they connect with the individual. They expect the data to be accurate and timely, or else it is of little value to them.
How do these needs compare to the experience a constituent expects to have with an organization they support?
Well, that varies by type of interaction. When a constituent visits an organization’s website, they have high expectations and immediate needs. If they can’t find the information they are looking for, or if a webpage takes forever to render, then they will simply close the window and move on. In some cases, if the experience is especially negative, this might be the last time a constituent visits the nonprofit’s website. So, a well-organized website that renders quickly is absolutely key to donor acquisition.
If your website meets those needs and the constituent attempts to fill in a form for a newsletter or to make a donation, then their expectations shift. Now, they are more interested in being able to input information easily – whether that’s using all lowercase letters, CAPS, abbreviations, etc. For the constituent, it’s all about ease of use and catering to their needs.
Offline, there is an expectation that when the organization contacts the individual, they will have the latest information about that person. This might include the date of their most recent donation, the amount, how often they tend to donate, their interests, and other personal information that the individual has shared with the nonprofit at various points during their relationship. If this information is not readily available, the constituent might become frustrated and feel unappreciated. In this case, not having the right data on-hand can cause permanent damage.
As a CTO, you obviously have a deep understanding of what these needs translate to on the technical side. Could you please elaborate?
Basically, such diverse needs translate to technical requirements on the database front. For simplicity sake, let’s group the needs into three main categories: online marketing, constituent relationship management, and integrated marketing. For the online marketing piece, you need a system that offers high performance for online transaction processing and 24/7 availability. Since constituents enter data that eventually gets moved into the system, the solution has to support unstructured data that is inherently dirty. Finally, it will need to integrate with many other applications in order to be valuable to an organization and for the organization to benefit from true integrated marketing.
On the constituent relationship management front, the needs are quite different. The main focus here is having a database that is infinitely extensible, so that it can grow and evolve with the organization, rather than constrain it. This database is used to enter and find information, so it needs to also be optimized for data entry.
When we look at the integrated marketing piece, you are faced with the need to store a tremendous amount of data in a way that is not cost-prohibitive. In contrast to the online marketing piece, the need for online transaction processing is replaced by batch processing.
You mentioned “true integrated marketing.” Tell me a bit more about your take on that.
In the nonprofit world, true integrated marketing is centered around the concept of having a comprehensive view of the constituent. Ideally, the organization has full access to online engagement data for mining and can use that data to engage constituents both offline and online. There is also a need to have robust reporting capabilities that enable a nonprofit to plan and execute integrated campaigns, and create engagement pathways. This meeting of the offline and online channels – and ensuring consistent, coordinated communications across both of them — represents true integrated marketing.
What is your definition of “true integrated marketing?” Comments welcomed below.
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