United Way invests in CRM

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In an effort to focus more on individual donors, nonprofit giant United Way of America has rolled out its first nation­wide CRM platform, and has tapped consulting agency Clar­ity Group for its development.

Clarity offers marketing con­sulting and CRM services to nonprofit and faith-based orga­nizations and has worked with local United Way chapters in the past. It won the business af­ter a competitive review.

The new project, which kicked off in January, revolves around 11 United Way branches. These branches — forming what Unit­ed Way has dubbed the “CRM learning circle” — will, over the course of the 18-month project, disseminate their learned CRM tactics and strategies to all 1,300 US chapters of the United Way.

“This is not solely a technol­ogy initiative,” said Jim Yu, VP of relationship management for United Way of America.

“Ultimately, our goal is to move United Way [chapters] from a transaction orientation to a more relationship-based ap­proach. Technology will only be effectively used if we've created the right foundation for it. In or­der to be successful, we will first need to change our culture and improve our businesses process­es that touch our key constitu­ents and stakeholders.

“This work is critical because we are traditionally a b-to-b type of organization, but the market­place and our constituents are demanding that we move to a b-to-c model,” he continued.

The idea, Yu said, is to help the organization establish more personal, emotional connections with donors and volunteers. A key goal, derived from a survey of local United Way chapters nationwide, is to reduce churn and retain individual constitu­ents. Currently, a large portion of United Way's constituent strength lies in its partnerships with com­panies — not individuals — making it dif­ficult to maintain relationships when an employee leaves or retires.

United Way has partnered with more than 140 major corporations, including the NFL, UPS, AT&T and Pfizer Inc. Annual contributions from these corpo­rate partners and their employees aver­age at least $2.5 million, and many of these companies have 10,000 or more employees.

“The donor landscape is changing,” said Craig Wood, founder and CEO of Clarity Group. “How donors expect to be treated, how they view their money and their relationship with an organiza­tion is fundamentally different from five to 10 years ago, and most nonprofits have not changed their business.”

Wood continued, “There's a lot of mindset change, and people are asking, ‘How can you prove that my donation is making a difference in the area I want?' Plus, that donor landscape is so competi­tive now. Everyone is so passionate and there are so many charitable organiza­tions, a company has to find out what's relevant to [a potential donor] and make a personal connection.”

Clarity will offer webinars and classes to local United Way staff to help them assimilate into the system. On the tech­nology side, United Way and Clarity are developing a United Way version of Microsoft CRM, designed to meet the typical needs of local branches.

“Many key strategies and deficiencies are similar between communities,” Wood said. “For example, all branches need to focus on the process of how to thank donors.

“They're seeing similarities in strate­gies, and that's what the template will be about,” he continued. “If nine of 11 have a strategy that's consistent, that will probably be important to the other 1,300. The tactics will be different depending on strengths.”

Part of United Way's CRM effort may include direct marketing campaigns. Though the campaign approach will vary depending on each community, it will likely deploy direct mail, e-mail, Web interactivity and segmenting of the con­stituent databases. In most cases, local United Ways will employ area agencies to help produce campaigns.

The nationwide campaign that is still in the works for United Way of Amer­ica will involve the nascent Live United theme that is currently displayed on its national Web site and in other locations.

Last year, when looking for a company to help start its CRM initiative, United Way reviewed a number of consulting firms and CRM specialist boutiquesnationwide. Yu said that Clarity won the account through this competitive pro­cess, and that special attention was paid to its previous experience with five local United Way chapters and to its focus on nonprofits.

“When you combine their knowledge of our business and our mission with the work they've done and their response to that RFP [United Way put out], they're very strategic,” Yu said. “They looked at it differently than other firms, from a more holistic perspective and not just as a technology initiative. That, and the fact that they're purely devoted to faith-based organizations and nonprofits like ourselves really combined to make it easy for us to select them.”

Clarity, a relatively small firm, cur­rently has fewer than 20 clients, span­ning from traditional fundraising orga­nizations to national denominations in the Church and the Jewish faith. Most of the company's faith-based clients hail from the Bible belt of the Southeast US. Wood said United Way of America was a premier client for the group, in terms of brand recognition.

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