A New Marketing Paradigm

A New Marketing Paradigm:
How affordable, active and agile technology can change nonprofits

Unlike credit card companies, airlines or any number of other consumer-oriented businesses, nonprofits today still depend largely on employees to manually integrate all information about each constituent for marketing purposes. The typical nonprofit operates with multiple systems from different vendors adopted on an ad hoc basis by various departments acting independently. Constituent data is scattered across the organization, residing passively in so many databases that it is nearly impossible for staff or volunteers to ever have a complete, near-real time view of any constituent who donates, visits an office, attends an event, or participates in any other way.

By contrast, a customer visiting her bank’s Web site expects 24/7/365 access to all important information pertaining to her relationship to the bank; she expects the phone service representative or drive up teller to have, at his fingertips, a complete profile information for making her feel like a valued client, answering all questions, and even proactively offering suggestions for additional, relevant products and/or services.

An airline will automatically promote the busy traveling salesperson to the next level of “membership” in its frequent-flier program as soon as he has flown the last qualifying mile and, from that moment on, the airline automatically recognizes him as a higher level, valued customer across every system he encounters, whether it’s a self-service kiosk, the company’s Web site, or a ticketing agent reached by phone or in person. Even the family calling to order a pizza will probably discover that the person answering the phone knows what its last order was.

Increasingly accustomed to active management of their relationships with institutions that manage their finances, travel plans, meals and more, today’s consumers also expect comparable experiences and value from their relationships with virtually all organizations — including the nonprofits they support. But it’s a “Catch 22” — the proliferation of decentralized technology systems compromises the typical nonprofit’s ability to deliver simply because its databases don’t automatically integrate information about constituents for more effective marketing.

Important constituent data sits in numerous, proprietary applications and formats, and frequently is duplicated in several data repositories that can only be resolved manually by a staff member or volunteer when he or she has time to run reports and then compare and sort the results. This flawed process leaves the nonprofit highly vulnerable to sub-optimal constituent management because each organization’s business rules for this mission-critical function — the standard operating procedures and routines that have evolved into the group’s best practices — mostly exist in the institutional memories of individuals rather than in the infrastructure of the organization.

Many corporations use “enterprise resource planning” solutions to overcome similar business challenges. Nonprofit organizations simply have not had the resources to make use of similar solutions. Until recently, efforts to extend such opportunities to nonprofits through complex all-in-one vendor offerings have been prohibitively expensive, locked organizations and their data into proprietary systems and lengthy contracts, required extensive training of current and future staff and volunteers, forced organizations to alter their unique best practices, and were notoriously cumbersome to implement.

Today, though, innovative, affordable and easy-to-use technology is enabling charitable groups to optimize constituent management and automate internal operations with truly active solutions, unlocking the potential of every nonprofit to optimize constituent relationships and mission success.

These brave and bold new solutions are founded on two simple concepts:

1. Your systems should actively recognize and classify constituents using the same language and rules as your organization. If you consider a major donor someone who gives $5,000 in a calendar year and group him or her as part of the “Founders Club,” you should not have to run queries, hack custom fields and create complex codes to translate this into your software. The software should automatically recognize them as such the moment they give that 3rd gift that puts them over $5000 for the calendar year.

2. Your systems should share information in real-time. Simple XML messaging networks make this inexpensive and reliable. Gone are the days of complex, expensive integrations between databases. Anytime there is activity or a change in data, a system publishes a message to the network in XML (the same language and technology used in Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and that banking and financial trading systems use for sharing information, so it is obviously secure). All your other systems connected to the network can pull down and update the information relevant to that system.

The advent of open source technology and years of use by corporations have both made these technologies inexpensive and proven they are more agile and reliable than the complex systems most vendors currently offer the nonprofit market.

We need to abandon the old model of passive data repositories that rely on manual queries to use data. You should rarely, if ever, need to request a report form your IT department or pay for it to be custom created by your vendor. In the same manner, you should not have to run selects or queries to get a list of major donors. Your system should recognize them immediately. If Joe Donor calls you 5 minutes after he made a $500 online gift that pushed him into major donor territory, his record should come up on your screen labeled a ‘major donor’. The technology is available, affordable and effective. Organizations will only benefit from adopting active and real-time solutions, especially considering the significant cost savings available.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Fundraising and Donor Relationship Management, Innovations for Nonprofit Organizations, Orange Leap Developer Network

3 Comments on “A New Marketing Paradigm”

  1. Kevin Boulas Says:

    There isn’t much that is original or useful about this post – it makes the same mistake nonprofits (and many for-profit businesses) make: assuming that the effect is the cause. Fragmented constituent information and a disjointed application infrastructure is the result of two things: 1) most nonprofits don’t have a holistic view of how they view a constituent (not a data record, a person) internally; and 2) they don’t have well-defined objectives for how they will use the data they capture.

    Why do nonprofits have multiple “databases” or “systems?” Because one department wants to look at a constituent one way, and capture information according to their specific needs; another department wants to look at it a slightly different way. Instead of stepping back and defining things that DO matter – who are your constituents, what roles do they play, how do their relationships evolve (often along different paths simultaneously), and what ultimately are your goals for those constituents, and how do you measure those goals? Once you define that, then it is possible, with more or less difficulty, to determine what the landscape needs to support and therefore what it looks like.

    As with any business, until a nonprofit understands those two questions, ANY effort or money to capture data is largely a cost without any associated benefit. That of course does not, and has not, prevented businesses (for profit or nonprofit) to endlessly chase better data capture; they would do themselves a much greater service by focusing on how they wish to use information.

    Those aren’t the same thing.

    • chrisparks1263 Says:

      Thanks for your feedback. We appreciate your well thought out post and encourage constructive criticism.

    • Matt McCabe Says:


      You are absolutely right and thanks for the great post. I should have been clearer that this is an exciting tool, but without the right strategy and internal processes, the organization cannot be effective. No tool ‘cures’ these organizational ills. That is why we are big believers in partnering with strategic consultants and other groups that can provide the guidance to utilize the technology effectively.

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