The Givin' is Easy

Article Featured Image

Non-profit organizations are usually the last to go high-tech. With tight budgets and specified limits on the amounts they can spend on overhead, these groups often rely on typewriters, PBX phone systems and other administrative dinosaurs to get the job done.

One notable exception to this rule is the United Way of Greater Toronto (UWGT) in Ontario, Canada, which collects donations that support more than 200 social service organizations throughout the Toronto area. Last year, UWGT replaced its inefficient, labor-intensive collection methods with a comprehensive e-business strategy designed to streamline the entire donation process and improve communication between UWGT and its donor base.

Since implementation last year, this new strategy, which utilizes a donor e-mail communications system and customized Web sites for campaigns, has delivered an 11 percent increase in donations over 1999. It has also positioned UWGT at the vanguard of e-marketing and campaign management, a distinction that enhances its reputation with its donor base and in the non-profit field.

"We want to maintain and establish leadership here," says Philip King, UWGT's first vice president of e-business. "Moving online is not a branding exercise, but it's sending messages and signals that United Way is smart about this stuff and we know how to use the Internet to advance our mission. It also means we're trying to be progressive. That's a big win for us."

A Good Cause

Being "progressive" is essential to any organization that depends upon the generosity of others. Donors want to feel that their money is going to a good cause, not just to the funding of administrative bureaucracy. Therefore, it is essential that charities and other non-profits operate as efficiently as possible, which, in the case of UWGT, is no small task. The Toronto chapter is just one of 125 in Canada. While each chapter acts as an autonomous organization and is governed locally by a board of directors, it is still part of the United Way of Canada, a massive charitable organization. United Way of Canada provides financial support to 4,300 agencies and gives funding to an additional 10,000 organizations. Clearly, this is a big organization with a big mission.

The United Way's primary tool for accomplishing its mission is the annual Workplace Campaign, in which United Way Canada collects donations from workers throughout the country. The campaigns, which enlist roughly 20,000 business and community leaders to help, account for the bulk of donations during the year. These volunteers meet with colleagues and peers throughout their cities to encourage the participation of their organizations in the campaign.

Traditionally, workplace campaigns have been paper-based, a system that does not exactly fall under the category of "progressive." Donors completed a multipart form, specifying how much they wish to give, when and in what form. If a gift giver had poor penmanship or failed to follow directions, the possibility for error and transposed information multiplied when processed manually by volunteers. The traditional paper-based system not only contained room for error, but also needed multiple administrators to compile forms, check them for accuracy and then forward them to the central United Way office for further processing.

In a business climate where potential donors are rapidly becoming accustomed to interacting at the speed of a mouse click, UWGT's laborious donation process, exacerbated by a small staff and limited resources, was a problem. UWGT needed to interact with donors in the same way that for-profit businesses interact with their customers. But with a limited budget and a staff that was not highly trained in technology, how could it make this happen?

UWGT turned to its partner A.T. Kearney, a management consulting subsidiary of EDS, for answers. Philip King, director of e-business at A.T. Kearney, led the development of the Internet-based donation campaign strategy for the Toronto chapter. King became UWGT's first vice president of e-business. No stranger to such solutions, King holds a patent for his work in B2B online auctions.

What King found in his new position was, he says, "both fascinating and eye opening." There was no call center or organized way of receiving funds from workplace campaigns. The UWGT only employed a receptionist who answered calls and recorded donations on a piece of paper. "One thing you'll find about charities is that they are extremely bare boned and scrappy," King explains, who has always worked in the
private sector.

King also found that the same donor form had been posted on the UWGT's Web site for three years, and contributed to less than 1 percent of overall campaign contributions. Part of the problem was that before King, the only way to find UWGT's donor Web page was by stumbling across it. UWGT needed a new channel of attracting donors and this wasn't it. "It wasn't a compelling Web page," King says. "Our whole magic is to get people to give in groups, and this wasn't working."

Establishing an Online Presence

King and his UWGT team first began their quest for a more effective e-presence by looking at ways to improve the Web site, institute a new donor e-mail communications system and develop customized Web sites for Workplace Campaigns. King not only wanted to secure UWGT's place in the e-business world, but also wished to strengthen it with cutting-edge technology.

Help came in the form of the Toronto office of Deloitte Consulting, a long-time partner of United Way and a generous donor. Deloitte introduced UWGT to one of its e-business software clients, Toronto-based Delano Technology. According to Terry stuart, principal of Deloitte, in the fall of 1999, Deloitte devised an e-business strategy that showed how the organization could use Delano solutions to transform its donation processes.

Under Deloitte's plan, with Delano e-commerce solutions, UWGT could extend its reach to a greater number of people in a shorter period of time, with increased donor commitment. Equally important, under this strategy, UWGT would keep the "one-to-one interaction with the donor" philosophy embraced by the United Way.

Delano's technology is the e-Business Interaction Suite, an enterprise e-commerce platform that improves workflow by seamlessly integrating front and back office processes. The e-Business Application Builder, which features a drag-and-drop interface, enables users to custom build needed applications. Another component, the Interaction Server, can run thousands of applications simultaneously and can be deployed in Windows, Unix and Linux environments. The Interaction Server Administrator can configure and administer e-business applications.

Delano donated $300,000 (U.S.) in software, consulting and training to the UWGT, with the understanding that this would not only benefit the Greater Toronto chapter, but also become a model for demonstrating the firm's software to other United Way chapters. While this donation was, to say the least, generous, it also reflects the realization that charity is big business--and fertile ground for technology like Delano's. "If you're looking at an organization like the United Way, they have campaigns, and they usually happen once a year with a big drive," says John Foresi, CEO of Delano. "If you think about it, the charity business is very much like any other business. The more you can connect to your donors or your customers, the better off you are going to be."

Delano worked directly with UWGT's IT staff to install the needed software. Implementing the Windows-based software was fairly easy, King says, explaining that the Toronto chapter brought in IT people with Web skill sets on an as-needed basis to supplement its existing staff. Delano's visual programming language for e-business applications allowed the company to assemble a powerful application that King describes as, "very easy for us to construct."

According to Ross Sedgewick, director of industry marketing at Delano, UWGT did have specific needs that made the implementation challenging. The new software had to work with UWGT's legacy database system, which housed, among other data, vital donor information. "That pre-condition was built into the original plan, and it required extensive testing as the implementation of the Delano software and the Web site IT people moved forward," Sedgewick explains.

Training took about a week for the technical staff, which used self-teaching manuals and Delano's Web site to learn how to use the new system. Sedgewick says the United Way needed only about a day to familiarize its executive staff with the system, and just a couple of hours for the workplace volunteers.

By June of last year, Delano finished the implementation and training, and an alpha site debuted to good reviews. "We had a few little hiccups, such as minor bugs in the code, but that was about it," he says. "We knew we had something special and were very eager to see it in real-life use."

Six weeks after installing the software, King initiated the first campaign, which was a "thank-you" campaign directed at donors. The UWGT sent personalized e-mails to the 23,000 donors from the previous year expressing its appreciation for their support. The campaign, which took three weeks to build, was important in that UWGT had never personally thanked all of its donors before.

The Final Test...

After the success of the thank-you campaign, it was time for a bigger, more complicated test--the United Way@Work campaign, which targeted workplace donors. The campaign would feature customer Web sites where donors click on the amount of money they wish to donate and then specify how it will be deducted--either through a regular payroll gift, a regular credit card gift or a one-time gift.

Using an extranet system, UWGT corporate donors would be able to manage and track their organizations' fund-raising efforts. The system would also allow the donating company's employee campaign chair to manage major aspects of the fund-raising, including setting campaign goals, sending out personalized and segmented campaign messages, and even writing "thank-you" messages to employees who participate.

After a three-month development time, in September 2000, UWGT rolled out the United Way@Work campaign to 16 workplaces and 8,600 potential donors within five weeks. This campaign ultimately yielded 3,200 online donations totaling $1.5 million (U.S.) for the UWGT--a 10 percent increase per person over the traditional offline "paper" contributions. Donating through the UWGT/ Delano system, new donors gave more on average online than offline in the same tests; and returning donors increased their gifts at a higher rate online than offline, as well. King says Delano technology allowed UWGT a quicker and deeper return from the donors, while cutting down on the traditional manual processing of paper pledge cards.

The Year 2000 campaign totaled $45.7 million (U.S.)--$1.7 million more than the $44 million (U.S.) goal--representing an 11 percent increase in donations from the 1999 campaign when $41.2 million (U.S.) was collected. UWGT also expects to save about $131,000 (U.S.) in processing and printing costs over the next four years. These numbers have inspired other United Way chapters in North America to follow UWGT's lead. The United Ways of Boston, the New York tri-state area and Philadelphia have subsequently purchased Delano e-business solutions and are planning to implement similar workplace campaigns later this year.

According to King, equally important as the increase in individual gifts through the e-business solution were the overall simplification of the process and the continued ability to keep the pledge campaigns personalized. Before implementing the new system, he says, people answered phones, filled out forms and spent excessive time entering information into computers.

"You still have that, but you also have a third group working e-business," King explains. "It hasn't necessarily decreased our workload, but it has shifted us from a reactive state to a proactive state. We're not telling our volunteers they don't have to work as much. We need them to work just as hard. But we want them organizing charity speakers for their company and doing face-to-face activities. We want them to focus on those kinds of things, not the repetitive mechanical transactions they used to do the old-fashioned way."

CRM Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues