July 31, 2014
Giving constituent relations a personal touch with technology

By Bob Alves | 11/22/2011

Technology has, no doubt, been a huge boon to the nonprofit sector, enabling organizations to more easily manage massive amounts of data and more efficiently engage with members and donors than ever before. In some cases, however, organizations have deployed technology as a one-size-fits-all solution, completely homogenizing constituent outreach and management. But today’s technology should enable sophisticated customization and personalization, so that nonprofits can retain, and even extract increased value from, their members and donors.  

For instance, many associations and nonprofits have automated the creation of their thank-you notes to members, donors or volunteers for their contributions. But Guide Dog Foundation takes acknowledgments to the next level by responding to each individual not only by name and the amount of the gift, but also acknowledging their other involvements with the organization, among other specifics.
 
“We ensure that every donor or volunteer knows how much we appreciate their individual contribution, in a way that can’t be done with a standard form letter,” GDF CEO Wells Jones said. “Our database system has enabled us to go far beyond traditional fundraising efforts and exponentially increase constituent engagement. But it has still allowed us to preserve the personalized outreach style that we’ve cultivated since being founded in 1946.”

“This personal approach has motivated more of our constituents to connect with us on social networks, including Facebook,” he added.

Personalization can help associations cultivate better member engagement on social networks. For example, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists recently looked to improve its member-to-member communication by offering a more personalized, private online community for members. With its technology database, CAMFT was able to equip members with collaboration tools like wikis and libraries, and self-service features, such as build-it-yourself profiles. Personalization also enabled the association to transition its listservers into groups based on members’ specific interests.

“Once our member-to-member communication became more personalized and targeted, we found that engagement dramatically increased,” finance and operations director and CAMFT community project manager Ron Hynum said.

For nonprofits and associations that have staggering amounts of data to manage, customization can simply be about practicality. Richard Gaines, an IT consultant for Salesian Missions, uses fundraising management software to organize the group's 12 million records and 170 million transactions.

“Salesian Missions uses dozens of criteria when pulling together customized databases on each mailing,” Gaines said. “Most marketing suites don’t enable as many filters as we use. But when you are fortunate to have millions of potential donors in your database, it’s crucial to customize outreach. This lets our donors know how much we respect their time—and we’ll only send them mailings that are relevant and valuable for them.”

When nonprofits initially adopted their database software, many embraced the technology, supplanting the manual processes that came before. Perhaps ironically, as technology has become more sophisticated, it has become easier to reintroduce old-fashioned outreach tactics, like customization, into the fold. Gone are the days when blasting form letters or sending unfiltered mass mailings are a consequence of technology. Today, integrating the traditional with the modern is the most powerful and effective way to strengthen an association’s relationship with its constituents.

Bob Alves is CEO of Advanced Solutions International. Details: www.advsol.com.


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