July 31, 2013 Back to All Blogs

Data doesn’t live in fields

Smart leaders who want to take their organization to the next level of performance, growth and accountability are increasingly drawn to “Customer Relationship Management” (CRM) databases – a tool first mastered by Amazon, major banks and Facebook.fields

When customized and implemented right, CRMs help organizations be more in the know, responsive to members, innovate and lead. Measure, strategically deliver, report, repeat. Boards love it. Donors demand it. Cause champions rely on it. What’s not to like?

One of the biggest players in CRM databases, Salesforce, announced a significant change to make the CRM interface or screens users see look more like Twitter and Facebook. The change recognizes that the most valuable, actionable data is dynamic and flows in multiple, unstructured streams. Membership databases with manually entered, after-the-fact fields like donor name, address, conference participation, report downloads, membership renewal are going the way of the dinosaur.

High-performance organizations need a continually refreshed, unified view of activity and their results with turbo-powered search and discovery functions.

Earlier this year Center for Association Leadership (ASAE) Chief Information Officer Reggie Henry spoke of the “gold” present in multiple streams of nonprofit and association membership data.

“’The volume and velocity of data available to get smart about our customers or members is exponentially greater…. It allows us to see things coming and anticipate needs versus responding to them after the fact. We can be right on top of what our members need,” said Henry.

Here are five things that can happen when you liberate data from the static fields of yesterday’s membership databases:

  1. Difference-maker discoveries about your members and what they care about. The search combinations and discoveries of a CRM can be incredibly valuable in anticipating and delivering information and support before your members ask. Planning a conference agenda? Find out which burning issues are being discussed in social media channels and the number one topic addressed by your help desk this month. Let’s say you’re holding a conference in St. Louis on early childhood with a fundraiser run. Facebook’s Graph search alone could connect you to early childhood center leaders and employees, people who frequently run for causes, pediatricians and pediatric nurses and more. The right data allows organizations to deliver the right information and service to the right people at just the right time.
  2. A performance-based culture where employees take initiative. Instead of knowledge and information locked at the highest levels of an organization, all employees are empowered to become the most important person in the office by making new discoveries, engaging with prospective donors, tracking and reporting demand for services by zipcode following a disaster or economic downturn, anticipating emerging concerns and needs discussed in social media channels, monitoring the return on investment in disease research, and more. Data can be displayed in eye-opening and engaging ways and shared during regularly scheduled meetings to review progress and get motivated.
  3. Accurate data. The more data gets used and grows, the more accurate and valuable it becomes. Inaccuracies are discovered, redundancies are cleaned, new combinations and trends are uncovered as more people use and pore through data. For those responsible for capturing data CRMs also answer the “why am I doing this anyway” question. The answer lies in the invaluable discoveries and insights that improve organizational service and performance. The improvements motivate the capture of even more information in a timely, accurate, thoughtful manner.
  4. Authentic valued engagement. The future demands a paradigm shift that regards ‘members’ as customers and engages them in continuous conversations that add value. Instead of the old push method to renew memberships, attend conferences and buy reports, associations have the ability to use new technology tools to customize communication and service based on what each member or prospective member cares about.
  5. Test and innovate. Any CRM platform should not be viewed as a “completed” product. The most effective organizations continuously test assumptions and use feedback to better understand their audience and performance in carrying out the organization’s mission. We love creating custom interfaces that write data to CRMs from tablets and other mobile devices. Make your CRM fit your organization’s goals.

These five breakthroughs in customer service and knowledge management are the nonprofit world’s latest disruptive innovation. Dozens of meetings and memos about strategic changes are replaced with “What does the evidence show members care about and want? How have we served their needs this week, month, year?”

Nonprofits are no longer just managing a membership database, entering data into static fields. Instead leadership and staff are embracing an approach of continuously cultivating and serving members and reporting results. With the right customization and data, CRMs can help organizations deliver valuable information and service day after day, year after year.

*Also check out:
Four tips from Google to make your website more compelling
The “Fear Factor” in making technology decisions
Engage or die. The fate of nonprofits and associations
Five ways technology can encourage “All for one and one for all” action
Designing for health behavior change

Mark Tobias (@PanthTech) is president of Pantheon, which combines technology expertise and a deep knowledge of health care, education, and social impact markets to provide online technology solutions for nonprofits, associations, and government.