Mar/Apr 2007

Lessons from a Cupcake Fan: How Online Constituent Relationship Management (eCRM) Makes Constituents Feel Special

by Sheeraz Haji, President, Convio

As you may know, I've never been one to shy away from a buffet, or to pass up M&Ms, beer, or Ruffles (I could go on). And Weight Watchers knows it. At my request, I receive regular emails with tips on how to curb my tendency to go back for seconds... and thirds. They know that I lack willpower, they understand my weight loss goals, as well as my lifestyle challenges, and they customize their communications accordingly (lots of tips for easy-to-prepare meals). This personalized interaction and seemingly one-to-one advice encouraged me to sign-up for another year with Weight Watchers. Again.

Let me contrast my Weight Watchers experience with that of my recent interactions with a (not-to-be-named) nonprofit organization. I recently attended a fundraising event for the organization, and made a donation. Two weeks later, I received an email asking for another donation. Apparently I had been "out of touch". Initially, I was concerned that my recent donation had gone astray. Then, I was frustrated that the organization didn't acknowledge my recent donation and event participation. Finally, I felt sympathetic because I realized that this organization did not have an integrated way to track me as a donor; they underestimated the importance of a 360-degree view of constituent data to optimize its fundraising and advocacy efforts.

The value of eCRM (online constituent relationship management) is its ability to provide a 360-degree view of constituents, which can be leveraged to produce personalized, targeted, and desired communications based on an individual's demographics, preferences, interests and past behavior as a donor and/or activist. Failure to use this critical information can lead to embarrassing situations for organizations, and can annoy supporters.

For a constituent-based organization, data about your supporters is worth its weight in gold (sorry to bring "weight" back into this again!). It can help you better understand your constituents and how they like to interact with your organization. Data can be used to recognize trends, compare campaigns, and identify what is (or isn't) working. Armed with this information, you can create effective, customized, targeted emails, and fundraising and advocacy campaigns that demonstrate an understanding of the relationship your supporter has had — and wants to have — with your organization. Organizations can use eCRM to appeal to their constituents' interests in a way that encourages them to take a desired action such as make a donation, attend an event or support an advocacy campaign.

The American Lung Association's constituents have a broad range of interests that lead them to support the organization. There are supporters who have a personal experience with lung conditions, and those concerned about policy issues, such as tobacco or air pollution. Each of these varied constituencies is looking for different information. One group may be more interested in air quality issues in their local area and news about respiratory illnesses, while another group may want to learn about lawsuits against the tobacco industry, and legislation on tobacco control. If the American Lung Association used the same generic voice to address all audiences, and presented the same generic piece of content, the response to these communications from both an advocacy and fundraising standpoint would be low since the message was not customized to the interests of the target audience.

Oxfam America (Oxfam) effectively leveraged its constituent data when it launched its 2006 Starbucks campaign targeting its "activists" — those who had taken one or more actions in previous advocacy campaigns. Oxfam's integrated online campaign included a series of alerts, each one tailored to the recent actions of constituents. With each successive alert, Oxfam provided updates on how the campaign was progressing. People who hadn't responded to the alerts had an opportunity to learn — and participate — through Oxfam's monthly newsletter. This was the most successful advocacy campaign Oxfam had ever launched — 90,000 people from around the world participated.

Constituent expectations are high. They expect a personalized experience every time they interact with your organization. They want to feel "special" among your large group of supporters. If they donated online last week, don't call them the following week to ask for a donation because doing so could motivate them to find a similar organization to support — one that will make them feel valued and understood, not harassed.

Too many email communications are perceived by constituents as spam. The challenge is to use eCRM solutions to create relevant and meaningful communications for each supporter who receives them so that you will maximize every constituent relationship.

Sorry to cut this short, but apparently there are homemade cupcakes in the lunchroom...

Lessons from a Cupcake Fan: How Online Constituent Relationship Management (eCRM) Makes Constituents Feel Special | Convio