Eight tips to unlock the value of CRM & data in charities

In this blog Harlequin clients share insights into unlocking the value of data in charities with CRM

The adage “you only get out what you put in” is often heard in the database world – usually followed up with “garbage in, garbage out”. This of course refers to the quality of data inputted into CRM systems and the processes surrounding data capture, entry and extraction. Data is the lifeblood of a CRM system: for charities, on a daily basis, it underpins healthy supporter relationships and, at a strategic level, informs decision making. But, perhaps most importantly, a charity CRM system is also meant to help charities increase income and reduce costs.

The University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Charity (UHCW Charity) says, “Having all our data in one place helps us on an everyday level to work smarter and adhere to best practice processes; however, the unification of information also allows us to run queries and extract reports to inform fundraising planning and help us to see what is working and what is being achieved at a more strategic level. The system has definitely enabled us to grow both our supporter base and income from campaigns, as well as to nurture closer relationships with our supporters.”

1. Centralise data

For every charity we meet, the centralisation of data is at the top of their priorities. Either they have many unruly spreadsheets, use a basic generic database or have stopped using their current system. Recent new client CW+ (the charity for Chelsea and Westminster hospital) comments: “We had become disenchanted with our old system as it did not meet our needs; it was unintuitive and we could not run reports ourselves. It was important to stop the tide of a return to spreadsheets and implement more user-friendly software to function across teams. Harlequin CRM will help us to be accountable to our supporters. It will keep data centralised so that every donor remains on our radar; we will plan when we need to talk to them using alerts and get to know personalities more with the contact management tools. We will also be able to connect contacts on the system to show the influence of key donors and volunteers.” 

The Poppy Factory adds, “All data and communications are in one place delivering a complete picture of clients, donors and potential supporters. We can develop relationships with clients and donors sensitively and effectively, whilst managing our cross-over of data.”

2. Follow best practice in data entry

Charities, like any organisation, can suffer from ‘dirty data’ or a rash of duplicate or incomplete records. Duplication alerts built within the CRM system and deduplication tools help. Good practice in data entry is also a must. For instance, Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) says, “When new people join, we train them quickly, using standard training exercises which are tailored to their role (and they can’t access the system until they’ve been trained). We’ve produced a user guide which has our own screen shots and step-by-step details using our vocabulary – this underpins common ways of working.”

3. Run reports and queries and use batch tools

Being able to extract reports from a CRM system and run queries is also a key requirement for charities – whether this be creating lists of accurate data for supporter thank you letters through to analytical queries on campaign success. Alder Hey Children’s Charity comments, “If we have lots of donations, we process these in a batch, linking each donation to a contact. To save time, a function in the software allows us to print thank you letters in one go at the end of day. We also have an annual appeal mailing that used to take weeks and involve the IT department. We are now able to extract the information from the system and have personalised letters ready to print in 20 minutes.”

The Poppy Factory also says, “Now we can readily report on data accurately for management and financial analysis, avoiding a lengthy manual process.”

4. Make appropriate asks using data insights

Many Harlequin clients are unlocking the value of their data to help them make appropriate asks. Nightingale House Hospice comments, “As we’ve had the system for eight years, we’ve got some really interesting data. For example, out of our 16,000 valued lottery members, 9,000 had never responded to wider asks so we reduced their hard newsletter mailings from four to one a year, sent with a tailored lottery thank you. We then sent a mailing with raffle tickets and tracked a 3,000 response rate.”

5. Ask the database questions

It is natural for people to ask questions in plain English – this includes asking questions about data. Make it part of your culture to translate how you can apply these questions to the system. Think in terms of data fields available and what you can report on. Consider what you might want to capture in the future – and be consistent across your organisation. RMHC says: “An example is the ability to extract the postcodes of – say – families who’ve stayed in our Houses and use mapping software to answer typical fundraisers’ questions such as “how many families from Greater Manchester have stayed in our Houses this year?”

6. Link fundraising and financial data

Complete visibility of fundraising income is essential to charities – both for fundraising and finance teams. Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust explains, “We create a daily income report from our fundraising system. This details income from each team and department, enabling them to compare actual to budget on a continual basis. If there are any anomalies, a discussion can be had at the end of the day before the information goes over the live link into the charity finance software.”

RMHC adds, “It is easy to run annual financial analysis reports and build up a donor analysis spreadsheet showing totals (direct and/or soft credits) by year, and using the groups and indicators produce analysis and comparisons by different donor types. We also produce a monthly dashboard summarising different income streams and comparing this year/last year figures.”

7. Maximise system potential

Nightingale House reports to be pushing the boundaries of how they use Harlequin CRM: “This year we celebrate our 20th Anniversary and plan to maximise the success of our annual events based on the information we hold in the system. Using complex data extraction reports that prioritise on specific attributes we are writing to all participants from over the years. For example, for the Midnight Walk, walkers will receive a tailored letter, volunteers a revised version and if they were both, another version again, so that each message is highly personalised to encourage the event to be the ‘Biggest Ever in our 20th Year’. A similar process will happen for all our challenge events as well as a mailing to schools.”

8. Work together and create a CRM culture

In sharing  their plans for the future, the Poppy Factory says: “We will keep in touch with Harlequin about our business plans and will be active members of the user group. We aim to maximise our use of the system and avoid getting stuck in routines that could limit how we operate.”

Continuously evaluating how you use your system is central to unlocking the value of data – equally is ensuring that your team feel empowered to use the software and that they actively capture information. Have at least one super-user inside your organisation – these are expert, advocate users who are contagiously passionate about the benefits of CRM for every charity stakeholder.

This blog is based on insights contained within our client case studies interviews – contained here.

Posted on October 28, 2015 by Tom Ellis