A Horse of a Different Colour

Consultant Ken Wyman is not surprised that most of Canada's 100,000 not-for-profits and 78,000 charities are using technology badly, given the tight budgets everyone is always working with. "There's also a big difference between the large charities and the rest," he states. "Half of Canada's charities bring in less than $50,000 per year, and operate much like small businesss on a shoestring."

And the charitable sector is shrinking. "Today, the government is responsible for more than 50% of all charities' revenues across the country, with cutbacks showing no signs of slowing down," reports Wyman. " As a result, some organizations are likely to dissappear over the next five to ten years. Among those that remain, e'll see larger community foundations and serious globalization."

According to Wyman, most not-for-profits could greatly improve their operations and increase their chances of survival by getting into e-business, or at least using technology to speed up processes and automate back-office operations. Technology may seem expwensive, but it is now a given for any organization." he states. Those with small budgets need to think creatively to defray those costs: find sponsors, use students and volunteers, get equipment donated and so on." A government initiative, called VolNet (www.volnet.org) also helps not-for-profits get on line.

Wyman has pinpointed five key things that charities and other not-for-profits should be investing in.

  1. Get a good database and manage it
    The best benefit that charities and other not-for-profits can get from technology is a good database of their donors, supporters and members that is more than just a mailing list. "There are probably 30 or 40 competing products on the market that do database maintenance, updating and management," reports Wyman. "Any one of these is better than a home-made solution."
  2. Speed up your responses
    Slow responses are a major failing among NFPs, with late thank-you letters topping the list. Those letters must be out within at least 24, and no more than 48, hours of when a donation comes in. Email technology can get a thank-you letter sent out imediately to let donors know their donations were recieved and appreciated. But don't scrimp on postage and paper: the personal note is still crucial for touching donors' hearts and building thier commitment for the long run.
  3. Use phone and fax technology to help with administration
    Most charities don't handle the phones very well. A recent survey we conducted showed that far too many people on the phones were giving incorrect information, sounding grumpy and not knowing how to take donations. A simple voice-messaging or interactive voice response system from your local phone company can take care of so many inquiries. A fax-back system can automatically send out frequently requested documents and publications.
  4. Make it easy for donors to give generously
    Some charities have cheques sitting around for weeks; others can't handle post-dated cheques. Let people use credit cards: they will give 15 to 20 per cent more on a credit card than they will on a cheque. Let people give monthly payments: They often give more than they would in a lump sum, and renew their donations automatically every year - this helps you focus on getting them to give more, rather than fighting for repeat donations. Move to electronic funds transfer (LFT): One environmental charity has about a third of its donors signed on to an EFT system; those donors are contributing about two thirds of its total income.
  5. Use the Internet to build relationships
    Email is an extemely effective communications tool that can be used in countless ways. You can provide donors with reports on how their dollars are being spent, especially in changing situations such as the drought in Ethiopia. Use list-servs for discussion groups: Volunteers could have email discussions on organizing a special event or on approaching major donors; donors could have a charity-sponsored diascussion on hot issues. And use your website to accept donations.

Ken Wyman, a trainer and consultant in the charitable sector since 1983, has written seven books on fundraising and launched a television series that airs on educational television. He can be reacghed at [email protected]

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