Advancement Technology: Using the Power of CRM
- By Larry Goldstein
ERP has it substantial merits, but may not be the answer for your Advancement folks. It's time to think about CRM.
AS WITH EVERY other facet of life in higher education, staff
responsible for donor/alumni relations rely on technology to conduct their activities.
It’s almost unimaginable to consider maintaining contact with and keeping track
of alumni, donors, friends, prospects, and others without the benefit of e-mail
and various database tools.
Mark Drozdowski, Corporate, Foundation, and Government Relations director at
Franklin Pierce College (NH), acknowledges the advantages that
have been realized through technology, but he also points out that technology
can create problems as well. In his world, there is a critical need to communicate
appropriately with donors and alumni, yet “appropriately” means different things
to different people. Advancement and development professionals will tell you:
Donors and alumni do not want too much contact, and they don’t want too little
either. They want just the right amount. Of course, that varies from individual
to individual, and w'e to the Development or Alumni office that can’t get it
right. Provide too much information, and the prospect or alumnus is turned off,
resulting in no financial support. But if not enough communication is provided,
the campus may miss out on gifts that the individual actually is willing and
able to provide.
Portals and CRM
To avoid such problems, campuses are turning to various solutions, including
portals and constituency (aka “customer”) relationship management (CRM) tools.
Portals are particularly useful because they allow customization by those relying
on them, while also providing campuses with tremendous amounts of information
about constituents and their portal usage, patterns, and preferences.
For some institutions, CRM tools provide the link between their ERP application
and the portal. For instance, at Florida State University,
Director of Student Information Management Rick Burnette has been the driving
force behind FSU’s adoption of Talisma (
as a CRM solution. Although currently used primarily for student recruitment,
he sees tremendous potential for its use by development/alumni staff. From his
perspective, Talisma—and by extension, other CRM products which include those
from Peoplesoft/Oracle (www.peoplesoft.com),
and even Seibel (www.seibel.com)—creates the potential to have a single comprehensive tool to track all aspects
of communication and interaction with anindividual throughout his/her lifetime
as a prospective student, current student, alumnus, prospective donor, and donor.
Some of the product’s features include functionality designed to manage highly
personalized and proactive marketing programs to produce improved donor and
alumni support; the capability for multichannel communication activities, including
phone, e-mail, chat, Web, print, etc.; and the ability to efficiently manage
prospecting and fundraising programs—all of which can be customized to address
the unique business processes of individual departments at FSU.
In addition to more generic office automation tools and newer, highly sophisticated
applications to support and manage interaction with constituents, donor/alumni
relations units require specialized applications to support other specific responsibilities.
For instance, the gift records management systems employed by independent colleges
and universities, and the foundations supporting their public counterparts,
have become increasingly sophisticated.
Part of this is nothing more than routine evolution as new features are added
to existing applications, but some of it is in direct response to the complexity
of the world in which advancement operates. Gifts are no longer limited to cash,
marketable securities, and the occasional antique or piece of fine art. Increasingly
complex financial instruments are being contributed to colleges and universities,
and such gifts require special management. Examples include intellectual property
such as patents, copyrights, and other forms of leveragable assets; interests
in limited partnerships; bargain entry options for joint ventures; and many
other arrangements that provide the potential for substantial financial returns
to the institution. The technology challenges presented by these gifts are significant,
both in terms of stewardship of the gift itself and the need to manage more
complex relationships with demanding donors.
What If ERP Is Inadequate?
The above needs highlight one of the more significant challenges faced by donor/alumni
relations staff. Too often, the staff is given a suboptimal application that
comes with an ERP system. Such applications may be perfectly acceptable for
some institutions, but for others, they may pose a major problem. As suggested
above, the need to keep up with increasingly more sophisticated donors, and
the vehicles they use to support institutions, suggests that a fairly generic
module packaged with an ERP system may be inadequate.
Development operations are incredibly complex, in many ways no less so than
finance, HR, or student records. Yet, when ERP decisions are made, it’s common
to opt for a single-solution ERP package because the vendor’s Big Three applications
(finance, HR, and student) are deemed to be optimal. Even when only one of the
three is truly outstanding, as long as the other two will do the job, it’s likely
that the institution will go with that vendor.
And if the ERP solution works for the Big Three, but is totally inadequate
for advancement needs, rarely will this ever result in the vendor solution being
rejected. According to John Taylor of the Burdenski & Taylor Consulting Group
is a common problem plaguing some colleges. It’s understandable that advancement
isn’t the driver for an ERP decision, but failing to meet Advancement’s needs
can have serious financial impacts on the organization. Taylor suggests that
campuses make informed decisions about technology purchases, to support advancement.
If the solution available through the ERP is capable to meet the needs of the
unit, fine. If not, it’s highly likely that the best financial decision for
the institution is to invest in a standalone solution to meet its needs. Even
though it may appear to be more costly, the institution will be better off in
the long run