How to Make Customer Relationships Second Nature

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Sierra Club CRM and Analytics

The Sierra Club, an important, popular environmental organization, turned to CRM and advanced analytics capabilities to improve interactions with supporters.

Not-for-profit organizations face an array of practical and financial challenges. Yet, at the center of everything is the need to develop closer and deeper ties with supporters who contribute money and time.

At the 122-year-old Sierra Club, which boasts approximately 2.4 million members and supporters, the need for a more focused approach led it directly to customer relationship management (CRM) and advanced analytics capabilities. "We are looking for more innovative ways to build involvement and participation at a grassroots level," says Chris Thomas, chief innovation officer.

In the past, the organization relied mostly on conventional methods, such as mass mailings, newsletters and email blasts. "We were one of the first not-for-profit organizations to use email," he explains. "But over the years, we hadn't kept up with the changes in technology and society. Our technology platform wasn't scalable enough, and we had essentially hit the wall. We needed to take our communication and interaction capabilities to the next level."

The Sierra Club turned to Salesforce.com for a more advanced CRM and analytics platform. The system, which went live in June 2014, introduced real-time interaction and data management capabilities, along with cost efficiencies that otherwise weren't achievable. This wasn't a small change, particularly with only four IT staff members devoted exclusively to this project.

The system "has allowed us to plug in advanced technology without undergoing a lot of internal development," Thomas says. "We've gained a great deal of flexibility and agility." As a result, the organization now better understands what motivates members and which members are more likely to respond to an appeal or volunteer opportunity. "We are able to assemble a 360-degree view of constituents and connect to them far more effectively," he adds.

For instance, the Sierra Club can now identify members who have participated in multiple outings or signed multiple petitions. It can view past behavior, including which petitions they've signed and where they have donated money.

"We are able to view a list of those most likely to respond to a campaign," Thomas explains. "If a person has gone on hikes, signed petitions and donated money or time, we know there is a much higher probability that we can recruit them to serve as a volunteer leader."

The organization will also use the Salesforce system to move toward a one-to-one engagement model that advances its online advocacy and fundraising efforts. Later this year, for instance, the Sierra Club plans to begin using the system to better analyze email and other campaigns and respond to the data in a more nimble way. That will likely boost response rates and, ultimately, engagement levels.

In addition, the organization is working to extend data to mobile devices to further speed decision making.

The biggest challenge, Thomas says, was handling data migration, which meant adopting new, more complex data standards. Overall, the migration process took about eight months to complete, but IT was able to accomplish the task without any significant hitches or glitches.

"This is a very disruptive technology," Thomas points out. "We now have a far more sophisticated way to capture touch points and understand how best to reach out and engage our members and supporters."

This article was originally published on 2015-02-12

Samuel Greengard, a Baseline contributor, writes about business, technology and other topics. His forthcoming book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press), will be released in the spring of 2015.

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