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Using Technology to Communicate with Your Nonprofit's Beneficiaries

Most nonprofits recognize the need to optimize technology and processes for communications with donors and volunteers. But one area that's sometimes overlooked is streamlining communications with the recipients of the organization's services and tracking data about those recipients.

  • Some organizations might use various spreadsheets to track service recipient data and contact information, so the data is scattered in multiple places.
  • Others might have technology available to optimize recipient communications but haven't trained their staff or created processes to use the technology well.
  • Sometimes there aren't processes and technology in place to make sure the organization follows up with people who have used the nonprofit's services.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you're not alone. But, whether you are a large organization or a small organization, there are solutions and strategies available today to help you turn things around.

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Streamlining Your Communications with Service Recipients

At Heller Consulting, we help our clients implement technology solutions that typically include a customer relationship management (CRM) system at the core to centralize data in one place, plus email marketing, marketing automation, and other tools to streamline communications processes.

There are multiple benefits to these types of technology solutions when it comes to communicating with service recipients.

Work More Efficiently

Your organization can communicate with service recipients more efficiently and effectively. An example of this is creating convenient online forms that give constituents a way to sign up for services. One of our clients has an online form that does the following:

  • Puts relevant information directly into the CRM system
  • Assigns the recipient to the correct program
  • Delivers the information the recipient needs at the right time to be part of the organization's program

A sophisticated flow of communication like the one detailed above is powerful for a large organization, but the same strategy can be replicated at a smaller organization too. There are several free online form options out there — such as those available through Office 365 or G Suite for Nonprofits — that you can set up today.

If you're not working within a CRM, the key is staying organized and using the forms to collect data that will better inform your program staff. You could host a meeting with your staff and brainstorm questions together. For example, if you're with a small food bank, are you trying to track which satellite pantries are most popular? Are you trying to gauge interest in a summer lunch program for kids? Align your program goals with the survey questions.

Once you have the link to the survey, make it accessible on your website and on printed materials.

Get Feedback

It's important to know if the services you're providing are serving your populations well. By having a centralized way to track service beneficiary data, your staff can prompt service recipients to give feedback about their experience online, and that feedback can be automatically pulled into the CRM system. If you're not using a CRM, this would be pulled into a shared Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet. This gives you the option to run reports and see insights on how the service delivery program is performing and how your organization can make improvements.

Report on the Program

With data about service delivery housed in one centralized location, your organization can easily review reports to determine how to improve the service delivery process further. For example, one of our clients found that many recipients signed up for a service but did not show up to receive it. Having this data at their fingertips, the programs staff used their email marketing technology to set up an additional reminder email.

Reporting is also crucial to show program impact. If you have reporting tools available through your technology, you can easily pull reports to send to the board of directors and other entities that need to be updated on the success of your programs.

Improve Donor and Volunteer Communications

It's not unusual for service recipients to later volunteer for or donate to the organization that provided help when they needed it. By housing information about service recipients, donors, volunteers, and other constituents in one location, your staff can better understand the full relationship of each person with your organization. This makes it much easier to send targeted, relevant communications and maintain deeper, more meaningful relationships with the people who have interacted with your programs.

A CRM simplifies communications because it gives you a unified view of how one person has interacted with your organization, but smaller nonprofits could achieve this by tracking data in shared spreadsheets and building in regular check-ins with your team to review data and feedback so that staff members are not working in silos.


Starting Small

If you're reading this and you're a part of a smaller organization, a new CRM might not be in the budget right now. If you are just getting started, our advice overall is to put processes in place that will help you understand your service recipients now and will create habits to scale from later as you grow. For example, you can still create a feedback loop to understand if the services you provided resonated with your beneficiaries. You could do this by creating a quick survey with Google Forms or Microsoft Forms, add recipients to an email list in a tool like Constant Contact, and send them the survey link in a follow-up email.

Improving Service Recipient Communications in the Real World

Here are three examples of our clients that use technology solutions with a CRM system at the center to streamline and optimize their service recipient communications.

A Service Dog Organization

We helped a large service dog organization set up a CRM-centered system and a marketing automation tool that allows the various departments at the organization to track dogs, the many people that care for and work with them throughout their life, and the participants and alumni from the programs. This system allows our client to

  • Track the relationship between dogs and people all the way from the dog's birth through training, assignment on a team with a client, and retirement
  • Connect trained guide dogs with people who need them and manage the application and class processes associated with each relationship
  • Be able to quickly send targeted updates to service recipients, such as notifications about changes in air travel policies, that are accessible via screen reader
  • Easily exclude service recipients from email communications that do not apply to the recipients, such as notifications to trainers about dates when dogs are due for booster shots

An Animal Welfare Organization

We partnered with a large metropolitan animal welfare organization on a technology solution with a CRM solution at the core, paired with digital engagement, marketing automation, and other software. One example of how the organization is putting the technology to work is through personalized communications with pet adopters that accomplish the following:

  • Map out various pet adoption paths — including different types of pets, multiple pets, and returned pets — and how each adoption pathway and the related data flow through the technology system
  • Fill in any gaps in data to ensure that they have the right information to send communications with accurate personalization — for example, knowing when and what type of pet was adopted
  • Set up automated, highly personalized email communications that
    • Mention adopted pets by name
    • Provide tips appropriate for their type of pet or pets
    • Encourage deeper engagement with the organization, including joining conversations on social media, volunteering, and making donations

The organization is also able to use the technology to analyze and adjust the pet adopter process as needed. They can view real-time information about how well communications with pet adopters are performing. By keeping tabs on the open, click-through, unsubscribe, and bounce rates of each email, they can quickly adjust and refine content to better communicate with people who just adopted a pet.

A Food Bank

We work with some of the largest food banks in the country, and we have seen them use creative ways to communicate with their service recipients during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those clients streamlined service registration and the food distribution process by using a CRM system and marketing automation.

The food bank automatically sends a confirmation email or text to service recipients as soon as they sign up for services, such as food distribution. The recipients are also quickly notified of their options, next steps, what to be prepared for, and when they can expect to receive assistance. They also receive a reminder one day before the first food distribution. This has been especially critical during the pandemic because of the immediate impact to many families.

The technology also helps the food bank track what communications have gone out, when they were sent, and who they went to and why. This helps the organization ensure that all steps in their processes are followed.

Lessons Learned

Keep in mind that these examples were all from large organizations that serve major metropolitan areas. Their technology needs are complex, but the lessons learned are simple and can be applied to organizations of all sizes:

  • Tracking and reaching out to the people benefitting from your organization's services is essential to understanding the impact of your organization.
  • Technology can ease both tracking data and communicating with service recipients. The solution can be as simple as having an online form readily available on a tablet for recipients to fill out before they leave or adding a feedback form link to an email newsletter.
  • Having insights into the effectiveness of your services makes it easier to meet reporting requirements.

Parting Words

We hope these examples from our clients will inspire you to consider the technology available today — whether that is a strong CRM system with marketing automation or an email marketing tool paired with free online forms. These types of tools can help streamline everything from program beneficiary outreach and tracking to fundraising and volunteer management. Having these types of technologies in place can accelerate the digital transformation of your organization, but the key overall is to get started.

At a time when budgets and time might be tighter, it's OK to begin with less expensive tools and start collecting service recipient data and communicating with the population you are serving. Opening up this communication will equip you with the insights you need to make a greater impact.

About the Authors

Crystal Suarez is a certified salesforce administrator and marketing cloud email specialist with over seven years of experience with salesforce customer relationship management, including database management in the nonprofit sector. Crystal is currently a consultant for Heller Consulting.

Catherine Moore has over 20 years' experience in change leadership, communications, and technology in both nonprofit and corporate sectors. Catherine is currently the digital transformation practice lead for Heller Consulting.

Learn More

Nonprofits today are using technology for a wide range of organizational operations. Take a look to see how you can bring your organization to digital maturity:

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