Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your organization struggling to represent itself with a single voice?
- Do the different departments or functions within your organization avoid sharing their constituent lists with each other?
- Do your constituents complain that they hear too much from you or receive inconsistent messages from different functions?
- Do you struggle to convert constituents from one area of support to another - such as from being an advocate or volunteer to also being a donor?
- Do you have affiliates, chapters or field offices that have inconsistent branding or maintain completely separate constituent lists from the national office?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you probably have an organizational silo problem. The functions within an organization look at the world largely through their own eyes. They communicate with their own constituent groups as if there were limited overlap between them, and in isolation from how other functions are communicating (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1 - Constituent Communication in a Silo Organization
While technology is by no means a cure-all, an effective online constituent relationship management (eCRM) approach can help an organization break down functional silos and communicate with constituents in an integrated manner. The premise of eCRM is that the Internet is a shared resource for representing the face of an organization. It needs to appropriately balance all outward-facing constituent programs. The other key premise of eCRM is that a constituent might participate in more than one program and, therefore, should be communicated with in a unified fashion with all of his/her interactions tracked in a single, consolidated database.
Fig. 2 - Constituent Communications Enabled by eCRM
Organizations that have embraced an eCRM approach have more satisfied constituents, a more complete view of their constituents' interests and support levels, and are able to grow their support levels across functions.
A great example of an organization that has been able to reap significant benefits from an eCRM approach is Easter Seals. In the last three years, Easter Seals has successfully implemented a network-wide eCRM system that tracks all online constituent interactions across affiliates in a single database. All business functions at the national office and close to 90 percent of the organization's affiliates have embraced the system. Constituents now are benefiting from a more uniform and consistent communications experience. In addition, the Easter Seals network has increased capacity because the national office provides regular, sustained constituent communications in instances where affiliates do not have the resources to do so. Online fundraising has grown substantially year-to-year and the organization has found it easier to enforce branding standards.
Although most nonprofits operate as a collection of departments or functions that do not share constituent data or coordinate constituent communications, it does not have to be that way. eCRM is proving to be an effective approach to breaking down silos and organizing communications and program outreach around the constituent, producing a better experience for an organization's supporters.