Monday, July 26, 2010

Top 10 Benefits of Project Management

I have been fortunate to have been a project manager at several leading charities over the last few years, mostly on database and CRM implementations, but also on other IT and finance projects. Here is my list of the key benefits I believe a good project manager should bring to any similar project:
  • The project team and staff will know what is going on and what is expected of them. This is possibly the most important aspect of any PM’s role – without this, there is a high potential for lack of leadership and the project failing.
  • The bottom line: a project manager must monitor, maintain and know the overall and current state of the project budget, timescale, resources required and deliverables and produce the associated reporting to the project board. This is clearly a key aspect for any PM.
  • Maintaining an up-to-date project plan, including milestones. (NB: It is usually not sufficient to solely use a project plan provided by a software supplier as inevitably that does not incorporate all the internal needs and issues which the client has).
  • Keep the project board up-to-date with monthly meetings and (usually) more regular highlight reports. A good PM can also work with the project board when it comes to discussing and making decisions on the project when it is not going as well as it should be.
  • Co-ordination and centralisation. With a large project, it is imperative that everything is fed through a central resource and everyone knows how to do this.
  • Monitoring resource allocation: Whilst the PM is not responsible for the actual resource allocation, it is important that they monitor how resources are being allocated and ensure that necessary resources have been planned for.
  • Communication: not just with the project board and the immediate project team, but with the users and potentially a wider audience to keep all interested stakeholders up-to-date.
  • Task dependencies: A key aspect of a project is that many tasks are dependent on other earlier tasks or must be started/completed before other tasks can happen. Again, this is something which needs to be monitored and understood.
  • Risk assessment and issues management. This is a critical requirement and incorporates maintaining a risk register and issues log; and if it doesn’t go quite as far as being a ‘trouble-shooter’ then it certainly involves identifying and understanding the risks when trouble might appear.
  • Prevent (un-authorised) scope creep.
  • Supplier liaison/management and co-ordination
Okay, if you counted, then you will see there are 11 benefits – sorry, I just had to sneak them all in!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is £0 Really Too Much to Pay for Gift Aid Software?

A report today on Third Sector’s web site states that, from a survey of 896 charities, “more than four in 10 charities do not maximise their Gift Aid claims,” and that “the main reason cited by respondents for not using online systems was that they lacked IT capability. Only 15 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to pay more than £50 for software, and 42 per cent said they would not be willing to pay anything at all, including 15 charities with incomes of more than £25m a year.”

I can’t believe this! Can that really be the case that so many charities don’t see the benefit of spending any money at all on software to help them make Gift Aid claims? It beggars belief. To the extent that I actually wonder how the relevant question(s) were phrased in the survey. Is it that those charities who responded in this way already have a fundraising database and therefore don’t want to spend more money on specific Gift Aid software? If so, then I can understand that, as I would hope that most fundraising databases should be able to manage Gift Aid perfectly adequately, at least at a basic level, even if they can’t all manage all the complex nuances of specific, more difficult Gift Aid rules. (And I have to believe that this is the case for those 15 charities with income over £25m a year – they can’t be running Gift Aid on paper based systems…)

I do realise that some Gift Aid issues are more complex than Gift Aid on 'straight forward' donations, and so those respondents who “supported the simplification of current rules [for] auctions, entrance to attractions, sponsored events and donations through self-assessment tax returns” probably have a fair case; such claims can be more difficult to administrate and automate in software packages - although not impossible. But in terms of ‘standard’ donations, it is interesting that Barry Gower, Gift Aid expert at GAIN, recently stated at the IoF National Conference that he feels the current Gift Aid system “is not broken”.

Either way, we have what we have at the moment, so that is no reason not to spend at least some money on ensuring you maximise your Gift Aid revenue. In fact, I wonder if it is a charity's moral duty?

So I just wonder why these charities refuse to spend any income on software to help them with their Gift Aid (assuming that really is the case)? Do they not understand the benefits? The time and effort they will save, the ability to automate R68 reports, the increased accuracy and automation of income processing and claims, the potential to go back over previous years and back-claim gift aid from a donor’s earlier donations? The speed to find Gift Aid Declarations? The increased ease to monitor and manage oral declarations? The power of reporting on all this and the ability to analyse and improve your marketing and income processing? And as a result of all the above and more, the extra income they can potentially make from using Gift Aid software to efficiently and pro-actively administrate their Gift Aid?
Or do they think the software is too complicated to use? That the administration to run such software systems is so high that it outweighs any extra income? Surely not. And do they not know there is dedicated Gift Aid Management Software for small organisations which costs from just £30?

So, please, if you work for one of the charities who responded to this survey and who said they weren’t willing to spend anything at all, then let me know why in the Comments sections below. Have I mis-understood your needs or message? Or has the report misconstrued your answers? Because you have to trust me here – one of the best investments you will ever make in software for your charity is on software which will help you do Gift Aid claims. It is one area we can really show an almost guaranteed ROI! The largest charities can claim thousands and thousands of pounds as a result and even the smallest charity who does pro-active fundraising will surely benefit from either a decent fundraising database which supports gift aid processing or the simplest of Gift Aid software packages.

Because, if it really is the case that such charities are not using any software at all to manage their Gift Aid then that worries and depresses me. Please tell me I’m wrong. And you won’t hear that very often from a consultant!

Monday, July 19, 2010

16 Ways to Improve User Buy-in

Many database implementations are planned and considered with some input from the end-users, but if the project is a long implementation or there are many end-users who thus may not be involved day-to-day, then there is a risk that such individuals may become disillusioned or disenfranchised from the project.

Here’s a few bullet points (in no particular order) to help encourage user buy-in to a project:
  • Continual communication: probably the simplest and quickest but unfortunately the most under-utilised. It doesn’t need to be much, e.g. a regular email to the end-users and/or through their managers, updates on your intranet, brief presentation at team meetings etc, they all help. And you can get feedback from the users too. In addition, many of the points below by their very inference are continual communication, but having a structured approach can really help.
  • Involvement at design stage: Do involve key users at the time you are designing the database, whether it is the customisation of a package or the detailed design of a bespoke system. This may sound obvious (even necessary! I hope so) but it works. And do plan ahead for any such involvement; I find users really enjoy and want to get involved but not if you ask them to do 2 four hour workshops next week when they are just about to launch a new campaign!
  • Demos of the software & opportunities for hands-on experiences during the implementation: Show the software to the users – it’s a great way to get them excited about the new database and even if you do an initial demo at an early stage, then you can ask for their feedback and comments and make them feel even more involved.
  • Assurance of training: It’s always one of the top 3 questions from users – What sort of training will we have? So give them details as soon as you know, and even before that, pre-empt the questions by assuring users that training will be provided.
  • Ask for ideas – during implementation and after go-live: Continue to ask the users what they would really like, although you’ll need to this in a ‘controlled environment’. If you let them ask for anything and expect everything then that can be worse than not asking at all, so do communicate that ideas will be considered but may not all be implemented.
  • Keeping promises, so don’t over-promise! Hand-in-hand with the above, and in general, keep your promises but don’t over-promise. A slightly trite phrase is ‘Under promise and over deliver’ and even if I don’t like that specific thought process, the underlying concept is reasonable.
  • Remember, What are the benefits to them? When you’re selling a new database to the users, what are the benefits that they are going to get themselves? It should of course be the case that the organisation will benefit from a new database, and although that should ultimately mean the users will too, it can also mean that processes may change, more data entry may be needed etc. So, identify specific benefits which the users will get and communicate those. That will help them understand the need for any changes which they don’t like so much.
  • Pro-actively address the common objection of “I don’t know what I want from the database because I don’t know what a database can do” – because it’s (usually) a fair point. Don’t just ask, ‘What do you want the database to do?’ because many users quite simply will not know the capabilities of a database. If they have not had experience of a really good system then they may not be aware of all the benefits they can get from one. Instead, ask ‘What do you do in your job?’, ‘What are the problems you have?’, ‘What would make your life easier?’ and so on. Classic business analysis.
  • Stories of how other charities have benefited from it: Find out how other charities have benefited from the same database as you are implementing and tell your users.
  • Quick wins: It’s a slightly hackneyed expression, but can be very useful. If there are Quick Wins which you can implement when you do go-live then try to do those. It will show how the new database can help and keep up enthusiasm.
  • Listen! And acknowledge.
  • Automation: In pure technical terms, automating a process is one of the best benefits many users can have. For example, instead of having to enter a donation, then open Word, cut-and-paste an address, write the letter, insert the donation amount etc - automate it. Yes that is basic but even basic automation helps. And if you can automate even more complicated tasks then that’s even better.
  • Excite the users by implementing one or two really ‘whizzy’ things! E.g. Maps with donor details plotted on them, analytical graphs they haven’t seen before, automation and interaction with the web. It’s going to vary between organisations as to just what is considered whizzy, but by doing just a few high-tech things early on after go-live, it does get people excited.
  • Involvement at Testing. Again, I would hope this is a given, but do involve your users at the time of testing. It isn’t the most exciting of tasks but it encourages adoption and involvement.
  • Competitions: I have known charities who have run competitions during their implementations. For example, every week/month during the implementation phase, they send out an email with a question which relates to the project and to which the users will know the answer if they have got involved, if they check the intranet for updates etc. The charity then does a random draw and the winner gets a prize. A very small prize to start with but as they progress through the project, so the questions get more involved (e.g. when training users, ask specific questions about functionality) and one charity even finished their competition by giving the lucky winner an extra day’s leave.
  • Be realistic about implementing new changes. Having said all the above, be aware that implementing a new database is a time-consuming experience. Don’t expect to implement lots of new things on day one of go-live. Make sure you get the basics right and plan any key changes carefully. Users will thank you for that.
Anyone else got any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Raiser's Edge: Why does one person like it and the next hate it?

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I have recently been talking to several charities who use The Raiser's Edge. And it seems to me that whenever you gather together a group of fundraisers, throw in a few charity DBAs (and a pinch of technology consultants), and start talking about The Raiser's Edge, then, almost inevitably, some of the group will sing its praises and others will slate it and tell you it’s rubbish. But why? It’s the same software being used at the different charities (possible version differences aside), with the same functionality (modules aside) and surely all organisations could use it the same way? So why then, if one person loves it, does the next person find it just doesn’t work for their charity.

At this point, I should offer a clarification and a caveat on this blog post: To clarify, I have used The Raiser’s Edge in the title of this blog because it is used so widely in the sector and thus you inevitably get more people discussing it and therefore liking and disliking it. It is one of the more long-standing products on the market and fundraisers have inevitably heard of it. However, most of the points in this article could equally apply to any other similar fundraising, membership or CRM database package.

Secondly, the caveat is that such a question cannot be answered truly comprehensively in a brief blog post. Each of the points below could justify their own post (or set of posts!) and far more discussion. And of course there can be specific reasons why a database does not work for a specific charity. But because I am asked this or similar questions regularly, and because I really want to encourage charities to consider and understand the fundamental issues so they don’t immediately blame Blackbaud or similar suppliers, I hope this initial post will provide a fair and useful overview and supply the start of the answer.

So here are a few suggestions as to why we love to love or have to hate The Raiser's Edge:
  • Data. I have been fortunate to have done quite a few data audits of Raiser’s Edge installations and the data in the system is one of the most important factors in the success of its implementation. Data Quality (accuracy, integrity, consistency, use of look-up tables etc) is key, the data needs to be up-to-date (a classic hate for fundraisers), the breadth of data (or lack of it) within constituent records affects data quality, as does the relevance of data and the trust which fundraisers put in the data which is stored on the database – all these are vital components. Too often I hear words along the lines, “we don’t believe the data in the database is correct or up-to-date”. The time which Raiser’s Edge has been used at an organisation is another factor in this - the data may well have been excellent when it was first implemented but over the years it has deteriorated. That happens, and often it is the poor database which is blamed. Data is the foundation of all good databases and if there are problems with the data then it doesn’t matter how good or bad the database software is.
  • Set-up and configuration for your charity – during initial implementation and thereafter. The Raiser's Edge is a sophisticated but quite complex database to learn, even more so to use optimally. And how you use it, how it is configured, where you store data, how you use the “cornerstone” codes and so on can seriously affect how good the implementation is. Codes such as Constituent Codes, Fund and Appeal codes, Action Types (horribly abused in some systems I’ve seen) attributes and so on all need careful attention. And continual attention – if such tables grow uncontrollably they can become unwieldy and unusable. And where you store specific data items - attributes or ‘cons codes’, Appeals tab or Actions, etc – can fundamentally affect the usability.
  •  Your Raiser’s Edge Database Manager. For a starter, you need one. Don’t try without. And a good RE database manager is worth their weight in gold: a good database manager not only understands the software, how to use it, what it can do and so on, but can also understand or learn your business, operations and needs and can apply all that information to the implementation so that it bring huge benefits to your charity. I don’t believe that Raiser’s Edge database managers need to be extraordinarily technical people (although a solid technical understanding is very useful) - far more important to me is that they can apply your fundraising requirements to your fundraising software. Give me a business expert with some database knowledge who can learn the system over a ‘pure’ RE database manager.
  • Training, procedures, user guides. Again, it doesn’t matter how good or bad your software is, if your users aren’t trained then how can they be expected to use the database to its best potential? And ideally, good procedures and user guides to back-up the training are a key element to the success of the database. (Anyone actually have a data dictionary..?) And please keep them up-to-date…
  • Hardware and IT infrastructure. Probably one of the most common complaints I hear about The Raiser's Edge, or any database is, “It’s so slow…” Now of course this could be how the database has been designed by the software supplier, but if one implementation runs fine and the next does not, even with similar record numbers, then that is less likely. Just as likely (more likely?) is that your server or PCs are not of the recommended specification, your network performance needs investigation/optimisation or the IT infrastructure for your remote offices is not sufficient for the database.
  • Applicability to your organisation. This is one area where it is feasible that The Raiser's Edge may not be the right database for you. If you are a small organisation with few records or a huge organisation with many millions of records, then The Raiser's Edge may not always be the most applicable. Blackbaud, understandably, will show that RE can help small organisations and that even RE7 can manage millions of records (although their next generation Infinity platform will be better for that), but it is feasible that other solutions could be more applicable. This is of course one point which is completely organisation-specific. It can also be the case that over the years your requirements have changed so that The Raiser's Edge may not meet your current requirements whereas it did originally.
  • Blackbaud-specific likes: The Raiser's Edge is generally good quality software, it has good querying tools, and is especially useful for non-technical users; and Blackbaud offer great longevity as a company and have produced many upgrades over the years and with exciting propositions for the future. Users like the software and the company for that. It has many charities using it so you get a good user community.
  • Blackbaud-specific hates: Hmm, this really can be a favourite topic for some fundraisers and database managers! (And I’ve certainly had my own gripes over the years…)  As mentioned above, The Raiser's Edge is sophisticated but complex software (in fact, “The Raiser's Edge is so complex…” is probably the number one ‘complaint’ I hear about it) and it does need time and dedication. So if you don’t have people who can put in the time, or that is not your organisation’s requirement then it can be understandable why people don’t like it. RE7 can be quite prescriptive and in some ways it is less flexible than other companies’ offerings in terms of screen layouts, customised fields etc (unless one uses their VBA/API tools), and I personally believe that for the first time recently, RE7 is starting to show its age in that way compared to newer alternatives on the market. Equally, Blackbaud themselves are a large company and not everyone’s cup of tea, support has been up-and-down over the years (it has many clients and some users complain of feeling a small fish in a big pond) and users do relate to previous bad experiences. And it is not cheap. It certainly isn’t the most expensive solution on the market but there are very good, less costly alternatives for small organisations.
So if you are using The Raiser's Edge and you are finding it is not doing what you want it to do, then do consider the above points before you look for an alternative.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

How England Could Have Won The World Cup If Only They Had Used a Fundraising Database

Forget about goal-line technology or dodgy refereeing. Don't worry about lacklustre performances or inept defending. (Actually, do worry about inept defending - that was indefensible). And who cares about whether Lampard can play with Gerrard, or whether Rooney plays better with Heskey?

Well, actually, maybe we should care about that last point. Because that does matter - and England could have understood that, and really could have won the World Cup, if only they had used a database, preferably a fundraising database. Honestly. Don’t believe me? Then read on...

The thing is, fundraising, like football, is a contact sport. It is all about relationships and communication, action and analysis, pitches, targets, goals... I could go on. And yes, they are both about the money. But it is also about research and tactics. England just needed to understand how they should be playing each match based on their previous games. And the best way to understand that? Data analysis. More accurately, data analysis on a relationship management database.

Because a fundraising database could hold all the information which don Fabio could ever have wished to have known. All the players would be Contacts (date of birth, club, number of games etc), their past matches would be Communication History, and any half-decent database (Brian) would be able to record plenty of additional match info on that history, like the opponent, quality, performance, passes made etc. Heck, it could even record strikers' goals on the Donation records, and by doing that use all those lovely reports showing performance and goal analysis... I would say that the database could even record how much each player earns, although I realise we might need to extend the field lengths for that.

But the coup-de-grĂ¢ce is of course that the fundraising database could hold all the relationships between the players. Who plays with who, who was playing with who, what position, how long and so on. And then, of course, with a quick Crystal Report here and a nifty pivot table there, one could compare all that data with the Communication History and Goals, analyse it against the opposition, and do predictive analysis to see how England should play against the USA, Germany or the mighty Slovenia. And then we would know that Lampard can play with Gerrard, as long as Gerrard plays in the hole, and David James plays well in goal when he has Terry and Rio in front of him, and only a fool would take off Defoe and bring on Heskey with 15 minutes to go when we need to score 3 goals. And, thus, understand exactly from history what we should do in the future.

Football: it’s a simple game.

If you have read this far (well done!) and are hoping for a serious point, well okay, here you go. My point here is that as users of fundraising databases, we should sometimes stretch our minds and think outside the box to consider if we could actually use the systems for just a bit more than we are doing right now. (Although, Frank, if you are reading this, next time you are outside the box, please think about 6 inches lower). Why should we just have to record basic donor information and their gifts, who they know and what events they quite like attending. What else could we record? (And yes, yes, I know there is that pesky little thing called the data protection act, but that aside...) How else could we be using our databases to really push the boundaries and truly help the fundraisers and decision makers see data differently and give us an advantage over other, competitive campaigns.

Anyone got any thoughts or ideas? Not on fundraising, of course, but on how we could use the fundraising database to help ensure England win the next World Cup? Anyone? Please?