“What’s in It for Me?”

In my previous post, I started to open up what I am actually working on over here. Based on the initial feedback from probably my most devoted readers, my parents, I still have quite some work to do to demystify it. This time I will continue by sharing more about the CRM tool selected by the American Red Cross, Salesforce. Some of you may have come across Salesforce earlier this year when it topped the list of The World’s Most Innovative Companies by Forbes. Salesforce has an impressive list of public references, mainly corporate clients but also a few nonprofit users, including Kiva and us

Salesforce is an internet-based service that allows logging in to the CRM tool through a web browser, on any device with internet access, without installing anything. At the Red Cross, the goal is that after Salesforce is deployed in the fundraising context, it will give fundraisers a complete picture of their donors, including contact information, preferences, affiliations, and activity history. This data can then be used by both front-line fundraisers and leadership to manage relationships with donors. In addition to managing the donor portfolio, other key areas of functionality are planning fundraising activities as well as solicitation strategies, and tracking asks and gifts. Additionally, the tool supports managing fundraising performance and reporting history data.

090928 Big Brother

Due to the performance management dimension of Salesforce and the increased transparency to fundraising activities, some users have started to refer to Salesforce with the nick name “Big Brother” tool. Like the saying goes, a beloved child has many names. If you ask me, though, this is a somewhat unfair interpretation of the situation. The tool provides numerous benefits for all the stakeholder groups, not only for the leadership:

  • Donors will receive more relevant communication with tailored content through the most convenient contact methods and at the right time. Systematically using Salesforce will enable a more coordinated American Red Cross interface towards donors building on prior interactions.
  • For fundraisers, the tool is a practical way to manage their donor portfolio, stay on top of fundraising activities, and have a holistic view on asks and gifts. It will support a streamlined way of working, improved internal collaboration and efficient virtual account teams. For example, taking over accounts and acting as a deputy during becomes easier when information on the donors is stored comprehensively and securely. Finally, enhanced prospect identification through analysis that builds on Salesforce data is another arising opportunity towards better fundraising results.
  • Finally, leadership will get more accurate, meaningful and actionable reporting that helps them to focus on the right things and support the fundraisers in the best possible way. More realistic projections of expected revenue will support financial planning.

As a reward for bearing with me to the end of the post, here’s a photo that hopefully will bring a smile to your face. This fellow was hanging out at the access badge reader one morning, to welcome me back to continue my journey in the world of fundraising, I guess.

130912 Visitor from the Ice Age

Feeling like Chandler

When I’m asked what I do at the American Red Cross, I typically answer that I work on fundraising performance management and process development. This is the easy part. But when I try to explain my project in more detail often makes me feel like Chandler whose friends do not understand his profession. (I suppose this is quite common for knowledge workers of our time actually.) In this post, I will give it a go anyway, by starting to describe the concepts that I work on.

As mentioned, my work focuses on fundraising – or development, like it is commonly referred to here. I contribute to a customer relationship management (CRM) project. In the corporate world, CRM has been a buzzword for years, yet there is no standard definition for the concept. Wikipedia defines CRM as “a model for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers, using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support“. To sum up, the idea is to systematically gather information on customers to learn to know them better. Consequently, it becomes possible to serve them better, determine which customer relationships are truly profitable, and identify new sales opportunities. Also, with CRM, customer interactions can be managed more efficiently and professionally.

CRM seems to have started to gain traction also in the not-for-profit world. To me, this is not at all surprising, as in my mind fundraising is so similar to sales. The products and underlying motivation may be of a little different nature, but the targets, processes and dynamics are not. Quoting Stephen Goldstein: “It’s about making the perfect match between what you have to offer and what someone else wants.” Sales representatives and customers easily translate into fundraisers and donors, and offers and deals to donation requests and donations – or asks and gifts as they are called at the Red Cross.

My colleagues at the Development department have been working on the CRM project for more than a year already. This makes it exciting for me to step in as an outsider. My primary tasks are to lead an in-process assessment of the current CRM tool adoption and usage, evaluate related fundraising data capture and reporting processes, and support development of key standards and best practices, as well as identification of most value-adding future enhancements. Having been involved in deployment of new processes and IT systems in my previous workplaces, it has been striking to realize how similar the challenges are being tackled also in the not-for-profit context.

I will come back to the CRM tool and benefits expected from its fundraising functionality in the next post. In the meanwhile, the weather is gradually getting colder here in DC. Especially mornings are chilly, and it gets dark early in the evenings. Receiving a photo from a childhood friend who now lives in Joensuu in Eastern Finland put things into perspective, though. This is how it looked at her backyard last week, and at the Red Cross Square on the very same day.

131018 Joensuu vs. Washington DC

Welcome Home!

After a nerve-wracking yet effective apartment hunting process and 3+ weeks of living out of a suitcase, it was simply brilliant to get to move in to my new home in Columbia Heights in late September. And this week, returning to DC after 11 days of travelling proved that my home really is here now: It was great to be welcomed back by my awesome roommates, and I haven’t slept as well in a long, long time as in my own bed during the first night after the trip.

Tivoli Theatre

The classic landmark of Columbia Heights is the Tivoli Theatre, a beautiful old movie theater from 1924. Since the opening of the DC USA mall in 2008, the latter seems to have stolen the show, though. DC USA hosts massive stores such as TargetBed Bath & Beyond, and Best Buy. Next door, there is also Giant Food, a huge supermarket that is open 24/7. You would typically find all these major retailers only in the outskirts of cities surrounded by huge parking lots, not in a densely populated area next to a metro station. This makes me think of the mall in Ruoholahti: suburban services for urban people without cars! Luckily, the local restaurant scene resembles more that of Kallio, with gems like Sticky Fingers, a vegan bakery.

The history of Columbia Heights is fascinating and eventful. In the early 1800s, the area was still preferred mainly by cows, but in the early 1900s, it was preferred by some of Washington’s wealthiest and most influential people. Four street car lines provided transportation to downtown. From the late 1940s to mid 1960s, African American residents began to buy apartment buildings previously owned by whites, and Columbia Heights became a middle-class African American neighborhood. In 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., riots ravaged in the neighborhood, and many homes and shops remained vacant for decades.

After the Columbia Heights Metro station was opened in 1999, the area started to gentrify, and during the past years it has been one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the United States. According to Wikipedia, even despite the recent gentrification Columbia Heights still is Washington’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood. In 2010, 43.5% of the population was African American; 28.1% Hispanic; 22.9% White; 3.2% Asian; with the remaining 2% belonging to other groups.

Monroe Street

My new home is diverse too: All my roommates have US passports, but they have roots at least in Russia, Ethiopia, California, France, England, Cyprus and Sicily – and there are just four of them! (It is actually quite unique here in DC to be a Finn who was born in Finland, grew up in Finland, has Finnish parents, and even Finnish grandparents.) The five of us share a house with three floors and a nice patio. Compared to Finland where living in shared houses and apartments after graduation has traditionally been considered relatively hippie or even left-wing, it is very common over here. For me, it was absolutely the preferred option: so much cheaper, and most importantly so much more fun!

In our house, on the ground floor there is a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room – equipped with a projector instead of a TV, just like in my castle in Helsinki. Bedrooms, including my small, sunny basecamp, are upstairs. I was conveniently able to buy nearly all the furniture I needed from the cool Bulgarian NASA scientist who rented the room before me. The basement is the kingdom of one of the roommates (and his pet snake), but additionally there is the laundry room, and a sauna. Yes, a sauna, can you believe it? I mean who would’ve thought that I end up living in a house that has a sauna in DC?

Best of September

1. H Street NE Festival

Out of all the street festivals that I explored in September (and there were many), the H Street NE festival was my favorite. Super diverse, super laid back. A DC bike map sponsored by WABA, an invitation to join the Black Girls Run movement (they do not discriminate!), and a yummy Burgorilla black bean burger were some of the highlights of the event.

H St. Festival

The most memorable part still was a dance performance by a group of multi-cultural kids. All that energy and joy! Towards the end of the performance, I was astonished to realize that all the kids were actually deaf or hard of hearing. Incredible. Inspired by what I saw, I wanted to learn to understand better how these kids can be so great dancers without hearing the music, and found an excellent article on the topic by Gallaudet University.

2. 7th Street Social

It was my third evening in DC when I was walking back from my yoga class and saw an amazing scene: 50 or so cyclists were riding together, led by a bike that carried a huge stereo system. It looked like loads of fun! The only problem was I had no clue what was going on or who was behind the event.

7th St. Social

Fortunately, soon I figured out that I had spotted the 7th Street Social, which is something between a group ride or a party on wheels organized by a local bike shop, BicycleSPACE. Last Thursday I joined the ride. For two hours we biked around the Capitol Hill area with music playing and lights blinking. We even rode up the ramp of an empty 4-story parking garage somewhere in Navy Yard to take a popsicle break at the rooftop, overlooking the waterfront and the city lit up at night. Unforgettable!

3. Nuit Blanche DC at Wonder Bread Factory

DC tends to have somewhat dull reputation. Based on my first month here, this is an unfair verdict. All you need is to make friends with a few nice key individuals, in my case an interior design student and a graphic designer, and all of a sudden cool-hunting becomes very easy.

As a result, you may find yourself at events like Nuit Blanche DC. This event was a part of Art All Night DC 2013, a free overnight arts festival in the Shaw neighborhood right next to the Howard University. The four floors of the renovated, post-industrial venue, Wonder Bread Factory, were filled with installations, performing and visual arts, short films, and DJs. For a street art fan like me, seeing graffiti artists in (legal) action was like Christmas.

Nuit Blanche DC

The Finnish readers could imagine the event being a mix of the Flow Festival and the Night of Arts in Helsinki. And similarly to these events back home, randomly bumping into acquaintances happened all the time. I had not even realized that I already know enough people in DC for that to happen. DC really is a village rather than a city, a cool village.