Interview with Mike Robinson, Amnesty International UK

Mike Robinson, Head of Technology at Amnesty International UK takes time out from his busy day job to explain his background, the challenges he faces in his current role and why he’s coming to chase live, Hart Square’s annual leadership conference on 4th July at The Brewery, London.

Tell us about your current role!
I am Head of Technology at Amnesty International UK, a post I took over just over a year ago. The UK branch of Amnesty International focuses on campaigning and fundraising in the UK; my role is to ensure we have all the key systems (all end user devices, servers, MS Office etc) in place that enable the organisation to function.

Have you always worked in non-profit organisations?
I started my career in the private sector, but the last decade has been in the non-profit sector. Previously, I was Head of Business Systems and Business Intelligence at Action for Children.

Amnesty International and Action for Children are very different organisations:

  • Action for Children is an NFP running services for its audience, focused on delivering local authority contracts
  • Amnesty is a much more member-led organisation, its fundraising is entirely there to support its campaigning role

It’s great to work in such different dynamics and see how the NFP sector is so varied.

If you’ve worked in the for-profit sector, what’s the biggest difference you’ve seen?
The biggest difference is the speed you get decisions made; it’s much slower in the NFP sector, which seems to be an acknowledged issue. That said, it’s clear that every penny counts, so organisations are rightfully careful with how they spend their money.

What’s the biggest challenges facing your organisation right now?
Amnesty International UK has an ageing infrastructure and outdated systems; the team has been fantastic at keeping these systems working….to be honest, they’ve been a victim of their own success.

But as an organisation, we have now agreed the time has come to upgrade the core infrastructure. We need to migrate people off windows 7 and upgrade key systems, especially our fundraising system.

How will you approach this change?
The key to success is to ensure that we bring the business with us, and not impose new technology. This is as much about culture change as it is about digital transformation. We need to get staff bought in before we begin our digital transformation project.

Our leadership team have bought into this and that’s key to drive this; that’s why my role was created and is much more focused on just technology, rather than technology plus a range of other services. That focus has enabled me to make real progress in my first year, to build partnerships with the rest of the organisation and better understand what they are trying to achieve.

Equally, our leadership team know that whilst they are experts in their fields, be it campaigning or fundraising, they aren’t technology experts. They can define the goals and we can help them see the ways in which technology can better help us achieve them.

What’s the thing you’re most proud of in your current role?
I am really proud to have the organisation’s first standalone technology strategy and new policies in place and signed off by leadership team and trustees.

We now have a business case in progress with our trustees to secure the investment we need to now make that strategy real and we are getting ready for a major change in the coming months.

What’s the secret to your success?
One of the ways I have made this happen is to be much more visible. We aren’t just a back-office service anymore; I have made sure I am very visible within the organisation, communicating our successes. And again, it’s about building relationships with key teams across the organisation.

And what are you hoping to learn from
I came last year when Hart Square relaunched the event for its 25th anniversary. It was extremely useful.

I love the format – short punchy Ted-style talks and lightning talks meant I could hear a lot of content in a short time…I made pages of notes! And you attracted some of the best speakers I have ever seen at a free event.

Which speaker are you most looking forward to hearing this year?
Alastair Campbell. As a campaigning charity to hear what he has to say is a great opportunity. You’ve really moved up a gear this year.

Who’s your fantasy speaker for our future events?
Brian Cox – I saw him before and for 15 minutes I briefly understood the universe – I’d like to try and understand that again!

Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today!

If you work for a non-profit organisation and would like to attend chase live, please visit and book your free place today.

12 reasons CRM projects succeed – part 4

So now we have a well-planned project with clear objectives and a sound approach, we’ve worked out what we’re looking to deliver and how it will benefit all of our stakeholders, and we get to the phase where we start to look at a range of technologies and to get feted by suppliers whose solutions have bells & whistles beyond our expectations…

Not only has that requirements definition been a robust process but you’ve engaged widely and communicated clearly, so it’s important to maintain that positivity through a potentially quite fraught process. Having been through countless vendor and technology selection processes we know there are a variety of methods to use; the nature of the solution, the scale and scope of the requirements, your priorities and preferences should affect the nature of the process, but it is vital to maintain a robust and inclusive approach. What can still surprise us is how entrenched opinions can be when it comes to technology selections, and how we regularly tend to see a divergence of opinion among stakeholder groups as to the most suitable solutions to consider for their organisation.

There are several tips and techniques which help to manage these challenges, but to enhance your chances of a successful process some specific areas to avoid include:

10. Failing to undertake an objective selection process

Two of the key messages we promote within all of our projects are to be sure to learn from each activity and not to pre-judge anything. This applies and is valuable throughout every phase of a project and is especially relevant when it comes to the selection of the technology element of the solution.

The investment in understanding and reviewing business processes, then in deriving functional requirements, is intended, among other things, to ensure that you are as informed as possible about the core features you require from the technology and about the

priorities and nuances which will really make a difference to the long-term success of the implementation.

There are many ways to undermine all of the good work leading up to the selection process, the most common of which are allowing an elite group to select the technology solution, or only considering a select range of solutions based on previous experiences or perceptions.

At their best, these factors can impose artificial limits on the range of options you can evaluate and, at their worst, seriously undermine the efforts and advances made during the requirements gathering exercises.

Investing in a comprehensive project to review your business processes, derive functional requirements and agree priorities is all intended to enhance your understanding of what you’re looking to achieve and how you think technology can best support you. There are many purposes to this exercise and many benefits of going through it but with respect to the technology selection to follow, the key objective is to find the most appropriate solution(s) for you, based on a wide range of factors. Those are the factors to provide guidance through the selection process.

Equally you have a project team in place and you’ve been sure to engage and communicate widely through the preceding phases so it makes no sense to now effectively say that you’ve taken contributions from across the organisation so a small group will go off to identify the best technology solution to meet those objectives. One key to long term success is that the technology, once deployed, is widely adopted; it is the staff who will have to use the system, and if they’re not involved in the specification, definition, and then selection then they’re less likely to buy in to the decision.

So be open, continue to engage and to seek contribution and opinion across your organisation; you will probably get suggestions you didn’t consider or that you will quickly know aren’t going to meet your needs but you can respond to each suggestion by referring back to the requirements and the priorities garnered and agreed in the previous project phases, all of which reinforces those core objectives and success factors, as well as demonstrating the robustness of the process.

11. Failing to accommodate previous technology investments into your thinking

Whilst the message to incorporate existing technology infrastructure in your thinking may seem to be contradictory in recommending the introduction of a restriction to your technology options, the opposite is actually true. Our recommendation is to incorporate and acknowledge, not to be constrained by. The point here is that most organisations have already made investments in technologies which shouldn’t be disregarded and probably shouldn’t be replaced wholesale.

Taking an active approach to this means the existence and value of the infrastructure should be accommodated in your selection process. If the new system is on a completely different platform then that may make required integrations between line-of-business systems overly complex, expensive or risky, so this needs to be addressed openly and explicitly within the requirements documentation and the initial solution research.

Likewise if potential new systems are only accessible by a convoluted or complex method, distinct from and out of kilter with the existing technology then that may be a barrier to use you can’t afford. In reality we are entering an age where such restrictions are really ceasing

to exist, and where we can say with some certainty that these considerations are no longer likely to significantly reduce the options available to you, but this does still need to be ensured; most of us now expect our core systems to be available 24×7 anywhere from any device, but it is not the case that all technology solutions meet these expectations, or meet them as smoothly and reliably as we would want so there is differentiation to be had here between competing technologies.

12. Expecting the selection process to be an exact science

Whilst robustness, fairness and transparency, diligence and governance are vital components of the process to select your technology partner, the most successful outcomes are usually achieved by understanding that the selection is not a purely scientific and factual exercise. The cultural fit between your organisation and your technology partner is going to be crucial to the success not just of the initial implementation but also of your ongoing use, development and evolution of the solution.

To that end, we encourage our client to take every possible opportunity to engage with potential suppliers, and to be influenced by every engagement they have. Every communication, every response, every interaction should tell you something about the nature of the supplier you’re looking to enter into a significant relationship with, so be open to those influences and when it comes to making your selection, use every available piece of your knowledge to inform that decision.

An ideal selection process will see you whittle down the available options by a variety of means through a series of filtering processes based on the functional and factual criteria determined by the requirements gathering and tender preparation activities. In the final analysis then you should expect to have more than one potential supplier whose solution will meet your requirements, within your budget and timescales. At this stage you can start to incorporate soft factors into your decision making, factors which can’t form part of a scoresheet or a tickbox exercise, but which will have an important part to play in the success of your implementation.

Prepare for this time by engaging where possible with your long list of suppliers. They’re not all sharks trying to blindside you or pull a fast one. If a supplier asks to meet and you can accommodate it then do so, you’re not undermining the other bidders or being unfair. So long as every supplier would be treated the same way then the fact they’ve taken the initiative should be seen in a positive light; if some other suppliers don’t do the same then maybe that tells you something about your value to the supplier and the customer care you’re likely to receive.

This shouldn’t be a purely responsive or reactive engagement either. Assuming you send out an ITT or RFP to a long list of suppliers, against which they need to submit a written response, then invite them to meet with you in a relatively informal manner during that response period. If they have time to review and consider the RFP then meet with you to pose some questions and explore any specifics within the requirements, the intended outcome is that their response is better informed and you get the opportunity to engage with them and derive some notion of their approach and fit along the way.

You have a big decision and a substantial investment to make so you want to know that the partner you select is equally committed to you and to their solution. What’s to lose?

If you have any questions around the issues raised in this article, please feel free to get in touch with Hart Square.
+44 344 567 8790
Or sign up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about subsequent articles.
Note: the text from this article comes from an eBook, of the same name, launched at chase25, 5 July 2018.
For ease of distribution, we have divided the eBook into 4 parts and each part will be published on this website. 

12 reasons CRM projects succeed – part 3

When considering how to minimise the risk of a CRM project failing a lot of copy is published arguing about the best approach in terms of project management methodology. Adherents to Prince II will argue that it is the only way to guarantee successful delivery, whilst Agile practitioners are equally certain that their “new” way of working significantly improves your chances, whilst disciples of Waterfall lay claim to taking the best of both worlds. 

Whilst the project methodology you do adopt will play a part, we think the critical aspect of that decision is that the methodology is appropriate for you, that it’s a cultural fit for you, not that it’s a methodology imposed upon you by your implementation partners. What’s more we don’t think you have to commit to one and only one methodology; different phases of your project may well be best supported by different approaches, or at least by adopting the guiding principles of different approaches. 

So when I came to thinking about aspects of “Approach” which affect the success or otherwise of a CRM implementation project I came at it from a different angle and wanted to share some considerations about your mindset rather than your methodology. Specifically we would caution that you reduce your chances of success if you:

Part 3: Approach

7. Approach CRM as a technology project 

Customer Relationship Management is a philosophy, a way of working and to succeed you have to introduce (or reinforce) CRM as a cornerstone of your company strategy. Whilst it’s true that there is a specific and critical element of your project which is about the successful configuration, testing and implementation of one or more pieces of technology, what you’re really looking to deliver is business change. The technology implementation is about enablement, effectiveness and efficiency; what you’re seeking to do is to enable your teams to efficiently develop and manage effective relationships with their customers. 

When we work with clients on “CRM projects”, whilst the scale and scope varies from client-to-client, we are always sure to understand the underlying organisational strategy, and to review business processes before we start to consider the functional requirements we would be looking for of any new technology. This focus on business objectives and business processes helps to frame the projects as change programmes, which in turn reinforces the need for a clear and coherent communications strand. 

Even when you’ve been through the strategic and requirements gathering phases of the project, have potentially reengineered some of your processes and are starting to home in on the technologies you want to deploy, it’s more than helpful to keep a strong connection back to what you’re trying to achieve and why, such that you focus on the technology as an enabler, not an end in itself. 

8. Are too willing to customise the software

Having completed a review of your business processes and been through a robust requirements gathering process, you should then be able to embark on a supplier selection process intending to identify a technology solution (which may not be a single piece of software) which can meet your needs without being customised for you.  

Much as we value our uniqueness, embrace our differences and love our nuances, the reality is that there are probably lots of organisations doing the same thing as we are. By seeking out those technology suppliers with a well-established presence and experience in your sector or niche, you should be confident of finding a range of potential solutions which will meet your needs, and help you drive your organisation forwards, when configured to work best for you. 

And that’s the key, solutions which are configured for you are therefore maintainable, sustainable and have a future within the roadmap which are the foundation of your supplier(s) future business strategy. If you start to insist on customised solutions then the likelihood is that you’ve missed a trick in your selection process, you’ve closed your mind to best practice or process improvements, or you’re stubbornly refusing to accept that you are not unique! 

If you consider that the technology suppliers you’re engaging with are experienced in delivering solutions to like-minded organisations then it makes sense to allow them to demonstrate how their technology delivers what you need when you play to its strengths. You’ll then get a better experience, a more robust and supportable solution, and a more future-proofed outcome than if you opt for custom developments and bespoked systems.

9. Don’t address the possibility of poor data quality

Whilst we’d all love to believe that new technology solutions are the panacea to the data integrity issues we experience with our old systems, the fact is that the old rubbish in / rubbish out cliché is a reality and the project is our opportunity to address both the causes and the effects of the data quality issues which have undermined our old systems. 

A new piece of software is not suddenly going to make sense of that inconsistent business information, spot and merge all of those duplicate contact records, complete all those half-entered records, or finish off those tasks which were reliant on manual procedures being followed.  

What’s worse news is that the plan you have to migrate everything into the new system because it will be much easier to analyse, identify and clean the quality failings using the new solution is unlikely to succeed! All best intentions of course but once all of your data is in the new system there will be a raft of new activities which will prevent you from getting round to the data cleansing exercise.  

It’s hard to over-stress the importance of data quality and, significantly, the impact that poor, incomplete and missing information can have on the effectiveness of any system. Even the most basic core objective for a CRM system to be the master record or address book for your organisation will be swiftly scuppered if the early days post-implementation are undermined by the discovery that some key contacts details are still out-of-date, that some duplicates have surfaced and that “the numbers still don’t match”. 

Invest in a data integrity exercise prior to mapping and migrating your information into the new solution. On top of that, develop, share and agree a range of specific statistical measures that will be used to reconcile and sign off the migration. If there are any financials being migrated then we’re all very robust in our reconciliation, probably because it’s a central dark art within Accounts, but that principle of dedicating time and effort to match and reconcile numbers is what creates reassurance and delivers confidence.

If you have any questions around the issues raised in this article, please feel free to get in touch with Hart Square.
+44 344 567 8790
Or sign up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about subsequent articles.
Note: the text from this article comes from an eBook, of the same name, launched at chase25, 5 July 2018.
For ease of distribution, we have divided the eBook into 4 parts and each part will be published on this website. 

chase25 – The Verdict! Guest Post by Michael Hoare

Michael Webb established the Charities and Associations Exhibition, known thereafter as CHASE in 1991, and kept it going for an astonishing 24 years! Earlier this year Glenda Parker, of Hart Square, gathered a ‘coalition of the willing’ in London to re-launch it for its 25th anniversary. The result – from a standing start in January – was available for all to see a couple of weeks ago. But was it worth all the effort?

Well, if you work for a membership organisation, you don’t need me to tell you that change has been rapid in recent years. Associations, institutes, and charities have developed joined-up systems and active member engagement processes. Their outward appearance has become slicker, their business acumen honed. Much of this is down to the digital revolution.

They are also innovative, adaptable, and increasingly fleet of foot. Because, they’ve had to be. They’re correspondingly independent, task focussed, and frequently small to medium enterprises. They are moreover fundamentally about people. And the best way to engage with people is to bring them together under one roof. Where you can entertain them, enlighten them, challenge and energise them!

And so, while it might have been time to light the 25th candle on its birthday cake, it was also time to take a fresh approach to chase25, bringing it up to date with a new venue, structure, exhibitors, and themes. With a show reflective of change, but without abandoning its heritage.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be! But if there was any latent yearning after the past, it was soon dispelled by the new surroundings, and the show’s fresh new format.

Yes, digital loomed large amongst the day’s themes. But then so did innovation, culture, and leadership. All served up as an appetising smorgasbord providing satisfying treats in portions ranging from amuse bouche to belly busting.

Julie Dodd’s reflections on the moral issues exposed by new technology, and its power to do good, during her Michael Webb lecture, was timely. Kevin Cahill, former CEO of Comic Relief, charting the transition from passion driven start-up to charity institution, opportune. And Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 co-founder Midge Ure’s juxtaposition of the challenges of promoting a cause in both the analogue and digital universes spanned by his career, revelatory!

But, it was Midge Ure who, for me, came up with the unspoken theme of the day when he attributed Band Aid’s success to “finding like-minded people”. As he put it, “we put all our little soap boxes together to form a world stage”.

Surely – the realisation dawned on me – that is at the very core of what charities and associations do every day; gather like minds in a common cause. But this time chase25 showed us how to do it even better! I, for one, can hardly wait for next year!

Click here to view the best photos, stats and social media comments from chase25 and get a flavour of the fantastic networking, inspirational talks, practical educational sessions, amazing food, surprises, sun and fun!

12 reasons CRM projects succeed – part 2


How do you know you’ve succeeded, if you don’t know what success looks like?

Maybe this is to help define failure, hopefully it’s to help recognise success, but either way it is vital to be clear about why you’re investing in this project, what you intend to achieve by implementing the new technology, and how “things will be different” afterwards. When you embark on the project you are going to need to engage disparate groups of people for a variety of reasons, so for each group you should identify why it’s good for them that the organisation is investing time and money in the project.
You will be asking a lot from the staff, the project team, the suppliers, your Trustees, members, donors, stakeholders, customers, committees, and you need to be able to describe the reasons you’re doing this in a way that everyone can relate to and buy in to. Key to the ability of everyone to understand the project, its purpose, how they can contribute and how they’ll benefit will be your commitment to:
4. Make a business case
You may or may not NEED to present a formal business case to the Board or the Trustees but it is still a valuable exercise to go through. The process of putting together a solid business case is invaluable to help develop a clear, organisation-wide view of why this investment is so important and why it is in everyone’s best interests.
Making a business case is about clearly aligning your project to the overall strategies and objectives that your organisation has in place. Part of doing this will require you to summarise the challenges you face and how you have determined that the project you’re initiating will help to address them.
A business case will also require you to consider what resources will be required from across the organisation, a CRM implementation project can require a sizeable financial investment but it places even more demands on your staff’s time and focus. By describing the level of input and impact the project requires, you’ll make yourself identify, highlight and emphasise the benefits and positive outcomes of the project.
5. Draw up and share clear, defined objectives
It can take some time to get together everything which you may need to do to enable you to turn an idea into a reality, when the idea is that some new technology may help you to address a pain point, and the reality is a notable technology project. It’s vital not to lose sight of the pain points and challenges which formed part of the initial motivation to seek improvements through new technology solutions, because addressing them is the objective of the project.
The project team is likely to be tasked with collating, drawing up and maybe agreeing the core objectives of the project but it’s important to encourage everyone to contribute their opinions on how the solution could help them, and to communicate clearly across the organisation what the final agreed objectives are. You should then make a point of referring back to them regularly, in project updates and certainly when an issue surfaces which puts the project at some risk.
A critical element of drawing up objectives for the project is discussing and agreeing the definition of success. You need to be able to recognise success, which means you have to define it in the first place. You have to set your goals and commit to them being the measure by which your project will be judged. They have to be shared and, when achieved, they have to be celebrated!
6. Focus on what you want out of the system
There’s lots of technology available now which is good at capturing and storing data, but increasingly the value and benefits come equally from what the system can do for itself (workflow automation) and what the system can tell you (business intelligence). That’s not to say that you don’t need to consider how you can capture and find information, but it’s to note that our ability to report and analyse is increasingly important and can sometimes be overlooked or taken for granted.
We’ve run workshops before where we’ve recommended a session for the team to focus on what they want out of the system, and we’ve encountered some negativity around that idea. On exploring this deeper, the negative reactions are based on an interpretation that focusing on reporting and analysis reflects a pre-conception that technology projects are all about providing better reporting to “management” rather than trying to improve the lot of administrative teams and knowledge workers.
This isn’t true at all, one of the reasons for considering outputs of the system is that if the system can provide better information, more easily, to staff then their jobs become easier and they’ll invest time in capturing data into the system consistently and reliably. In turn this can build a cycle whereby the system starts to be seen as “the place to find what you need”, which makes it the place that staff go to, which makes it the place that staff update with their knowledge, which makes it the valuable knowledge base you want it to be.
Operational activity, captured consistently, provides insight into what the organisation and its stakeholders and audiences, are doing, which feeds organisational knowledge, which in turn enables managers to make better decisions – which I hope is one of the objectives of your project.


If you have any questions around the issues raised in this article, please feel free to get in touch with Hart Square.
+44 344 567 8790
Or sign up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about subsequent articles.
Note: the text from this article comes from an eBook, of the same name, launched at chase25, 5 July 2018.
For ease of distribution, we have divided the eBook into 4 parts and each part will be published on this website. 

12 reasons CRM projects succeed – part 1

There are studies, statistics, articles, reviews and infographics galore to tell us how many projects / IT projects / CRM projects fail every year. They may not all agree on the actual numbers, but the accepted narrative is certainly that a large number of projects undertaken by businesses of all shapes and sizes fail. What’s more, if the project involves the implementation of a new piece of technology then the likelihood of it failing appears to increase disproportionately.

You’ve probably heard all this before, and, to be honest, these grim facts aren’t very inspiring or very helpful.  So, let’s turn it on its head. Yes, many projects fail, but a whole heap of them succeed! When these projects succeed, that means the organisations involved set themselves up to achieve their objectives and deliver the changes needed.

At Hart Square, we specialise in supporting non-profits adapt to the digital age, which will often involve the initiation of projects to implement new technology. We want to share the knowledge and expertise gained through our involvement in numerous successful projects, to help others to succeed, so have put together a series of four articles which discuss some of the foundations of successful projects.

There are also various related discussions we could have about what is a CRM project (does that mean a software implementation, a “new database”?) and what success looks like. Putting that aside for today, here we share our current musings on why projects to introduce new CRM technologies more often than not do not solve the challenges they were intended to address and how this can be avoided with the correct Planning, Objectives, Approach and Selection. 

Part 1: Planning

There is no chance of success unless you PLAN!
For the non-profit organisations we work with, a project to introduce new CRM technologies will be a major investment in time and money and should affect every member of staff; what’s critical therefore is to make sure that everyone knows what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how they can participate. For those in charge of the project, the key is to make sure that it has a beneficial effect.This may not be the case if you:
1. Underestimate the impact an implementation project has on the organisation

It has been known for CRM technology implementation projects to be initiated under the radar or in the basement, where the majority of the organisation first hears about it when the announcement is made that “we’re going live with some software program next month”. This is not good!
CRM itself, the strategy rather than the technology, is all about positive engagement and about delivering value. So start with a bit of internal CRM and get your staff engaged with the change that’s coming from the earliest possible moment. Enthuse them about the possibilities the project and investment offers and encourage them to contribute to defining the solution of choice.
Whatever the strategic objectives are which lie behind the project, you want it to have a major impact on your organisation, and you want everyone to know about it, everyone to be affected by it, everyone to invest in it. Do that and you give everyone the opportunity to contribute to its success and to benefit from it.

2. Don’t acknowledge or appreciate user adoption challenges

Just because you and the project team think the new system is going to be great, is intuitive and will address the challenges you identified when making your original business case for the project, that doesn’t mean everyone else in the organisation will understand that, will get it, and will find the system as logical to use as you do.
On-going success will be measured by the long-term positive impact of a major investment like this, and that success will be delivered by the people who are going to be using the new technology every day. That may mean your internal administrators who can better manage their members or their events, it may be the marketers who can better communicate with more relevant audiences and more accurately measure the interest in their messaging, or it may be the members to whom you’re providing better digital services. It will probably be all three of them, and more.
What we do know is that when it comes to judge whether the project has been a success one key factor is going to be whether the technology has been deployed effectively such that the people who need to use it – to deliver the potential benefits you identified – are actually doing so. Don’t take user adoption for granted, you need to sell the benefits and advantages of the new solution to everyone.
3. Try to go live with everything at once
As I mentioned in my first point, a successful technology implementation will have an impact on everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone and everything has to be affected at the same time. Adopting a strategically phased approach to the implementation will increase the likelihood of success by supporting an organisational focus on different functions at different times, and by ensuring that each phase is manageable. It’s not always easy to see how a new system can be phased, particularly if it’s replacing an existing solution, but if you’re brave and creative you will be able to uncover and agree approaches where, for example, your core contact and Membership administration can be migrated to the new solution before your Events function or Exams management.
Equally your back office CRM database might only be part of the technology refresh you’re engaged in, as it is only one of the tools you’ll be using to support your CRM strategy. In our digital age so much CRM is delivered through our websites and associated technologies that they are likely to be either refreshed or replaced too.
So take a well thought out and planned, phased approach to your projects. You can play safe with the first Phase, build in some early wins and celebrate them. Your teams will then share the story of their success with colleagues, raising the profile of, and engagement with, the project; your project team will gain confidence, and the whole experience can give you great insight into what a CRM can do. Both in terms of functionality and project delivery, you’ll be well placed to learn from each Phase and be able to adapt for subsequent phases.
If you have any questions around the issues raised in this article, please feel free to get in touch with Hart Square.
+44 344 567 8790
Or sign up to our newsletter and be the first to hear about subsequent articles.
Note: the text from this article comes from an eBook, of the same name, launched at chase25, 5 July 2018.
For ease of distribution, we have divided the eBook into 4 parts and each part will be published on this website. 

Getting to grips with membership and charitable matters: a chat with John O’Brien, Chief Operating Officer, Hart Square

Industry veteran John O’Brien, takes up the role of COO at Hart Square on 1st May 2018. Many Hart Square clients will already know him well as the chair of TechSmart NFP. Find out what makes him tick, and why he chose to jump ship after two decades spent working within the association and charity sector to work in the consulting and advisory world.

Please tell us a little about your background

I’ve been working charities, trade associations and professional bodies for more than 20 years, 13 of those years working at director level. I’ve worked in multiple sectors including accountancy, law, health, retail, project management and education, and I’ve also led a range of functions such as membership, marketing, events, publishing, digital, commercial partnerships, HR, finance, company secretary, governance, facilities and service desks. You name it, I’ve probably done it.

During your many years working in the non-profit sector, what has been the biggest change?

Technological change, no doubt. The ability to tailor communications and make member/donor offers more personalised has made a huge difference to running any organisation. Interacting with people through their mobile phones has revolutionised member engagement. And the innovation just keeps on coming.

What has your focus on membership at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Axelos and the Law Society taught you? What is your golden rule for recruitment, engagement, retention etc.?

The golden rule is: keep it simple and don’t overcomplicate the membership offer. If you can’t articulate the proposal to the members in two minutes, then it’s not the right offer.

  • It’s not rocket science, but membership organisations need to provide – and be recognised for doing – what their members actually want. NHS Confederation did a great job of explaining its essential role in driving the NHS as a whole, that’s how we grew the membership from 87% to 99% of the sector.
  • Mission statements always focus the mind. So at NHS Providers, we had a really simple rule, “members said; we did”, which worked really well.
  • People must understand what you do and who you do it for or they’re never going to sign up. At AXELOS, the membership offer wasn’t clear, so we simplified the value proposition to offer three core elements: “helps you pass your exams; helps you plan your career; helps you do your job”. Then people got it.

What would you say are the biggest challenges for not-for-profit organisations in 2018 and beyond?

Money is tight. This makes recruitment and retention of members or funders difficult. Justifiably, people expect more from their investments – if they don’t see clear benefits, members will cancel their membership or donors will cancel their direct debit.

The knock-on effect is consolidation and merger. You can see evidence of this in the membership arena, housing associations and so on. This reduces costs, creates economies of scale and for those organisations engaged in lobbying government, it makes their voice that much louder – it is easier to be heard when an entire profession or sector speaks with a single voice.

On a scale of one to 10, how far would you say the non-profit sector has come on its digital transformation journey?

Definitely a six. Most organisations are making good progress. There’s a broad awareness of the importance of digital technologies and the need to embrace them. There’s recognition of what technology will deliver, but the majority of not-for-profits are only part of the way to implementing those changes.

There is just so much more that digital technologies will deliver. For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning are going to have a huge impact on the sector. In particular, this will transform the way that members, donors and so on interact with organisations, including the way they are served with the correct and personalised services, offers and information through intuitive, user-friendly interfaces.

Which organisations do you particularly respect in terms of their use of digital technologies for member recruitment, management, engagement and retention?

Econsultancy is slick, they practice what they preach. It’s somewhere I go for ideas and to see what they are doing.

Why, after all these years working within organisations, are you now moving into the consultancy side of the business?

Projects: wherever I have been, I’ve really liked working on projects, particularly challenging ones. Hart Square will give me the opportunity to work with an array of different charities, associations and membership bodies as a project sponsor.

I welcome the opportunity to share my experience and insights with a wider range of organisations. Over the last few years, I become a bit of a “fixer”, helping to launch new organisations and events; restructuring organisations; redesigning membership schemes and their value propositions. Hart Square will give me the opportunity to do lots of this for clients, while looking after two of the biggest events in the sector.

What will your role be at Hart Square?

I will be joining as Chief Operating Officer, responsible for several business streams including:

  • The management of the Hart Square consultancy practice, so we continue to offer the best service to our clients and keep attracting great talent.
  • Acting as project sponsor to work with our consulting clients, providing them with support and quality assurance.
  • Overseeing Hart Square’s expanding digital presence, thought-leading newsletters and websites, including Association News.
  • The blossoming events programme, including CHASE25, TechSmart NFP, breakfast briefings and webinars, and building strategic partnership across the brands.

How do you see Chase25 and TechSmart NFP conferences growing and evolving under your watch?

I love events and have worked on hundreds over the last few years. But I have a soft spot for TechSmart, having been part of it since the beginning, as the inaugural chair. It has been gratifying to see it grow into the must-attend event for all things digital in the not-for-profit world. I look forward to working with the team on the challenge of making 2018 TechSmart even better.

CHASE25, in July, is going to be amazing. I am really excited to be relaunching this iconic event, with such an excellent coalition of organisers and a real buzz from the not-for-profit sector. It will be a fitting tribute to Michael Webb, who ran Chase for 24 years.

With 20 years working in charities, membership bodies and trade associations, I’m very picky about what events I attend. Under my watch, TechSmart and CHASE25 will remain the top events in my calendar.


Don’t panic! Here’s the good news about GDPR for non-profits

The self-proclaimed experts, fuelled by the press hype, have created a climate of fear around the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force on 25th May 2018. While not-for-profits, including charities and membership associations, need to take the new regulations on handling personal data very seriously, there is absolutely no reason to panic.

This is the message shared by Allen Reid, Hart Square’s director of client projects to assembled charities and membership organisations at a joint Hart Square and Pythagoras briefing last week.

Here are the slides (below) and the key takeaways from the briefing.

If you missed this week’s session, don’t worry… Hart Square is running another GDPR breakfast briefing on February 28th in Mayfair, London and a Preparing for GDPR webinar on 5th April.

The Dos and Don’ts of GDPR for non-for-profit organisations

Charities, foundations, member associations and other non-profit organisations that behave responsibly and respectively with donor or member data:

  1. Do not need to toss out all donor and member databases.
  2. Do not need to pay a fortune to scare-mongering consultants or rush into a new CRM implementation.
  3. Should not see better, cleaner data, transparent processes and happier donors and members as bad for business.
  4. Have better justification for marketing under legitimate interest than commercial organisations and those that share personal information for commercial gain.

To be responsible and respectful with personal data, not-for profit organisations:

  1. Must be able to prove that the entire organisation, from chief executive down, and all suppliers and partners understand their GDPR responsibilities.
  2. Must evaluate and document the compliance of all processes and systems and the steps taken to rectify them.
  3. Must be honest and transparent about how you use donor or member data.
  4. Must obtain an active opt in/permission from the customer, before storing or sharing personal data.
  5. Must make it easy to unsubscribe / opt out of marketing messages.
  6. Must be able to respond to customer requests for access to their personal data or requests to have records deleted.
  7. Should not panic and rush into anything regrettable.

Next steps:

CRM Strategy: People

No matter what approach you take to CRM and a strategy around it, it’s clear that people are at the very heart of it. CRM is about relationships between people and strategy is defined, designed and executed by people. Not always the same people but people nonetheless.

Even now with artificial intelligence and machine learning at the top of many agendas, for us and our not-for-profit clients, technology is at its best when it’s combined with humans.

When it comes to creating a CRM strategy it’s vital that the people who put it together invest in stepping out of their current role to consider their organisation as a whole, what it wants to achieve and who will be the measure of its success.

For our not-for-profit clients, the absolute focus of their work is on members, supporters, donors, students, visitors and beneficiaries. Whilst their CRM strategy may be centred on how their organisation can develop lasting relationships with these audiences, it comes down to how to create a connection between people.

Having developed a strategy, it is then down to people to implement it. In all probability, there will be an element of improved use of technology. That may be about getting more from current systems, implementing new solutions, or just connecting the existing ones, again it comes back to technology enabling people to do different things or to do things differently.

One of the mantras of digital transformation within not-for-profits is, or should be, “automate the information to make time for the conversation” because we know that to be at its best an organisation deploys technology to support people, to enable them to be their best, to give them time to have human interactions with other people.

As I read elsewhere recently, people are not only the cause of many of the problems we face, we are most certainly the likely candidates to provide the solutions.

If our pie was a homemade bake then people would be the filling, at the very centre.

CRM Strategy: Communication

For a CRM Strategy to succeed it takes a lot of people to have a clear understanding of the strategy, its purpose and their role in delivering it. Being able to clearly communicate the strategy itself to a wide range of audiences plays a significant role in the strategy’s success.

The strategy will need to be communicatied in person, to large groups, to small teams and to specific individuals. It will also need to be shared in writing, probably in long-form for those who need to see substance and detail, by email to those who want to see headlines and summaries, and then potentially via a number of different digital channels.

With this challenge to face it’s appropriate to use specialists to put in place a full communications plan, to develop clear and specific messaging for each audience and each channel, and potentially for each strand of the strategy. This will help to ensure that the core messages are agreed and prioritised in a consistent manner, and that more detailed information is available to support all of the headlines and themes used across the piece.

The final point to remember is that communication in terms of a CRM Strategy is not about a one-way transmission of ideas and actions, it needs to be bi-directional; those defining and describing the strategy have to be receptive to every comment, challenge, critique and piece of feedback available to them. Every response, whether positive or negative, is valuable; what’s more it needs to be seen to be valued, and this is delivered by responding to it, publicly, so that at a minimum everyone who heard or was party to the feedback gets to hear and see the response.

Achieving this level of two-way communiction will underpin buy-in and support from everyone who has a part to play in successful delivery of the strategy, and from a lot of other people too!