A united approach helps charity along the way to e-Business

When the United Way of Greater Toronto decided last year, in the midst of a record breaking fundraising campaign, that its operations needed to become more efficient and modern, the board of directors could not have envisioned the speed at which the charitable organization would ramp up to the information highway.

But after numerous private partners quickly threw their weight behind the UWGT’s vision, the umbrella fundraiser for 200 of Toronto’s health and social service agencies is gearing up to drive this year’s campaign with the turbo boost of e-business.

Beginning after this fall’s “Feet to the Streets” walk-a-thon, the UWGT will conduct its successful workplace fundraising campaign, which generated almost 90 per cent of the $63.1 million it raised in 1999, a little differently than in the past.

“Let’s say that we’re running a workplace campaign at your office,” Philip King, the UWGT’s vice-president of e-business, described of the new tech-enabled approach to soliciting donations, called e-launch. “We would have someone call your campaign co-ordinator, who is someone that’s really gung ho to help generate excitement for the United Way in that workplace. Traditionally, that campaign co-ordinator was responsible for generating events in that workplace, letting individuals know the campaign was going on, and putting out paper pledge forms that individuals would fill out and return to the campaign co-ordinator.

“What we’re doing (this year) is providing that campaign co-ordinator with a dashboard on-line that allows him or her to…send a personalised e-mail from the corporate leader or the campaign co-ordinator to every single individual in that organization, with information relevant to them,” King explained. “‘Dear whomever, here is how our workplace campaign is going to run this week, here’s what’s going on in our workplace in terms of an on-line auction, if you want to see how our workplace is doing in the corporate challenge, click here.'”

From there, King said employees can view live information on their company’s levels of participation, the levels of funds raised thus far, and will have the opportunity to make a donation on-line (which will in turn generate an automatic Revenue Canada-approved e-tax receipt).

It sounds simple, and King is hoping it will eventually be proved so. The UWGT’s greatest fear is that donors will be put off by the technology, which King said has been personalised to keep the human face on the campaign.

“We’re not trying to replace the human interaction in any of what we do,” he stated. “We want to leverage that human interaction and we want to make it as powerful as possible by backing up those resources in the workplace with tools that take care of a lot of the administrative details that (campaign co-ordinators) don’t want to do anyways. It gives them more time for the important work that can’t be replaced by technology.”

King was buoyed by the success of a recent preliminary launch of the UWGT’s new system to contact donors via e-mail. The organization electronically sent out personalised thank you letters to 23,000 donors, almost 10 per cent of its total contributors last year, who had voluntarily given their email addresses to the UWGT.

“We had a tremendous amount of replies that came back – unsolicited – encouraging us, ‘Glad to see you’re on board with e-mail,'” King gushed.

The mass e-mail, which concluded in April, was also a rousing success for the companies fervently working behind the scenes to implement the systems that will power the UWGT’s strategy for e-business in 2000.

“The first three applications – the donor campaigns, the personalised ‘thank you’s’, and the personal company portal and profile – that got up and running, the total lapse time was 5-6 weeks,” noted Barry Yates, the vice-president of sales for Delano software, which donated its e-Business Interaction Suite to the UWGT as well as defining applications and offering, pro bono, troubleshooting experts to help advise in the software installation. “This is a very traditional company that wasn’t doing a lot in e-commerce and e-business and to get them running in 5-6 weeks was quite an accomplishment.”

It was also the result of a very dedicated team provided free by the Toronto offices of Deloitte Consulting, said King. The professional services organization, which has members on the United Way’s board of directors both in Canada and the U.S., not only provided free e-business consulting for the UWGT for four months late last year, it has positioned two employees at the UWGT’s offices this year to ensure the e-launch runs smoothly.

“They came in here, did two days of training to understand the guts of our product – how do you build our environment and how do you connect to the existing databases – went in and built it smoothly,” pointed out Cam Fowler, a technology adviser at Delano.

In fact, there was only one major obstacle to implementing the Delano software, which is currently running atop a Windows NT platform on free IBM servers, recalled Fowler. The United Way’s mail server did not support SMTP protocol, meaning the technology was too old for Delano’s software.

The solution: a quick call and another charitable boost, this time provided by Netscape, which gave the UWGT access to a Messenging Server that will keep a database of all its donors and activities.

“Organizations like IBM, like Netscape, like Delano, like others want to be associated with the United Way brand,” Terry Stuart, a principal of Internet and e-commerce solutions with Deloitte Consulting, explained for the success the United Way has had in securing vendor partners.

“I think also their executive team is very compelling in their persuasive nature,” he said with a chuckle, noting this United Way project incorporates buzzwords dear to any CEO’s heart: efficiency, customer relationships and accountability.

“They’re trying to make their processes much more efficient so they can put some more money in agencies’ and charities’ hands, rather than internal processing costs,” Stuart said. And, “they’re becoming donor centric so they have deeper information about the donor, and can give you, as an individual donor, more information about how your money is getting used, and what kind of information you want to know about.”

To Stuart, the upside to the UWGT’s foray into e-business is enormous. He expects the organization to begin linking its front and back offices in the future, which will hopefully increase efficiencies in its operational processes not related to donor interaction.

King, who is actually on a paid two-year secondment from A.T. Kearney Management Consultants, agreed with Stuart, noting the future may have to carry the present as, despite the amount of free service provided by vendors, the UWGT has still invested a substantial amount of time and resources.

“In the first few years, I think it’s going to cost us more than it’s going to save us,” King said, adding the organization plans to outsource its IT requirements in the future. “But we see this as an investment that in a couple of years will begin to pay off, and as that occurs it will create big savings for us. Many of our donors want us to do this, and…we’re there for them, communicating in ways that are comfortable for them. We’re wherever our donors want us to be.”