Have we got a gift for you!

What if we told you your organization could save upward of two or even three times its costs in a particular business process? And what if, in addition to cutting costs, you also could increase donor satisfaction and, by extension, your long-term retention and giving totals? And what if you also could glean a lot of new information about those supporters – information that could help shape promising new strategies and tactics?

Sounds promising, right?

Well friends, it IS that promising. Yet we are talking about an issue that bedevils so many of us in our personal as well as professional lives: namely, gift processing.

Consider the favorite uncle who sends your child a gift. You remind said child to send a thank-you note. The child forgets, you forget, but the uncle doesn’t. No more gifts.

iStock_000021500616_SmallOr, perhaps the uncle has included a postscript noting that he has moved to a new mailing address; or he’s included an email address for easier communication; or he references the gift as a memoriam to a lost loved one. Alas, none of this information is acknowledged or recorded.

You get the idea.

We know, we know, gift processing is dull, tedious, labor-intensive work. But as the for-profit world long has known, receiving, recognizing, acknowledging, recording, and analyzing that ‘customer’ data is critical to long-term success. This is especially true in an era when the volume, variety, and sophistication of supporter ‘touch points’ is increasing (not to mention the competition for those supporters).

The problems start with our industry’s penchant either for ceding gift processing responsibility to their banks or running things in-house. Here’s why.

The Piggy Bank

Banks make perfectly respectable gift processors, of course, but with some serious caveats.
First, they’re pricey. We’ve seen processing costs running 200-300% above normal.
Banks care about deposits, not gleaning the data you most need to ensure you’re meeting supporter needs. Translation: They lack the tools, mindset, and motivation to do the forensics you need on those inbound messages.

Far too many nonprofits are clinging to these expensive, outdated models for fear of upsetting their banks. Don’t. You can keep your bank happy by keeping the deposits with them – take the rest of the work to a professional.

Do-It-Yourselfers

Many nonprofits rationalize in-house processing by pointing to low inbound volumes or the complexities of outsourced solutions. Again, this leads to unintended consequences.

First, because most nonprofits receive the majority of the gifts during specific campaigns or calendar periods, they are ill-prepared to ramp up for high-volume gifting. This places these organizations at serious risk of making mistakes, alienating supporters, and unable to adequately capture that data in ways that can help them.

Additionally, the expanding ways in which supporters reach out to nonprofits makes it incumbent on them to have the tools and expertise in place to accommodate these individuals. Most, however, cannot afford the technology or the skill sets to make this a reality.

The result: higher costs and less-than-stellar results in acknowledging, understanding, and responding to supporters.

So what’s a nonprofit organization to do?

The Solution: Planning for Success

The key to successful, long-term gift processing is two-fold: Creating a gift processing plan tailored to your organization’s unique needs and outsourcing the execution of that plan to a credible caging vendor with the tools and expertise to do it right. What are the advantages to using a cager?

1. Specialization. This is all they do. They invest in the technology, the training, and the expertise to ensure all of your inbound gifts and other support materials, requests, inquiries, etc., are properly recorded, catalogued, acknowledged, analyzed, and reported.

2. Tools and Technology. Our modern era is fueled by data. Caging vendors not only capture the standard data extracted from envelopes, SASEs, emails, etc.; but they also scan and image all of these communications – a feat impossible for all but the largest nonprofits.

3. Strategic. Cagers are versed in the strategic motivations and vernacular of the modern nonprofit, meaning they are looking for – and will report on – the telltale signs you most need for understanding supporter sentiment.

4. Scalable. They are able to key your data directly into a data system of your choosing, and they can easily scale to accommodate spikes in holiday or campaign-driven traffic.

5. Secure, Stable. Caging vendors offer up-time guarantees and disaster recovery plans that, again, are simply beyond the means of most resource-constrained nonprofits.

6. Less Expensive. Despite all of these advantages, in most cases cagers are far less expensive to a nonprofit than when these services are outsourced to a bank or performed in-house.

Contact us to learn more about the feasibility of using a caging vendor for your own gift processing operations.

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Doug Barker, CIO 100

Doug once again will be participating as a judge at the 30th anniversary edition of the CIO 100 awards, to be held at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO, August 14-16. The panel of 34 judges are a rich mix of former CIOs, academic experts, and consultants carefully chosen for their expertise in evaluating the CIO 100 submissions for such topics as generating business value through the use of innovative technology.