The Database of the Future

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Imagine a company with 60-year sales cycles and product pricing spread from $5 to $1,000,000,000. Clients include teenagers, corporations, state governments, nations, the dearly departed, and—sometimes—in-laws.

The VP of Sales at most companies can narrow her scope to a few types of customers, while a Director of Advancement Services at a college or university has…a bit more on their plate. Given the mind-bendingly broad scope of advancement, what would a perfect CRM look like in higher education five years from now?

Let’s try to simplify. CRM in higher education should do everything it can to assist with:

  1. Strengthening relationships between constituents and between constituents and the organization
  2. Knowing how each constituent can help the organization or other constituents and when and how to ask them

Higher ed professionals would love to focus on these tasks. But the overwhelming sense I have from working with EverTrue clients is (surprise, surprise) there are never enough hours in the day.

So why not give yourself a few more hours by taking away the annoying stuff.

What if you didn’t have to worry about the database part?

For many years, data has been the challenge and the focus. Designing, building, entering, relating, maintaining, and reporting on structured data across an organization has kept many people busy over four increasingly-connected decades.

No wonder you don’t have any time! It’s hard to do all of that as a single organization. I don’t know of a single startup company that tries to build everything in-house. At EverTrue, we use Trello, Salesforce, Yesware, UserVoice, Expensify, Freshbooks, InsightSquared, RingCentral, and DelightedApp. Oh, and HubSpot, HipChat, Buffer, and a half dozen other systems used by engineering.

Like many other organizations, we’ve traded full control and centralization for solutions that are simple and beautifully well-suited to a single task. This trend toward specialized external services will continue to spread into higher ed.

Just think: What if you could outsource the difficult process of building and maintaining your database? In 2014, good consultants carry some of the load. In 2019, will the system build and maintain itself?

Why do we spend so much time copying, pasting, and typing?

Despite many technological advances, most CRM users spend most of their energy serving the system, not being served by it. A database—even if replaced by a cloud of simpler services, as above—must always be fed new and updated data.

External services like WealthEngine and Data.com can help reduce the drudgery of keeping up-to-date demographic and contact information. Still, no current third party can supply the context-rich data entered by your staff to describe their activities and next steps.

I’ve heard some troubling things about the habits of gift officers on the road. Friends don’t let friends print out spreadsheets or try to read PDFs on their iPhones. The advancement CRM of the future will do better.

Reducing the effort required by CRM is equal parts automation and ease of use. Better data sources will be seamlessly integrated with your CRM, and your staff will only need to spend the minimum possible time entering their rich and contextual information.

Why does data rot?

Constituents have a pesky habit of continuing to live their lives after you describe them in your database. Even with great third party services and more efficient tools to describe meetings and context, a gift officer’s judgment and memory is still essential. So truly personalized communications are only happening with potential major donors.

What if—without doubling your prospect research staff—you could apply personalized stewardship farther down your pyramid using real-time updates about changes in job title, family situation, interests, and patterns of engagement?

Data science. So hot right now. It’s possible that more advanced practices (than are currently in action) could be used to strengthen relationships and predict more about your constituents.

Now that you’ve seen the CRM of the future, take a look at the advancement office of the future in this post.

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