Trouble and disarray brought about change

August 5, 2014       The NonProfit Times      

When Matt Panos arrived at Feed the Children as its chief development officer in June 2012, the organization was, by his own admission, in disarray. “There were only four remaining board members,” said Panos. “The founder left under difficult circumstances. There had been four years of declining revenue. We had bad customer service, both internal and external, and retention was well below industry standards. The 90s called and wanted their website back.”

Panos said the Oklahoma City-based organization “badly needed a rebranding.” People in Oklahoma City thought FTC was a locally-focused organization, whereas people in the rest of the United States saw it as an international aid charity. “Staff, donors, volunteers, board, no one could tell us who we were,” he said.

The organization’s goal that summer was to become a thought leader in hunger and sustainable development. “Hunger is a symptom,” said Panos. “Eradication is not the end goal. We don’t want to just feed people. We want people to graduate from being hungry.”

Panos and FTC Vice President of Donor Relations Rick Ross shared their rebranding experience during the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation’s 2014 Washington Nonprofit Conference.

The organization had a vision and mission but no way to get there, said Panos. One main agenda item was going form a transactional organization to a relational organization. The organization had 750,000 new donors in 2007, and only 9 percent were still on the file five years later. “We brought you in, mailed you until you attritioned off the file and looked for more,” said Panos. “As long as acquisition (cost) was lower than lifetime value, we didn’t mind.”

Ross used an example to show how little the organization focused on donors. A long-time donor called five times to ask for a photo of a truck and banner he sponsored. “I was trying to figure out why we didn’t get the banner, put it on a truck and take a picture. It took an hour and a half just to get the banner,” said Ross. “Everyone was pointing fingers. I knew then that we had problems.”

One solution was revamping of FTC’s call centers all the way down to the customer service reps’ title. “We needed a name that’s going to be powerful, so people will understand it’s something new,” said Ross. The call center was renamed the Global Experience Center, and the customer service reps became CEOs (customer experience owners). “They knew they had the power to make a difference,” Ross added.

“We had to make sure people focused on the voice of the donor,” said Ross. To do so, FTC now takes information from five donors per month, asking why they give, what they like about FTC and what the staff can do to keep the donors engaged. “It really brought our donors to light, where they stood and how they engage in what we do,” said Ross.

Panos said in addition to the Global Experience Center, FTC implemented a new donor management system. FTC had an outdated, unsearchable system for donor information. “We developed and implemented an integrated data warehouse,” he said. “We have to put donor information where others can see it. It impacts our ability to respond how and when donors want, and our ability to demonstrate impact for long-term relationships.”