Building Relationships

Chicago-based National Easter Seal Society, one of the biggest charities serving people with disabilities in the United States, is looking to the Web to build relationships with new donors and increase contributions.

The organization, which raised $125 million in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2001, including $27,000 online, has hired industry veteran Shirley Sexton to fill the new job of director of Internet marketing.

“We’re going to take the lessons of Easter Seals’ success with direct marketing in the mail, and take the lessons of what other organizations have done online, and apply them online,” Sexton said.

The group’s strategy, which Sexton helped develop as a consultant, calls for using the Web to deliver services, strengthen the organization’s brand, raise money, develop its database and help potential clients find the nearest of more than 90 local Easter Seals’ affiliates.

“We want to build relationships with people using the technology of the Internet,” said Sexton, former director of the nonprofit practice in Arlington, Va., for CommerceOne, a software firm in Pleasanton, Calif., whose nonprofit practice last October spun itself off as Beaconfire Consulting in Falls Church, Va.

“One of the core ideas is to move away from the old-school marketing approach of focusing on acquisition of donors, and instead focus on cultivation and retention of our best constituents,” said Sexton.

For her December, 2000 master’s thesis at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Sexton surveyed nearly 100 nonprofits, and found that, unlike businesses, they generally had failed to embrace “customer relationship management,” or CRM.

Among the few nonprofits that have aggressively adopted a CRM strategy, she said, the World Wildlife Fund (a CommerceOne client) found it was attracting “a new segment of donors who overall were younger and had not been involved with the organization prior to that.”

While Easter Seals will continue to develop large-dollar donors “one by one,” she said, it also will use CRM technology to build “one-to-one” relationships with new donors.

The idea, she said, is to gather data about donors’ personal interests and then communicate with them on an ongoing basis, delivering personalized, relevant content they can use – and in the process strengthening their ties to the organization.

Cisco’s tech help

Adapting its business strategy of forming partnerships to deliver integrated technology solutions, Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif., is teaming up with local tech-assistance groups in four regions to better serve nonprofits.

Cisco’s system-engineering managers are working on a pilot basis with tech-assistance groups in Boston, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park area, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington, D.C., to develop plans to provide tech solutions to local nonprofits, said Bob Deutsch, Cisco’s senior community investment manager in Herndon, Va.

While local Cisco managers and the local tech groups will develop their own plans for each region, Deutsch said, consulting services provided by the tech groups might focus on needs ranging from software applications and databases to hardware, security and systems integration. Cisco might provide advice and design services on networking issues, plus advice on using the Internet to solve business problems, he said.

The company, which also is studying other ways of working with nonprofits to better meet tech needs, hopes to expand the tech-assistance initiative to other communities later this year, Deutsch said.

“In Cisco’s for-profit world, we work with systems integrators and develop relationships with them so Cisco’s set of components is part of an overall solution,” he said. “Our vision is to form meaningful partnerships with technology-focused nonprofit organizations to help deliver services and functionality to the overall nonprofit community.”

Web fight

A legal battle is unfolding between two Internet firms that target nonprofits. In February, a day after announcing it had settled its trademark-infringement lawsuit against Convio, a firm in Austin, Texas, that markets Web-based systems to help nonprofits manage donor relations, San Diego-based Kintera, which specializes in Web-based event software, filed a second federal lawsuit against Convio in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego.

Charging Convio with stealing trade secrets and infringing on its copyright, the initial suit claimed Convio’s Friend2Friend product aimed to trade on the value of Kintera’s Friends Asking Friends product.

Founder and CEO Vinay Bhagat said Convio agreed to change its product’s name to Team-Raiser because “we wanted what we believed to be a lawsuit without merit to go away, and to avoid incurring unnecessary legal costs.”

In its new suit, Kintera alleges that Convio “unlawfully and surreptitiously obtained Kintera’s confidential and proprietary computer codes and other software.”

Kintera also alleges that Convio employees told it that, despite its objections, Convio had directed employees to use Kintera’s trade secrets to develop software and interactive Web sites for third parties.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Harry Gruber, Kintera’s CEO and chairman. “This is the stuff that mysteries were written about.”

Bhagat said the claims are “without merit” and that the new lawsuit was “a desperate act to try to change the battlefield from the marketplace to the courtroom.”

Kintera has reportedly raised $19 million from investors, handled more than 100 events and 100 customers in 2001 and already has commitments to handle more than 1,000 events this year, Gruber said.

The company, not yet turning a profit, expects to sell stock to the public for the first time this year, he said.

Convio, which reportedly has raised roughly $20 million from investors, has 40 customers, up from 10 a year ago, and expects to double its customer base again this year, Bhagat said.

Industry notes

Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., and the Atlanta-based Boys & Girls Clubs of America have launched 16 Club Techs in the Boston area, and plan to create 600 more throughout the United States by October to provide tech access and training to more than 3.5 million youngsters. Microsoft is contributing $12.3 million in cash and $88 million in software.

Todd Cohen is editor and publisher of Nonprofitxpress, an online newspaper at www.npxpress.com. He can be reached at tcohen@ajf.org