A New Niche for IT

With the recent announcements of large professional-services companies cutting staff, the general consensus out in the market is that current clients of technologies such as email marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) are either happy with what they have or simply need time to adjust to working with all the wonderful stuff that has been delivered. Projects are being slowed, paused, or even put on indefinite hold for a variety of reasons.

In most cases the reasons are simple — budgets are being used to train, assimilate, or rework existing systems. This leaves many technologies just sitting on the shelf, collecting dust. There are customers for these technologies, but to date they have not been able to afford the cost. The market niche I am talking about is the not-for-profit organization (NPO).

The chain of events that has opened the window of opportunity for NPOs is:

  1. The dot-com slowdown means that many professional-services, consulting, and marketing firms will find themselves with some cycle time in mid- to late 2001.

  2. Technologies such as e-commerce systems, Web site content management systems, CRM, and e-marketing solutions are mature and readily available but were selling for more than $100,000 in late 1999 to mid-2000. Too rich for NPOs in most cases.
  3. NPOs desperately need updates for internal and external IT systems but have only been able to afford simpler, scaled-down projects to date, replicating efforts across the organization in many cases.

IT firms ought to pitch NPOs at drastically reduced prices right now. NPOs ought to send out requests for proposals (RFPs) to consultancies and development firms that should be very receptive to doing work at hefty discounts, if not in kind. Everyone benefits when NPOs are more efficient and run more smoothly. Good karma abounds.

Let’s take a look at how a potential e-marketing campaign could help to do several things that are the very lifeblood of an NPO but simply have not had much traction at most organizations:

  • Scrub the internal donor/volunteer database to purge duplicate records and update each record with the latest information. The internal database at the average NPO is riddled with redundancies and incorrect information, just like any other database that has been built up and manipulated over many years. It’s time to do some spring cleaning. Techniques for deduplication can be introduced into the NPO, and existing records can be updated with the most current information for each record. In many cases several databases serve similar functions and can be consolidated.

  • Institute an email address and opt-in system on the NPO Web site; create a privacy policy while you’re at it! As a not-for-profit organization, you should be communicating to your donors and volunteers about how their information is used. Write a privacy policy with some legal help and publish it on your Web site. After doing that, create a simple system to collect email addresses and offer a newsletter or some other type of electronic update. If you really want to be cool, tie this system to your internal database so that your volunteers and donors can update their own information right in your internal database.

  • Start emailing your donors/volunteers with relevant information about what’s happening in your organization. People who give money and volunteer like to be kept in the know about what’s happening. Communication about the excellent causes behind your NPO can really be an eye opener and prompt certain individuals to get even more involved.

  • Develop and deploy an online donation system (if applicable to the NPO), and ask your opt-in email list to test and use the system. Online donation systems are the next wave of easy-to-use e-commerce systems. The act of giving is a no-brainer — people do not like to be pressured to give, but an online system serves as an excellent, low-pressure way to get people to donate time or money. Think about it: Wouldn’t it be great to be able to give to a charity of your choice with your credit card, day or night, and receive a tax receipt in your email right away? These systems exist today and literally pay for themselves in a few months.

The opportunity to take advantage of slowdowns in the hectic Internet world is here. Large, fast-moving companies are taking a breather from adopting newer hardware and software. But there are many NPOs that are on the opposite side of the spectrum and can really move into the 21st century with some of the stuff that’s out there. This niche is ripe and waiting for the best technology to finally reach it.

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