Most Effective IT Project 2007

DOUBLE WINNER

• Most Effective IT Project 2007

• Most Effective Use of IT in a Charitable Organisation

Winner: Comic Relief

Project: Maximising Donor Revenue

Business goal: To turn accurate customer data into charity funds

Today’s charities face many of the problems traditionally associated with the corporate community. Forced to compete for customers – or rather donors – in an increasingly crowded marketplace, many charitable organisations are now beginning to deploy strategies that were once the preserve of big business. Data analysis, customer profiling and large-scale marketing campaigns, for example, are now familiar tools in the contest to encourage and capture public philanthropy.

For this reason, the Effective IT Awards programme was extended this year to acknowledge the IT acumen of the UK’s charity groups. And one company stood above others.

Comic Relief, with its ambitious mission to tackle poverty and social injustice around the globe, not only walked away with the award for the Most Effective Use of IT in a Charitable Organisation but also took the overall trophy for the Most Effective IT Project of 2007. 

The judges recognised the charity’s “powerful use of IT” – an application of technology that has successfully “delivered value in real human terms” by allowing the organisation to maximise its donor revenue.

Comic Relief has achieved this end by capitalising on the Inland Revenue’s Gift Aid scheme, under which charities are able to claim tax relief on donations made by UK tax payers – but only if that taxpayer is clearly identified. In that case, for every pound donated, the charity receives an additional 28% income. With more than 80% of donors agreeing to Gift Aid, this added contribution is highly valuable to all charities. Indeed, in 2005 Comic Relief’s flagship event Red Nose Day generated a staggering £7 million in Gift Aid alone.

But the taxman’s generosity is not without its complications. In order to claim Gift Aid, charities must be able to provide the Inland Revenue with some crucial pieces of information on the donor, the most important of which is their home address and confirmation that they have agreed to the Gift Aid contribution. Getting it wrong can be costly. Whatever percentage of randomly selected addresses is found to be incorrect in its audit, the Inland Revenue will deduct from the overall Gift Aid contribution to the charity. This issue, explains Omid Afzalalghom, the senior database administrator at Comic Relief, and leader of the project, was beginning to cause the organisation some serious problems.

“We had a lot of managers and senior managers looking at addresses to verify them manually. But as our supporter base grew the number of donations we were dealing with was increasing, so in turn the overhead involved in making these manual checks was becoming bigger and bigger.” But wasted staff resources was not Comic Relief’s only concern. “There’s a motivational factor,” adds Afzalalghom. “Checking all these addresses manually is a very monotonous job. It can be quite hard to retain staff with that job. So we decided to look at ways to use technology to make the whole process more efficient.”

In what would become a long-term, three-year project, Comic Relief undertook to implement a data quality solution that would cleanse the data contained in its three million strong supporter database. Opting for QuickAddressBatch (QAB), provided by technology partner QAS, an international provider of data accuracy and identity management products, the charity was able to automate the process of address verification. QAB runs address batch checks against its enhanced version of the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File, cleansing any suspect addresses as they arise. After each run the software provides a summary and a breakdown of how many addresses have been cleaned, and what amendments were made.

Comic Relief, whose in-house project team comprised fewer than five people, also went on to integrate the QAS product with a data suppression service provided by QAS’s parent company Experian – the globally renowned specialist in information analysis – which screens the database for individuals who have either moved or died. Combined, the products have allowed Comic Relief to prevent the deterioration of its database information, through regular checking runs. During campaigns, the charity uses QuickAddress Batch on a daily basis – and the results have been compelling.

Primarily, says Afzalalghom, the charity’s returned mail has been cut significantly. “Prior to the implementation we used to have a section of the office dedicated to storing returned mail. Now, the amount of returned mail has dropped to the hundreds.” In 2006, for example, returned Gift Aid letters for Sports Relief stood at a negligible 0.24%.

Indirectly, however, other gains have been made. Not only has staffing time been freed and marketing campaigns become more successful, but the project has allowed the charity to mitigate reputational risk. “Getting boxes of returned mail is bad for our general profile. Even though mail-outs come out of our operating budget rather than donations, our supporters still get annoyed if they think we’re wasting money,” says Afzalalghom. “We have to use our funds as cost-effectively as possible”. Comic Relief is now confident in claiming it does.

Highly Commended

UNICEF

In order to gain insight into the effectiveness of its online campaigns and to engage the donor community, child protection organisation UNICEF UK instigated a web analytics project, which has allowed unicef.org.uk to increase its online donations by more than 2,000%, while its number of unique visitors has grown by a further 17%.

Association of Accounting Technicians

Not-for-profit organisation the Association of Accounting Technicians underwent a radical shift in its business model, through the transformation of several manual administrative processes to online services. Moving major tasks, including annual membership, exam entry, qualification entry and training accreditation services, onto its website, the AAT was able to create a raft of additional e-services, grow its online traffic by 40%, save 80 staff days annually, and in the process become a fully ‘customer-centric’ organisation.

 

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media (now Bonhill Group plc) from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The...

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