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What charities can learn from a burger joint

 Photo by  Erik Odiin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash

Imagine I were starting a new charity today. I love cycling, so let’s say it’s a charity that promotes cycling in cities. Would there be a discussion about whether or not we needed a customer relationship management system (CRM)? Of course not; it would be a given that we’d have one. Everything my charity does would be built around supporters. And without being weighed down by legacy systems and a history of doing things in the same, manual way, investment in digital technology would be essential in delivering that supporter-centered experience.

The world is changing rapidly and charities need to respond to the expectations that have been created by digitally transformed sectors. Like it or not, people expect the same quality of experience and interaction from charities that they have with other organisations – such as food ordering apps and online clothing brands. If poor user experiences and glitchy, complex donation forms make supporters of my cycling charity feel frustrated they’ll leave without donating and probably won’t be keen to come back.

Transforming an organisation is not easy, but it’s doable. We can be inspired by organisations that have been brave enough to take a step back from their busy day to day operations, and look at their very core with a fresh pair of eyes. These companies have asked themselves: What are we trying to achieve? Is this still needed? How do we deliver what’s needed by our customers in the 21st century? For them, digital transformation of the market is a core part of this self-reflection: they have assessed how technology has changed the market and their customers habits and lifestyles and are responding by finding out how the technology can build on this to help their business.

A technology company that happens to serve beer and wings

Sherif Mityas is chief experience officer at TGI Fridays. He has turned the once-traditional restaurant chain into “a technology company that happens to serve beer and wings.” Mityas is responsible for TGI Fridays’ adoption of artificial intelligence and chatbots to answer customer questions and send targeted messages to diners.

Data is central to this shift. TGI Fridays pull data in from point-of-sales systems, social media, mobile devices and so on, and stitch it all together to create personalised campaigns. Rather than targeting broad demographics, TGI Fridays now knows that “John likes ribs and usually comes in on Thursday around 6pm to pick up dinner for his family”.

For their part, TGI Fridays doubled its takeaway business in the past year, and has increased engagement on social media five times over. Using artificial intelligence has returned a seven-fold return on investment in the first year.

You can see now why I think a good CRM is crucial. Good relationships are built on good data. If people are interacting with my charity, I want to make sure that this is easy because they are seeing what’s relevant and of interest to them. Fulfilling experiences with my charity across all channels is more likely to make people become supporters, which includes donors.

Going back to your roots

Rather than seeing their digital transformation as a revolutionary move, Mityas says the’ve gone back to their roots. TGI Fridays started in the 1960s as a singles bar. Bartenders knew who customers were and what they liked. It was social place, with a premium placed on one-on-one engagement. Individual preferences and personalised experiences are still at the heart of the company (as are its chatty bartenders), but technology is augmenting the experience you get when you visit.

This is similar to the case of Michelin. They had growing competition from rivals in Asia making lower-cost tyres and needed to raise their game. They still sell car tyres, but data collected from built-in chips is fed into their software which helps drivers adapt their behavior to improve tyre durability and predict when the tyres need changing. Thanks to this business innovation, information services have become a new strand of their business model.

Ultimately, it’s about experimenting with new technologies, figuring out some use cases, measuring incredibly carefully and then building on it. “You can’t be out of balance: the technology, the organisation, and the process all have to be in lock step to make this work,” Mityas says.

Looking to the future

Unlike these companies, charities are not motivated by profit. They are there to improve lives, so their purpose becomes the day-to-day delivery. For a long time there has been no strong impetus to ask themselves the question: are we still relevant? The majority of charities have been wedded to the way things used to be done, to staff and supporters who’ve been there for decades and the business model which was developed in the pre-digital era. And this inertia was tolerable because core supporters were the same generation as the charities they supported. But as we’ve seen, the demographics and behaviours of supporters are changing.

Charities can do a lot by fixing the basics (like donation forms or the introduction of online services). But, at some point, they will also have to start looking at their business model and ask the transformative question: “If we were a technology company that delivers X, what content, data, technology and skills would we need?” Answering that question will help them define what the 21st century version of their charity needs to look like.

Branislava MilosevicComment