November 18, 2014

NTA Case Study: Image Journal

When Stuart Scadron-Wattles joined Image three years ago as Director of Resource Development, he was charged with boosting unearned income to help make the 25-year-old organization as sustainable as possible. Image began as a literary journal featuring visual work and critiques of performance by artists interested in the nexus of art, mystery, and faith. Today, it also offers more than a dozen other programs, including events and conferences.

Scadron-Wattles participated in the Nonprofit Tech Academy (NTA) in 2013. Prior to the NTA, and not long after he joined Image, a few factors were converging: The journal’s subscription rate was dropping; the subscriber population was aging; and direct mail promotions were not working like they used to. Internally, the organization maintained six discrete databases to manage subscriptions, donations, events, and other processes and programs.

“In my role, I wanted to be sure that the people participating in and benefiting from our programs were given opportunities to support the organization,” Scadron-Wattles said. But with multiple databases, it wasn’t happening consistently or easily. “We also knew—suspected and then confirmed by a survey we did—that word of mouth was the biggest factor in the decision to subscribe to the literary journal, but we weren’t sure how to support that.”

Image had been using Convio Common Ground, which was acquired and discontinued soon after Scadron-Wattles completed the Academy. In retrospect, the timing of the disappointing news was as good as it could have been, he said.

“We could have left Salesforce altogether at that point and gone to something else, but it offered us a great deal in terms of consolidating data from many sources and giving us that clichéd but valuable 360-degree view of the customer.

“What I could see from our plans was that we needed that 360 view—who’s buying, who’s donating, who’s doing both, who’s getting our e-newsletter, and what they’re doing with it. We needed a central place where that was all clear. The Academy gave me the courage to say, ‘Okay, we’re not leaving Salesforce’ and a better framework for figuring out how to move forward.”

After several months of researching, Image selected Causeview, a fundraising application built on the Salesforce platform. The transition went well, in part due to Scadron-Wattles’ temerity to ask the company for an A-team consultant, another tip he gleaned from the Academy.

The application is simple yet flexible. For example, it integrates well (running a connector) with Eventbrite, “without us having to pay the big bucks for a turnkey solution, two-thirds of which we don’t need,” said Scadron-Wattles.

In the past, events data were housed in one of those discrete databases, and the Image website directed event attendees to call the office to register. Registrations for two conferences—several hundred attendees—were handled by three interns and the program director. “Not customer friendly.”

Now participants register through Eventbrite, and the data is uploaded (manually) to Saleforce. It’s not seamless, but it’s an improvement, said Scadron-Wattles. “It’s worth [the extra steps because] we get new donors from any group we upload, which helps our totals from a fundraising standpoint.”

Today, Image has more data stored in Salesforce than ever before. The next step, according to Scadron-Wattles, is to look at upgrade pathways and journeys for individuals who engage with Image through its multiple programs. “Say you come in through our newsletter, a journal subscription, a conference or event, or you buy an e-book or access an online article. Where do we take you from there? How do we get you to engage in new ways, to make a gift and to further support Image?”

The discussions around customer journeys raise many questions, and the planning takes time. “The good news,” said Scadron-Wattles, “is that having gone through the Academy, we know we need to have a plan for this, and we know how to go about strategically mapping out how it’s going to work.”