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The birth of CharityBI - Building "the holy grail"

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

As a team, we’ve always cared deeply about supporting the charity sector. Building Ripples over the last two years has allowed us to work with some wonderful charities. During this time we saw the painful impact the cost-of-living crisis was having on them.

In the spirit of being true supporters, we decided to take some time in the summer of 2022 to get closer to our charity partners and find out what was happening for them. We went into this with open eyes and ears, eager to learn how we could adapt Ripples to better serve their needs, but also open to completely new opportunities.

Overall, we spent over 50 hours speaking to both charity partners, from varying roles and a cross-section of the general public, to hear things from all sides. It was a truly humbling experience, firstly, to hear how generous people remain to be when they are struggling themselves, but also to hear how much hard work those in charities are putting into the causes they care about at such a difficult time.

Some of the key things we learnt early on:

  • There was a focus on retention as opposed to recruitment

  • Pursuing previously successful strategies was a priority as opposed to trying more innovative, potentially risky opportunities

  • Horizon scanning was key. If another charity had trialled, tested and had success with something, it was worth giving it a go

If you’d like to find out more about what we learnt in our research, get in touch.

We also asked more broadly what their biggest pain points were, this is where things went in a direction we never expected. The overwhelming response was ‘data’ and, in particular, ‘data admin’. To summarise, we learnt that on average, they spend one day a week on data administration, vital time taken away from their main roles and responsibilities. We dug a little deeper and found this issue was caused by a whole host of reasons. Each charity had its unique experiences and reasons, but the common themes included:

  • A recent surge of digital platforms and services collecting data. The pandemic led to a lot of charities trialling new digital products to help replace their traditional practices, which were affected by or halted in lockdowns. This has since been accentuated by the cost-of-living crisis.

“We're doing more digital fundraising and have a focus on data acquisition. We don't have enough email addresses to build our audience, to counteract the cost-of-living crisis."

  • A challenge in creating and upholding processes to deal with these new data streams, including the need to manually import, clean and unify the data as well as updating any integrations pulling data in.

  • Sheer size of data sources. From donation platforms to marketing tools, event planners and accounting software, charities have donor data coming in from, on average, 30 different sources.

  • Internal cultural challenges. Many mentioned internal siloes preventing the sharing of data correctly and efficiently, as well as a lack of either knowledge or appreciation for the importance of data across the charity.

“If we had better reporting because of the database, I think we could save 6 hours a week, which would be huge, and if we could trust the data, my team would feel so much more comfortable using it, which would take out the low level of stress they get when they are pulling data in and creating reports. Motivation-wise and hours-wise, it would really help.”

After these hard-to-hear and eye-opening conversations, we were left with one question:

“Isn’t this what a CRM is for?”

What is a CRM? CRM stands for Customer relationship management. It's a technology that helps businesses easily track all contacts, communications and nurture relationships with their customers and leads.

We conducted another round of interviews to ask just that. The unanimous response was,

“yes, BUT…”.

It turns out most CRMs just don’t work as they should do for charities, or at least not without a lot of time and money being invested. Across the charities we spoke to, they were using a variety of CRMs, all with challenges, big or small. Here are 5 of the most common:

  1. Some charities were using what they described as a ‘heritage CRM’, which was really old and outdated. We even heard, “One is very old, probably 29 years old! It's coming to the end of its life as it's not even on the cloud.”

  2. Switching CRMs requires a huge amount of negotiation and planning. We heard it takes years for this process to be complete. Several of the charities we spoke with were perpetually *air quotes* in the process of changing CRM *air quotes*.

  3. They require customisation from experts. There’s a whole industry built around the fact that CRMs are complicated to customise, especially for a charity's needs. The amount spent on consultants was eye-watering in some cases.

  4. Data sources change and dealing with these changes either means calling on the consultants again, finding a workaround, or moving to manual processes.

  5. Lack of knowledge on how to use the CRM correctly is also common, especially as staff move on, the knowledge and experience goes with them.

“We have a really old CRM right now, which is custom-built for direct mail, but it doesn't have any integration with fundraising pages like JustGiving. It's very old, very basic, we're in the beginning of a 2-year cycle to get a new one. It will need to be connected with Mailchimp and reconciliation, which ours isn't currently."

Overall it appeared the poor state of CRMs was just the status quo. We couldn’t bear to hear this.

“The data side of things isn't great, and it never has been in any charity that I've worked at.”

“Changing a CRM system is a crazy thing to do, so they will avoid it until they can't anymore, so this is why it comes to a point where everything is so inefficient and so complicated that it's quite difficult to untangle.”

We looked at all of the problems and came up with a ‘simple’ (our development team would disagree) solution. CharityBI would be a suite of integrations that automatically imports, cleans and unifies data from your third-party platforms into one simple view. The data can be pushed to your CRM too, so that it is always kept up-to-date. CharityBI is being designed as an off-the-shelf solution that won’t require years of planning and negotiating the way a new CRM would. It’s plug-and-play. Instant value out of the box.

Screenshot of slides from our workshop with charity partners

To ensure we were on the right track and would actually solve a problem, we continued to involve our charity partners. The next step was a workshop to validate the problem, refine the solution and figure out what they would want to use it for and how they expected it to work.

This is where it got really exciting for us - and charities! One of our charity partners even said;

“This would be the holy grail.”

“That would be the dream, it's just one platform. I think it's a gap in the market, I haven't come across anything like that. “

Wireframes of an initial prototype

Over the last few months, we’ve been working away, testing a prototype and continuing the conversation with even more charities and industry professionals.

And that’s where we’ll stop for now. If you’d like to find out more about CharityBI and where we’re at, get in touch. We’re looking to speak with anyone who would like to help influence the future of CharityBI and join a pilot.


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