Cutting Reporting Time and Improving Fundraising with Skilled Volunteers at Arts Umbrella

Last time I talked in general about how skilled volunteers can contribute to community organizations. This time I want to talk about a specific example where SAP employees worked with Arts Umbrella to improve reporting and fundraising processes. This is a great example of how technology, combined with business skills (in this case sales processes) can be applied in partnership with a community organization and have a big impact.

Arts Umbrella is Canada’s preeminent arts institute for young people, ages 2 to 19. The not-for-profit began operating in a small rented space in 1979, with 45 children attending. Today, Arts Umbrella operates in a 22,000-square-foot facility in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has numerous partnerships with other organizations across the province of BC. Arts Umbrella estimates that, during 2006 and 2007, more than 36,000 children attended classes, workshops, and outreach performances. Arts Umbrella has more than 150 staff and faculty members, making it the second largest employer of artists in the province. In addition, over 300 volunteers assist in a variety of ways, predominantly in fundraising efforts.

While Arts Umbrella has grown steadily to become a world-class art center, technology in general at the organization has been a slow-going process. In the year 2000, Arts Umbrella changed its database system over to Raiser’s Edge, a database used primarily by not-for-profits in the fundraising sector. “Unfortunately,” says Scott Elliott, director of development at Arts Umbrella, “we didn’t have the capacity in-house to run that system properly. And we had no training. So we floundered around, not able to pull any reports out of the database at all.”

Arts Umbrella requires the production and distribution of a variety of reports, but two reports are especially critical – on a weekly basis. One is a forecast report, which summarizes the other report needed: a full listing of who the organization’s canvassers are, who the canvassers’ prospects are, what kinds of funds are expected from these prospects, and so on. Compiling these reports was a difficult, time-consuming process. “I would export pretty much raw numbers from Raiser’s Edge into an Excel file,” says Scott. “And then I’d spend literally days massaging those numbers to get them into some kind of report. I never had any confidence in the finished report. Another problem was that I wasn’t able to correct errors in a quick manner because we were running two systems. Whatever I had in the Excel system, I had to re-input back into Raiser’s Edge. It just wasn’t dynamic at all.”

Because Arts Umbrella had already worked in partnership with the Business Objects Foundation, which funded core curriculum and technology programs for children and youth, the organization had heard about Crystal Reports and its effectiveness within other organizations. “We knew we had to come up with a better solution,” Scott says, “so we began talking to SAP Business Objects about how Crystal Reports could be integrated with Raiser’s Edge.”
Troy Anderson, SAP Business Object’s Group Vice President, Sales: Small – Mid Size Enterprises, attended the organization’s board meetings to understand how the organization approached raising operating funds, and quickly noted the challenge of having to increase their fundraising capacity while also having to predict whether or not they were on track for expected revenue. “My observations were very similar to ones we see [at SAP]”, Troy noted. “Multiple paper copy reports, not tracking the success of different fundraisers, and making sure the data was accurate instead of having conversations about what the data meant.”

Over the next six months, Troy worked with the organization to articulate what there reporting needs are, and then building those reports. “Key people from Arts Umbrella started attending Crystal Reports training,” says Scott, “so we now have in-house experts who know what questions to ask the experts at SAP Business Objects. We learned that good training was absolutely essential to the success of this deployment.”

Today, with Crystal Reports, says Scott, his “fundraising life” has improved significantly. “For example”, he says “we can now better project our annual campaign. We worked with SAP Business Objects to identify the three or four characteristics that, when tracked, are great indicators of the likelihood that a pledge will or will not actually close. This ‘probability formula’ helps us predict – with a high degree of accuracy – who’s going to eventually give and who isn’t.”

This level of reporting, Scott says, allows Arts Umbrella to motivate its canvassers by being able to say, “You have this prospect, and they’re currently at a 10% chance of coming through with their pledge. Here’s what you need to do to move them up to 70%.” So what Crystal Reports has done “very clearly,” says Scott, “is increase our efficiency – not only within our office, but also with our canvassers. We have the tools now to evaluate our situation midpoint, rather than waiting until it’s too late. We can now react quickly as a business and fix things before they become a major problem.” “And just being able to customize our reports,” Scott says, “it is huge – to get our data out and formatted in the way we need it formatted. Reports that used to take hours or days to produce are now available with the click of a mouse.”

For me, this is the key takeaway from this example. It wasn’t just the technology or the people that made a difference here. It was taking the time to listen and really understand the problem and being creative in applying knowledge and expertise from one sector (software sales) to another (fundraising). We have now taken this example and turned it into a case study, made a template project plan and determined technical requirements so that employees around the world can implement a similar solution with non-profits in their region.


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