Mergers and collaborations – we’re hearing a lot of talk about them in these straitened times and, indeed, there are more and more examples around. So OK, you and the other similar charity (who you’ve been talking to for years) have now decided to collaborate or merge. That’s the hard part, right? Wrong!
Experience shows that, all too often, it’s the nuts and bolts of fundraising and business operations that are forgotten when mergers and collaborations are planned, or worse still – only remembered at the last minute. Here are our top five tips for ensuring IT and systems success when two become one.
1. Get all the right people at the table
As soon as talks get serious on how your organisation is going to evolve its relationship with another, ensure all the right people are on your project team – and that has to involve technology. There is little point in undertaking due diligence, drawing the organisation models, checking the legal framework and more, unless you know you can actually bolt your IT infrastructures together from Go Live, or have a plan for doing so very soon after. The IT perspective must include all databases and essential satellite systems in use – fundraising, service delivery, volunteer management etc. – as these business areas are all critical to the success of the new organisation.
2. Plan an inclusive timeframe
Any project manager worth their salt knows that the three constraints on a project are time, cost and scope. Within the wider merger project there will be defined smaller projects, such as a database merger between the two organisations. This in itself is no small task, and needs the appropriate time and money to be allocated so that the required scope (both included and excluded aspects) can be achieved. Recently, one organisation ‘overlooked’ the inclusion of its fundraising database in the merger plan. Faced with the task of incorporating it retrospectively, the options were to either merge it quickly or take longer and consider what the combined businesses really needed. Unfortunately, the former approach was taken, meaning the organisation will not realise the benefits that a longer review and refinement of business processes brings. We expect that further problems are in store, showing that a reduced timeframe not only impacts scope, but also much more in the long-term.
3. Reference your organisational and fundraising strategies
In a merger, as well as bringing systems together, decisions need to be made on what to keep and what to leave behind. It is essential to take a step back and consider the bigger picture. For example, in terms of the database to choose, whilst the majority of staff may be experienced on System A, would the adoption of System B offer better future-proofing in line with the bigger picture? Retraining staff is easier than trying to get a database to do something it can’t two years down the line. Drawing up a functional specification that represents aspirations of the new organisation will help in decision-making, and is our recommended approach. This will also help at a practical level when deciding how to map the incoming data from System A into System B, as you‘ll know how your fundraising strategy should be reflected in your merged database – essential for those early days KPIs that the Board will demand.
4. Know your supporter-base overlap
Whilst all those concerned within the organisation (should) know why the merger is happening, how it’s unfolding, and the reasons behind it, never forget that your supporters aren’t part of this communication loop. It’s a very worthwhile exercise to check the degree of supporter overlap across the two organisations (by profile analysis across the two databases). This should, ideally, be undertaken as part of due diligence as, dependant on the results, it could impact heavily on fundraising projections and subsequent activity plans. As the databases are merged, ensure you know who came from where – they may have supported quite different charities and be familiar with communicating in different ways. Appropriate supporter journey plans need to be in place going forward.
5. It’s all about the people
Perhaps a surprising last tip, but one we believe is essential to these projects – people. Whether it’s the IT person leading the technical changes, or related colleagues in fundraising, supporter care etc.; everyone needs to keep talking and communicating. Of course, even the data on the database is people, and those people are supporters, beneficiaries, eventers, etc. All crucial to the organisation, and all part of why the change process is underway. Remember the people, and you will get there!
Dawn Varley is a Consultant with Purple Vision, and is currently working with three clients post-merger. She was a Trustee of Brook London prior to it merging earlier this year with the wider Brook network, and is a Trustee of the Institute of Fundraising. Dawn is also Vice-Chair of the Institute of Fundraising Technology Group.