Is giving technology your servant or your master? It is a great question, isn’t it?

So, how do you feel about, for example, your mobile giving experience? Your CSR platform? Online giving and volunteering systems? Do they serve your needs, or do you feel like they lord over you like a master making your CSR life more difficult at every turn? For the average donor or volunteer, these are important questions. But for a CSR professional, say, at a company of 10,000 employees trying to do something good with limited resources, it is critical. In fact, it is the difference between success and failure.

The difference between success and failure

Admittedly, that is a bold claim. Let’s try it from a different perspective. Muhammad Yunus, the renowned Bangledeshi social entrepreneur and Nobel Prize recipient, gives us a simple yet profound perspective on technology:

While technology is important, it’s what we do with it that truly matters.

The operative word in Yunus’ statement is “do”. Giving technology exists to help us “do” things … like make a donation in response to an emergency, volunteer at a local food bank over the holidays, or request a company match of a gift made to our alma mater. If the giving technology we are using does not help us “do” things better, faster, more efficiently – if it isn’t serving our giving needs – then it is an impediment, a hindrance, a burdensome master that discourages us from trying to “do” those good things again.

So the question asked isn’t simply a great question – it is an extremely important question. Is giving technology your servant or your master?

Corporate Social Responsibility and technology

Not long ago – fewer than 20 years, actually – we saw the first wave of giving technology accompany the Internet boom. This was followed in quick succession by automating annual giving campaigns, expanding online giving portals and apps, and creating online volunteering systems. Before long, the CSR industry was introduced to the big daddy of software and technology innovation, the SaaS giving platform.

Many of us observing (or architecting) these changes had high hopes that technology would be the ultimate catalyst for the growth and success of giving programs. But soon the industry experienced a new problem – software vendors coming and going too frequently, with too few promises fulfilled. Charitableway, CreateHope, KindMark, 4 Charity, United-eWay, AmeriGives, JK Group, Corematter, Jadfly, Donation Depot – these are just some of the many startup company brands no longer with us.

After years of studying CSR technology, helping to automate countless giving programs, and working with many of the vendors both current and past, I believe that the explanation for why giving technology has failed to fulfill its promises lies with Muhammad Yunus’s observation:  it’s what we do with it that truly matters.

And what we have done with so much of our CSR technology has been to automate program activities in ways that removed the two most important ingredients to corporate giving success: leadership and marketing.

How did we do that?

A couple of examples will help make the point. Consider a typical CSR program, a fall campaign or disaster relief fundraiser. The convenience, speed, low-cost and reach of email made it an easy replacement vehicle for those more labor-intensive personal appeals.  But who was making the appeal, who was speaking for the cause? We automated the people who care most right out of the process – corporate leaders, volunteers, and “champions”. The visible CEO who explains the importance of giving to our communities, who shows a company commitment to the issues that employees care about, and who “walks the talk” cannot be replaced by any technology.

And as for marketing, all of those personal, visible, even tactile marketing mediums such as events, posters, newsletters, and contests were replaced by what? Yep, again, email. Big, digital thud.

The first two rules of any technology

Now, this is not a knock on email. Email is great as an efficient form of communication. But it takes a very sophisticated email marketing system to do what we used to do within a company to market a giving program or disaster relief appeal.

Susan G. Komen has that sophisticated system. So does the American Red Cross. And so do any number of nonprofits committed to offering a rich, valuable digital donor experience.

But corporate CSR departments often do not. Why? Because too often we do not treat our employees as donors – and that is a good topic to explore in another blog post. So, what does this say about our giving technology?

Bill Gates said it best, about any technology, so we will let him say it again:

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

What about your giving technology?

So how about your company, your CSR programs, your giving technology? Have you automated the leadership and marketing right out of your giving programs? Does your giving technology serve your needs by helping to reach new CSR program successes? Or does it feel like an albatross, dragging down your programs, delivering a poor donor experience … a master sending you down a path that looks like failure?

If you are unsure how to tell, consider questions like these:

  • How do you use your giving technology? For example, are giving programs supplemented with non-digital marketing?
  • How many vendors are you using to support your CSR programs?
  • Have you changed vendors more than once in the past five or six years and you still are not happy?
  • When you engaged that new vendor, how did you map your program guidelines to their system workflows? Did anybody even try?
  • Are your giving programs in line with your corporate culture? With strategic company goals? With leadership?
  • And who provides the leadership?
  • Are your program guidelines clear and to the point? … are they current?
  • Are all of your staff and volunteers fully trained? … and are you even using volunteers to help with marketing and outreach?

If you are struggling with answers to any of these questions, then your giving technology may be a master magnifying your inefficiencies.

So, what should we do now?

If technology as giving program panacea is not working, don’t panic. But you need a plan of action. For starters:

  1. Find the resources, partners and vendors with the industry experience and problem-solving skills to help.
  2. Next, find vendors who are service-first. Nothing will cause technology problems faster than someone who is just a technology vendor. Why? Because they only know their technology, and their company is organized around selling their specific set of features and functions, not helping you deliver program success.
  3. Finally, find technology that gets to the data. Nothing is worse than not knowing whether your programs are achieving the desired results or not. There is only one way to measure success, and that is with data.
Bringing it home …

Technology is not chicken soup. Technology is great when it does what we want it to do. But technology is not so great when it creates problems, puts up barriers to success, or just leaves us confused and in the dark.

If you are not getting the results you expected from your corporate giving technology, then it is time to re-evaluate. The problem could lie with a lack of clarity in your giving program guidelines, with a conflict between those guidelines and your technology provider, or with the technology itself.

Asking the right questions is the place to start in order to find answers. CSR Matters can help – just let us know.