The context in the previous sections has some interesting long-term implications. Perhaps one of the most controversial is the qualified prediction I’d like to make below.

CRM is dead

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) in the alumni relations and fundraising world is the theoretical holy grail single-customer-view solution that will allow us to view all engagement, activity and donations in one place for each potential donor or constituent.

The reality – of course – is way more complex. In a later section, I cover technology, but here I want to talk about some bigger and more interesting issues underpinning the way we think about and use data and networks to achieve our ultimate objective.

So why do I think it’s dead?

Well – it’s a natural implication of the combination of networked communication and social proof – in short, the death of direct marketing as a mass engagement tool. The more we rely on our connected networks to feed us the information and content we care about, the less time and attention we will have for direct marketing communications, however creative they might be.

This means that it is not whether you hold data on a system somewhere, but instead whether that individual cares about you, and allows you mindshare. Given that the mindshare and attention is created and maintained only by the networked link you have to them, data held on an institution’s CRM is a woefully inadequate way to represent the truth of the relationship.

What matters therefore when communicating with 100,000 alumni is not researching and recording a way to talk to each of them directly, and monitoring whether they reply. Instead, what matters is how you build, foster and grow links between people inside your organisation and those outside it so that what matters – your institutional purpose and priorities – can spread like wildfire.

My qualifications here is that there are still needs to:

  • understand and map immediate stakeholders and sources of content
  • for fundraising purposes, record giving behaviour

However, as our attention cycles diminish even further, I think past giving behaviour is going to become less and less important a predictor of future giving behaviour, and a far more important signal will instead be what others the donors know are giving to – and why. Over time – even tracking past giving behaviour is going to become relevant only for major and legacy donors.

Read on for Findings of the project.