IT intelligence: Surviving the credit crunch

Robin Fisk looks at the technology charities can use to survive the credit crunch.

We've seen the headlines, battened down the hatches and prepared for "arguably the worst" economic downturn in 60 years, according to the Chancellor. So how can technology help charities survive the credit crunch?

I was interested to hear Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, say in a recent radio interview that staying close to customers had been the key to his organisation's profits this year. Most charities rely on the faithful support of normal people - people affected by rising utility prices, interest rates and inflation, but who nonetheless care about certain causes. Charities might not be able to welcome people into superstores in the same way Tesco can, but the web offers numerous ways to engage with people and remind them why their support is so important.

Just like a good shopping website, your site should offer a personalised experience. Users should be able to access content relating to the projects they have previously supported, which interest groups they have opted into and how long they have been supporters.

To achieve this, you need a website that links to your supporter database and presents its pages accordingly. First, you need a good supporter database that contains accurate historical transactions. Second, you need straightforward XML technology (sometimes called a web service), which shares that information securely with the website. This technology can be extended to enable online donor self-service - handling the basics such as change of address, making a Gift Aid declaration or upgrading a committed giving plan - thus relieving the strain on call-centre staff.

Technology of this nature can keep you close to online supporters. You'll also be in good shape to scale up and handle more when confidence returns.

- Robin Fisk is a senior charity technology specialist at ASI Europe.

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