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Easter Seals turns to Web

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By Todd Cohen

Chicago-based Easter Seals, one of the biggest U.S. charities serving people with disabilities, is looking to the Web to build relationships with new donors and increase contributions.

The organization, which raised $125 million in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2001, including $27,000 online, has hired industry veteran Shirley Sexton to fill the new job of director of Internet marketing.

“We’re going to take the lessons of Easter Seals’ success with direct marketing in the mail, and take the lessons of what other organizations have done online, and apply them online,” Sexton says.

The group’s strategy, which Sexton helped develop as a consultant, calls for using the Web to deliver services, strengthen the organization’s brand, raise money, develop its database and help potential clients find the nearest of more than 90 local Easter Seals’ affiliates.

“We want to build relationships with people using the technology of the Internet,” says Sexton, former director of the nonprofit practice in Arlington, Va., for Commerce One, a software firm in Pleasanton, Calif., whose nonprofit practice last October spun itself off as Beaconfire Consulting in Falls Church, Va.

“One of the core ideas is to move away from the old-school marketing approach of focusing on acquisition of donors, and instead focus on cultivation and retention of our best constituents,” says Sexton.

For her December 2000 master’s thesis at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Sexton surveyed nearly 100 nonprofits, and found that, unlike businesses, they generally had failed to embrace “customer relationship management,” or CRM.

Among the few nonprofits that have aggressively adopted a CRM strategy, she said, the World Wildlife Fund – a Commerce One client – found it was attracting “a new segment of donors who overall were younger and had not been involved with the organization prior to that.”

While Easter Seals will continue to develop large-dollar donors “one by one,” she says, it also will use CRM technology to build “one-to-one” relationships with new donors.

The idea, she said, is to gather data about donors’ personal interests and then communicate with them on an ongoing basis, delivering personalized, relevant content they can use — and in the process strengthening their ties to the organization.

Sexton says her goal is to increase online fundraising ten-fold within a year of putting Easter Seals’ new online strategy into effect late this summer.

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