Britain’s biggest children’s charity has completely revamped a crucial IBM i-based application that looked like it was up for the chop.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is one of the UK’s best-known third-sector organisations. Founded in 1884 and headquartered in London, it employs around 2,500 staff and 1,700 volunteers across 40 sites and generates over £150 million in annual revenues.
The overwhelming majority of this funding – more than 90% – comes from public donations. To coordinate and collect this money, the charity uses what it calls its supporter system, a bespoke application first created in the late 1980s.
The system holds 6.2 million supporter records and processes hundreds of thousands of regular donations, mostly in modest amounts, which last year amounted to £114 million.
However, its 5250 interface meant users had to navigate through several screens to see, for example, a supporter’s donation or mailing history. Note recording was clunky, allowing for only one line at the time without any text wrapping. Documents such as email attachments could not be linked.
The NSPCC’s senior manager of fundraising, Alan Carter, says: “The system slowed us down and hampered the quality of our conversations with the supporters.”
Several ways of replacing the application, which sits on a Power 5+ machine running IBM i 6.1, were considered including hybrid phone/CRM systems. But any new solution would require real-time integration with existing downstream supporter data and transaction processing systems, increasing risk and cost. Also, due to an impending office move, it was the wrong time for a new phone system.
Carter says: “After discussing the situation with a LANSA consultant who was looking after the ongoing maintenance of our IBM i-based systems, we decided to provide the supporter care team with better functionality and a productive Windows-style user interface, but keeping the existing database structure intact.”
LANSA specialises in application development and modernisation. After several UI brainstorming sessions, the NSPCC gave the St Albans, Hertfordshire-based firm a spec which it worked up into a prototype using its own Visual LANSA application framework. Two months later, a new-look supporter system went live.
Hugh Havard, a member of NSPCC’s supporter care team, says: “All important information is immediately right in front of us, such as contact details, contact preferences and the donor’s gift aid/tax status. We can switch easily between tabs to see the donation history, mailing history, notes and more. This means we can focus on the conversation, rather than getting data on our screen.”
On top of this, reporting and analysis are now directly driven from captured data. Before the new-look system, each staff member had to maintain a spreadsheet recording the nature of each phone call, such as change of direct debit amount, change of bank details, tax enquiry, legacy conversation, and so on.
Carter says: “Not having to maintain these spreadsheets and not having to collate them at the end of each month saves a lot of time and has significantly reduced reporting inaccuracies.”
Dawn Shortall, who has been a member of the NSPCC supporter services team for 14 years, says: “Now that it has been established that the existing IBM i supporter care system is essentially sound and that it can easily and affordably be extended with new Windows functionality, many more ideas for other improvements are starting to pop up.”
Locating and merging duplicate contacts in the database is high on the wish list. The new search facility already makes it easier to find duplicates. In future, it will allow duplicate instances to be merged without losing any history of notes or other data.
Another improvement on the list is the ability to associate supporters. For example, when multiple people from a company – or a group of friends and family – run a fundraising marathon together, the system will be able to indicate their relationship.
Other departments are coming up with requirements too. A donations processing team handles all gifts, adds them on to the supporter’s individual record of donations and sends the supporter a thank-you letter. Currently, they are using a laborious method to create the letters which involves exporting contact details to a Windows-based system and manually creating multiple mail mergers.
With LANSA, a solution will be created to completely automate the generation of the thank-you letters directly based on the data already available in the supporter system along with HTML templates.