Streamlining Operations through Intelligent Automation: Rethinking Pledge Processing

The Challenge.  On-air pledge drives are the foundation for public media fundraising. If done well, these drives provide an opportunity for public media stations to have positive one-on-one interactions with audience members and supporters. However, the operational side of pledge drives, and ensuring that inbound calls are properly stewarded and processed, have historically been time-consuming and labor-intensive. If membership pledges and subsequent premium fulfillment are not handled promptly and correctly, stations run the risk of lost revenue and dissatisfaction from the very members and supporters with whom they hope to engage.

In a single pledge drive, typically 5% to 10% of pledges are not able to be automatically processed due to member data inconsistencies which can occur if call center operators do not have access to timely member data. In a file-based transfer method, even the most diligent data-driven stations, will send a file once daily of recent pledges. As a result, the call center is provided with a member file that is already out-of-date by the time the pledge drive starts.  When an inbound operator does not have timely information about the member’s interaction with the station, they are starting a call with a member with minimal or partial data. It means that the operator might not know that the member has been a consistent supporter of the station, that they have recently received their DVD Box Set, or that they are a PBS Passport sustaining member for example.

Anytime that we can move away from the manual processing of data and into smart and real time automation, everyone wins. This automation allows us to quickly adapt and provide a more focused and beneficial service to our clients.
 
Mike Carpenter, Project Manager
ACD Direct

This lack of accurate and timely data fuels potential data inconsistencies and has impact downstream; if a member has a sustaining pledge that began last month, and the operator records a new sustaining pledge of the same amount this month, how does one record that? This can prevent a pledge record from being properly added to the station’s CRM or for some CRMs, the entire day’s pledge file might be rejected.    

Furthermore, at the end of every pledge drive day, the daily pledge file has to be extensively reviewed: screening for accuracy of source codes, reading through agent comments to make changes in the file in order to charge donors correctly, looking for donors who made multiple transactions or pledges and editing or combining as needed. For any data anomalies spotted, the only resolution options are to listen to the call center recording or are to call the donor for clarification. The recorded calls can be quite lengthy so the entire process of reviewing the file, editing the file and listening to calls takes multiple hours each day.

The traditional pledge processing approach for each TV or radio pledge drive consumes substantial station staff time and results in delays in recording pledge payments, delays in sending out acknowledgements, and delays in fulfilling premiums and membership offers and services. The net result: unhappy donors and a high-stress environment for station staff.

The Initiative. WETA in collaboration with ROI Solutions, its CRM partner, and ACD Direct, its inbound call center and pledge processing service provider, determined to reengineer the inbound pledge origination and management process.  WETA set a goal of streamlining their inbound pledge processing to minimize staff time and maximize efficiency. WETA, ROI Solutions, and ACD Direct collaborated together on a project to:

  • improve operator awareness through timely data
  • streamline pledge processing following an inbound call.   

Improving the timeliness of data to inform the inbound call representative was relatively easy.  Using ROI Solutions’ Revolution CRMTM Open API, ACD Direct was able to allow for a quick search of member records and the retrieval of summarized gift, pledge, premium fulfillment and other pertinent member information.  The ACD operators were able to use real-time constituent data to have an informed conversation, that further allowed them the ability to suggest offers, asks and upgrades based on the data, all while using their own native platform.

Members expect you to know that they are members and have the most accurate information possible to inform the dialogue. By streamlining the communications between ACD and ROI Solutions, ACD’s agents have nearly real time updates on every member.


Brandon Hemel, Senior Director, Data Strategy and Management
WETA

To improve pledge processing following a call, WETA, ROI Solutions, and ACD collaborated to unpack the workflow and identify all of the reasons why a pledge record would need to be reviewed before being added to the ROI Solutions’ Revolution CRMTM.  Having this list of reasons enabled ACD Direct and ROI Solutions to pre-identify those pledge records that would ultimately require manual review.  

This allowed for the creation of two separate pledge transaction files throughout each pledge drive day:

  1. pledges/transactions that could be sent via API to the CRM for automated processing; and,
  2. an isolated pending queue of transactions with pre-identified inconsistencies which would need to be manually reviewed by the WETA staff.

During the project ACD Direct authored an API-driven integration that sends daily pledge transactions and premium fulfillment data in near realtime to ROI Solutions’ Revolution CRMTM. Instead of requiring WETA staff to search for and identify errors in incoming pledge drive data, Revolution CRMTM processes all incoming, error-free pledge transactions and premium requests immediately.  With the other WETA-specific automated processes already programmed into Revolution Online, that means three important pledge drive tasks happen automatically and immediately: the payment/pledge is credited to the constituent’s account, appropriate acknowledgement letters are sent, the proper premium order is then sent to WETA’s fulfillment partner, and in the case of TV, Passport Activation can occur. 

When we see a repetitive or manual process, we work with our clients to articulate business rules that govern the process and then automate a solution which helps save time and money.

Libby Chandler, Account Director
ROI Solutions, Inc.

Impact. The result of this effort enables WETA staff members to spend their time addressing constituents that actually need manual review. With fewer transactions/pledges to review, there are far fewer outstanding questions that require listening to call center calls.

For each pledge drive the approach has cut 75% of the time needed to review the daily file for member data inconsistencies. The amount of time spent reviewing call center calls has been reduced by over 90%.

In WETA’s case, what was previously a daily 5 to 6-hour task every day of a pledge drive now is complete in far less time, approximately 1 hour – saving the organization considerable staff time and money. 

Benefits.  The overall benefits of the collaboration are self-evident.  Inbound operators now have the data they need to have a more informed and productive conversation with constituents.  This allows them the ability to service the members better and thus allowing the member supports to feel far more connected to the organization. Improved processing time equates to higher donor satisfaction due to rapid pledge acknowledgement and faster receipt of the premium gift.  

The WETA and ACD Direct staff are happier because a lot of the operational and logistical stress of pledge processing has been eliminated.  And for WETA automated processes have increased pledge drive capacity for the organization. According to Brandon Hemel, Senior Director of Data Strategy and Management, “We can now handle multiple pledge drives concurrently or use that brain power to focus on other data-driven opportunities. For public media organizations, this is a huge plus!”

About WETA.  WETA’s mission is to produce and distribute content of intellectual integrity and cultural merit using a broad range of media to reach audiences both in our community and nationwide. WETA is one of the top producing stations for public television, producing and co-producing landmark television series. Ken Burns’s The Civil War, Baseball and The Vietnam War drew international praise; Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise and Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. enjoyed critical and popular acclaim; PBS NewsHour is highly regarded for its news coverage; Washington Week continues a 50-year tradition of insightful news analysis; and the WETA performance series, including The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize and The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, showcase the rich fabric of American culture from the nation’s capital.

About ROI Solutions, Inc. ROI Solutions is a technology company working in partnership with nonprofit organizations. ROI Solutions’ Revolution CRMTM and implementation, ongoing support and data management services is considered “best-in-class”. For more information, please contact Jason Robbins, Vice President of Business Development at jrobbins@roisolutions.com.

About ACD Direct. ACD Direct offers solutions to optimize fundraising and outreach campaigns by allowing our clients to connect directly with their audience. Whether it’s doing routine call center work, providing high-level services, such as web chat or Pledge Cart, ACD delivers services that align and support our clients’ goals and integrate seamlessly.  For more information, please contact Jennifer McCurdy, Director of Operations at jennifer.mccurdy@acddirect.com.