How Workflow Automation Can Rock Your World and Make It Flow

One of the biggest complaints we hear from arts managers is that their organizations are not as efficient as they could be. Much of this is because people are doing lots of things manually, which takes valuable time to do and is, frankly, super boring. And, on top of that, sometimes things that we are supposed to do fall through the cracks, and then it takes twice as long to go back and fix stuff later. Most organizations are doing 150% of what anyone could possibly expect them to do with limited staffs and budgets, and I think any opportunity to plug up their “leaky bucket” syndrome is well worth paying attention to.

Today I’m writing to introduce you to the concept of “workflow automation,” which, although it is a bit technical, could be a powerful antidote to this problem at your organization. Before technology dominated our lives, “workflow” simply described how you did things. It was an explanation of how you accomplished certain tasks. For instance: You did thing X, which then went to Sally, who approved it, and then it was filed in a folder created and labeled “Z” by Peter the intern.

The technology world has adopted and translated this purely manual approach to mean something quite different. “Workflow automation” refers to the programming of tasks and activities inside your CRM system — tasks that happen automatically, without you doing anything.

Workflow automation saves your team both time and energy while ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks.

Perhaps nothing can introduce the topic better than the website IFTTT.com. The name stands for “If this then that.” It’s a remarkable example of workflow automation on a personal level. After you register on the site, you can set up automated tasks to help you accomplish things that you would otherwise do manually.

For instance, IFTTT enables you to get a notification on your iOS or Android device if it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so you know to take an umbrella. You can automatically mute your Android device and change it to vibrate when you arrive at your office (and then automatically unmute it when you get home); or you can automatically download and save to Dropbox any photos in which you’ve been tagged on Facebook. If you’re not familiar with IFTTT.com, I encourage you to try it out.

How does this relate to running an arts organization? Just as IFTTT creates workflows for you in your daily life, your CRM system today can include automated workflows for internal operations and activities within your organization. I’ve asked some of our Client Administrators to come up with some of the more useful workflows our clients have set up in PatronManager, to give some concrete examples of what I mean.

When you read through these, I think you’ll see what a compelling change in your operation this could be If you’re more efficient, and you and your staff saved time, that time could then be used for more important things.

  • Ticket Inventory Level Notification: Sends an email alert to the box office manager and/or marketing director when the number of available tickets to a certain performance drops below a specified number. This lets the box office manager decide when to release extra hold seats, or lets marketing know when to tweet a “Hurry, get your tickets before they sell out!” message.
  • VIP Email Confirmation: Sends an extra, personalized email to patrons marked as “VIPs” when they buy a ticket to a certain event. This could enable development directors to automatically remind VIPs to attend an exclusive after-party. As a bonus, you can set a workflow to have a separate email go to the development director with the date/amount of the patron’s most recent donation, so she knows to look out for the VIP at the event and what to say when she finds her.
  • Membership Expiration Notice: Sends an email to a member 30 days before his current membership is due to expire, reminding him to renew. If he still hasn’t renewed, it creates a task for the membership director to call the donor seven days before the expiration date.
  • Major Gift Alert: Sets off multiple alerts when a gift over a certain amount is received. It creates a task for the executive director to send a personal letter to a donor, sends an email to the board member who’s responsible for soliciting that donor, and creates a task for the development director to invite the donor to lunch 14 days later.
  • Grant Awarded Alert: Similar to the Major Gift Alert, this one is internally focused. It sends an email to the executive director reminding her to thank/congratulate the development team (with lunch or flowers, etc.) when a grant is marked as awarded.
  • Enforcing Data Quality: Any time you have a rule in place such as “If X is true, then definitely Y,” a workflow can make sure Y is happening even if the user enters only X. For example: For all donations designated to the Annual Fund, the GL Code should be 4382. By setting up a workflow to automatically set the GL Code to 4382 when the user has selected Annual Fund, you eliminate the need for the user to know which GL Code goes with which fund and reduce the possibility of human error mucking up your reports.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of workflows that could be implemented in your organization. The key is to understand how your organization works — and what things would work more smoothly or efficiently if they were automated.

If you don’t have workflow as part of your technology yet, it’s a feature of most leading CRM systems (including PatronManager) that could make a huge impact in your organization.

See how PatronManager can help you achieve better results.

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