It can be easy to take technical innovations for granted. In this age of information, new technologies have empowered fundraisers to find new donors and engage more effectively with their existing supporters. As a result, Australian nonprofits are now able to do more vital work for the causes that matter.
But the benefits of the digital age didn’t just materialise out of thin air. They’re the work of visionary pioneers who had the foresight to see how emerging technologies could help nonprofits to make a bigger impact.
One of the unsung heroes at the forefront of this trend has been Jeremy Horn, who is the Solutions Director at Clarety and one of its founders.
These days, Clarety is a trusted name in the fundraising community. But few know the story of how Jeremy and his team spent over 20 years navigating ways of bringing cutting-edge technology to the nonprofit sector.
A pioneering approach to youth work
Jeremy grew up in a small country town in the South Island of New Zealand. In the late 1980s, he moved to Queensland to finish high school, before studying applied science and training to become an air traffic controller.
However, instead of working in the aviation industry, Jeremy chose to apply his skills to an important social cause.
He began volunteering for a youth service in Sydney, which led to him becoming a DOCS-funded youth worker. In that role, he applied his technical know-how to use interactive media to engage with young people – including through a then-brand-new technology called the internet.
“I love the opportunity to chart a course, often in uncharted waters. I love to think about what could be. It’s a strength, I suppose, that helps me see what the possibilities are for our clients, for our platform and our team,” Jeremy says.
“Over the years, I’ve learnt that a vision of the future also has to be pragmatic. It actually has to deliver benefits for my team and for my clients.”
In the age of dial-up internet, this program was groundbreaking. It received grants from the Sidney Myer Fund and the Queen’s Trust, along with assistance from Apple. Years before Facebook, it had a custom-built online platform where young people around the country could connect and submit articles.
“The foundation for Clarety many years later was my background in the community sector. Early on, I had this experience of melding technology with youth work,” he says.
A pioneer in the cloud
While the rest of the world was still celebrating the new millennium, Jeremy drew on his early experience with the web to begin a business that’s now known as Clarety.
Originally, the company focused on building custom websites and customer relationship management (CRM) systems for each of its clients. A lot of its early work was focused on nonprofits and events, as well with commercial, retail and media companies.
“For the first 10 years of the business, we built these bespoke solutions. A client would come to us and we would build a cloud-based solution for their business. It gave us a lot of experience in different sectors,” Jeremy says.
In the events space, some of Clarety’s early clients included The Sun Herald City2Surf, which it helped to transition from paper forms to online registrations. Other events it worked with included Run Melbourne and the Blackmore’s Sydney Running Festival.
On the commercial side of the ledger, the company has developed CRM systems for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as well as retail solutions for Optus stores that are still used by franchisees to this day.
After building these bespoke solutions for a decade, Jeremy and the Clarety team began noticing the similarities between many of the systems they were building for different clients.
“From a developer’s perspective, purchasing a newspaper under subscription, buying a phone on a plan or sponsoring a child under regular giving are incredibly similar processes, despite the fact they are in different sectors.”
The challenges of a changing digital world
This early work led Jeremy to envision a single all-in-one platform that could be customised to the unique needs of each industry and organisation without being built from scratch each time.
Many organisations had begun using different apps and platforms for different tasks. Unfortunately, these systems were often incompatible and not integrated with one another.
“We could see that people were struggling with having four or five different platforms they needed to integrate together,” Jeremy says.
“It’s difficult, it’s expensive and, more often than not, it happens manually. You take a list out of your CRM, you put it into Excel and then you import it over into an email program, for example, to send a newsletter.
“We thought that was really clunky. It didn’t really allow for small teams to flourish. It meant that they were doing a lot of things manually, rather than relying on automation. Cloud-based software gives you the ability to use great automations to make life easier.”
So in 2011, Clarety solved these problems by releasing a supporter engagement platform that brought together a range of different functionality into one seamless cloud-based system.
Nonprofits no longer need separate systems for CRM, website content management, e-commerce, donations, online shopping, events, peer-to-peer fundraising, SMS, email, direct mail, and reporting. With Clarety Community, one unified platform takes care of everything.
Building on a strong foundation
In the decade since the platform was released, Clarety has worked continuously to expand and improve the functionality in the platform.
But software and cloud services are only half the story.
The other key focus has been supporting nonprofits to make the most of their technology. That includes “leaning in” to understand each organisation’s needs before the platform is deployed, “leading out” by guiding clients through the transition process, and “leading down” by providing ongoing support.
“We have a little saying: Solution equals software plus services plus support. Anybody can implement software. But that’s only part of the journey. Actually, you need great professional services to be able to implement that software well and look for the opportunities for business improvement during an implementation,” says Jeremy.
Building a great team
Throughout this journey, Jeremy says the big motivating factor for him has been seeing his team and clients succeed.
“I love working with teams. I love seeing people flourish in their roles, finding the thing that they’re really great at. And when we work well with a client and we can see that they’re flourishing. I love that as well.”
Jeremy notes that there’s a vital difference between efficiency (achieving similar results with fewer resources) and effectiveness (doing more with the same resources). The aim of Clarety is to help nonprofits become more effective at what they do.
“Effectiveness means that the same people can do more, because they’re enabled. In our context, that’s giving them the right systems so that they can actually achieve more. It’s not about reducing the number of people needed to maintain the current standard.”
Based on his 20 years’ experience with technology, Jeremy’s big piece of advice for nonprofits is to prepare and build alignment before embarking on a big technology transformation.
“Alignment is the key to success when an organisation starts down a pathway of transformation or technology renewal,” he says.
“If there isn’t alignment between frontline workers, boards and management, you can go down a pathway that can be very costly. Strategic intent doesn’t get achieved, a managerial goal or KPI can’t be achieved, or it’s difficult for people to do their day-to-day work.
“So preparation is all-important in getting that alignment and a vision for what the future can be.”
Visit Clarety.community to discover how Clarety can help your nonprofit become more effective.