Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, West Coast Environmental Law is the legal champion for the environment in Canada's Westernmost province.
Through legal advice, education and advocacy, the firm's team of lawyers and researchers provide their expertise free-of-charge to those involved in legal matters that affect the environment and its sustainability.
The firm also maintains an Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund from which it provides funding to support organisations and individuals involved in environment-related legal cases.
As a not-for-profit organisation, the firm is pressed not only to serve its ever increasing group of legal advice clients, but also to manage vital relationships with its financial backers, whose donations fund the firm's day-to-day operations and resolution fund.
With very modest resources to devote to information technology, the firm required an easy-to- use and administer client and donor relationship management system that could be quickly customised to support its specific requirements. Having reviewed available systems with the help of CRM consultants Alpha Pacific Technologies, the firm opted to deploy Maximizer Enterprise. Using the system, West Coast has revolutionised its client and donor management processes and developed a model not-for-profit relationship management system.
Lobbying for environmental protection – pro bono
When it comes to the law, it is often the environment that loses out. In many cases, those affected by environmentally-sensitive legal issues are individuals without the information or resources to protect their own rights and the environment that may be affected by the outcome of their situation.
For example, a farmer who relies on water provided by an irrigation ditch may be negatively impacted by drainage changes stemming from a new residential housing project. In cases like this, West Coast provides legal advice aimed at addressing the farmer's rights while staying out of court and influencing the environmental practices of the residential developer.
In cases where West Coast identifies a larger, more pervasive or common issue, the legal team produces a report that it publishes to broadcast its legal advice at a larger scale — and when it all comes together, positively affects environmental legislation.
Like any other law firm, West Coast Environmental Law is required to maintain very detailed records of its interactions with clients. And as a not-for-profit that often works with clients over the phone, it is important to be able to quickly search out a complete history of the client's relationship with the organisation and any documents that relate to their case.
Before Maximizer Enterprise, client records and supporting documentation were stored in bulky paper files — making it very difficult to respond quickly to clients over the phone and managing files was a full-time job. Today, the firm has transitioned to a largely paperless administration system by storing client information and records in Maximizer Enterprise.
"In the years before we had access to the Maximizer Enterprise client and donor management system, administration was a whole lot more onerous," said Christopher Heald, Systems Administrator, West Coast Environmental Law and the overseer of the Maximizer Enterprise system at the firm.
"When a client calls in, it is absolutely critical that the lawyer or researcher on the line is able to do one of two things: quickly understand that client's case or capture that client's vital contact details to produce an auditable record of the interaction. Maximizer Enterprise is so easy to use that our relatively non-technical lawyers have been part of customising the system to really deliver the information they need to help clients. All the information we need is now right at the click of a mouse."
Another major advantage of capturing client information electronically in Maximizer Enterprise is in identifying patterns in legal issues that may require further investigation as the subject of West Coast's publications and research reports. The at-a-glance reporting in Maximizer Enterprise also allows the firm to better identify candidates for its Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund.
In order to maintain consistent communications with its clients, donors and important stakeholders (such as provincial, municipal and federal politicians), the firm maintains a quarterly newsletter and often sends highly targeted research to clients.
Using the searchable fields in Maximizer Enterprise, the firm can quickly segment its stakeholders according to their relationship with the firm and direct pertinent legal research and new publications both electronically and also by direct mail.
Outlook email integration is also a key element in the firm's strategy for ensuring that it tracks each client's history of interactions with the firm. Recognising that email is a pervasive business communications tool, West Coast logs all email communications with clients into the notes field of Maximizer Enterprise. This ensures that no matter which lawyer might next work on the client's case, a comprehensive history of their case is instantly available in the system.
Ongoing communication is essential to West Coast Environmental Law's other major activity, fundraising.
"We are, after all a not-for-profit law firm and that means that we need to focus a certain amount of our resources on nurturing ongoing relationships with our donors as well as prospecting for additional donors," Heald said.
"Very often, our highly-targeted delivery of research in addition to our regular update newsletter helps to develop our former clients into active donors."
With Maximizer Enterprise, West Coast is able to make the process of issuing tax receipts completely seamless — printing receipt numbers right out of the system. This also makes it very easy for the firm's employees to quickly distinguish advisory clients from those philanthropic groups and individuals who regularly provide the firm with donations.
According to Heald: "We track dozens of relationship points in our extensive database of clients and donors and for us, a crystal-clear understanding of our relationship to someone calling into the firm couldn't be more important. For example, we need to be able to instantly understand that someone is a long-time client for whom we have provided legal advice.
"Just as important, we need to know that they may have bequeathed their estate to the organisation. More than anything, our donors want to be remembered for their help and with Maximizer Enterprise, we are in a much better position to deliver a really great donor experience."
In a savvy stroke of CRM planning, West Coast Environmental Law has customised Maximizer Enterprise to create a "Donors" tab in each firm employee's homepage. This table contains all information relating to an individual's donation history in one easily accessible location.
This might include dates of each donation, amounts and any communication from the firm thanking the donor for their generosity. It is also security rights controlled so only appropriate employees can access the information. One folder even keeps track of campaign appeal codes so West Coast can better understand which of its promotional efforts are resulting in increased donors.
The right fit for not-for-profit
In an era strongly influenced by the popularity of the Internet, even non-profit organisations are compared with their corporate peers on the basis of business efficiency, fiscal responsibility and increasingly, on the experience they are able to provide for their stakeholders and donors.
In mainstream industry, many companies have deployed high-tech solutions to help them compete for wallet share and drive operational efficiency for improved profit margins and customer satisfaction.
The non-profit sector has been slower to adopt new technologies largely because of budgetary constraints and the requirement for considerable IT resources to maintain customer relationship management systems.
According to Heald: "The not-for-profit sector is quite a tightly-knit group regardless of the industry, cause or specific expertise. Most non-profits have two major objectives in mind: serving their stakeholders and the constant search for operational funding.
"Foundations, societies, firms and research agencies alike have been searching for that perfect technology fit. They need a means of managing the relationships they have with their donors and stakeholders that is extremely cost-effective, simple to use and flexible enough to match up with their organisation's unique processes.
"Having worked with our Maximizer Enterprise system for several years, I can say that it represents a major opportunity for non-profits and charities. After the work we did to create a donor management module right in the system, it solves a huge number of the day-to-day problems that organisations like ours face."
A Maximizer software customer for over a decade, West Coast Environmental Law has benefited from:
- Creation of a comprehensive donor and client management system
- 100 per cent adoption of a system by firm employees
- Precise segmentation of the client base for newsletters, research and direct mail
- Visibility into the effectiveness of individual marketing campaigns
- Creation of a standardised process for sales and service activities
Up and running in half a day: ease of use
A major consideration for West Coast Environmental Law is the experience of its own lawyers and researchers as they use Maximizer Enterprise.
"Because it is absolutely mandatory for our staff to use our donor and client management system it needed to be very easy to learn and use," Heald said.
"This is where Maximizer Enterprise really shines. With the system and processes we have in place, a new employee can be up and running in half a day.
"This is an incredible advantage when we're offering such high-value services."