National Children's Orchestras

How NCO Improved their Data Safety and Supporter Confidence

National Children’s Orchestras (NCO) run an annual orchestral programme for 650 children aged 8-14 years. The National programme includes three National Symphony Orchestras who meet for two week-long residentials in the spring and summer school holidays, culminating in astounding concerts in public venues. The Projects programme includes four regional Projects Orchestras that meet for two jam packed non-residential orchestral weekends and celebratory family sharing concerts. NCO members perform a varied repertoire, explore their creativity, champion their wellbeing and have lots of fun! NCO is a charity and it supports around 20% of its membership to take part through financial support.

NCO were still doing a lot on paper well into 2019. All children’s auditions happened in person and for the purposes of adjudicating those auditions, heavily encrypted USB hard drives had to be shared between members of staff across the country and then married to the application form that was posted separately. It was an admin heavy and intensive process.

As it did for many organisations, the Covid pandemic forced NCO to rethink how they did things. This switch to a digital approach started with a lot of spreadsheets. As is often the case when using spreadsheets for CRM, each file quickly became too complicated to be of any practical use, so they looked for a more sophisticated solution.

“Beacon were extremely helpful from the start. We were able to bounce ideas off their team, and they really investigated the best ways to do things using Beacon. It got us to really think through and refine our processes which made the whole implementation cleaner and more successful.”

NCO had two main challenges they were looking to solve. They wanted Beacon to manage their children’s orchestra programmes and Financial Support scheme.

There are multiple orchestral programmes running throughout the year varying in complexity and scope. Running each one requires a huge amount of data. In each case, an application is made for a particular programme, which needed to include the child and parent’s information, details about the programme applied for, and an audition video at a minimum. Some of the programmes are also residential so also need to capture things like dietary requirements and emergency contacts.

The applications all need to be assessed and the successful children paired with orchestras, musicians, memberships, residentials, payments collected, and the rest. Throughout that, all of this data need to stay connected together.

“It was horribly bitty before. They’d print and post an application from. We’d record live auditions with 1000 children. And then we’d have to bring the two things together with staff working across the country. Then once places were offered, we’d be chasing 600 odd parents for payments for the next three to six months. Beacon forms gets everything in one package - helping facilitate families to submit children’s pre-recorded auditions and personal data through secure online forms to us, where we then use Beacon dashboards to track and report on applications and set up onward workflows for processing results and onboarding members. It's definitely a much faster process. Digitising it with Beacon made it clean, secure, and robust.”

The various record types and connections available in Beacon also gave NCO an easy way to show the relationships between data. Any record in Beacon can point to almost any other record. For example, you could create a record type for a membership. Within that membership record, there would be a field for the account holder and their parent or carer, of course, but also the application, the orchestra, and their residential programme. Each of those fields becomes a link to the relevant record, so anybody can then click and follow through the connections and history of any individual.

Via Beacon’s portal forms, NCO have even provided that to the parents or carers. An individual can fill out their details on the relevant form and they’ll receive a “magic link” to their registered email. Clicking this link takes them to their record, so they can see the data stored and the progress of the application. They can even update their own details if required although NCO controls what the user can update this way.

“It’s been good for parent confidence. They can see all of their information and payment details, but also their children’s data is secure. It’s also been a gamechanger for finance. Parents/carers can either pay in full or set up instalments, so the expectation for cashflow is easier and payments don’t often need to be chased. Sometimes duplicates can happen if different parents/carers access the forms or don’t use a consistent email address, but Beacon has a simple system for highlighting and merging duplicates, so you can keep your data clean.”

By comparison the needed functionality for NCO’s Financial Support Scheme, is something that’s lacking from a lot of legacy CRMs. Custom fields are created to store the relevant information, such as applicant name, income, available benefits and so forth. The sum that used to be done manually every time was then replicated in a smart field. That field automatically returns the suggested Financial Support payment amount as soon as all the relevant details are provided. An alert can tell you which data is still missing if any.

“I could not tell you how many hours of admin we have saved. It’s so much - a crazy amount! But, actually, it’s a reputational boost that’s been just as valuable to us. We’re asking parents to trust us not only with their child’s data but with the care of their child - detailed and reliable data is a big part of that. Beacon enables us to be more accurate, efficient and professional.” 

Find out more about how Beacon forms might streamline your charity’s admin here or try it for yourself for free.

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