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Business Observer Monday, Mar. 23, 2020 1 week ago

Firm helps nonprofits shift in the face of the coronavirus pandemic

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VeraData shifts along with its clients.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

In typical times, Fort Myers-based data analytics firm VeraData works predominantly with nonprofits to help them get the most out of their marketing and fundraising efforts. Now it’s helping them shift their messaging in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

‘The business world is changing before our eyes, and the things happening now and through the next couple of months are going to leave a permanent fingerprint on the world.’ Michael Peterman, VeraData

“Now is a time to be sensitive to what everybody is going through,” says Michael Peterman, CEO of VeraData, which also works with some commercial clients. “Maybe invite feedback; maybe invite stories and invite sharing.”

VeraData is helping clients take the appropriate marketing approach and is even providing them some insight gleaned from its wealth of data at no charge, to help them navigate the unprecedented terrain. “We’re offering them some things for free that give them an immediate path to revenue with their donor base and saves them time and makes them smarter,” says Peterman.

Peterman founded VeraData in 2009 — during another tumultuous time, the recession. The firm has since grown to work with more than 300 nonprofits and does around $12 million a year in revenue. Late last year Peterman had indicated he planed to grow outside of nonprofits, too, into sectors like health care and multichannel retail.

Work with his current crop of clients is more pressing now.

Peterman points to efforts being made by companies like Ford as examples of the kinds of messages businesses should be getting out there at this time. Ford recently announced its “Built to Lend a Hand” program, which offers up to six months of payment relief for new-car buyers.

“I really like their messaging,” he says. “I would direct people to listen to people who are a lot smarter than me, like Warren Buffet. Listen to what his sentiment is on these times. The message is simply help people, and my company is looking for opportunities to fill the karma bucket.”

As many businesses are taking a hit from the global pandemic and wondering how to stay afloat, Peterman is hearing anecdotally from some nonprofits he works with that as more and more people are staying at home — and sometimes feeling bored because of that — more physical and electronic mail is being opened up. And that is also increasing response rates in some cases.

“It’s not an everything statement, but a lot of our customers are reporting an increase in the amount of direct mail activity,” he says. “Because of that, their messaging is getting in front of different people, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised about people’s kindness at a time like this when there’s so much uncertainty and fear. For people to be giving the way they are is really impressive.”

Within its own business, VeraData is taking steps like switching from paper checks to electronic ACH payments wherever possible with clients and vendors, since the virus that causes COVID-19 is capable of living on physical surfaces for a period of time. “It’s about how can we be most responsible, and that is don’t send anything,” says Peterman.

VeraData has about 50 employees who work out of its Fort Myers headquarters, an Eastern European office and several other locations throughout the United States. The company is already used to a remote style of working and made the choice to have employees start working from home several weeks ago, before any governmental directives or suggestions. Employees were given laptops, monitors, and even chairs if needed to help them do their jobs comfortably outside of the office. Frequent team calls and communications keep everyone connected and informed.

VeraData’s employees have also taken leadership of certain areas to help the company address the new business landscape. That allows Peterman to focus on C-suite level issues like securing a line of credit if needed or maybe even making a strategic acquisition if the right one comes along.

“People across VeraData have just taken on these roles without even really talking about it, and it’s been so refreshing,” says Peterman. “Now I can stay focused on the things I need to be focused on at this time to make sure we’re OK. It’s been a blessing to have such an awesome team.”

Peterman expects VeraData to be financially impacted at some point, but he doesn’t know when or how badly. “The business world is changing before our eyes, and the things happening now and through the next couple of months are going to leave a permanent fingerprint on the world,” he says. “There are going to be permanent changes resulting from what’s happening today.”

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