Enabling Functions

Enablers required for Operational Efficiency: Processes & Systems, Communications & Marketing, and Legal & Governance

This module deals with some of the enablers that support the development and operations of your hub or team: processes and systems, communications and marketing, and we touch briefly on legal and governance. While some of these might seem fairly straightforward, they play a vital role in operational efficiency.

In our experience, these so-called ‘enablers’ can’t be underestimated. Depending on your context and structure, you may receive some support for these functions from a parent organisation, members of your alliance or network, or from your volunteers and advisers.

Key Takeaways

  • Get your systems and processes in place early: email & calendaring, file repositories, customer relationship management, and project management.
  • Ensure systems are compatible with your host organisation, and easy for the team to use.
  • Communicate early and often: it’s important to communicate with stakeholders at each stage of your journey.
  • Good storytelling has the power to inspire and uplift.
  • Legal and governance structure need to be put in place from the outset.

Processes & Systems

Aside from the operational items that will contribute towards achieving your strategic objectives, there are also other systems and processes required that will improve the efficacy of your operations. If you’re a small team starting from scratch, you’d probably want to put these systems and processes in place as soon as possible for your team to get things off the ground.

Email & Calendaring

The first crucial system you need to put in place, is an email and calendaring system. This may be very straightforward, unless you have a separate domain name and want to have email accounts with that domain.

Considerations for choosing email and calendaring systems:

  • Cost
  • Ease of access
  • Interoperability
  • Ease of administration/expandability
  • Corporate restrictions

The 2 most popular options would be Gmail and Outlook. You can host your entire organisation’s email and calendaring system on these platforms if the cost is not an issue. Another option is Zoho – while not as popular as Gmail or Outlook, it provides comparable features at an affordable price.

Whichever system you choose, it needs to be easily accessible. Does it work across different platforms, operating systems, email clients, and devices? And you might want a certain level of interoperability, meaning the ability to interface with other systems. E.g. Gmail has great support with third party plug-ins, which enhances its functionality.

If you are a lean team, you probably don’t have the luxury of a dedicated IT person. A system that’s easy to administrate would be crucial. But if you are part of a larger organisation, there may be restrictions and guidelines, and it’s important to be aware of these. For example, you may love Gmail, but your host organisation is on the Microsoft stack, so you may have no choice but to use Outlook.

Customer Relationship Management

You need a system to track your opportunities pipeline, and this system is usually called a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

What is Customer Relationship Management (CRM)?

The term CRM is confusing because it doesn’t quite describe what the system does. To further confuse things, CRM can mean different things to different organisations in different sectors!

In the private sector, a CRM system is used by sales people to track leads. In an NGO, it could expand into a few streams, from fund-raising pipeline management, to grants acquisition pipeline management, to donor management. Some NGOs’ donor management system may even expand to the beneficiary information management space, since donors may want frequent updates on how beneficiaries are doing.

Considerations when choosing the right CRM system:

  • Cost
  • Complexity/adoption curve
  • Nature of opportunities

Cost is usually a big consideration. Google Sheets is free. Airtable and Hubspot allows you to start for free. Other systems usually charge on a per-user per-month basis, so the cost can quickly add up.

The simpler the system, the easier it is to get people to use and make usage a habit. Systems like Salesforce are so sophisticated, it can take you up to 3 months for you to get used to using it and making it part of your workflow.

And you have to evaluate the nature of the opportunities. For most organisations, the sales cycle is quite linear, you start from a contact at an organisation, you qualify the opportunity and then you try to close it. For conveners like us however, it’s a lot more complex. An opportunity may comprise of multiple stakeholders, and sometimes we may have an opportunity without all the stakeholders pre-identified.

We needed a CRM that supports non-linear approaches, and found that most of the established CRM systems didn’t suit our needs. That’s why we ended up creating a custom one on Airtable.

Which CRM system should I use?

If you’re in the private sector, or if cost is not a concern:

  • Salesforce is pretty much the industry leader.
  • Hubspot and Pipedrive are pretty popular alternatives.
  • Zoho has their own CRM system too, which makes sense if you are already using their office suite.

In the non-profit space, some of the more commonly used CRM systems are:

Lastly, there are online spreadsheets and database systems that, with the right template, can be customised into a simple CRM system tailored to your needs. These include:

At Asia P3 Hub, we found that Airtable suited our needs.

Team Messaging

A team messaging system could be as simple as a Whatsapp or Skype group chat, or something more sophisticated like Slack, Microsoft Teams or Facebook Workplace. The more sophisticated platforms allow multiple discussion threads, file repositories, searches through chat histories and other nice features. Bear in mind that you are usually paying for these additional features.

Team Messaging Considerations:

  • Usage familiarity
  • Searchability/organisation
  • Ease of file attachment/images

It’s best to start with a system that your team is already familiar with. There may be other systems that are more sophisticated, but if everyone on your team is already on Whatsapp or Skype for instance, start there and you can graduate to something more sophisticated later. It’s important to be able to search and organise your discussions. And you may want to look at a system where it’s easy to attach files and images.

File Repositories

Next, we would suggest you have a cloud-based file repository for your team. This goes beyond just a shared drive somewhere. The advantage of using cloud storage as a team is the ability to sync files across all of the team members. So if one person makes a change to a file, all the team members should get an updated version of the file as they sync the same folder. And if someone makes an accidental change, you can always roll it back. The common ones are Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox.

File Repository Considerations:

  • Cost/ storage ratio
  • Ease of use
  • Versioning support
  • Organisation’s IT policies

The main consideration is probably cost to storage ratio. But it also needs to be easy to use - create a shared folder, sync folders, etc.

One crucial thing that often gets overlooked is the versioning support, and how easy it is to restore to an older version. Some cloud storage supports unlimited versioning, while some only support up to a number or days or number of versions. You will appreciate this feature when you need to restore a very important file.

Remember, you could be limited by your host/ parent organisation’s IT policies. If your whole organisation is on the Google stack, Google Drive is likely to be your default. If your whole organisation is on the Microsoft stack, OneDrive is likely to be your default.

Project Management

When things get off the ground and your projects start rolling, you’ll need project management tools to track the progress of your projects. Popular web-based tools for project management include Asana and Trello. Airtable and Google Sheets again are free (or freemium for Airtable), simple and adaptable options.

Project Management Considerations

  • User interface
  • Ease of use
  • Structured vs unstructured
  • Ease of assigning tasks to other users

The user interface and ease-of-use are very important in the early stages. The easier and more intuitive it is, the more likely the whole team will adopt it.

You may also want to decide whether it should be something more structured like Trello and Asana, or something less structured like Airtable or Google Sheets, according to your workflow.

For more complicated projects with bigger teams, you want to be able to assign tasks to other users, so they get notified, and the entire team can track the progress of the project.

Communications & Marketing

Now that you have your business strategy in place, or you may have already developed your products and/or services, it’s time to communicate! There may be lots of trade secrets out there, but let us share with you the simple process that worked for us.

How To Develop Your Communications And Marketing Strategy

  1. Identify why you need to communicate. Maybe you are new in the market and you want to introduce your organisation or hub, or you have a new product to promote - whatever your objectives are, communications and marketing will support, and in some cases deliver them, so they have to be well-defined.
  2. Who are you communicating to? For each objective, it is important to know who you need to reach (your audience/ stakeholders), and when to reach them. Timing is also key.
  3. What do you want to say? What are your key messages?
  4. Your channel plan. Do you know which channels your target audience are using? Are they on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram? Or are they mostly watching TV or reading the daily newspapers? Be where your target audience are! It is also important to consider the organisation’s capacity to maintain multiple channels, i.e. don’t be on Instagram just so that you can say that you’re on Instagram, you need to be able to maintain it and manage the community.
  5. What is your content strategy? Content marketing is important. Create content that serves your objectives, matters to your audience, and works for the right channels. Use themes as guidepost of your content, and remember to include a call to action!
  6. You’re ready. Get your content out there!

Tips For Effective Communications And Marketing

Here are a few things that we have learned along the way about must-haves for your communications and marketing strategy and how to effectively communicate with your stakeholders.

  • The power of storytelling. Information is important, but remember to add a dash of inspiration by including personal stories that support data and appeal to your audience’s emotions.
  • The power of visual storytelling. Take your storytelling one level up. Convey messages in a simple yet impactful way by using visuals such as photos, infographics, and animations.
  • We are now living in the world of digital where 42% of the global population (or 3.256B people) are mobile social media users. Make sure that your content is mobile-friendly.
  • Create and follow your brand guidelines for a consistent look and feel.
  • And, when you’re short of resources, ask for help! Enlist the support of interns, advisers, or members of your network, alliance or community - you’ll never know what they can share with you until you ask.
  • Don’t have a dedicated ‘comms person’? You can still communicate. With a lean team of five and no communication specialist, our team went through training in digital marketing, storytelling, and content strategy led by advisors and members of our network. One (multi-hatting) person in the team took on the role of Communications and Marketing, and it’s always been a team effort to brainstorm content ideas and get them out there.

Useful tools for Communications and Marketing

We’ve found the following tools very useful for creating, editing and sharing our content.

  • We love icons! Noun Project has a great collection of icons that you can download and use for your infographics or presentations.
  • Need a design tool to create a poster, or maybe an image for your Facebook and Instagram posts? Try Canva.
  • Piktochart is another design app that can help you create infographics, posters, flyers and presentations, even when you have no design experience.
  • We use MailChimp for our email marketing. It has easy-to-use templates, manages our audience database, and we can generate reports on our email newsletters and campaigns so we know what works and what doesn’t.
  • We chose Medium to house our blog.
  • No Photoshop, no problem. You can try Pixlr, an online photo editor.

Legal & Governance

We’re no legal experts, and your context may largely determine your legal and governance structure, but it is important to have these elements in place when you’re setting up your hub, department or alliance.

If your organisation, alliance or team is being housed within a ‘parent’ or ‘host’ organisation, it’s very likely that your legal and governance structure will be determined by this host organisation. But it’s crucial to have these elements in place early on that will determine how your hub will be structured, the legal status of your organisation or team, your governance structure, HR and Finance processes, as well as any legal requirements you need to comply with.

Establishing Legal and Governance Systems

Let’s look at the following contexts:

  • Intrapreneurial context – you are a ‘start-up’ or internal ‘innovation lab’ within a large organisation. In this case your host organisation will most likely have a legal and governance structure that you will need to fit into. Ensure you’ve consulted the relevant internal stakeholders.
  • Entrepreneurial context – you are the master and commander of your organisation. You will probably need to engage legal counsel - pro bono or paid during the set-up phase of your organisation.
  • Alliance/cooperative – you are in a collective with other like-minded organisations. In this case, one of the organisations that is a member of the alliance or network may take on the legal and governance requirements, but it is important that all members agree on the structure, and are clear on any matters of compliance before getting started.

This was our initial Governance Structure when we set up Asia P3 Hub.

Our early intention was to establish an advisory council, comprising of 6-8 people, internal and external, that would:

  • Provide advice to Asia P3 Hub leadership and feedback on strategic direction.
  • Provide counsel on how to optimise our regional strategy and positioning.
  • Promote the mission - act as ambassadors for Asia P3 Hub.
  • Connect the organisation to broader networks and contacts to enhance the Hub’s strategic advocacy influence and impact.
  • Advise on new partnerships and emerging networks that will help expand our scale and impact in a rapidly changing world.

However, over time the number of our pro-bono advisors grew. These advisors brought diverse expertise and experience. We felt that they were fulfilling the functions of the advisory council. Therefore, we finally decided not to create an advisory council.

Regular Governance Reviews

A regular governance review process - of Finance, HR, and Advisory - is mandatory to ensure that the hub remains compliant and accountable. Monthly review meetings on budget, talent management and setting up an advisory council to provide an external view provides checks and balances to the whole system.


Here are some key resources on Enabling Functions. Our downloadable Hub-in-a-Box guide also includes useful and relevant tools. And we’ve compiled additional tools and resources, that Asia P3 Hub has found the most useful in its journey so far on the resources section of the Asia P3 Hub website.