Interview with Steve MacLaughlin about Data Driven Nonprofits

The nonprofit sector has grown dramatically in the last two decades and part of that trajectory has involved the growing use of technology. However, author Steve MacLaughlin argues that nonprofits aren’t using data nearly as much as they could be to move their missions forward.

His new book, Data Driven Nonprofits, focuses primarily on fundraising as the critical element needed to advance an organization. In each chapter, MacLaughlin uses interviews and case stories to explore the variety of ways in which nonprofits, big and small, use data to accelerate change.

We asked MacLaughlin about his favorite example of a nonprofit that uses data to move their mission forward. Learn more about his answer to this question and others below:

CausePlanet: What case story or interview about making the “data leap” is your favorite and why?

SM: There are a lot of really great stories of organizations that have been able to transform their performance through better use of data and analytics. One of my favorites is Denver Rescue Mission, which was founded in 1892, and up until the late 1980s had a staff of four people and total revenue of about $200,000. Today, they raise more than $32 million—so much of that growth has come through being data driven with a growth mindset.

CausePlanet: Where do most nonprofits typically falter when trying to take their initial steps toward using data effectively and why?

SM: One of the biggest mistakes is trying to take on too much, too soon, with expectations that are too high. Nonprofit organizations are much better served by picking a specific question they want to answer or outcome they want to achieve. That first project should be big enough for others to care about, but not so big that it becomes controversial or bogged down in bureaucracy. Time box the team to 30 days to work on that question or outcomes, then come back with recommendations. Over time, you’ll build the right habits and processes to take on the next important problem.

CausePlanet: In your book, readers learn a great deal about how data-driven nonprofits look and behave (e.g. Test, Share, Grow, etc.).

SM: Yes, a big finding from my research and interviews for Data Driven Nonprofits was how big a role organizational culture plays in the success of being more data driven. As you noted, some of those culture types are around testing, sharing, and growing. The bad news is that a nonprofit’s culture must align around and value data. The good news is that nonprofits can have different culture types and still achieve their goals.

CausePlanet: Many important changes or initiatives require buy-in at the top. What three reasons should our readers present to their boards as to why they need to be data-driven?

SM: It’s important, but it’s not the most important thing to being successful. The most important things people can show to senior leaders or their board are examples of how using data produces a better decision or result than just an opinion. Speak softly. Bring data.

CausePlanet: What single idea would you like readers to know about your book?

SM: Equifinality. That’s the single idea that readers should take away from the book. (Pausing for reaction) It turns out that you can have the best data, the best tools, the best people, and still not be successful with data. Organizational culture can undermine any of those efforts. But thanks to equifinality there is hope. Equifinality is the principle that a given end state can be reached by many potential means. Nonprofit organizations have different culture types and still become more data driven. They can start in different places and arrive at the same positive place.

Learn more about this book, related books and our summary:

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

 

Leave a reply



[Podcast] Kathie Sorensen on culture: optimizing interactions and dispensing with outdated practices

“I have a foundational belief that business results start with culture and your people,” said, Douglas Conant, leadership consultant and former CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company. Conant speaks from direct experience since he’s credited with having reversed Campbell’s decline in market value, improved the company’s financial profile and enhanced its diversity and inclusion practices during 2001-2011.

These seismic changes didn’t happen overnight. They were the result of Conant’s careful cultivation of culture and investment in his people. Nonprofit executives have an equal, if not greater, stake than business leaders in putting culture and people first especially since many professionals are drawn to our organizations for a stronger connection to collective purpose and coworkers who share their passion.

We recently had a conversation with Kathie Sorensen, the coauthor of Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, to talk about what helps organizations build better cultures. In Culture Eats, she and her coauthor, Curt Coffman, talk about three domains of culture: MicroCulture, BridgeCulture and MacroCulture.

In each domain, they explain how leaders, managers and employees can 1) optimize their interactions to improve culture and 2) dispense with outdated practices that undermine outcomes and the alignment with your purpose.

We asked Kathy Sorensen to break down these two topics further in our questions below:

CausePlanet: Can you briefly tell everyone about the micro, bridge and macro domains?

Kathie Sorensen – Micro, Bridge & Macro Domains

CausePlanet: What are some specific examples of optimizing your interactions to cultivate a culture that ensures you can honor your strategy?

Kathie Sorensen – Optimizing interactions

CausePlanet: What are some of the outdated practices that undermine culture outcomes and alignment with purpose?

Kathie Sorensen – Outdated practices

CausePlanet: Can you talk about an example where you observed an organization that applied some of your proven practices and how that translated into better alignment with purpose?

Kathie Sorensen – Example

Read more books and summaries about this topic:

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments

The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide

Fired Up or Burned Out: Reignite Your Team…

Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do…

Leave a reply



[Podcast] Get ready to update your assumptions about millennials

While the topic of engaging millennials as donors and volunteers seems to constantly bubble to the surface, unfortunately, the frequency of these conversations doesn’t equate to having all the answers.

We decided it was time to have another chat with Kari Dunn Saratovsky and Derrick Feldmann about Cause for Change, a book they published in 2013. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on what’s evolved since then and equally important, what remains relevant. Join us for some interesting responses to our questions below:

One of the things that stuck with me when I first read Cause for Change is that Kari and Derrick wanted to help nonprofits think differently to attract a generation who wants to give it their all, but also has a lot of competing pressure on their time and dollars.

CausePlanet: Could we begin by sharing what surprised you most in the results from the Millennial Impact Report and what’s evolved since then?

A new mentality and donor assets redefined (6:16)

CausePlanet: The Millennial Engagement Platform (BUILD) is a central framework you highlight throughout Cause for Change. Could you revisit that framework with us?

Determine your success with the BUILD framework (6:41)

CausePlanet: What is the most important takeaway you want readers to remember today in light of what’s transpired since you published Cause for Change?

Don’t jump to tech only – make value-based, in-person connections (3:27)

Figure out how to involve people in making change (3:26)

Read more on this topic:

Fundraising and the Next Generation

Working Across Generations

Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to Implement Online Multichannel Strategies to Spark Advocacy, Raise Money and Engage Your Community

Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia – Multigenerational Management Ideas That Are Changing the Way We Run Things

Leave a reply



[Podcast] Your best sustainability safety net: Create a culture of leadership development

When most nonprofits consider succession planning, they view the board working episodically when it senses a looming change on the horizon. Author Tom Adams argues that rather than experience abrupt changes in sustainability, organizations can, instead, create a culture of continuity through leadership development. What does that mean? Listen to his sound bites below and find out.

CausePlanet: The statistic that 75 percent of nonprofit leaders plan to leave their positions coupled with the statistic that 71 percent of nonprofits don’t have a succession plan in place is staggering. If you could push the rewind button for a nonprofit when its CEO resigns, what preparations would you recommend they make as they head toward this change of leadership hands?

Tom AdamsLook at sustainability – 4 dimensions

CausePlanet: What’s the biggest elephant in the room when broaching the subject of succession planning with the board and current CEO?

Tom Adams: What is the elephant in the room?

CausePlanet: What’s the most common barrier to or misconception about succession planning that prevents nonprofits from engaging in the steps to begin a plan?

Tom Adams: There is a normal fear of misunderstanding–the executive feeling forced out or the board feeling the executive is concerned about confidence in her/him. So, it is easy to put off. The second barrier is a narrow understanding of the benefits. Succession planning ought to be more than a check-the-box completion of some boilerplate documents. It is a strategic process that advances mission effectiveness and the leader development culture. When seen more broadly, it is still hard to find time. With the CEO and board champions, it happens and the value becomes clear.

In this last sound bite, Adams shares two organizations that grappled with the anticipation of succession planning and made some important discoveries: Two examples from the nonprofit sector.

Learn more about The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide. 

Leave a reply



[Podcast] Avoid burnout by getting your people connected

I love it when the planets align. I was about to hold a podcast with Connection Culture author, Michael Stallard, when I read an article in Fast Company titled, “The Top Three Nonprofit Jobs of the Future.” One of those jobs is Chief Culture Officer. It’s been said that you have a culture whether you cultivate one or not. The question is, are you going to be a leader who carefully cultivates one or leaves it up to chance?

When I had my conversation with Stallard last week, I asked him why nonprofit CEOs need to prioritize culture. My guess was competitive advantage and quality of work life but, of course, he had a much more interesting answer.

Join me in listening to this answer and others about how to avoid burnout in your ranks, the signs of a healthy culture, examples of connected cultures and where to find more than 100 ways to connect employees:

CausePlanet: What are the benefits of a connection culture? In other words, why should a nonprofit CEO care if their people are connected to one another?

Benefits of a Connection Culture

CausePlanet: How can the ideas in your book be applied specifically to the issue of nonprofit burnout?

How Do CEOs Neutralize Burnout?

CausePlanet: How can nonprofit executives foster connection within their organizations?

What Elements Are Necessary for Connection?

Get a free copy of 100 Ways to Connect and Stallard’s “Connect to Thrive” email newsletter.

CausePlanet: Can you tell us about a connected culture you observed and appreciated?

Connection Culture Example

CausePlanet: Tell us more about the Connection Culture!

More About the Book

Learn more about Michael Stallard’s first book, Fired Up or Burned Out and our summary.

More titles and summaries in this genre:

The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch: The Secret of Extraordinary Results Igniting the Passion Within

Winning with a Culture of Recognition

Image credits: ATD, culturetalk.com

Leave a reply



[Podcast] Need to clarify roles between your nonprofit staff and board?

Board leadership is an area that demands much of our attention and effort due to its critical role in helping an organization “thrive or dive,” says Jean Block, author of The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles.

Block decided the Invisible Yellow Line is a perfect metaphor for the working relationship between a board and staff in a nonprofit organization. If you’ve ever watched a football game on TV or your personal device, you have the benefit of a yellow line on the field that shows you how much yardage the team must gain in order to move down the field for a touchdown.

Even though the line is invisible to the players, it’s constantly moving and hotly debated at times. Board members and staff have cooperative roles and responsibilities that seem to be constantly moving depending on the “field position” or goal at hand.

In a recent author podcast with Block, we asked:

CausePlanet: What is the most common signal that tells you that your board and staff need a conversation about roles and responsibilities?

Listen to her answer hereJean Block on signals

CausePlanet: In chapter nine, you talk about the Invisible Yellow Line Test. Could you explain what some of those questions might be and how the test can help staff and board members move forward?

Listen to her answer hereJean Block on testing the clarity of your yellow line

If there was one universal nonprofit rule book that contained a set of guidelines defining the roles of the board and staff, we could avoid an incredible amount of miscommunication and angst over getting things done at the leadership level. The fact is it doesn’t exist because things change, asserts author Jean Block.

She adds that organizations and people evolve. Block has written The Invisible Yellow Line to provide a way for board and staff leaders to communicate about their roles and “reduce the trap of assumptions and defensiveness.”

Learn more about Jean Block and her services at www.jblockinc.com.

Learn more about this title and related book summaries at CausePlanet.org.

Leave a reply



[Podcast] Get more done in your meetings (and your pitches!)

Meetings can be an expensive waste of time if they aren’t led properly. Authors Dick and Emily Axelrod have dedicated their careers to understanding and promoting what makes an impactful meeting in Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done.

The Axelrods explain step by step how to participate in highly effective meetings no matter your role: a leader, contributor or facilitator. The Meeting Canoe is an approach that helps readers understand the importance of order, shape and flow to your gatherings.

Join us for a recent podcast we recorded with the Axelrods about what’s useful, what’s challenging and why people accept bad meeting habits: 

CausePlanet: Thank you for adding the Meeting Canoe framework to the body of literature about effective meetings. It’s a terrific addition. Which part of the Meeting Canoe do most users find most transformational when implementing the approach?

Listen here for their answer or read below: What part of the “meeting canoe” is most helpful?

DA & EA: Welcome, Connect, and Attend to the End. Most meeting agendas call for a perfunctory welcome and do not spend time connecting people to each other and the task. The result is they fail to build a solid foundation to do the meeting’s work. Similarly, most meeting agendas ignore attending to the end. This results in people being unclear about what was decided during the meeting as well as next steps following the meeting.

Failure to spend time discussing how to make future meetings better leaves the group without a self-correcting mechanism. We learned from an architect colleague that how people enter a space and how they leave a space is as important as what happens in the space. We believe this is true for meetings as well. By paying attention to the Welcome, Connect, and Attend to the End parts of the Meeting Canoe™, meeting designers create a complete, productive meeting experience.

CausePlanet: Which part of the Meeting Canoe™ do most readers find challenging to implement?

Listen here for their answer or read below: What is the most challenging?

DA & EA: Attend to the End because they often don’t allocate enough time for it, or if they do allocate time, when pressed for time they skip it. A good ending has three parts:

1.     Review decisions and assignments.
2.     Identify next steps.
3.     Appraise what meeting improvements are needed.

CausePlanet: In your research or client experiences, did you discover why most people accept and perpetuate bad meeting habits?

Listen here for their answer or read below: The Axelrods on why people perpetuate bad meeting habits

DA & EA: The first is that when we asked meeting participants whom they thought was responsible for a meeting’s success, the most frequent response was “the leader.” This habit is an abdication of responsibility for what happens during the meeting, which allows meeting participants to sit idly by while a meeting goes downhill.

We believe another cause is that people have come to think about meetings as painful experiences that must be endured. They do not think of them as a place where productive work occurs. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you begin to think about meetings as a place where people do work, then you can design your meetings using the five proven work design principles:

– Autonomy: the power to influence the meeting’s direction
– Meaning: the meeting has importance or significance to participants
– Challenge: a call to engage in something that tests your knowledge, skill, or courage
– Learning: acquiring new skills or knowledge through experience, study or being taught
– Feedback: information that lets meeting participants know whether a meeting is making progress toward its objectives.

When you apply these design criteria to your meeting, you create the conditions for productive work to occur. 

Bonus answer: At the end of our podcast, Dick and Emily Axelrod shared this interesting anecdote with us about how the Meeting Canoe works in pitches as well: The Meeting Canoe works in pitches, too!

Learn more at  www.axelrodgroup.com and https://dickaxe.cayenne.io/

Learn more about this title and related book summaries at CausePlanet.org.

Image credits: ssninsider.com (2), crowdsurfwork.com

Leave a reply



A counterintuitive approach to pressure can help you manage the moment

If you’ve ever let pressure take control, you’re not alone. Working on behalf of a nonprofit can create all sorts of potentially stressful situations. But no matter the scenario, Performing Under Pressure’s Hank Weisinger emphasizes the importance of managing the pressure you feel rather than try to resist or ignore it. In fact, Weisinger encourages us to befriend the pressure-filled moment.

I recently read an article that emphasizes Weisinger’s point. According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the most helpful mindset towards stress is viewing it in a way that she calls “protective.” She adds that:

The three most protective beliefs about stress include:

Trying to see your body’s natural response to stress as something that’s helpful

Recognizing that you can handle the stress in your life “and even learn and grow from” it

Keeping in mind that stress is something all of us encounter

So, what does it mean to befriend the moment?

Befriending the moment is one of 22 strategies to alleviate pressure that Weisinger and his coauthor, Pawliw-Fry, explore in their book. They say, “Think of pressure moments as a challenge or opportunity/fun.” This strategy must be used frequently to reduce your threat perceptions, which can cause choking. Seeing situations as threatening drains your energy; reduces your self-confidence; impairs your judgment, attention and short-term memory; and increases impulsive behavior to avoid failure. Feeling challenged, though, is an “inherent performance steroid” and can lead to enthusiasm and positive energy. People do not thrive on the pressure, but they revel in the challenge, making statements like, “I want to see how good I can be.”

Get smart on pressure: If you find yourself losing the battle to pressure, learn more about Weisinger’s strategies for how to manage it in his new online course.

See more titles and summaries on this topic:

Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

Image credit: Entrepreneur.com

Leave a reply



Why is failure your ally and how do you get better at it?

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.02.02 PMWe recently added Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner to our summary library because it addresses a critical gap in the body of work around failure. According to coauthor, Kara Penn, Fail Better explores HOW failure is a path to success. We asked Penn about how you can make failure your ally, and more importantly, how to get better at it.

Kara Penn: Failure is useful as tool for learning and improvement, if we are open to learning from missteps. But learning from failure is not guaranteed, so we have to work at it.

I imagine most of you can recall a situation in a work or personal environment when failure occurred. We all do it! And it’s memorable. And like touching a hot stove, we tend very much not to ever want it to happen again. But if we can craft and increase control over how we fail and in service of what, we are receptive to a very powerful tool.

The Fail Better Method offers three practical stages to our project work where we can plan for smart mistakes and prepare for greater successes:

 

Launch: At the outset of a project or initiative, think about setting the groundwork for both project success and learning—combat common failure modes like not having Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.00.49 PMthe right resources or skills lined up for the project to succeed, not setting up a strong foundation of communication, or not building enough buy in to your efforts through key partners who can champion your work. In addition, this is a great time to think about how your plans and proposed action for moving forward in launching a program, service or idea tie to the actual outcomes you want to achieve. Logic models or Theories of Change are tools common in the nonprofit sector that can help organizations think through this. These tools allow you to see if you’re building your approach on sound or faulty assumptions and can be used as a diagnostic tool later when needed to see what went right and what was off track.

 

Iterate: Use implementation to test ideas, and be willing to have those efforts not be successful in service of learning. For example, in a fundraising campaign,Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.00.58 PM many of nonprofits use an end of year appeal letter as a way of reaching out to donors. However, this is a perfect place for experimentation using a technique that many software developers use—A & B testing—try out two or three different versions of letters or even methods of engagement, and see which one gets the best results and brings in the most responsiveness and donations. Use this information to build a better approach for next time. It’s relatively low risk and low cost. And gives you a lot of valuable information. Piloting programs instead of launching them outright at full scale is another way of minimizing risk and learning along the way so mistakes or failures are captured early and addressed, while successes can be scaled up. And finally:

 

Embed: As efforts draw to a close, we often fail to reflect on our work, review the data we’ve collected and share out our Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.01.06 PMfindings and insights with larger audiences. This lack of investment in learning at the end is VERY common, in nonprofits but all sectors. We are all busy, rushing into the next thing, but a lot is lost by not doing this and we prep ourselves to lose valuable insights—including pieces that were successful that we want to build on, and things that weren’t that we want to correct or improve for next time. Nonprofits can make time for this by employing a concept used by the U.S. military—an After Action Review—where teams involved in a project huddle up and document what went well, what went wrong, why, and what should be done differently next time. Documenting this information and creating some next steps to share and apply these insights can be a quick way for an organization to learn and improve.

Watch for future Q&A with Kara Penn about Fail Better when we talk about the circumstances when failure is at its best and how to create a culture that’s open to failure.

See more books and summaries related to this title:

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Image credit: Harvard Business Press (cover image), FailBetterNow.com

Leave a reply



Set your team up for success in 9 minutes

9 minutes graphicWant to change up your Monday and empower your team? It takes nine minutes.

Empower your employees without adding hours to your plate. The nine principles found in this book summary will ignite the engagement, motivation, morale and trust among you team members and will result in greater efficiency and higher levels of productivity.

When it comes to motivating your staff members and bringing out their best, there is no magic bullet, because great leadership is more about the small things done consistently than some huge one-time initiative.

Nine Minutes is a manageable way for leaders to incrementally adopt each of author James Robbins’ recommended minutes and incorporate them slowly into their weekly schedules. Not many books promise the kind of change Robbins does with such a relatively small amount of time.

Learn more about this book and our summary.

See more related titles:

Mission-Based Management: Leading Your Not-for-Profit in the 21st Century, 3rd Ed.

The Invisible Yellow Line: Clarifying Nonprofit Board and Staff Roles

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board Executive Director Partnership

Leave a reply



Welcome! Please provide your log-in information below.
Forget your password?
Enter your email or user name and your log-in information will be sent to the email on file.