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

 

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[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…

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[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

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[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. 

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[Podcast] Commercial brands need not apply with nonprofit donors

Sometimes the best way to teach others how to do something is to show them what doesn’t work first. This rationale was at the root of our question about nonprofit branding for donor communications author Jeff Brooks last week.

Nonprofits often look to the business world for inspiration and branding is no exception. Unfortunately, the branding rules for business don’t apply in the social sector.

Brooks explains that commercial brands operate successfully in the abstract ideals of good and services while nonprofits need to show the problem in a realistic way. In short, show clear, emotional images that connect.

Six warning signs that your brand has gone astray are:

The new brand is not aimed at your donors.

The new brand requires you to abandon your donors to seek new, possibly fictitious ones, instead of expanding your base.

The work is not grounded in donor behavior (what donors do instead of what they say about your organization or understand in focus groups).

The new brand describes your cause in a symbolic way, instead of in a clear, realistic fashion to move donors to act.

The new brand requires absolute consistency, not leaving room for creativity or varying the messages for changing circumstances or relationships with donors.

The new brand is design—and little else.

Listen to Jeff Brooks’ live answer about why commercial branding doesn’t work for nonprofit organizations: Jeff Brooks on Branding

Remember, to counteract the six warning signs above, you must call your donors to action. Hear more from Jeff Brooks in our podcast about communication strategies that set your organization apart from the rest.

Learn more about books on this topic and our summaries.

 

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[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

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[Podcast] Getting to the heart of a great ask

Despite the immense amount of focus we place on understanding the art of asking for support, it continues to keep us treading water and occasionally dipping our heads below the surface.

We had the chance to speak with author Laura Fredricks recently about her book, The Ask: The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business VentureI’m confident you’ll enjoy her insights in response to our questions.

CausePlanet: What trend(s) are you noticing in donor solicitations since you published this updated version of The Ask?

Fredricks: A real dedication to raising money from individuals–speaking with people before, during and after events–and board members eager to know, “How can I get this right?”

Listen here: Getting it right

CausePlanet: There is a surprising lack of literature about the importance of follow-up in donor solicitations. We’re delighted to see you’ve addressed it in your book. What are some important reminders for nonprofit leaders that might motivate them to place a priority on this area?

Fredricks: You are leaving $$$$ on the table because you do not have solid steps to close it. My BIGGEST tip: Donors leave clues and we miss every one of them. Pay attention to how they communicate and the frequency with which they communicate and follow up on their patterns.

Listen here: What are the clues we miss?

CausePlanet: In Dan Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human, he says all great sales people demonstrate buoyancy in the face of rejection. Have you observed any consistent characteristics among successful fundraisers? If so, what are they?

Fredricks: My mantra is “Every donor is a mini campaign” so devote special and individualized attention to every one. The same holds true for fundraisers: I coach them to have their own voice, enjoy the process and learn as much as they can. That equals success!

Listen here: More on buoyancy

CausePlanet: Tell us about your new book, The Ask for Philanthropy, Business and Every Day Living. 

Listen here: More about Fredricks’ new book

Most, if not all of us, are in the business of asking for something every day. That’s why we’re determined to identify the best way to go about persuading one another.

This topic has been widely developed within each sector, yet Fredricks has built a bridge across all sectors by explaining the Ask, using universal principles, making it easy, enjoyable, meaningful and rewarding.

Laura Fredricks not only addresses how to ask for support for a nonprofit, but also her advice extends well into the for-profit arena, offering guidance for those who are soliciting investments in business ventures or creative projects. Her book details how to make the most effective Ask in philanthropy, business and everyday life.

Learn more about this title and related book summaries:

The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project or Business Venture

Fundraising the SMART Way

The Influential Fundraiser

Creating Value in Business-Nonprofit Collaborations

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[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.

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[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

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[Podcast] Tapping into your donor’s subconscious with Roger Dooley

Leading scientists who focus on brain activity say 95 percent of all thoughts, emotions and learning happen before we are aware of them. Author Roger Dooley says that unfortunately, most marketing efforts bypass the immense subconscious and instead target the rational conscious mind.

Dooley claims that if you want to promote your cause more effectively, it’s time to stop focusing on just five percent of your donor’s brain. Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing is Roger Dooley’s homage to the value of applying brain and behavior research to better understand the decision patterns of those you seek to influence.

The book contains key strategies—100 to be exact—to target your constituency through face-to-face, online, print and other marketing channels. Dooley answers three of our questions below in a recent podcast.

CausePlanet: Would you please comment on why incorporating “sensory features” into your donor marketing is so important?

Listen to his podcast answer here or read his answer below: Roger Dooley on sensory features

Dooley: Whenever we can engage multiple senses, our marketing is more impactful and memorable. Often, these additional senses offer a direct pathway to the donor’s brain. A scent, for example, can evoke memories or emotions, even without the person consciously processing the scent or even being aware of it. In some media, like print, it’s hard to engage multiple senses. In these cases, sensory words can be used. For example, the word “rough” lights up an area of the brain associated with touching, even when the word is used as a metaphor, as in a “rough day.”

CausePlanet: At what stage do most nonprofit marketers fail when trying to apply neuromarketing strategies?

Listen to his podcast here or read his answer below: Roger Dooley on when marketers fail

Dooley: Marketers tend to focus on facts and figures, features and benefits, and other logical appeals that are intended to persuade the donor or customer to act. Appealing to non-conscious motivators should be part of the process from start to finish. Using brain-oriented strategies is particularly important for nonprofit marketers. Usually, we buy products because we need them. We don’t have tangible benefits when we make a donation or volunteer our time. If product marketing is half psychology, nonprofit marketing is 100 percent psychology. It’s essential to identify and use the right triggers to get donors and volunteers on board.

CausePlanet: What interesting developments have you’ve discovered since Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing was published and that our nonprofit readers might find useful?

Listen to his podcast answer here. Roger Dooley on new developments

Want to learn more about how to apply Roger Dooley’s best practices to your donor communication? Follow him on Facebook, Twitter (@RogerDooley), subscribe to his newsletter, or listen to a podcast. You can also learn more about his latest book, The Persuasion Slide: A New Way to Market to Your Customer’s Conscious Needs and Unconscious Mind.

Learn more about this title and related book summaries.

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