Episode 31: How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 31
How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck
In this Episode:
Are nonprofit fundraisers forgetting that donors are people and alienating them in the process? When it comes to campaigns, donors are commonly segmented into convenient, pre-defined buckets, based on the amount of and time period since their last donation.
While that’s a good starting point, its assumptions and lack of nuance may be doing more harm than good. The truth is that nonprofit donors don’t see themselves in terms of your fiscal year, your budget or your segments. Segmenting and communicating with them based on their last gift or trackable trend reduces your relationship to “what have you done for me lately?”
T. Clay Buck, an individual giving consultant, has performed countless database audits and has witnessed this alienating segmentation trend too many times. Clay joins us this episode to share his approach to finding the story that donors are telling organizations, and challenging the standard segmentation processes, to make a more personal connection and increase donor engagement.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:18.050] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:19.540] – Boris
Hi Everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. That da-ding just makes me smile every time. I love it. We’ve got a great show lined up for you today. My guest is Clay Buck, and we’re going to be talking about storytelling and data and donors. And really, where the three intersect, so that you could better listen to the stories that your donors tell you so that you can respond and engage them accordingly. So let me tell you a little bit about Clay Buck. He is the founder and consultant at TCB Fundraising.
[00:00:51.550] – Boris
He is a 30 year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a frontline fundraiser as he has a consultant. Boy, that really makes him sound like he’s been down in the trenches of this fundraising war, which I kind of understand. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high-level results. He is the founder and lead consultant for TCB Fundraising an individual giving fundraising consulting firm. He has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.
[00:01:26.300] – Boris
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia and MFA from Michigan State University and a certificate in professional writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a certificate in philanthropic psychology with distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP master trainer. That’s pretty impressive. Clay describes his superpower as “building the processes and systems that create strong individual giving programs.” And with that, let’s bring Clay on to talk to us about all of those things.
[00:01:57.760] – Clay Buck
[00:01:59.200] – Boris
Welcome to the show, my friend.
[00:02:01.650] – Clay Buck
Thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:03.440] – Boris
It’s exciting to have you on. I’m looking forward to hearing all of the wisdom that you’re ready to impart on us.
[00:02:09.524] – Clay Buck
[00:02:10.550] – Boris
But first, I did read that you have your MFA.
[00:02:14.117] – Clay Buck
And I happen to know you’re a bit of a theater nerd like myself. No pressure Clay, but why don’t you tell us your story?
[00:02:24.450] – Clay Buck
Yeah. I started out to be an actor. I did… really, when I was an undergraduate, I did an internship at a smaller summer stock theater in North Carolina. And my internship was running the box office. And so, “You bought your ticket. You want to give $25? $50? $100 to support the theater?” with every ticket sale. And fast forward, finished my master’s degree, moved to Chicago and realized that A) I hated auditioning and B) the $300 that I had in my pocket was not going to be enough to sustain this lifestyle.
[00:03:00.020] – Clay Buck
So I wound up getting a job as a grant writer and sort of made the connection, “oh, this business of fundraising is the same thing that I was doing at this theater.” Okay. Made the connection. And as they always say, if you find something you love more and can do better, go do it. So I did. So that was 30 years ago. Then I started doing that. And then just through that process, developed… I’ve done somewhat everything from being a grant writer to special events to corporate foundation and really developed a love and an affinity for individual giving, particularly at the low and the mid range.
[00:03:37.210] – Clay Buck
So I have really zeroed in and focused on that as kind of of where the area of fundraising and I love the most and work in the most.
[00:03:44.920] – Boris
All right. Not bad. That’s a good story.
[00:03:47.370] – Clay Buck
[00:03:50.810] – Boris
I’m a theater snob, Clay, so not bad for me is one of the highest compliments you could possibly get.
[00:03:55.830] – Clay Buck
Okay. Well, there we go. There we go.
[00:03:58.070] – Boris
Yeah. No, but it had a good opening. Nice hook, middle, and I liked it. I like it. You’re a good storyteller, Clay.
[00:04:04.770] – Clay Buck
I try. I do try.
[00:04:07.230] – Boris
So that’s your story. Now you’re working in individual giving programs, helping organizations develop, optimize, do all of that kind of stuff. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing out there in the trenches.
[00:04:19.300] – Clay Buck
Yeah. So when I started my own firm a couple of years ago and again, a chief development officer, I’ve been on the front lines. I also worked for a couple of different consulting firms, as well. So I’ve kind of seen both sides of the equation. Where I really focus is building strategy and the infrastructure and process for individual giving. And I’m— volatility is the wrong word because volatility implies some negativity. It implies… or at least it does to me. But I’m seeing a lot of volatility in individual giving.
[00:04:56.170] – Clay Buck
And there is a ton of great technology. There’s a ton of great strategy. There’s a ton of information and learning. And I am seeing a lot of “let’s try this. Let’s do this. Let’s adjust this. We can add this. We can do social media, we can do this streaming…” Right? So there’s a whole lot of noise. Where I’m seeing the real success is defining strategy and using data to tell us which way to go. Looking back at that historical data and historical donor behavior to tell us what’s the best strategy for us, which direction should we go? And where should we be implementing the most?
[00:05:38.510] – Clay Buck
And the way I frame it is—because we’re both actors we’re both theater people, we talk a lot about storytelling and the stories we tell our communities, the stories we tell our donors, how we’re telling the story of our case for support. I kind of frame this as “what’s the story the donors are telling us?” And they’re telling us those stories by what data they provide, how they behave, what their giving patterns look like.
They’re telling us their stories in a whole lot of different ways. It’s on us to really be listening to it and to be looking for what those stories, and how they’re informing how we work with and talk to our donors. Right?
[00:06:15.340] – Boris
Yeah. So first of all, I think it’s great that nonprofits are out there experimenting with all these different things, and I encourage them to do so. I do feel like—and maybe this is what you were implying—there’s a lot of “let’s just throw things at the wall and see what sticks” rather than a concerted strategy for their online engagement, for their efforts. So, a bit of a Catch 22. Good on them, but also now let’s take it to the next level and really sharpen our focus and actually use data to see what’s working and what’s not working. That’s a whole other level. That’s step three, let’s say, but we’ll all get there, I hope.
[00:07:00.860] – Boris
So with these stories that donors are telling us… first of all, what are you seeing? Are there any trends right now in data that you’re seeing? What kind of organization are you even working with at the moment to pick this up on?
[00:07:14.480] – Clay Buck
And I personally, I work with a wide range. So I have everything from large scale programs with hundreds of thousands of records to the small nonprofit with literally 250 records. The trend seems to be the same across the board. Here’s the fundamental thing. And especially if we look at giving over the last year: donors care. There’s a lot to care about. And in many ways, donors are trying—they are trying to exercise their philanthropy. They’re trying to exercise their caring by giving to us. They might, well, it’s not might… They aren’t following our rules.
[00:07:53.710] – Clay Buck
They’re not necessarily behaving and saying, I give year over year, so I fall into a clean retention rate analysis. They’re not following standard paths of upgrading, and they are definitely not following standard path of channel behavior. So they’re giving online. They give via check. They come to an event. They’re all kind of over the map. What donors are saying to us is, “I care about you doing it on my terms and in my ways. And in the way that makes the most sense for me and my family to do it.”
[00:08:26.040] – Clay Buck
One of the biggest trends that I see… so, one of the services that I offer and do, and I do a lot of them, is database audits, where we really dig into the data and look at the giving trends over as long a history as we can get. One of the biggest trends that I see in every single file that I look at is what I call “consistent, but not consecutive.” So a donor will make a couple of gifts in one year, and then they take a year off, and then they give another gift that’s higher than the last gift or lower than the last gift.
[00:08:55.160] – Clay Buck
And then they take 18 months off, and then they give three gifts right in row. So when we look at it over the history, they don’t necessarily behave in what our standard segmentation would would define. Right? We tend to think, right: current donor, lapsed donor, long lapse, LYBUNT, SYBUNT. And those have very strict definition, whether it’s a year or 18 months or so forth. When we look at it, historically, we see donors coming in and dropping off. And what happens if we standardize our approach, we’re treating them like you’re a current donor or you’re not.
[00:09:32.500] – Clay Buck
So they’re giving, and they’re actively engaged with us how they want to be engaged. But we keep shifting how we think about them because we’re not looking at them from a longitudinal perspective. And the biggest point there is in the testing and in the analysis that I’ve done and I’m seeing: those folks are out there walking around going, “of course I’m a supporter. Of course I’m a donor. I believe in taking care of…” whatever the mission is. In their minds, their loyal supporters in our minds, their lapsed donors.
[00:10:09.450] – Clay Buck
So how do we shift our approach to approach them the way they think of themselves?
[00:10:13.660] – Boris
So it sounds like even though you’re analyzing the data, you’re saying that they’re not points of data, they’re actual humans?
[00:10:19.870] – Clay Buck
That’s shocking, isn’t it, right?
[00:10:23.680] – Boris
Yeah. And so, as humans, I’m sure they’ve got their lives beyond our organizations. And they’ve got their concerns and their priorities beyond our organizations. Many priorities shifted over the last couple of years. A little pandemic swept through the world. Is still kind of here. And so I’m sure that shifted a lot of patterns as well. Is there any sort of consistency in terms of people went away and they’re coming back or is it really down to the individual?
[00:10:54.940] – Clay Buck
It’s really down to the individual. I mean, a lot of organizations, many organizations were very fortunate to see kind of an uptick during the pandemic. Right? Some crisis giving some “I need to feel agency. I need to feel control. I’m going to give to a thing.” So I think we’re still kind of evaluating what those kind of one-time donors look like and how they behave. But there’s always something. And I don’t mean to minimize the years of the pandemic, but there’s always something that might drive, right, this increase in one time gift or caring gifts or crisis giving, quote, unquote.
[00:11:31.630] – Clay Buck
The question that we really have to look at is, who are the donors that keep coming back to us in different ways? Who are the donors that are sticking around with us and through their behavior and through what they provide to us in terms of data, are telling us that they have a loyalty and an affinity that we might not necessarily see.
[00:11:53.640] – Clay Buck
And I will also add, it’s not just giving behavior. It’s actually what data they provide us, because it’s a whole lot easier now to just in drop my name in, right? I can drop my name in. I can fill out my credit card information. I can do this. I can do giving really quickly. There are a whole bunch of different ways that I can send a gift to super fast without giving you. But if a donor is taking the time to give us their name, their email address, their address, their contact information… they’re filling out forms. They’re responding to the surveys. Whatever it may be. If a donor is taking the time to share that information with us, what they’re essentially saying is, hey, Boris, I want to hear more, right?
[00:12:31.360] – Clay Buck
I’m trusting you with my information. I’m trusting you with my name, with my contact information and saying, Tell me more, and they’re waiting on us to respond to them.
[00:12:41.550] – Boris
Yeah. So, oftentimes the donor doesn’t receive a lot of consistent communication and engagement and might therefore drop off, become a lapsed donor. And it just looks like a data point that flipped off—a switch off—rather than trying to look at what the causality underneath that might be. I want to come back for a second to what you were saying in terms of COVID giving and how some organizations definitely saw upticks because of the need that was presented during the pandemic and the challenges that communities were facing.
[00:13:19.980] – Boris
I think. And maybe you could confirm or deny this in terms of the data you’re seeing. But to me, it feels like people who already care about specific organizations, those are the organizations they turned to—back to—to support and give more to, when they were worried either that the organization wasn’t going to have the funding that it needs. And I saw this a lot. Or when they thought, oh, this community needs help instantly. They associate giving that help with the organization that they already believe in and trust.
[00:13:53.220] – Boris
Does that sound about right?
[00:13:55.330] – Clay Buck
It sounds about right. I have no data to support this. So this is purely anecdotal kind of what I’ve seen from organizations that I work with, kind of what I’ve seen from the community that I live in. I think the overarching statement is that giving the act of giving gift donor agency, it gives us the ability to say I feel out of control. I acknowledge that this huge situation is happening. I want to do something about it, but I’m in lockdown. I’m five thousand miles away. I’m trying to deal with my own family in my own job, but I care and I’m concerned. I want to do something.
[00:14:36.370] – Clay Buck
So the act of giving gives us and gives donors some level of control to be able to say “I did something.” Right? And, “I feel good about myself.” More than likely donors that increased giving during the pandemic—and this is true of any crisis giving when you see a hurricane, a natural disaster, times of national tragedy and anything like that—people are giving to something that gets to their core identity and their core values. Who I am as a person. The things that I care about on a daily basis that I see myself as kind and thoughtful and caring and generous in these areas.
[00:15:13.160] – Clay Buck
For me and my family, that’s animal rescue. That is our go to when we feel we need to do something we go to. And then the organizations who told really good stories to donors who didn’t know about them or the work that they do in the midst of crisis in the midst of anything, give introductions to new ways to capitalize on that feeling. I do think donors tended most to go either to organizations they already cared about or to organizations and missions that have very, very, very clear, identifiable impact on the situation itself.
[00:15:51.320] – Boris
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love that you brought up that donating makes them feel like they have some sort of agency. It’s something that they can actively do. Because that’s, talk about storytelling, that’s something I talk about all the time. You are—your organization is empowering somebody to become a hero who may or may not feel powerless without the work that you do. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t know that I could affect the food shortages in certain communities. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t have the ability while I’m in lockdown, as you just said, to make a positive change in the world. So you’re allowing me to be a hero under these circumstances.
[00:16:37.900] – Clay Buck
Do you know the starfish story? That old sort of anecdote. If I could let me just really quickly, right? A guy goes down to the beach at sunset. The tide has gone out, and there’s another man, an older man on the beach. And he’s walking down the beach. And all of these starfish have washed up. And as the tide washed out, it left him stranded on the beach. And this older man is walking along and he bends over and picks up a starfish, throws it back in the ocean so that it’s in the water. Otherwise it’s going to dry up.
[00:17:07.930] – Clay Buck
The guy watches him do this. And he’s doing the starfish one at a time, and he finally goes up to him and he says, look, why are you doing this? There are literally thousands of starfish on this beach. You cannot possibly make a difference for all of them. The guy bends over, picks up a starfish, throws it back into the ocean and says, “made a difference for that one.” And I think that’s what donors are telling us. And again, this is why I love the low in the mid range donors.
[00:17:34.830] – Clay Buck
I think these donors are saying to us, I’m out of control here. I can’t control this global situation. But you know what I can do? I can feed one person. I can rescue one dog, I can educate one child. And this is a place that I already care about, and I can exercise a little agency, a little control and make a difference for that one. I really believe that’s what donors are telling us. Our response, then, is how do we reinforce that feeling for them?
[00:18:12.110] – Boris
Go on, go on.
[00:18:13.350] – Clay Buck
Which, which again, I go to the patterns that donors give tell us a lot about how—see, I don’t think donors—I don’t think I know. Donors don’t care about our fiscal year. Our annual year donors give when they’re going to give. Our responsibility is to make sure they have the pathway to give they have the opportunity to give. I do not talk about asking donors. I talk about creating an offer. I talk about creating an invitation. That’s what we’re doing. Whatever platform, whatever channel, however we’re doing it, we are creating an offer for them to make a difference in the world, or we are inviting them to be a part of our mission, inviting them to be a part of our visions and creating pathways to make that easier for them.
[00:18:59.360] – Clay Buck
We’re very good at sending out multiple emails, multiple whatever platform we’re using. We’re very good about putting out multiple times and giving donors a lot of ways to say “no,” “not now,” “not yet.” They’re giving on their timeline. And again, when we look at their behavior—and I have done hundreds of these by now, if not thousands, which is terrifying—in every data file I look at, there is always a core group of donors, a smallish but significant percentage of donors who give multiple times per year, give every other year…
[00:19:38.220] – Clay Buck
They’re giving on their schedules because they’re not—in their minds, they just gave. In our data, it was 14 months ago, so now they’re a LYBUNT, right? I think if we start to construct some of our segmentations and some of our approaches in acknowledging that… “Boris, you’ve been one of our most loyal and generous supporters. We were just going through our records and seeing that you have been giving to Acme charities for seven years. Wow. That’s amazing. The difference that you have made over those seven years is almost immeasurable. Thank you for being a part of that.”
[00:20:14.560] – Clay Buck
Right? If we can take that in some very simple segmentation and some very simple messaging, and what I have found is that using that again, I call it consistently, not consecutive using that and treating them as a separate segment. They’re responding wildly to it, and they are actually also converting, quote, unquote to more regular giving, quarterly monthly making commitments. Right? Because I’ve been doing that anyway, so this is an easy step for me to do. Because we’re conveying the message that “you have done this, do you want to do a little more?” Because usually the answer is, “yeah. I fed one person. If I can feed five by just giving you my credit card number? Excellent. Let’s do it!” Right.
[00:20:59.780] – Boris
Yeah. So rather than treating them as someone who gave X months ago, you’re treating them as someone who has been an active supporter in one way or another for a certain number of years. So it’s not… I think the analogy here is it’s not just what have you done for me lately or you’re only as good as your last donation. It’s you’ve been supporting us. That this low period of time and helping the community that we’re serving.
[00:21:31.150] – Clay Buck
That’s it. The analogy that I will often use is, you know that friend that you look at their name in your contacts list, and you think, “I should call them. That’s been way too long.” And it feels like you just had lunch with them. But actually, it was two and a half years ago? And you pick up the call, you pick up the phone, you call them or you text them. And it’s like no time has passed at all. And then you do meet for lunch and you’re like, “I love this. You’re wonderful. Why don’t we do this more often?”
[00:21:58.200] – Clay Buck
That’s who these friends are.
[00:21:59.821] – Boris
[00:21:59.830] – Clay Buck
Because the reality is, they’re most likely fine with us. Because they’re thinking, “yeah, of course I support Acme. Of course. I feed hungry people. Of course I rescue pets.” They’re not thinking, “oh, I haven’t written a check in 14 months or 16 months or whatever it is.” They’re thinking, yes. They’re walking around with their capes on, going, “I feed hungry people.” And then when we do reopen it in their minds, we’ve always been present. We’ve always been there.
[00:22:27.100] – Clay Buck
Yes, there are some. Yes, there are some that go, they didn’t hear from us. They haven’t heard from us. They don’t know what’s happening. And they are a little ticked off, and they are a little harder to renew. Yes, absolutely true. But I’m also convinced that there is a group that is walking around going, “I love them. I love that organization. I love what they do. I’m a part of it.” And we go, “yeah, but you haven’t written a check in two years.” Right?
[00:22:48.080] – Clay Buck
So let’s shift our story to them based upon the story they’re telling us.
[00:22:54.380] – Boris
So what should the nonprofits be doing? How can we modify our current segmentation practices, data analysis practices, whatever they are, ultimately the way that we perceive people, how do we reevaluate it and do it better?
[00:23:12.360] – Clay Buck
I think the first step truly is acknowledge. Well, actually, the first step is committing to data literacy. Right? I’m an actor. There’s nothing except having done all those light plots in undergraduate, and we used to call it “torture and design” “torture and decor.” But there’s nothing in my background that makes me an excel person. There’s nothing in my background that makes me a data person. I took algebra twice—three times, for crying out loud. But I learned early on that we needed data, and so I forced myself to get good at it. So I don’t hold anybody accountable to something I haven’t done myself.
[00:23:52.470] – Clay Buck
I do think that data literacy and technological literacy are two of the greatest skills that fundraisers can invest in right now. So understanding and working to understand the different types of segmentation that’s number one—valuing it for yourself, valuing it for your staff.
[00:24:10.780] – Clay Buck
Then secondly, acknowledging that there are different types of segmentation than what our normal sort of binary lapsed, not lapsed, current lapsed, we’ll look at, and taking the time to invest in it. I know this sounds kind of highfalutin and a little high values.
[00:24:32.860] – Clay Buck
We are in a position as a profession where we are going to have to be the ears and the advocates for using data and technology and fundraising, because it is a governance issue. But our boards and our leadership are looking at bottom line. And they’re looking at how fast can we raise how much money, how quickly. It really does become incumbent upon us to take a kind of front line in the trenches leadership role, and stop and go, “look, here is the ROI and the value of investing in data here.”
[00:25:01.400] – Clay Buck
And bring to the table, “look, I took the time and here’s what I found. I found these thousand donors that over ten years have contributed over a million dollars, whatever the number may be. And we’re going to invest in this strategy. We’re going to test it and we’re going to find out exactly how they do respond.” So the short answer is taking the time to dig a little deeper and year end is a really good time to do it. I know, year end, processes are flying and we’re approaching fourth quarter at a mad pace, and so a lot of things. But taking the time to invest in how can I look a little deeper to find the things I haven’t traditionally seen?
[00:25:43.980] – Boris
So, are there any universal starting points for actually looking at the data? Like, I really like the example that you brought up of someone who hasn’t given in 14 months. That doesn’t mean that they’re not still a recurring or repeating donor, that they’re completely lapsed and you’ve lost them, and that you need a campaign to get them back, right? Because otherwise they’re gone for good. So are there, without those specific mile posts of one year, six months, two years, whatever it might be, how do we know where to start segmenting? Where to make that switch between one bucket or another? Or is it that everybody should be in multiple buckets, but then they might get different communication.
[00:26:37.500] – Clay Buck
I think segmentation is absolutely critical. I think we can get into over segmentation and make ourselves crazy. If you have a full time data person and you have the sophistication to do multiple layers of segmentation and then deliver messaging on that, bravo, you. You are the exception, not the norm.
[00:26:55.790] – Clay Buck
Quite honestly, one of the most simple things to do. And I’m kind of giving away the farm here a little bit because this is how I do it when I audit it. Most. If not all of our CRM platforms have roll up summary fields, first gift, first gift date, last gift, last gift date, second gift, right? Second gift date.
[00:27:15.180] – Clay Buck
If you can get those six fields, you can find these people. Because what you do is you look at their first gift and go show me everybody whose first gift was five or more years ago. And then you look at their last gift and go, show me everybody from this group who is five or more years ago was their first gift. Show me everybody whose last gift was in the last two to three years. And now you start to see this group of people. “Oh, wow. Boris first gave to us in 2010. His second gift was in 2014. His last gift was in 2021?”
[00:27:47.480] – Clay Buck
And we start to say, oh, okay, Boris looks like a lapsed person. And that’s a bad example, because I did say 2021. But even so, it looks like a lapsed person. But when we see… Or using a summary field like total number of gifts… look at a lapsed donor and you see a total number of gifts of ten. That’s a huge clue that. Oh, wait. He’s been far more active than just this last gift renewal.
[00:28:14.850] – Clay Buck
Because the other thing we do—if we are doing, and a little lot still aren’t, I know that—but if we are doing a lapsed renewal, so we’re sending a specific thank you letter to a lapsed renewal and treating them as somebody who lapsed but then came back. But we look at that behavior, they have lapsed and come back multiple times. We’re just re-treating… It’s going out to that friend that you’ve missed and saying, “okay, catch me up again. What’s been going on in your life?” And your friend’s like, “come on, we did this last year, right?”
[00:28:45.910] – Boris
Yeah. And that friend analogy that you made before. I never thought about it that way, but I absolutely love it because it’s instantly something that I think all of us can relate to, where we haven’t been able to catch up with friends, but we still view them as close friends that we may have been friends with since childhood, but we just don’t get to speak on a regular basis because life.
[00:29:08.100] – Clay Buck
They’re also that friend that we describe as, I haven’t talked to them in five years, but after I call them tomorrow and said I have an emergency, they’d be the one that would be there. That’s who these donors are. They want to sit and metaphorically have lunch with us. They want to know what’s going on, but because they care, and because they’ve shown that they care, they’ll still give us a gift if we ask directly and ask, right. But let’s take the time to take them out for a beer. Not literally. Maybe literally. Some of them might be literally, you know.
[00:29:39.300] – Boris
Yeah. Or send them some beer because they might be in a different part of the country. And you’re not traveling with COVID.
[00:29:45.480] – Clay Buck
Let’s not get into shipping alcohol and all of the ramifications of that, but yes!
[00:29:48.910] – Boris
There’s delivery service. There’re delivery services. I’m not advocating anything illegal here. Clay, this is great stuff. I’m sure we could talk about a whole lot more things, but I’d like that we’ve really zeroed in on one particular thing that I think nonprofits should be thinking about right now, especially as year-end giving season is upon us. If they haven’t started yet, what’s the first thing they should do? I feel like we kind of covered this actual data.
[00:30:20.070] – Clay Buck
Yeah, audit the data. Take a look. Take the time to invest in it. Either hire a firm to do it. Sorry, shameless plug for me and the many firms that do database audits. Or take the time to pull all the data out of the CRM and just run some quick analysis on it. Use those summary fields to take the time to look and see. And while you’re at it, take the time to look at your data quality. How many addresses do you have? How many emails, where are you missing phone numbers, etc., etc., etc. Because we can’t reach our donors then, right? It’s pointless.
[00:30:49.960] – Boris
Perfect. I think that’s a great place where everybody should be starting. Even if you think you’ve been looking at your data all this time, look again. Look for those people that neatly fit into the buckets that you’ve previously made and talk to them as a human being with their own life rather than someone who lapsed off your list for X months.
[00:31:10.840] – Clay Buck
[00:31:13.220] – Boris
What’s a tool or resource, Clay, that you recommend nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals, I guess, specifically, should check out.
[00:31:21.200] – Clay Buck
I know you want to talk tech. I know “technology.” I know there’s tons of stuff out there and there’s all kinds of great resources… if it’s not on your bookshelf, if you haven’t read it, I think every fundraiser, everywhere, needs to once a year read Harold J. “Sy” Seymour’s “Designs for Fundraising.” Published in 1967, before we had technology and digital and whatever… all the things that we have. The principles in that book are the same principles today. We’re still using the same techniques. We’re still using the same strategies. And he’s absolutely right in the importance of relationship and the importance of donor behavior and how they tell us.
Sy Seymour isn’t it telling… Doesn’t say anything in the book that I haven’t said today to be perfectly honest. So that is always my go to resource, and I actually do reread it once a year just to refresh and keep myself focused.
[00:32:15.160] – Boris
And I’m sure if it’s that popular, they have a digital version, so you don’t have to—
[00:32:22.460] – Clay Buck
It was written in 1967. You’re going to get a beat up old copy from—
[00:32:24.490] – Boris
they don’t print anymore? There’s no new addition.
[00:32:26.921] – Clay Buck
[00:32:27.740] – Boris
Sounds like an opportunity to buy them all up and—
[00:32:30.240] – Clay Buck
No, don’t do that!
[00:32:31.970] – Boris
No, that would be bad. And donate them to nonprofits!
[00:32:35.480] – Clay Buck
There you go. Good. Good. That was a good recovery. It’s readily available. You can find it absolutely from your favorite book store, your favorite online source for books. But it really is just a phenomenal book. And just for perspective, Sy Seymour is who Jerry Panis learned from and developed his theories from. Right? So this is generational knowledge being passed down to it and to us all as fundraisers. I learned from people who learned from Jerry. So there’s a whole lot of generational approach there.
[00:33:10.100] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes, as well as anything else that we touched on in this episode and some definitions of some of the terms that we talked around that might be helpful as well. If anyone wants to follow up with you directly, Clay, what’s the best way to do that? What should they do?
[00:33:28.200] – Clay Buck
LinkedIn is the easiest. You can pretty much find me anywhere online under T. Clay Buck. It’s usually @tclaybuck or some variation thereof. LinkedIn is a great place to find me. I am on Twitter, with an alarming frequency and my Twitter handle is @tclaybuck. But you can also visit my website at TCD fundraising.com.
[00:33:50.280] – Boris
We’ll have all those links as well as the show notes and takeaways for nonprofits to get started with all the awesome things that you were just recommending to do. Clay, thank you so much for joining us today and talking about this stuff.
[00:34:03.160] – Clay Buck
My pleasure! Thanks for having me.
[00:34:04.780] – Boris
Awesome and thank you everybody for joining us today for the nonprofit Hero Factory. If you like this type of content, talking about what nonprofit leaders can and should be doing to increase the number of supporters, to activate more heroes for their cause, with experts like Clay… please, please subscribe and leave us a review. Leave us a rating on your favorite platforms, on iTunes, wherever you might listen to us so that more people can discover this show and benefit from people like Clay and all of our other amazing guests.
[00:34:34.960] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. See you next week.
[00:34:56.500] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- There’s a lot of experimentation in nonprofit fundraising today. But success only comes when there is a strategy, informed by data. (4:53)
- Donors are telling us their stories just by providing data, like giving patterns and other interactions that they have with a nonprofit. And the data show us that many seemingly lapsed donors care about what we’re doing, they just might not be showing it in ways that neatly fit into our preconceived notions of donor behavior. (5:51)
- One of the biggest trends that Clay sees is the preponderance of “consistent-but-not-consecutive” donors. These are supporters who may not give in consecutive periods, or may give less one time and more another. Too often, they get mislabeled into lapsed or similar categories, and the communication with them becomes inconsistent with their views. (8:40)
- Donors are human beings with changing priorities and life circumstances. In times of crisis, their patterns change, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to support the causes they care about. (10:13)
- For donors, the act of giving is an act of agency. They are attempting to make a change in the world, to right some wrong and not feel powerless. Even in times of crisis, though, they are likely to increase support for the organizations that they care about, as well as those that have a clear connection to the current crisis. (14:07)
- The Starfish parable: donors want to feel like they’re making a difference, even in the face of unfathomable odds. (16:37)
- Donors don’t care about a nonprofit’s fiscal year. They give when they want to give, and our job is to make that as easy as possible. Don’t assume that, just because you haven’t heard (or received a donation) from a supporter in X months, that they no longer identify themselves with your organization and cause. (18:22)
- Creating segments of donors who are consistent but not consecutive, and approaching them as long-time friends and collaborators rather than labels like lapsed/LYBUNT/SYBUNT, and giving them a reason and a way to increase their support has proven very effective in increasing giving. (19:50)
- The first step to changing how you view and engage your donors is to commit to data literacy. You don’t have to be naturally great with math or an Excel pro, you just have to be willing to learn. (23:18)
- The second step is to acknowledge that there are different possibilities for segmentation than the binary tests that are dominant. Consider what your donors’ data is actually telling you about them, and then treat them accordingly. (24:10)
- There are six donor record fields that can be pulled from most any CRM platform that, when looked at the right way, can identify your consistent-but-not-consecutive donors. Don’t send them yet another reacquisition campaign that shows you don’t understand them. (26:55)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
T. Clay BuckFounder/Consultant at TCB Fundraising
Clay is a thirty-year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a front-line fundraiser as he has as a consultant. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising, with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high level results. He is the Founder and Lead Consultant for TCB Fundraising, an Individual Giving fundraising consulting firm; he has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia, an MFA from Michigan State University, and a Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology With Distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP Master Trainer.
Episode 25: How to Use Data to Increase Your Nonprofit’s ROI, with Alexandra Mannerings
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 25
How to Use Data to Increase Your Nonprofit’s ROI, with Alexandra Mannerings
In this Episode:
One of the key roles of nonprofits is to channel resources—time, money and voice—to communities in need. We work hard to get people to trust us with those resources. So how do we make sure to then allocate them as effectively as we can to do the greatest good? The answer is likely in our data.
Alexandra Mannerings is a data scientist blending human wisdom and values with the insights and knowledge of science to help amplify the impacts of nonprofits. We talk to her about what data can do for nonprofits, where to start (even if you have never considered using analytics and don’t have any background in data science and analytics), and how to make sure you’re using it to steer you in the right direction.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:19.210] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:20.660] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited for our guest today who is going to be talking to us about nonprofit data analytics and decision making, two things that are near and dear to my heart as a geek myself. The alternative title that I had for this episode when she and I were talking earlier was “The End of This is How We’ve Always Done it”. Let me introduce Alexandra Mannerings.
[00:00:48.440] – Boris
She is the founder of an analytic education and consulting company, Merakinos, who helps social enterprises and nonprofits harness the power of data. She earned her PhD in veterinary science epidemiology from the University of Cambridge, UK and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Emory University. She has also run the data center at a State Hospital Association, rowed for the Light Blues, built trails across Colorado parks and is currently raising two spirited toddlers. Being the show that we are, I ask everybody what her superpower is, and Alexandra said it is blending human wisdom and values with the insights and knowledge of science to help amplify the impacts of nonprofits.
[00:01:35.230] – Boris
With that, let me bring on Alexandra Mannerings.
[00:01:40.120] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much for having me today, Boris.
[00:01:43.060] – Boris
Thanks for coming on. Alexandra, I stuttered a little bit through your bio, which is all the more reason to say, hey, Alexandra, what’s your story?
[00:01:51.190] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much. My story is a bit of a winding journey. I like seeing where I came from academically because I like pointing out that analytics doesn’t have to be a computer science technical path. I am a scientist who works with data. I’m not a data scientist. I can’t code in Python to save my life. But I know how to ask impactful questions of data, and I use tools that empower me to do that without having to learn to code.
[00:02:16.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I come to nonprofits because I really believe that analytics is one of the most powerful tools we have to make sure we are good stewards of our resources as nonprofits and that we have the biggest possible impact in what we’re trying to do.
[00:02:34.740] – Boris
I think that’s an amazing mission that you’re on, but how did you make the transition from veterinary science to data analytics for nonprofits?
[00:02:45.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
Right? So I did actually want to go into public health. So I wanted to work in global health. I wanted to be an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. Got to the states and found out that having a foreign degree was challenging when you wanted to work in the very rule-bound space of government. So they would say, “Well, you know, you have this foreign degree. We want to see an American looking transcript. Can you provide that?” And notwithstanding that, Newton was an alumni of some of the same school I went to. I had trouble proving that I had the credentials that they wanted to see.
[00:03:18.750] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I sort of had to flounder around to find how I was going to put the skills of asking questions to use. And when I ended up in my first job, I found out that I could ask questions of a computer data set just as easily as I could of field research stuff. And that started me on my path of realizing just how powerful analytics is for everybody, not just scientists. And along that journey ended up starting a family, wanting to explore a new space.
[00:03:50.220] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so after 10 years not as an entrepreneur, I felt that I’d finally reached a point of wanting to go my own direction and figuring out how I could help as many organizations as possible, not just the one I was employed to. And it felt less like a leap into starting my own business and more of a culmination step. Right? I built all these skills, all of these relationships. I had tried and failed and tried again and had learned ways of doing things and wanted to bring those to bear to the nonprofits who needed them out there.
[00:04:19.080] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so, yes, well, veterinary medicine feels like it’s very far away from what I’m doing now. I think it’s just a different expression of the same research skills.
[00:04:29.430] – Boris
And so you created Merakinos and you and I had a conversation about this earlier, but why don’t you share with us how did you come up with that name? What does that mean?
[00:04:38.310] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes. So that was probably the hardest part of starting my own business was what I was going to call it, because you need a domain. And turns out all the domains of normal names are taken, let alone having to file your LLC and all of that. And so I decided, well, I’m creating this hybrid organization, one that really respects and honors the values that we bring as humans and understands that we can use data and analytics to offset our weaknesses.
[00:05:03.900] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I took two Greek words that reflected that, that haven’t existed in a word together yet before I came up with it. So, “Meraki” is a Greek word that talks about doing something with all your heart and soul and even leaving a little bit of yourself behind in that endeavor. And then “Nos” is the root from our word “Cognate” like, “Cognos” and “Nos” means that deductive logic, the physical facts of the world. And so bringing those together. Right, doing something with all your heart and soul and that cognitive logic.
[00:05:32.280] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to think that you could translate Merakinos, if it were a real Greek word, to mean like soulful logic or heartfelt knowledge.
[00:05:40.060] – Boris
That’s pretty awesome. So let’s then get into what it is that you do and how you help organizations and what, frankly, everybody listening to this show can learn from your work. So what do you see as the current state of data analytics in nonprofits?
[00:05:59.550] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I find that it usually, not for everybody, but for many nonprofits, especially within the small to mid-sized ones out there, falls into two camps. One is “I’m too busy to even try to figure this out,” so it doesn’t exist. Or “That’s just for donors.” “That’s just for our development branch.” And I actually heard from one person in a nonprofit I was working with, “oh, well we’re foundation-funded. We have a set funding that comes in so we don’t have to worry about analytics.”
[00:06:28.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I totally understood where he was coming from. And it made me take a step back to think about, well, wait, right, everyone thinks about analytics from how am I going to segment my donors? How am I going to test the effectiveness of my latest mailer? But for me as a scientist, I realized that we’ve kind of missed that mark in realizing that analytics needs to be as fundamental as HR or as having, you know, a cash flow strategy.
[00:06:54.250] – Alexandra Mannerings
Data underpins all of the efforts that we have anywhere in our organization, whether it is in hiring, whether it’s a determining program evaluation, whether it is in fundraising, and seeing if you’re doing that effectively. Whether it’s in your marketing strategy, whether it’s in anything you’re trying to accomplish effectively, analytics should be part of that. So whether you feel you’re too busy to get it started or whether you feel it doesn’t apply, both of those aren’t quite the right way to think about analytics.
[00:07:22.930] – Boris
I think that’s a common problem with nonprofit organizations, especially the smaller ones. But really all the way up through the top where they’re so focused on the work that they’re doing on the ground, if you will, that they don’t want to pull resources and buy resources, including human capital, from those tasks to the more back-office kinds of things which they associate analytics with. But when it comes to, like you talking about the person that you were speaking with from a nonprofit that was foundation-funded. If the foundation is doing its work well, it always asks for results. Results from your programing. How do they know that their money is working?
[00:08:06.950] – Boris
And I think that’s the same question that most donors out there in the world want to know, too. That sure, it feels good to give to your organization. But how do I know that yours is the best organization to give it to? That my money is being spent well and wisely, that I’m not just putting something out there in hopes that it’s doing good.
[00:08:26.270] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yeah, and I would actually like to challenge us even further that we shouldn’t want to know that what we’re doing is working just to tell our donors that. Right? We ourselves shouldn’t be satisfied with the work that we’re doing unless we know it’s working. And that goes back to “the end of how you’ve always done things,” right? That we oftentimes have done things because it resonates emotionally with us or because that’s what we’ve always done. Right, when I was at Cambridge, two reasons things happen: because that’s how they’ve done it for eight hundred years or because of health and safety.
[00:08:59.120] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I think that for us to take a step back and actually challenge ourselves, like, why do we lead our Monday mornings the way that we lead them? If you have your Monday stand-ups, like, “is that actually the most effective way of empowering your team?” “How do you know that?” I mean, really just starting to turn that question around and asking ourselves, why do we do this and how do we know that it’s accomplishing the thing that we think it’s accomplishing?
[00:09:25.340] – Boris
Absolutely. You know, the expression “that which is measured grows.” If you’re not measuring your current performance in your current impact, whatever it might be, then how do you know if it’s growing or not? Aside from feeling like or seeing that there’s more coming in or going out in one way or another, how do you know that it’s the most effective way? Right? These are all the things that I talk about as well. And I want to hear from your perspective. So what’s…
[00:09:56.040] – Boris
Let me back up for a second. Change is difficult. Change is scary. And you’re asking nonprofits, those that aren’t already deeply steeped in this philosophy, to take a radical step for them of reallocating some of their hard-earned resources to analyzing how things are going and working. And then rightly, as you just said, to reconsider some of the things that they’re doing. That’s big and scary. Let’s try to break it down for them a little bit and talk about what’s the first thing that they need to know or think about when applying analytics.
[00:10:42.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
I agree. It is a big, scary task and I think breaking it into chunks and realizing you aren’t going to eat the whole whale in one go. You got to take steps and those individual steps will give you rewards. So it’s not that you’re not going to get value until you finish this journey. You will get value at every step of the way and you will learn important things at every step of the way. So every little step you can take, even if it’s one step and then it’s six months before you can take the next step, that’s fine.
[00:11:10.300] – Alexandra Mannerings
Every step you take is important. So don’t feel like you have to do this whole massive journey all at once and you don’t have to change how you do everything all at once. Ask one question of one thing you’re doing. Measure it, improve it. One thing. And then, add another one and then add another one. Right? And you can do it that way. And I think that one of the places that you can start asking yourself a question, that’s a deep question. But at the end is actually a simple question to ask…
[00:11:38.200] – Alexandra Mannerings
Are what you’re currently measuring? Are they outputs or are they outcomes? And we’re all measuring something. Very few of us have zero numbers or zero metrics in place. And I like starting with that question of are you measuring outputs or are you measuring outcomes because you can answer it without actually having to change anything just yet. You’re just asking a question. And we’ll find that most of us are measuring outputs because those are the easiest things to count.
[00:12:06.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
How many free lunches did I deliver? How many pets did I vaccinate? How many programs did I lead? And those are really important and they’re outputs. But we as nonprofits exist for an outcome. We exist to change something about the world, about our communities. And so I would challenge, then, when you ask that question and you get the most likely answer that you’re measuring outputs… could you find one way, just one metric that would measure one outcome that matters to your organization? And just put that in place and add it next to the outputs that you’re measuring.
[00:12:41.470] – Alexandra Mannerings
So if you report to a board and you’re reporting those outputs, add your outcome measure, just just one start there.
[00:12:46.960] – Boris
Can you give us an example of what an outcome measure might be or look like?
[00:12:49.990] – Alexandra Mannerings
So the most effective outcome measures are going to be tied to the reason that your nonprofit exists. So if we go back to the free lunches, why do you exist? And a free lunch program might exist to advance students, academics. It might exist because they want to make sure that kids are healthy. It might exist because they’re trying to create a fair starting point for everyone. That’s going to be unique to the organization. So your outcome measure should tie back to that goal. Right?
[00:13:21.670] – Alexandra Mannerings
So instead of measuring the free lunch, which is the outcome, if our goal is for students to perform better in academia, then you should be measuring the scholastic outputs of your students. Right? You should be saying what actually are their grades? And I would challenge you to push a little further because maybe you’re thinking, OK, well, we’re here to increase their grades. But are you really? Like, grades are one thing. What’s actually the thing that you would want to come after that?
[00:13:43.690] – Alexandra Mannerings
The next level outcome might be, well, we want them to be self-confident. Right?Or we want them to be able to do well in high school. Or we want maybe ultimately we want them to get jobs. I mean, like, I don’t know, it would be unique for each individual organization. But the trick is to get to if this thing I’m measuring were accomplished, could I close down my nonprofit? Right? Like if we got to one hundred percent on this measure, would I get to have the biggest, best party ever and say we’re done? And if you could say yes, then that’s the outcome you care about.
[00:14:18.530] – Boris
So it sounds like basically your outcome is very much tied to your mission.
[00:14:22.820] – Alexandra Mannerings
One hundred percent.
[00:14:24.080] – Boris
Are you succeeding in making the world a better place the way that you are promising, the way that you have declared to your donors who have now supported you to do?
[00:14:35.600] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes, one hundred percent. And like I said, if you look at a lot of what’s out there right now. People do the sleight of hand, I think it’s accidental and how we think about things, I don’t know that it’s intentional, that we’ll say “we are supporting our middle school students because we’ve given one hundred thousand free lunches.” Right? Well, you’re not actually there just to give free lunches, right? That’s the tactic that you’ve picked to accomplish the real thing you’re out there with.
[00:15:02.490] – Alexandra Mannerings
And food’s a little bit different because most of us agree foods like an essential thing we need. So we don’t have to do a lot of effort to prove that, like feeding people is a good idea. But with other things, like I said, the yoga example. Right? If you do yoga to try to help reduce post-partum depression, you need to be able to show that participating in a yoga class does actually result in reducing post-partum depression.
[00:15:26.140] – Boris
Right on in acting, and I always bring things back to acting for some reason or other in filmmaking, we have the objective for any given scene and an actor knows their objective or they hopefully figure it out before they even go into the scene to record it or to do it on stage. But it’s not enough to try to go for an objective. They also, every line is often tied to a specific tactic, some way that they’re going to try to achieve that objective in that scene.
[00:15:56.770] – Boris
So in your case, the way that you’re laying it out, the outputs are the measurements of the tactics. It’s OK, my goal in this scene is to convince so-and-so to do this. One way I’m going to do that is by saying this. OK, how well did that work measure that? OK, that didn’t work as well as I want it. I’m going to move on to something else and I might have 15 in a scene all the same time.
[00:16:18.160] – Boris
And so those are my outputs and my outcomes are did I achieve my objective? How well did I achieve my overall objective for the scene? I love it.
[00:16:27.220] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes. And I think this is the second half of once you start to kind of get these measures in place, you touched on, it’s hard to change. So if you’ve done a program for 15 years and it comes back up like this actually isn’t getting us as far as we want. It’s not giving us a good ROI. Maybe it’s accomplishing a little bit, but it’s costing us a tremendous amount to get that little bit of gain. And this new pilot project we’ve seen for half that amount gets twice the benefit. And so you may have to make some hard decisions when it comes back that some of these tactics aren’t quite the way that you want. And what I like to say is, make sure that you talk about that, where you put all of the people who are part of this on the same side. Right?
[00:17:06.550] – Alexandra Mannerings
Don’t be like, oh, we have to shut down Boris’ activity. No, no, no. Boris and I are going to sit there and we’re going to talk about how we achieve this outcome together and maybe Program A is the right one or maybe program B is. But we’re all on the same side here of trying to get closer to that objective. It’s really easy to slip into making it about people. Whether you tie the idea to the person or, like, Boris isn’t wrong.
[00:17:29.680] – Alexandra Mannerings
It’s that this program that Boris happens to be part of isn’t achieving the outcome that we wanted. And it feels small, but or sort of pedantic. But if you watch this happen and watch how we talk about things, then we have to change it. You’ll realize we make things about people all the time. We love to say that other people are bad or wrong because, like, something didn’t work when it’s really just that idea or that particular execution or whatever it is. So try to stay away from making it about the people.
[00:17:56.260] – Boris
And if we keep the scientific mindset in these decisions, then it’s more about rational thought.
[00:18:03.280] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:18:03.640] – Boris
And in working together than it is about personality,
[00:18:06.390] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:18:06.820] – Boris
[00:18:07.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:18:07.260] – Boris
or achieving, receiving validation.
[00:18:11.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
Right. And it doesn’t have to feel like, “oh, the boss likes my idea better than someone else’s.” We’re just looking at the numbers we’re picking and we’ve picked what we care about. We’ve picked and we all agree. What’s the outcome we’re headed towards, what’s the direction we’re all rowing towards? And we all know that that’s where we want to get. And so it becomes much easier to be like, yes, I’ll let go of this one thing so I can add in something else that’s going to make us go fast.
[00:18:33.250] – Boris
And what I love about this line of thinking is that I often encourage organizations to adopt new strategies on a on a different scale. For example, if you’ve been teaching something in classrooms for many, many years and you’ve been achieving certain results, that’s wonderful. But if your mission is to teach as many people as possible, what if you put that same education up online? And one of my clients is doing that right now. And I think it’s amazing because sure, it may not be quite as effective as you, doing it personally, person to person.
[00:19:06.850] – Boris
But if you could reach ten times as many people and have even half the effect, well, that’s a five x improvement on the overall goal towards your mission.
[00:19:20.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
And that’s why you have to be really clear what you’re trying to achieve. Because the data can’t tell you where you should try to get to. They’re just going to tell you if you’re getting there faster, more effectively. So you have to decide what your final outcome is based on your values and what drives you and what drives your organization. Science won’t to do that for you. But science is going to help you get there the best way possible.
[00:19:43.330] – Boris
So what’s the second thing then? That nonprofit should do?
[00:19:47.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I challenge, like start with that one outcome measure. And I think the next step then you take is review your strategic plan and there should be an outcome measure associated with every step in that strategic plan. And every outcome measure that you put in that strategic plan should all feed back into that ultimate driving goal of your organization. And when you did the outputs versus outcomes, you may not have picked the one big outcome measure for your organization. You may have picked something small. Right?
[00:20:14.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
Start small, pick something that’s easy. So build to that so that you have sort of this pyramid of strategic measures that are accounting for all of your strategic goals. And they should all align with that one reason you exist.
[00:20:29.450] – Boris
And those measures, we often refer to them as key performance indicators or KPIs, is it just one per strategic goal?
[00:20:37.520] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to start with one, because it forces you to determine what actually do you mean by this goal. If you can stuff a whole bunch in there, sometimes you will allow yourself to keep maybe even competing goals in the same one or not gain clarity about what actually are you trying to achieve. You’re going to go back to your class example, right? If their goal out of their education, right, the outcome they want is that they’re training people.
[00:21:06.800] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I don’t know the organization you’re working with, but if they’re training people to get jobs in the technical sector. There is a final outcome that they want from the output of them having these courses. And it could be that if going online and only getting half the benefit that might not get people to the level where they’re hirable in the tech sector. Right. But they got to be real clear that the outcome that they want is getting them hired.
[00:21:31.750] – Alexandra Mannerings
And that then leads them to like, what’s an acceptable drop-off in effectiveness or not. But if we’re just like we want to empower people in technology. You know, you might have a very broad strategic goal and you’re like, OK, we’re going to measure how many people get hired and we’re going to measure how many people pass the certification. We’re going to measure how many people—you stuff, all the stuff in here. You’re not getting down to that real specific, “No, no, no. Are we here to get people hired? Or are we here to, like, help them do hackathons? Are we here… why are we actually here doing this thing? If that makes sense.
[00:22:03.190] – Boris
It does, and so is there a way to measure that you’re measuring the right things? Not to get too meta on you here, but how do you know you’ve set the right KPIs up for your goals?
[00:22:15.160] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to use that, “is it helpful? Is it useful?” Do you find that by measuring this thing, you’re able to make better, more accurate predictions about what will happen when you do X, Y or Z? Right. And if you find that you use this information, you make a decision A and X, Y, Z does not happen, then that’s probably not the right piece of information for you. Right? If you’re finding yourself constantly being surprised by the things that are happening out of the decisions you’re making, you’re not measuring the right things.
[00:22:47.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
Or if you find that having those information and pieces of information aren’t helping you make the determination, right, you get to this decision point. I have to choose between route one and route two.
[00:22:58.810] – Alexandra Mannerings
I would look at my available information and, “wait, none of these measures determine or help me think that one might be better than the other.” Well, then also, you’re not measuring things that are helpful for you because they’re not helping steer you.
[00:23:13.770] – Boris
So this sounds like it could get kind of, well, challenging for organizations and their internal teams to be able to wrangle. What suggestion do you have if an organization wants to go deeper down this road but doesn’t have the internal resources to do so?
[00:23:36.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I completely respect that. This is something that doesn’t come naturally to us as humans, doesn’t come naturally to us as organizations. So, again, that’s what I was saying, start with those baby steps. But if you are really committed to that, I would make a roadmap. Right? Here’s where we are. Here’s ultimately where we want to get to. Can we determine the steps we have to take to get there?
[00:23:55.540] – Alexandra Mannerings
And if you are struggling with that, reach out to outside help. Right? I mean, that’s one of the reasons my organization exists. But we’re not the only ones out there. There’s lots of different organizations that can help you based on where you are and where you want to start. And they can help you with that strategic planning. Right? Here are the steps we think you need to take. Or they can help you with those individual steps.
[00:24:12.360] – Alexandra Mannerings
So maybe you’ve been able to plot that and you’ll realize, oh, we just need help figuring out what technical platform to bring in. We don’t have the expertise to figure that out. And that could be where you bring that in. So those are all different ways that you can kind of think about how you get started. But to back it up just a little bit, you might not be at the strategic plan point. You might just be at that, “I want to take my first analytic step,” right?
[00:24:36.630] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so if you want to take that first analytic step, here’s a fun collaboration that I discovered is, reach out to your local university. There’s all of these grad students, masters and PhDs, who need a project to research in order to get a degree. And I can tell you, having been a candidate, having a project that’s going to make a difference is so much more meaningful than a project that’s going to sit on the shelf and collect dust when you’ve published it.
[00:25:01.680] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so you can look at what’s one pressing analytic question that you have that would be great for a grad student to actually research? Right? So, for example, it might be if we went back to our teaching, you want to know whether or not one of three different education approaches, which one of those is the most effective in producing either you’re hiring or your technical expertise or whatever it is. That would be a great grad student, a grad project for a student getting an Education PhD.
[00:25:34.890] – Alexandra Mannerings
Or if you’re in environment, if you’re protecting the environment and you’re trying to decide whether, you know, two different ways of cultivating trees is more effective and which one you should invest in, find an ecology major who’s doing a master’s program and you can have that be their research project. So you get great information back and you get to help a grad student. And I think it also is a great chance for us to shift as nonprofits. Right? We mostly think we have to ask for people to give us something. And this is a chance for you to give something to someone. The grad students need this just as much as you need them.
[00:26:09.000] – Boris
So to be clear then, it’s not that we’re looking for a grad program that studies analytics or something like that. We’re actually looking for any program related to the field that we’re in.
[00:26:20.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:26:21.170] – Boris
And the grad students are looking for things to research. And you’re offering them that opportunity?
[00:26:25.730] – Alexandra Mannerings
Absolutely. And this is where I point out that we often mis-file analytics, right? We think either analytics is like a technical thing. Right? So I can go with IT. Or it often seems to get attached to finance as well, right? Oh, it’s only for donors. But no, analytics is science. Right? It’s asking questions and using an experiment or using data to answer that question to help us understand the real world, what worked and what didn’t.
[00:26:51.990] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so, yeah, you’ll find a program and there’s probably a program out there, regardless of what you do. I’m sure there are programs for whatever you might need. And so you could find your local university or it doesn’t have to always be local, especially in COVID era. There’s going to be a university out there that supports the thing that you do and you can connect with them. And when they have the right grad student, it may end up being a really, really valuable collaboration.
[00:27:17.590] – Boris
I love that idea because I do really like that nonprofits don’t have to constantly be asking for something and feel like they’re asking, but they’re making a difference, perhaps in another way. But it might actually be related to your mission because you’re helping a candidate in the field that you are already passionate about. So it’s a win-win-win.
[00:27:36.060] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:27:36.930] – Boris
And I like the whole process of it being a loop in terms of you’re asking a question, you’re then seeing what the results are. You’re learning from that and you’re iterating. There’s in lean methodology, which is very popular in the startup world for the last, I don’t know, over ten years now, there is a cycle of build, measure, learn. So you’ve got your program, you measure the results, you learn from it, and then you revise your program, you tweak it slightly. You change one of the things that you’re trying to do to better achieve your mission, to keep optimizing it like that. I love it.
[00:28:11.640] – Alexandra Mannerings
A hundred percent.
[00:28:13.310] – Boris
So I always ask, are there any tools that you recommend organizations check out if they’re interested in going down this path?
[00:28:21.050] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yeah, so my hands down favorite tool is something called Alteryx. And the reason I love all tricks is it allows you to ask pretty much any question you would want of any data. Manipulate, clean, transform, statistically analyze, visualize, without having to know very much coding. So I told you, I’m coding illiterate, I can’t do R, I can’t do SAS, I can’t do Python, but I can Alteryx. And it’s a drag and drop interface, so you connect different tools and you get to visually see how you’re connecting pieces of each of those analytic steps, whether it’s a joint or a formula or whatever you might need.
[00:28:56.820] – Alexandra Mannerings
So for those organizations who are a little bit further along, right. They’re ready to try to bring some analysis in-house and they might have some complex data that they need to work with on that. Highly recommend checking out all Alteryx. I’ve used it for eight years now and a massive fan of it.
[00:29:13.240] – Boris
Do you know if they have nonprofit pricing?
[00:29:14.970] – Alexandra Mannerings
They do. They most definitely have nonprofit pricing.
[00:29:18.990] – Boris
Excellent. I really appreciate that. I’m going to go check it out. And of course, we’ll have it linked up in our show notes so that anybody who’s interested can just click the link and take it on over. So being the very story-based podcast that we are, every story has to have in their hero’s journey a call to action. Alexandra, what is your call to action for those people that have listened to this so far and are interested in learning more about you and what you do?
[00:29:44.070] – Alexandra Mannerings
Well, generally, you can learn more about me by visiting my website, merakinos.com or connecting to me on LinkedIn. I always love hearing questions that come in over LinkedIn. My more specific call to action is that we are planning a small data summit for the end of September and in that we are going to invite ten experts to spend 15 minutes giving you at least one actionable thing that you can take for each step of the analytic journey. So we’ll go all the way from data strategic planning to putting data in the hands of decision makers and the steps that you take in between.
[00:30:15.030] – Alexandra Mannerings
So the idea is, even if you’re super busy, you can come drop in for 15 minutes or stay for the whole four hours that it will be, and hopefully learn the things that you need to at least get… take those first couple of steps in analytics. So it’ll be on my website under events. So you can check out more as we finalize the details for that.
[00:30:32.280] – Boris
We will definitely link that up. That sounds like a great event. I’m going to check it out myself because I’m always happy to learn more about data, about analytics, about all things geeky and about how to improve nonprofits’ performance in general. So thank you so much for doing that. And thank you for being on our show today.
[00:30:48.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much for having me, Boris. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
[00:30:51.900] – Boris
Likewise. And thank you everybody who has tuned in and watched or listened or read the transcript of this episode. We hope that you’ve enjoyed it. We hope that you will share it. And of course, if you like it, let us know by leaving a review on whatever platform you consume this content. Thanks so much, everybody. We’ll see you soon.
[00:31:30.340] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- We can use data and analytics to offset our weaknesses. (4:51)
- Nonprofits tend to think that analytics is about segmenting your donors or testing the effectiveness of your mailer. Analytics needs to be as fundamental as HR or having a cash flow strategy because data underpins all efforts in an organization. (6:28)
- Organizations shouldn’t be satisfied with the work that they are doing unless they know that it is working. (8:26)
- That which is measured, grows. If you are not measuring your current performance in your current impact, how do you know if it’s growing or not? (9:25)
- Every step you take is important. Organizations don’t have to change everything at once. Ask one question of one thing you’re doing. Measure it. Improve it. Then add another, one by one. (11:10)
- Start by looking at what you’re currently measuring: Are they outputs or outcomes? Most of the time we’re measuring outputs because they’re the easiest thing to measure. (11:38)
- Outputs are a measure of your tactics, like meals served or students tutored. Outcomes are a measure of your bigger goal behind your tactics, like ending hunger or helping students get good jobs. (14:35)
- When evaluating your ROI and making decisions based on data, be careful not to make it about the people working in those programs. You’re all on the same team, trying to create the most impact in the world. (16:27)
- Organizations have to be clear with what they are trying to achieve. Data cannot tell you where to go. It can only tell you if you are getting to your goal faster and more effectively. (19:20)
- Test whether or not you’re measuring the right things by looking at how well those measurements help you steer your organization towards making decisions that improve your outputs and outcomes. (22:15)
- Start with a roadmap: Here’s where we are, here’s where we want to get to, what are the steps we have to take to get there? (23:45)
- Consider reaching out to a university and partnering with a masters or PhD candidate doing research in your field. Giving them a meaningful project to work on creates a win-win and another way you can advance the field that you are focused on. (24:36)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Alexandra ManneringsCEO/Founder, Merakinos
Alexandra Mannerings founded her analytic education and consulting company, Merakinos, to help social enterprises and non-profits harness the power of data. She earned her PhD in Veterinary Science (Epidemiology) from the University of Cambridge, UK, and a BSc in Biology from Emory University. She has also run the Data Center at a state hospital association, rowed for the Light Blues, built trails across Colorado parks, and is currently raising two spirited toddlers.