EP53 - Steven Shattuck - Featured

Episode 53: How Nonprofits Successfully Navigated the Pandemic, with Steven Shattuck

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 53

How Nonprofits Successfully Navigated the Pandemic, with Steven Shattuck

In this Episode:

How can nonprofits fundraise during a crisis without sounding opportunistic or worse, tone-deaf? Whether it’s disease, war or natural disaster, there always seems to be an emergency in the headlines.

One thing is clear: in times of crisis, people become more empathetic and generous—and not just to causes directly related to the emergency. Data from the pandemic now shows that people gave to a wide diversity of nonprofit organizations.

So why were some nonprofits able to expand while others felt sidelined and had to consolidate? A more nuanced look at the data delivered across the board revealed that those that did the best during the pandemic did two things: They asked for donations often, and they contextualized their appeals.

Steven Shattuck, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang, looks at the data they and others collected and shares the takeaways that nonprofits can apply to their development strategy.

[00:00:05.050] – Intro
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 world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.350] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited today to talk to Steven Shattuck, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. Over the last several episodes, we’ve talked a lot about data. Really, since I started this podcast, I’ve talked about data and especially about the story in the data and how to apply storytelling to data.

[00:00:40.100] – Boris
Today, we’re going to dive deeper into one of the aspects that we’ve been focusing on recently, which is, what is the data saying about giving in the U.S. over the last couple of years? Previously, there have been a lot of studies that have purported to demonstrate that data—that the giving in the U.S. is on the decline, that individual giving is on the decline, and primarily it’s larger scale donors that are making up the difference. Over the last couple of years, through the pandemic, things seem to have shifted quite a bit. We recently had Tim from Neon One on the show talking about this.

[00:01:17.920] – Boris
Today we’re going to dive deeper with Steven Shattuck, who, as I said, is the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. Steven is also a prolific writer and speaker. He curates Bloomerang’s sector-leading educational content and hosts their weekly webinar series which features the top thought leaders in the nonprofit sector. I am honored to have been one of those. Actually, no, I’m going to be one of those in a couple of months here. He is the author of “Robots Make Bad Fundraisers,” an awesome title, subtitled “How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age,” which was published by Bold and Bright Media in 2020. Steven describes his superpower as helping nonprofits humanize how they use technology to aid in their fundraising efforts. An awesome superpower that I’m excited to bring Steven on to demonstrate and help us all with today. Hey, Steven.

[00:02:06.750] – Steven Shattuck
Hey, Boris. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:08.470] – Boris
It is absolutely my pleasure. We’ve known each other for a little while now, and I’m excited every time I get to chat with you. It’s always a fun conversation. I learn things and we get to share more things with people out there who want to create more heroes for their cause.

[00:02:22.280] – Steven Shattuck
I feel the same way. We’re going to have you on the webinar series. We had you on The Kindful one, and I learned a lot from you. And yeah, this is awesome to be here. So thank you.

[00:02:30.340] – Boris
Awesome, Steven. So I’ve shared your bio and I’ve mentioned your superpower, which I’m excited to utilize today—to harness for all of us today. But I always like to ask people, since I do focus on storytelling so much, what’s your story? Why are you who you are today?

[00:02:44.840] – Steven Shattuck
Well, it’s funny, I was thinking about this because the story always kind of annoys my wife so now that we’re going to record it, she can relive it, I guess. But I met my wife in college, and she always aspired to be a nonprofit person. She wanted to work for nonprofits. She did that when she got out of school. She’s achieved that goal, but I sort of fell into it kind of backwards. I ended up working at a marketing agency that just so happened to serve nonprofits exclusively. So my first kind of gig out of school was producing videos like Gala videos. We were sending DVDs in the mail for Capital Campaign, if that kind of ages myself a little bit. So she’s always kind of annoyed that I get to do things like this. “You never wanted to work for nonprofits. I always did.” So that’s kind of how I fell into it.

[00:03:35.050] – Steven Shattuck
I was an English major, so it was basically work at a marketing agency or write the Great American Novel. And thankfully, I did the former because no one needs that novel from me. I’ve been doing that. And that’s kind of where I got my chops in fundraising and eventually made my way to Bloomerang when that company got started, and I get to talk to fundraisers, find out what’s working, what’s not working. Highlight their stories. Look at the data. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot over the last two years. Like you said, just to kind of help people meander, navigate through this new reality that we find ourselves in.

[00:04:14.930] – Boris
Awesome. Like so many of us, you came into it through the side door, to the nonprofit space, but you got to bring skills that nonprofits desperately need. And I’m sure they’re all grateful, the ones that get to work with you, for what you’ve been able to bring to the table and been able to bring to Bloomerang since then. Let’s go ahead then and dive in and see what is going on out there, Steven, what’s happening in that sector?

[00:04:41.430] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah. I mean, this is what we’ve been looking at. Not only what Bloomerang customers are doing, but all the studies. You talked to Tim last week, they did that great study over at Neon One, The Fundraising Effectiveness Project, Giving USA, the Blackbaud study. All of that seems to point to what you said, which is people really responded during the pandemic. I know we’re not quite out of it yet, but those giving levels have really kind of maintained that increase that occurred in 2020, which surprised a lot of us, right? We figured, dang, that was a tough economy. That was obviously a very severe pandemic and still is in a lot of ways.

[00:05:20.770] – Steven Shattuck
But when you look at what happened in terms of donor response, the generosity was there and the capacity was there, and it was those small dollar donors that led the way, right? It’s exactly what you said. It wasn’t just those billionaires kind of swooping in to save the day. It was people giving under $250 that was the biggest cohort of donors. So we were all surprised by that. Although I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. Because if you look back on all of the past crises or difficult times, 2008, 2001, the dot-com bubble, like all the way back to savings and loan, the nonprofit sector really does kind of resist those outside forces. And I know there’s probably people listening and watching who maybe had a really hard couple of years. And I don’t mean to erase that experience. I mean it as an encouragement. The capacity is there. The generosity is there. And in times of crisis, whether it’s a big international pandemic or a tornado in your city, people respond.

[00:06:30.120] – Steven Shattuck
But what we found looking at our customer data was a little more nuanced. The people that asked and contextualized those appeals for how they were experiencing the pandemic specifically, those are the people that had some of their best fundraising years ever. And it wasn’t just things like food banks or the kind of causes that you hear about as being like COVID causes, which I don’t really like. I don’t think such a thing exists. But animal shelters, environmental organizations, other social services, some of those folks had their best years ever. And really what we found is it’s because they kept their foot on the gas. They didn’t put themselves on the sidelines. They didn’t allow themselves to be talked into this myth that we don’t matter or our cause doesn’t matter as much as maybe some other folks’ cause. So that’s really what I’ve been shouting from the rooftops, because there will be another crisis, right? Whether it’s local or global. And don’t decide for donors, because if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get it.

[00:07:37.670] – Boris
And that wraps up our episode for today.

[00:07:39.300] – Steven Shattuck
That’s it. See ya.

[00:07:42.050] – Boris
No, I’m kidding. But I’m also kind of serious because that is really, I think the key takeaway. Let’s dig a little deeper and get a little more out of you as long as we’ve got you here, Steven. So first of all, you say maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. And I don’t know if you saw me shaking my head vehemently. No, we should not have been. People respond to crisis. People respond to whatever gets that oxytocin flowing, whatever gets that empathy going, right? We naturally respond to it. We feel an obligation to our world, to our society, to the people we care about, to the causes we care about. And that realm expands significantly. I talk a lot in my storytelling workshops and online courses and whatever else about the greater the common villain, the more people it’s going to unite against it, the more people are going to understand the pain that that villain inflicts. And so the more people are going to rise up to try to combat it. So, absolutely. In a time of crisis, more people will give because they’re going to feel for their fellow humans suffering.

[00:08:51.300] – Steven Shattuck
Absolutely. And some people feel powerless, too. They want to feel like, Jeez, I’m stuck at home. I can’t do anything. Who knows when this is going to end? Donating to a nonprofit may be the only way that they can exercise some level of control over what’s going on around them. And that’s a real opportunity. That’s an advantage, right? There’s something you don’t hear very often that the nonprofit sector has an advantage over maybe the for-profit sector, for example, to generate that. But you mentioned the underlying data. The thing that I always think of is, we could see our customers that were moving up and to the right versus the ones that were kind of moving down and to the right. And among the people that were increasing, they were asking more, right? We saw people slow down the asks. Maybe they got caught into this trap of, we don’t matter, our cause doesn’t matter as much.

[00:09:48.740] – Steven Shattuck
But even among the people who kept asking, there was a nuanced difference. There were people that were asking but not sort of contextualizing their need or how they were affected by the pandemic like you said, versus the ones who were and the ones who were who sort of addressed that elephant in the room, they did much better. And maybe those people who didn’t truly weren’t impacted, although I kind of find that hard to believe. I think everyone was impacted in some way. But maybe they were concerned about, I don’t know, donor fatigue or talking about something that nobody wanted to think about. So that is a big takeaway, we found, is for sure, keep asking, don’t decide for the donor. But if you’re being impacted by some external force, that’s the rallying cry, that’s that common enemy, like you mentioned. That’s a perfect way of saying it. If that exists, tell people and allow them to rally around it. Because if they don’t know about it, they may not find that appeal to be as urgent or as necessary as the ones who do mention those things.

[00:10:55.590] – Boris
Right. In some cases, the organization is suffering from the very same thing, this pandemic, for example, that donors are suffering from, or that the recipients, the clients of various organizations are suffering from. So you can be in there and assuming you have a strong relationship with your donor base, they’re going to care about your survival, your work. They might think, okay, at the moment, putting on a play is not as relevant as producing more oxygen machines, what do they call them? Respirators in hospitals. But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to switch their identity to now no longer say, “Oh, I don’t support theater. I now only support medical treatment.”

[00:11:47.330] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, you nailed it. It’s a scarcity mindset. It’s like, well, if they care about that cause, they can’t—they don’t have the bandwidth or the capacity to care about ours. And people are diverse, right? People give to multiple causes. But I also think what you said is really important that, hey, you want us to be around when this is over? Don’t you want plays and performances to resume? Don’t you want this YMCA to open back up and be able to have classes and things like that? That was a really strong sort of case for support that we saw work, specifically, this idea of you want us to be around when this is over. You can sort of protect our future by donating now. And the people that cared about those causes pre-pandemic didn’t suddenly stop caring about animals or the performing arts or whatever it is just because there’s a pandemic. There’s room for both, right? And I think we were talking about arts, performing arts before we hit record. Those are the folks that really kind of stood out from the crowd, if that’s the right metaphor, and survived and not only survived but thrived during such a difficult time.

[00:13:02.630] – Boris
I think some of them did and some of them didn’t, to be honest, without revealing any names, if you will. I spoke to a lot of arts organizations over the last couple of years that were really struggling. They didn’t want to appear tone deaf, which I totally understand and respect.

[00:13:18.510] – Steven Shattuck

[00:13:19.490] – Boris
But at the same time, they didn’t know how they could survive. And some of them shut their doors temporarily. Some of them may have shut their doors permanently because they didn’t feel like their cause was as important, as significant. I hate to use the word as sexy as some of the others out there in a time of crisis. Again, you and I were talking earlier. There’s always going to be a crisis.

[00:13:46.140] – Steven Shattuck

[00:13:46.600] – Boris
Right now there is certainly a crisis that’s eating up a lot of my mental capacity and my spare discretionary, giving money, trying to support the folks in Ukraine and trying to help end that situation in a positive way, as positive as possible. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the other causes that I’ve been supporting all this time.

[00:14:08.210] – Steven Shattuck
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. That was the number one question we got over the past two years is should we fundraise right now? Does our cause matter as much? Will it appear tone deaf? And we said yes, and for sure it matters. But you can do that in such a way that it won’t appear tone deaf. Like maybe saying, hey, we want to be around because we want to be able to provide. People need entertainment, people need art, right? What more important time is there to have art in your life than these truly difficult times? So that case is there. And that’s where I think that contextualization is what made those appeals successful, rather than just saying, hey, it’s a pandemic you should give to our orchestra. It’s like, wait, why, do you mean? Go that level deeper and really tug on those heartstrings and unlock what it is those people have always kind of cared about you. But yeah, I can’t think of another cause that matters more in darker times than those performing arts folks. So my heart goes out to them. And I hope that so many of them will be able to stick around because we need you.

[00:15:19.980] – Boris
Absolutely. I’m a fan, of course, of the arts. But on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the arts might not be at the bottom, but they’re on there. They’re self actualization and they are education. They are force for good. I don’t have to sell people, especially those folks in the arts. But I found it honestly a little disheartening how a lot of arts organizations felt about themselves and their work.

[00:15:47.790] – Steven Shattuck
That’s the thing.

[00:15:49.150] – Boris
They didn’t know how to speak to their existing base and to try to grow their base during this time of upheaval.

[00:15:58.530] – Steven Shattuck
That’s the heartbreaking thing for me. You mentioned the webinar series. We were doing a webinar, probably March or April 2020. One of the attendees chatted in like, “Hey, we’re just a library foundation. We’re not saving lives.” And I kind of grabbed the microphone from my guest and I said, “No, my gosh, people need the arts.” They need books, right? I told the story of my kids. We love to go to the library every Saturday morning. It’s one of their favorite activities. We want that to be there when we can finally get back out of the house in a safe way. That’s the situation we find ourselves back in. So that to me is, don’t sell yourself short, right? Because there will be another crisis, like you said, Boris, and you will not only matter, but you may even be more critical, especially to the people that already care and hold that cause near and dear to your heart. So I hope people find this encouraging. That’s kind of how I think you mean it, too. And I definitely mean it because there will be something else that happens.

[00:17:00.710] – Boris
So we teased since the beginning of the episode, we teased that we’ve got data that we’ve got data on what’s going on, what was working, what wasn’t working. And I personally want to hear it because I haven’t gotten it yet. And I’ve read some of the reports out there. But talk to me, Steven. What happened during the pandemic, what’s going on now and what’s not working?

[00:17:24.940] – Steven Shattuck
Well, aside from asking and not putting ourselves on the sidelines, that was definitely a big one. But we also looked at those folks that were doing well and maybe even doing better than in past years. A couple of things stood out. The prevalence of phone calls. So we’re a donor database so we can see what kind of interactions people are making with their donors and in what format. And we saw phone calls not only shoot up, probably because we couldn’t do events and maybe even direct mail was harder, but not only were more phone calls being made to supporters, but we could really see that they were moving the needle on things like revenue and donor retention and things like that.

[00:18:09.700] – Steven Shattuck
And I think it’s because especially in 2020, we were isolated. We were social distanced. That phone call from a nonprofit to a supporter, that may have been one of the only few personal interactions that they encountered and probably the only one from a brand, right? From someone who wasn’t a friend or a family member or a co-worker. That not only made a big difference in 2020, but again, it continued to have efficacy through 2021. And I think for all the reasons I just said, but also because it’s so surprising to get a phone call that’s a pure thank you or is showing curiosity about why you support. And I sound kind of cynical and I hate to be surprised, but that’s kind of rare, right? I can count on maybe one hand how many times that’s happened to me from a nonprofit or anything that I’ve supported.

[00:19:04.490] – Steven Shattuck
Personal emails, same thing. So there’s mass emails where you set up an email blast to all the people in your database, all 2000 of them or whatever. We also saw people reaching out individually, you know, me literally opening up Gmail, writing an email to Boris, like, “Hey, Boris, thanks for having me on the show. You’re awesome. Let’s stay in touch.” The same thing not only increased, but also did have an effect on that year over year kind of revenue increases. So the last two years were this kind of re-emergence, at least from our view, of truly personal outreach. And again, what better time? And maybe that’s what spurred it on, because we couldn’t do things like events or in-person interactions or things like that. So that was the only alternative. But I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes to like, wow, maybe we should make this a normal thing that we do during any kind of climate or crisis, if there is one, because people give to people, right? And fundraising is very relationship driven, you know, this.

[00:20:10.550] – Steven Shattuck
But I feel like because of all this technology available to us, maybe those kind of analog or one to one or old school formats or mediums have kind of gone by the wayside but did come back because of pure necessity, right? Because that’s all there was out there. And I hope that that sticks around because there’s always been evidence that those things are impactful. But we really saw those things be even more impactful over the last two years. So another thing that I’ve been shouting from the rooftop: reach out to people, because it is very personal.

[00:20:45.410] – Boris
So there was a lot of great stuff in there that I want to touch on and really highlight. And I’m really glad that you said people give to people because earlier you had said nonprofits reaching out to individuals. It’s not nonprofits that are on the phone. You’re a person at your nonprofit. And you said how many brands do that. I don’t remember any time. I don’t know. I’m wearing a Banana Republic sweater; Banana Republic has never called me and asked, “Hey, Boris, how are you doing with this pandemic or with this crisis in Ukraine?

[00:21:19.560] – Steven Shattuck
Right. It would be weird.

[00:21:21.260] – Boris
Yeah, exactly. It would be weird. It might be interesting, but they don’t care. They care. “Hey, Boris, here’s a coupon, maybe come back and spend some more money.”

[00:21:30.560] – Steven Shattuck
Get the matching tie.

[00:21:31.940] – Boris
Yeah, exactly.

[00:21:33.240] – Boris
Whereas a nonprofit does care, hopefully does care about its constituents, about its supporters, certainly about its clients, has things to say and has questions to ask. You’ve got to ask, you’ve got to be curious. Not just, “Hey, why do you support us,” but also “how are you doing?” Reinforce that connection.

[00:21:53.100] – Steven Shattuck
And I would imagine that was the question behind a lot of that outreach, either by phone or by email. It’s like, “Hey, Boris, you’re a monthly donor. We want to say thanks, but also wanted to say, are you okay? This is a tough time. We just want to make sure you’re okay.” And you’re right. Like buying a shirt is not personal, but donating to a cancer charity because your grandmother passed away from that form of cancer, that’s very personal. So to be able to reach back out, acknowledge it, yeah, but learn that information. I love the word you used, showing curiosity. I think that’s something that we definitely suffer from as a fundraising sector is, why do these people support us? And there is most often than not a story behind that, maybe not as much as during times of crisis where you’re kind of driven by that urgent need and not necessarily care about that cause. And I know you and Tim talked about that, and that kind of giving definitely does happen. But a lot of the gifts, there’s probably a very personal reason behind it. If that can be the conversation starter, that’s a pretty darn powerful conversation.

[00:23:02.030] – Boris
So I do want to ask, though, you mentioned in your CRM you might have 2000 folks on your list. I don’t know which organization has the bandwidth to personally call 2000 people. How do you navigate that? It seems almost cold to prioritize certain people over others. Is there a strategy that you recommend that you’ve seen work or think is a good way to go?

[00:23:28.410] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, I’m glad you asked, because it’s hard. And there’s tons of people like me who are saying, like, you’re not doing enough, and here are 20 things you should be doing. And I get it. It’s hard. And if you’ve got that big data set, I think there are a couple of low hanging fruit. I mentioned first-time donors. That’s one where we have the data and we’ll share and we can link it in the show notes, I suppose. But the phone calls really work. They really do seem to have an effect on not just retention rates, but the speed in which you received a second gift. That window really shortens if they’ve been called and they tend to give more. And I think it comes down again to curiosity, right? So you call them. “Hey, Boris, thanks so much for your first gift. Happy to have you join our community of donors. By the way, why did you give? What spurred that gift today?” And if you can learn or get that story, that will help you subsequently communicate to them, right? And sort of contextualize that reason for giving.

[00:24:30.620] – Steven Shattuck
So I love first-time donors as a priority. If you get a phone number, and you’re not always going to have a phone number and I don’t recommend you go out and try to find their phone number, like call their employer, that would be a little weird. But if you got a first-time gift and they gave you a phone number, if maybe it was not required on the form or they offered it up somehow, that’s almost an invitation. So that’s probably going to take that list of 2000 down to under ten because it may not happen very often. And maybe that’s doable in an hour or so on a Friday afternoon, call those people, say thanks, welcome them, maybe find out a little bit about that motivation. Monthly donors, that’s one that maybe flies a little under the radar because it’s happening automatically. Maybe the dollar amounts are small; $5 a month doesn’t seem like that much. Although over the lifetime, that’s a pretty significant lifetime value. “Hey, Boris, thanks for being a monthly donor. You’re keeping the lights on. Just want to say thanks, check in with you, make sure you’re doing okay. How’s the family?” Whatever it is, that kind of outreach.

[00:25:37.550] – Steven Shattuck
What are those segments? Get out the whiteboard and write down like, who are those people? First-time donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors. People who have been giving for a long time. Everybody will probably have those. But depending on your cause type, volunteers, alumni, former service recipients, people who have adopted animals from us, who are those types of people? And then you can kind of decide, okay, what do we want to say to these people? Can we automate some of these things? Should we ask for different things from these people? Go through that exercise and identify it.

[00:26:11.660] – Steven Shattuck
But to your original question, I think those first-time donors, I would probably start there. The retention rates are only like 20% on those folks. And I think it’s because they just kind of get thrown into whatever ongoing communications are already scheduled, and we don’t take the time to find out who they are, truly welcome them, and then they just kind of become another name in that giant bucket in that database. But I would start there. And, you know, there are other common sense things, dollar amount. If you can only call one donor and someone gave you $500 versus $5, I’d probably call the $500 donor, although I don’t think dollar amount is a great way to segment because you never know someone’s capacity, their true feelings about you.

[00:27:02.330] – Steven Shattuck
But there are some common sense things I think can guide your efforts. Do you have a phone number? That’s going to be part of your call list criteria for sure. But those new people, you really got me going on that curiosity thing. I think that that could be the lowest hanging fruit that I recommend people go to.

[00:27:20.280] – Boris
I’m going to add one more thing that is probably so common sense that it should go without saying. But if within your donor data, you can determine who is most impacted by whatever emergency or crisis is going on, if you’ve got elderly folks within your donor data, you’ve got that kind of segmentation or folks with Eastern European backgrounds right now.

[00:27:44.560] – Steven Shattuck

[00:27:45.270] – Boris
Right? Or whatever the situation might be. Maybe those are also top of the list in terms of whom to reach out to, to really show that you care and you understand their world.

[00:27:56.490] – Steven Shattuck
I love that. Just having that awareness, like, wow, something’s happening, it might be affecting our supporters. We should check in on them. I love that.

[00:28:04.800] – Boris
Yeah. And you could also similarly, assuming the conversation goes in that direction and people are open to it, you can get their stories so that you could share that out to your community and really help people feel like they’re a part of a community. And within that community, there are people that are being impacted, and here’s how they’re dealing and here’s how you’re helping. So not just the clients, but also donors.

[00:28:28.800] – Steven Shattuck
I love that. That’s another… Yet another byproduct of the curiosity is crowdsourcing that content, right? That’s always sort of a log jam for folks. How do we get the stories? Well, let them tell their own, right? Because that’s a goal. [crosstalk 00:28:42]

[00:28:45.990] – Boris
We are coming up real fast here…

[00:28:49.290] – Steven Shattuck
That went fast.

[00:28:49.600] – Boris
to the mark that I shoot for. But I do want to ask you a couple more questions. We are, of course, coming out of the pandemic, I hope. I say. Of course.

[00:28:57.660] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, right.

[00:28:58.260] – Boris
I’m really hoping that whatever next wave of Omicron or Deltacron or whatever they are does not come out of the woodwork and bite us in the collective butt, assuming for a minute that we are coming out of the pandemic, events are returning, people’s lives are getting back to some new normal. Can we make any sort of predictions as to what donor behavior is going to be like going forward?

[00:29:23.020] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, I think that the generosity is always there, right? That’s not the challenge, the capacity, because we live in a capitalistic society. It’s there. I think what’s going to change is how we sort of tap into it. But things are a lot better right now than certainly they were two years ago. But confidence is still kind of low. AFP puts out a confidence survey every quarter, and the last one came out, and people are still worried about things like donor fatigue and the pandemic uncertainty and all those things. And I would just tell people, be bold. You matter. Whatever happens in the world, we still do live in a pretty generous society where there is a lot of capacity, which is kind of a negative in a lot of ways, but that at least we can funnel that into the nonprofit sector and do some good. So I think that that will always be consistent, no matter what sort of changes we go through. Certainly the technology landscape has really changed and evolved. There are so many amazing tools out there that are available to nonprofits that two years ago, five years ago, certainly did not even exist or were not very affordable.

[00:30:44.370] – Steven Shattuck
But I would say, stay confident, don’t allow yourself to—you know, don’t put yourself on the sideline. That’s the real killer, right? And no matter what’s going to happen, there will be another crisis, whether it’s localized, a natural disaster, hopefully not another pandemic. But stay confident and you can weather whatever happens. If you just say we matter, our cause matters, what we do matters, and people care about it, even if they also may be temporarily care about something else that is very timely. They still want to come back to us.

[00:31:19.710] – Boris
You mentioned technology, and we were talking about talking to donors and prioritizing, and it actually occurred to me then. But I just remembered now something that technology can do is the folks that you can’t reach out to personally, directly, maybe offer them a way to reach back out to you. Say that your lines are open for them to talk to you, because not everybody is going to want to, might be a very small percentage, but even just putting that out there makes people feel like they matter, that you care about them and you’re there for them.

[00:31:49.400] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, put the invitation out there. And even that small percentage, those are people that are kind of self selecting into a really engaged group. And you might want to know who that small group is of true believers, for lack of a better phrase. You can go back to those people during times of crisis. Certainly capital campaigns, planned giving. Don’t be discouraged by the small response rate because those small groups of people, those are your people and you want to hold them close and know who they are.

[00:32:20.860] – Boris
That’s your most inner circle in your community.

[00:32:23.640] – Steven Shattuck

[00:32:24.290] – Boris
Your truest fans and supporters and heroes.

[00:32:27.050] – Steven Shattuck
Those are your buds.

[00:32:29.790] – Boris
Awesome. Steven, thank you so much for delivering all of this valuable information and insights and suggestions to us. Do you have any tools or resources that you recommend the nonprofit heroes that are listening to this or watching this go check out?

[00:32:47.040] – Steven Shattuck
Well, if this is the first episode that you’ve heard, go back and listen to others because you’ve had some really awesome conversations with people, probably way more insightful than me. So I hope that they’ll do that. This is episode 50 something. So there’s a ton of great conversations they can listen to. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project. We kind of mentioned that. I’m sure Tim talked about that. Check that out. There is a lot of really good free reports there, free research. And then on Bloomerang’s website, we’ve got the webinar series that you mentioned. All kinds of templates and resources and guides and case studies there. Totally free. You don’t have to be a customer. In fact, more non customers consume those than customers. So that’s all there @bloomerang.com. And yeah, we’d love to keep the conversation going. Connect with me on LinkedIn, because I’m always putting stuff out that I find that I think is interesting or cool trying to uncover those things. And you’ll get those if we’re connected.

[00:33:45.270] – Boris
Awesome. And you did mention during the episode a couple of different things that we’ll also link to, including the fundraising confidence survey and some other nuggets that you shared with us. And we’re looking forward to getting a link from you for some of that data that you were talking about so folks can go check it out for themselves and explore with that. And I do want to tell everybody that Steven did write a book, and I’m totally envious of him for getting a great book together, putting it out there. It’s “Robots Make Bad Fundraisers.” Of course, it’s available on Amazon, and I’m sure all fine booksellers, but we’ll point to that as well.

[00:34:19.660] – Steven Shattuck
Thank you.

[00:34:20.400] – Boris
And we’ll have Steven’s LinkedIn profile Linked up as well, so you could quickly and easily find him and connect with him, which I suggest you do. He’s a really great guy. And as I’m sure anyone who listened to this episode or watched this episode will know for themselves, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s got a lot of great value to share. So thank you for sharing that, Steven.

[00:34:38.410] – Steven Shattuck
Thanks for having me. And thanks for doing this. This is a really good service to the sector. So thanks for having these conversations.

[00:34:44.680] – Boris
Anytime. And we will have to have you back another time. And I’m looking forward to being on your webinar series really soon, just in a couple of months now.

[00:34:52.570] – Steven Shattuck

[00:34:53.290] – Boris
So that’s going to be fun and exciting. And I’m sure that folks on my email list, they’re going to hear all about that. So if you’re not on it, maybe get on it. I don’t know. But thank you all so much for joining us today, for listening to me and Steven talk about this topic. Hopefully you got a lot of great insights and ideas on how to create more heroes for your cause, because we need you to do that. We need you to activate the inner hero in every individual on this planet if we ever have a chance of making this world what it can and really deserves to be. So thank you for doing that work. Thank you for tuning in. And we’ll see you again next time on The Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:35:33.810] – Intro
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:

  • People really responded to appeals for money during the pandemic, with small dollar donors leading the way. (4:58)
    • People giving under $250 was the largest cohort of donors.
  • Historically, data shows that the nonprofit sector resists outside crises. (5:48)
  • Organizations that contextualized their appeals and addressed the crisis did better than those who didn’t. (6:30) 
  • Organizations that got caught in the trap of thinking that during a crisis their cause didn’t matter as much (a scarcity mindset) lost out on the generosity of donors and were left behind. (7:09)
    • People who care about animals or the theater don’t stop caring about them because there is a need for more respirators in hospitals.
    • If an organization didn’t ask for money, they didn’t receive as much of it as those who did.
    • Don’t sell yourself short.
  • Once basic needs are fulfilled, humans need to belong to something, to feel important, to feel valued. (8:59)
    • We feel an obligation to our world, to our society, to the people we care about, to the causes we care about.
    • Donating to a nonprofit may be the only way that people can exercise some level of control over what’s going on around them.
  • Nonprofits with the best fundraising results placed the way that they were experiencing the pandemic into context in their messaging to donors. (9:48)
  • Conveying that a resource is at risk is seen as a strong case for giving, to protect the future with a donation today. (12:00)
  • The number one question Bloomerang received over the last two years was, “Should I fundraise now?” It may seem tone-deaf to do so, but it isn’t when you’re sensitive to context, taking a humanistic approach. (14:08)
  • Personal, human interaction is part of a humanistic approach to fundraising, and during a time of isolation, such as during the pandemic, this proved to be a key. (15:58)
    • An analysis of Bloomerang’s donor database showed phone calls to donors increased during the pandemic
    • It also showed that phone calls to supporters increased revenue and donor retention.
    • Personal emails also increased in number with beneficial results.
  • It is important to be curious about why people support the cause, as this curiosity will lead your personalized outreach. (21:33) 
    • More often than not, there is a story behind their support.
  • Balancing the need to personalize outreach with time and resource constraints is difficult, but strong demographic data that allows for segmentation is a good place to start. (23:28)
  • There are a number of ways to decide whom to reach out to personally. At the top of the list should be those people who are being affected by the current crisis, if you have that segment identified. (27:20)
    • If a supporter voluntarily provides their phone number, this is an invitation to call them. You can only call a supporter if you have their phone number.
    • You could use dollar amounts, reaching out, say, to the $500 donor before the $5 donor, which is pretty common. But you never know someone’s capacity to give.
    • If you are curious about, say, what motivates someone to give $2 a month, these are the people you should communicate with.
  • Technology is making fundraising easier. (30:30)
  • By offering people a way to reach out to you, you will give supporters the opportunity to self-select into the most engaged group of your truest fans. The number of people who do so may be small, but they are the people you can rely on—and you must give this inner circle attention. (31:19)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer, Bloomerang

A prolific writer and speaker, he curates Bloomerang’s sector-leading educational content, and hosts our weekly webinar series which features the top thought-leaders in the nonprofit sector. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers – How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media (2020).

Connect with Steven Shattuck

EP52 - Louis Diez - Featured

Episode 52: Nonprofit Supporter Communities with ROI for All, with Louis Diez

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 52

Nonprofit Supporter Communities with ROI for All, with Louis Diez

In this Episode:

The word “community” is frequently thrown around in nonprofit communications. But what does it actually mean, and what does it take to form a true community that provides value and drives increased repeat giving?

At a time when nonprofits struggle with donor retention, efforts to tap into identity, increase value to donors, make them feel more invested, and retain them year after year, have to be a top priority for every nonprofit development, marketing and communications professional.

Louis Diez, Director of the Annual Fund at Muhlenberg College believes describes
his superpower as building communities of purpose that energize donors and raise donor participation and major gifts—and he has the numbers to prove it.

Louis joins The Nonprofit Hero Factory to share how he builds communities that deliver ROI both to donors and to the organization, and how other nonprofits can do the same.

[00:00:05.110] – Intro
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 world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.470] – Boris
Welcome, everybody, to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited to have a new type of guest on the show, someone talking about an issue that I think is totally important, absolutely relevant to the work that we do, but hasn’t really been discussed enough. And it’s something I’m passionate about. So I’m really excited to learn from our guest today.

[00:00:41.700] – Boris
He is Louis Diez. He is the Executive Director of The Muhlenberg Fund at Muhlenberg College and is the host of the Donor Participation Project, which we’re going to learn from today. He’s an expert in annual fund development, digital fundraising, and engagement strategies. Prior to Muhlenberg, Louis was leading Annual Fund development at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Johns Hopkins SAIS and at Maryville College in Tennessee. Of varied interests, Louis holds an MBA from CUNEF, a PhD in Business Administration from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, both in Spain, and an MM in Music Performance from the University of Tennessee. Louis describes his superpower as building communities of purpose that energize donors and raise both donor participation and major gifts. Topics that are incredibly important, I think, to every organization out there today. And I’m excited to bring Louis onto the show to talk about that. Hey, Louis.

[00:01:40.070] – Louis Diez
Hi, Boris. Thanks so much for having me here.

[00:01:42.960] – Boris
Thanks so much for being here. As I said, I’m really excited to have you on. I am a huge proponent, advocate, if you will, on the topic of building communities. I think they are absolutely critical. Social media is often thought of as a community, but rarely used as one. People throw that term around and then don’t really know what that means or how to back it up or much less activate it. So I’m excited to learn from you today. But before we dive into all that, I read your bio. Love your superpower. Give me a bit of your story. Why do you do the things that you do today?

[00:02:18.290] – Louis Diez
So it’s so funny. I was graduating from my masters. I was thinking I was going to be a musician, and I worked as that for a little while. But I was doing a really interesting internship in New York at the Lincoln Center. You know I was actually putting stands… You can’t put stands on stage, but preparing coffee for the orchestra. There are lots of rules.

[00:02:43.810] – Louis Diez
And I discovered our CEO at the time was a fantastic fundraiser. And I kind of discovered the fundraising development, advancement, whatever you call it, as kind of a wonderful place because it’s mission oriented. It can be very technical if you want it to. It can be very humanistic or it should be humanistic. It kind of just has everything. If you’re a people person, then there’s a place for you. If you’re a data person, there’s a place for you. So I felt really like it all came together for me in this work. So the mission and the data and the people, it’s kind of beautiful.

[00:03:23.130] – Boris
Awesome. Like so many of us, you kind of came into the nonprofit space through a side door, if you will, hoping to do something else—I think arts are absolutely necessary for humanity and do a lot of good for humanity. And I think a lot of artists do find their way to nonprofit because it’s a different way to serve humanity and also maybe not necessarily starve.

[00:03:49.150] – Louis Diez
It’s really tough being a musician. Yes. So I was playing with the Knoxville Symphony for a while and had a day job in fundraising at Maryville College, as you mentioned, and having a son. And it’s tough, especially classical musicians.

[00:04:08.290] – Boris
I can only imagine, coming from the world of theater and acting and film. I have friends who are on TV shows. You would recognize them, and they’re still working in restaurants.

[00:04:23.440] – Louis Diez

[00:04:24.290] – Boris
Yeah. It’s a tough, tough thing. So I’m glad you found your way to nonprofit, though. And I’m glad that you were able to combine your various interests, as you said, into doing the things that you do. So let’s talk about that. What is it that you’re doing out there? Tell me about the work that you do today.

[00:04:44.170] – Louis Diez
So right now, I’m the Director of the Annual Fund at Muhlenberg College, which is a fantastic institution in Eastern Pennsylvania. I manage a team of seven fantastic professionals, and we raise money for unrestricted accounts at the college. So basically, donations that go to work right away have an impact immediately.

[00:05:15.430] – Louis Diez
On the side, about a year and a half ago, I started getting together with a group of fundraisers in what has turned into a kind of a community. And maybe we can talk about what that even means, right? As you pointed out, Boris. But essentially, we just started getting together to discuss how we could support each other and how we could learn about increasing donor participation, which, as I’m sure you’ve talked about, and folks that listen to your show know there are less and less donors every year giving to nonprofits. Definitely doesn’t mean that people are less generous in any way or that giving through Facebook is a bad thing, right? But giving to nonprofits itself has been on the decline for the last decade or two decades. And we were thinking, well, nobody can solve this. And maybe it’s up to us now.

[00:06:09.070] – Boris
So it definitely is up to nonprofits and up to nonprofit development and communications staff, people passionate about the subject to solve this problem. I will say there’s a new report out. Last week I had a guest on, Tim from Neon One, and they just released a report that actually says that during the pandemic, individual giving did go back up. And so it’s a positive trend. The issue is and I think today’s episode is going to play right into that. So for those of you at home, go back and listen to the previous one right after you listen to this one.

[00:06:41.600] – Boris
But the issue is that communications is not capable—or not currently, effectively maintaining relationships, establishing strong relationships and tying into identity in order to keep donors donating after they’ve given the first time, which is often in response to a particular cause, like right now, Ukraine or the pandemic over the last couple of years. So people will give and then they’ll disappear. And from an individual nonprofit’s perspective, there’s going to be a lot of decline. So community, I think, can definitely help solve that problem. If not 100%, then get us a lot of the way there. Let’s talk about that. What does that mean, community when it comes to donors?

[00:07:25.550] – Louis Diez
Absolutely. So I’ll give you a little bit more background about how I came into this philosophy. At Muhlenberg I was working a lot with folks that maybe are more familiar with academic fundraising classes and looking at other schools who are doing well. And then at the same time, in the donor participation project, we were having people like a Harvard researcher from the Harvard Divinity School talk to us about how communities, how millennials were flocking to some types of organizations. And it wasn’t necessarily nonprofits: things like CrossFit, Peloton, just organizations that were really capitalizing on this community. Some churches. So even though overall religious participation is also on the decline, there are really successful cases out there.

[00:08:23.670] – Louis Diez
And a quote that she shared with us that really stuck with me was “I came for the whatever—workout, dinner, conversation—but I stayed for the community.” So community is one of those things that’s kind of a stickiness factor, right? It’s what makes people stick around. And that’s the whole problem is what probably Tim was sharing with you. And the research that he’s involved with is amazing. But it’s keeping people around that we struggle with, right?

[00:08:52.000] – Louis Diez
And I started to develop a theory and started to also read a lot. And I have a book here. I don’t know if I’m supposed to do this on the show, but Get Together, really good book for people and kind of came on the definition. It’s a working definition. So if folks, if you Boris you even have improvements, I’d love to talk about it. But it’s community is when people get together in ways that are participatory. So it’s two-ways, right? Purposeful. So it’s about a purpose. So sometimes there are communities that kind of get together.

[00:09:23.550] – Louis Diez
There’s a very famous book, The Influencers, something about people getting together just to make dinner. And that’s cool. But what’s the purpose, especially for nonprofits. Recurring. So that’s a really big one. So it’s these people that get together on a recurring basis in a way that creates an expectation and a habit. So I’m a part of this. And I get together every month, every week, every time I open my phone and I scroll through my Facebook feed. So that’s an element.

[00:09:53.380] – Louis Diez
And then the fourth one is it identifies leaders. So no nonprofit staff, no community host is going to be able to do all the work that needs to get done. So they’re going to have to ask for help and support others in achieving those goals. So I turned that into an acronym, which is PPRI, it’s not great, but what we have.

[00:10:15.070] – Boris
We’ll work on some fancy backronym for it where we’ll first pick a word and then we’ll reverse engineer it to match what you’re trying to say. Because I really like everything you just laid out there, starting with this concept of CrossFit, which— CrossFit really is community. It thrives on that. I’ve never been part of a CrossFit, but I do know a lot of people who were, at least for a while, I don’t know how it is right now through and post pandemic. They were fanatical about it, right? It becomes a part of your identity. You are someone who does CrossFit. You belong to a chapter in CrossFit. And I know that I have friends who told me about this. They would sign up, and then if they didn’t show up for a couple of days, somebody would call them and say, “Hey, we haven’t seen you, where are you?” And then they might even take it to the next level and reach out to you other ways to get you back in the door, keep you going. And it works, despite the fact that a lot of people get injured doing CrossFit. But I’m not going to….

[00:11:17.810] – Louis Diez
I don’t know about that. So definitely not endorsing injuries. But it’s a very weird thing where I started to apply some of this that we were finding to our little group, the Donor Participation Project. And it started those same things you’re talking about. I never kind of reflected on them, but it started to happen to me. So we had sessions. And when I forgot to schedule a session, people would say, “Hey, I thought we were doing this this coming Wednesday.” Because it’s like what we always do and they were calling me to task. So it’s something like human. It’s based on human nature. It does work.

[00:11:49.400] – Boris
So I’m kind of going to flip the script a little bit here. Usually I want to know, all right, well, how do we make this work? And then what are the results? But in this case, I want to flip it around. I want to say, all right, what results have you seen from building these types of communities? Because I really want people to understand. I’m sure my audience is pretty intelligent in the first place, but I just want to highlight what is the benefit of doing this. And then let’s talk about what’s the work involved to get it done.

[00:12:15.710] – Louis Diez
Okay. And in development, sometimes we get stuck on what’s the ROI of this specific thing, right? I’m going to send this one letter; how many dollars came out of it? I’ll give you the big picture. At Muhlenberg, last year in the ranking of alumni participation, so as a percentage, how many students alumni gave to the school, we climbed into the top 100 for the first time. So we’ve been climbing and we’ve been able to reverse that declining trend. So that’s really good. Was it 100% this? Did we not solicit people? No. I mean, yes, we did solicit people. So don’t think that… Sometimes people say, “Louis, does that mean that we just stop asking people for money?” No, absolutely. As I can see Boris, they know… [crosstalk 00:13:04]

[00:13:04.370] – Boris
It’s not a panacea. Nobody should expect that this actually replaces everything else that you do. But there are benefits to it, right?

[00:13:12.560] – Louis Diez
Exactly. I’m just kind of sharing things I noticed. Did we have the largest fundraising year for our annual fund in the history of the organization? Yes. Was that, again, 100%? No. Was there a pandemic and lots of people were making big gifts? Yes. Was the largest donor in the history of the college part of one of the communities that is just the best one we have? When we talk about this in a bit, I’ll share that we organize these communities by classes, right? And that’s the best one that we have and kind of the model for the others. Well, that’s also true. Is there a one-to-one of what exactly caused that gift? I think it’s kind of like a preponderance of evidence thing. It looks like a duck. Smells like a duck. Sounds like a duck. It feels like that’s the right direction.

[00:14:02.710] – Boris
Okay. So it helped the school get to its highest participation, highest donation levels so far in its history. We don’t have a direct causal connection, but there is a lot of corollary evidence is basically what you’re saying, right?

[00:14:23.070] – Louis Diez
Yes. And especially if you’re working it. So what I love about it is that it also really kind of changed a little bit of the dynamic. And we did tie it in with switching our model to asking for monthly gifts first. But when you’re in that model, kind of the feedback that you get is so totally different because you’re not always just the face that shows up to ask for a gift and then get the angry kind of response. It feels more like you’re a part of something. So that was an added benefit as well. We applied all of this to our fundraiser community, and that has been growing very well. And again, the qualitative feedback is fantastic. People post love messages on LinkedIn about what we are and what we mean, which is great.

[00:15:13.010] – Boris
Why do you think that works? Why do you think building community… I mean, you talked about, of course, the CrossFit and the kind of elements of community. But what are the benefits of community? Why do people want to be part of your alumni network for their given class or something, what do they get out of it?

[00:15:30.670] – Louis Diez
So there’s the benefits for the person that’s in the community, and then there are benefits for the organization. For the person that’s in the community, well, I would say that we have a very deep need for that. There used to be civic organizations. There used to be… And there’s this book, right? Bowling Alone, I think, that talks about how all of that, like, social fabric has gone away. People still need it. It speaks to kind of like a very basic human need, essentially it just feels good for people.

[00:16:02.570] – Louis Diez
For the organization, it makes people retain so they stay around, which means that more of them stay around giving. It reduces your—I call them, like donor service, the customer service costs. So instead of having to be staff always one-on-one being the interface with the donor, you have a group of people, and they can answer their own questions or create their own content and support each other in that way and stay connected in that way. And then, if you’re aligned with the purpose and it’s clear that this group is there to support each other but also support the cause, it creates an environment that’s very helpful for kind of major gift conversation. That sort of thing just starts to kind of surface.

[00:16:55.530] – Boris
I really appreciate and I like how you think that you broke down what’s good for the actual members of the community and what’s good for the organization as a whole. Because when it comes to marketing, when it comes to promoting anything that you’re doing, I go through this with students, with organizations that I’m working with all the time. They focus on what it’s going to do for them rather than what it’s going to do for the actual people involved. And you can’t sell it on the features, and you can’t sell it on what it’s going to do for you. You have to basically sell it on what it’s going to do for them. And they can network. They can maintain some sort of connection to their past. They can maintain some sort of connection to the work. They could do more for you in other ways, right? So I would imagine that it’s easier to get volunteers out of the community than it is out of an email list that you just blast out to because they’re already connected and you keep at top of mind for them. So they are regularly thinking of you, not just once a year when you reach out to them at the end of the year or something.

[00:18:02.770] – Louis Diez
Yeah. Even if you look at… There was somebody posting on LinkedIn the other day who said, well, we probably… Somebody said, “I’m going to venture to say that we don’t send enough emails as a nonprofit.” And then I was thinking, well, what’s the quality and what type of email? I mean, it’s like the devil is in the details. So if you see the number of communications and emails that a community generates, and it’s all well received. It’s useful. People find it helpful, it’s value providing, but it does help you increase that very organically.

[00:18:33.750] – Boris
Awesome. So let’s get into it then. What does it take to build a community? First of all, what does the community even look like? I’m assuming at this point we’re talking technology, right? Digital platforms, although community should if it can bleed over into the real life IRL, as the kids call it. How do you define community and the systems that support it?

[00:19:01.430] – Louis Diez
That’s a really interesting question, Boris. I think for folks that have been involved in fundraising for a while, this isn’t really so new. I think of it more as taking that model of the experience that we provided to board members to maybe very small groups, to campaign advisory group, things like that, and extending that to more people. So as you said, it can be in real life. It can be digital, but people do need a place to get together. Can that be in an auditorium? Can that be a Discord channel? Can that be a Facebook chat? A LinkedIn group? I think you get the gist. It can really be anywhere. And that’s why I always sometimes feel a little bit—it’s not hesitant to recommend, but it’s like, well, it’s more of how you do it than exactly what it is. You just need a place for people to get together.

[00:20:00.070] – Boris
But how do you choose that place then? Because there are all those different channels that you just talked about with the Slack and Discord and Facebook and all kinds of groups out there that exist, right? And then there’s the independent platforms that you could spin up yourself, right?

[00:20:17.260] – Louis Diez
That’s really good. I would definitely call Boris and ask him for advice on this matter, because I’m not an expert. I would say I’ve been opportunistic. So I kind of went with what was either available or where I saw people were already. So some of our younger groups said we live in LinkedIn because we’re in that age in life where our career is everything. So I said, okay, let’s do a group. It gets really hard to manage, and maybe we can talk about it where you need to kind of think through, are you going to do one big community like your donor community, or are you going to have different groups, especially in larger nonprofits or more established nonprofits, will have people that are interested in sports or in this type of biomedical research, you know, so it can get hard to manage.

[00:21:05.370] – Boris
Yeah. All donors are not the same. They all have different interests, and they have different interests related to your cause. They have different reasons for supporting you in the first place. They might have different motivations. And so if you could give them a community of fairly like minded folks rather than you have a community around sports and a bunch of people talking bowling and I just want to talk about basketball. I’m not really going to want to stick around, right?

[00:21:28.230] – Louis Diez
Exactly. So that’s where we talk about kind of having a content. Well, the content strategy, content-first approach to building these things is really important and ties into the purpose, right? But just having a clear area that you have a group that’s large enough to make this worthwhile, but also that’s united by enough of a common theme. And it could be I mean, you can think very creatively. It can be according to things people do, like playing a sport. It can be according to their age if that works. But if they’re all interested in something like, I don’t know, providing scholarships to first generation students or something like that.

[00:22:13.650] – Boris
So we’re talking basically bucketing or segmenting based on either psychographics and interests or on demographics like age and other aspects like that, geography, perhaps, whatever is most natural, I guess, to the groups that you’re working with. I appreciate you said go ahead and call Boris and ask him which platform to use. But you kind of answered it yourself already. It is a much more extensive exercise to really go through it.

[00:22:39.360] – Boris
But the question is. Where are the majority of your people already congregating? Don’t make them adopt a new tool, think of checking in at a new place. That’s a very high barrier, high friction point for people to overcome. If they’re already mostly on Facebook, then maybe that’s the answer. If they’re mostly on LinkedIn or it feels more natural because it’s a professional kind of group to be on LinkedIn, great. Wherever they’re going to associate it, or if they’re younger kids and they’ve got a bunch of Discords already up, let’s throw them into another one. Let’s give them a new one to play in, if you will.

[00:23:13.580] – Louis Diez
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then the next step is kind of, know that once you have that town hall platform or the place, that you’re going to have to feed the community with content. And I saw this with the Donor Participation Project. I would take the content from our sessions and from everything that we were learning. But then somebody has to be feeding that constantly back to the group out in the world. It’s also kind of your recruiting tool. And that’s something that I find that lots of nonprofits, maybe they start with a platform and then they think that’s going to magically create community. But it does take work.

[00:23:51.180] – Boris
Yeah. If you build it, they will come is not real or at least they won’t stick around, right? So there is this role that I know a lot of organizations have, nonprofits, for-profits, which is this community manager, and it’s their job to maintain this community. And it does take resources, right? It’s either somebody’s time or it’s a new person that you bring on just for that role. So there’s definitely some investment in there. But what should they be doing? What are the types of content that work when it comes to keeping a group interested and active?

[00:24:25.090] – Louis Diez
I guess there’s a lot of per group nuance here and lots of cultural—the culture of each specific group. I can speak from experience. You don’t think that this is something that has to go through your marketing department and be finessed to death, something as simple as photos of back in the day, and then that starts a thread and they start sharing photos and it goes on for 20 emails, just asking questions, surveys, letting everybody see the answers to the questions. So it’s a little bit of… Lots of the nonprofits that I’ve been at or worked with have this kind of marketing approach where everything has to be perfect on brand and 100% ready to go out in the world. This is more of kind of like a family chat feeling, and that tends to work, I found.

[00:25:21.070] – Boris
And you’re saying things like, let people see the results of surveys that they’re taking, make it a two-way conversation, but also make it feel like everybody’s getting to know everybody. It’s not just they’re giving your organization information about themselves that you could later use for marketing, right? It’s actually which, by the way, you could be doing that at the same time. But it’s actually them getting to know each other and feeling more comfortable and confident with each other and getting value from each other at the same time, right?

[00:25:52.300] – Louis Diez
So another of the great benefits, and this is for both the people who participate and the organization, is that communities build trust. And I’ve read some research that it’s actually one of the better ways to do it. It’s really hard to get somebody to trust you based on ads or brochures or letters that you’re sending them. But when people get together to do something around the common purpose, it’s much easier to turn minds and hearts around.

[00:26:17.470] – Boris
They get emotionally invested. They get financially invested. They get—what do you call it when they invest their own time into it, right? They feel like they’re getting more value and they’re investing more of themselves into it. So they have more ownership, more stake at the table when it comes to your organization’s work and success.

[00:26:35.790] – Louis Diez
That’s totally it, Boris. And you described it. That sounds like your ideal donor. I mean, doesn’t it? Somebody who’s invested. So you’re kind of like creating the environment, too. So that doesn’t mean that you don’t need major gift officers. In fact, your content leaders and your thought lead, internal thought leaders and your gift officers ideally should be a part of these communities kind of embedded in them.

[00:26:59.170] – Boris
So there’s one particular aspect, and we’re coming up on time here, but I really want to get into and see what you have to share, which is, is there a way to actually solicit donations without feeling like you’re just asking for money within a community?

[00:27:15.740] – Louis Diez
Okay, I’m going to tell you a secret. Everybody hates to be solicited, but everybody loves to be recognized. So just do that. When I work with volunteers and they say, “I never want to ask somebody for money.” I said, “I promise you won’t have to.” But you can elevate people. You can publish lists of donors. I mean, what is Facebook but one long list of who liked what you know or who did what, and it works. So that’s an easy kind of evolution, right?

[00:27:51.010] – Boris
So what does that do? Do you put out let’s say you’re a community on Facebook? Do you put a post up that says, “Hey, thank you so and so for the amazing donation. And here’s what it will help us do.”

[00:28:01.680] – Louis Diez
So one of our most successful efforts was (our fiscal year closes on June 30) our communities are organized—and we didn’t cover this, Boris—on Google Groups, so which is kind of low tech, really; it’s basically listservs. We shared the honor role, which is what we call the donor list for each specific community for each class on it and the gifts. And then we said, “Well, thank you so much to all of those.” This was a thank you message. If you haven’t given no, you still have time, head over here and we’ll update this. And they did, in droves. So that was really powerful. And then people say, well, you put out this donor list and it doesn’t work in this way. Well, sometimes I find that they do this in the annual. The premise is that people recognize each other, that they feel part of the same group, not some random list of 500 names.

[00:28:56.710] – Boris
That is so important and powerful. If you are part of a community, you want to do what everyone else in the community is doing. There is a social contract of sorts that you feel you need to uphold your end of it, and you want to compete or match what others are doing, match the expectations upon you. So if you see this role, this honor role, this donor list of people in your class, and you see, oh, wait, most people or a lot of people in my class are giving. Well, I mean, I should, too. I can. It’s clearly important. I’ll do it.

[00:29:34.730] – Louis Diez
You hit it on the nail, Boris. I’d be interested to hear from you. Do you see applications for this model to other… of course, my background is in maybe the arts, is in one type of or a couple of types of nonprofits. Do you see this as applicable to other types of nonprofits?

[00:29:53.250] – Boris
Oh, absolutely. I mean, every organization should cultivate some sort of community for their clients, their donors, their volunteers, and crossing over between them, depending on how you define your segments, if you will. But even without the community, I mean, I always teach you want to be sharing stories, you want to be sharing success stories. You want to be sharing stories of donors. Hey, I did this and now I see this out in the world and I feel so much better. I can sleep better at night because I gave to this and I saw that it had some sort of an impact, right? What you’re doing when it’s inside of a community is really amplifying that within an echo chamber. An echo chamber for good, as opposed to so many of the ones that are currently happening right now online. So, yeah, every organization could be doing this.

[00:30:39.070] – Louis Diez
Totally. Yeah. Maybe a last point kind of for thought is and I haven’t figured this out, right, is: what is the metric for success? We look at our donor retention, obviously. But also, as you mentioned, there’s a community manager that does this. Please do give them ownership on a metric, on something, not just have it be kind of a random expendable role that you have in the shop.

[00:31:05.810] – Boris
Yeah. I do always like to focus on metrics. And I think donor retention would be a great one to measure and see how well is it working of the people who are in the community? How many of them are staying and giving regularly? Because again, it’s that identity thing, which is key. And then some of the other KPIs would be how many people per month or per whatever cycle you want to measure are actually adding content, how many people are checking in and reading content? That is an engagement metric that’s pretty straightforward to download from whatever app that you’re currently using, I think would be great to measure and track and give your community manager some goals. Hey, can we increase this? Can we bring in more people and have them engaging around more things? Hey, surveys seem to be doing really well. Or, hey, we put out a quiz and everybody shared it, right? Those are dynamite when they work.

[00:31:57.790] – Louis Diez
Exactly. Very helpful. Thanks, Boris.

[00:32:00.140] – Boris
I love all that. So I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but I do want to ask: You did say you’re on Google Groups, and I do like to ask everybody for some tools and resources. You also held up the book Get Together earlier. Who’s that by? How do we find that?

[00:32:17.480] – Louis Diez
Let’s find this out. It’s a group of folks. It’s published by Stripe Press, and I’m opening it right here. Okay. The authors are Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, and Kai Elmer Sotto.

[00:32:31.310] – Boris
Awesome. We will definitely find that book and link to it in the show notes. We’ll also link to Google Groups so people can get started easily like you do. What’s your call to action for the folks that are listening, watching, or reading the transcript of this at home?

[00:32:46.630] – Louis Diez
So if you want to join a community of fundraisers who is really nice, smart, and we get together to solve a really big issue in our industry, head over to joindpp.org. So one word joindpp.org. And we’d love to have you and kind of if you bring even just a lot of what you learn here with Boris to these conversations, I think people will be thrilled and you’ll gain a lot too from that back and forth.

[00:33:21.590] – Boris
As you should in the community. Awesome. So we’re going to link to that, of course, too. If people want to follow up with you, where should they find you? What’s your preferred community?

[00:33:32.330] – Louis Diez
LinkedIn, for sure. And just look me up by name and title.

[00:33:37.850] – Boris
Fantastic. And we always link to guests’ LinkedIn profiles anyway. So that’s going to happen and when we publish this post on LinkedIn we’re going to tag you as well. So hopefully a lot of people are going to connect with you. I think this is really important and also really accessible content that people should be thinking about and tactics that people hopefully will start to implement if they haven’t or take the next step and level up if they’re already doing it.

[00:34:05.590] – Louis Diez
And it really works, which also helps.

[00:34:08.000] – Boris
That definitely also helps. Louis, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate having you on. You came on. You dropped a whole lot of value on us today. I think that will hopefully get people thinking and working and I hope that people do go and check out the Donor Participation Project because the more you can contribute, the more you can learn, the more the rising tide lifts all boats.

[00:34:33.910] – Louis Diez
Well, thanks, Boris. Thank you for having me. I look forward to learning from you even more.

[00:34:38.350] – Boris
Awesome. And thank you, everybody for joining us at home. If you like this interview, do go ahead and share it with your friends. Leave us a review on iTunes on Spotify wherever you enjoy your content and we look forward to seeing you again next time on The Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:34:56.150] – Intro
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:

  • Community is not simply “social media.” (1:55)
    • Engagement is more than “likes” and “shares.”
  • The Donor Participation Project convenes fundraising professionals to explore strategies, combine knowledge, and support each other in their mission to increase donor participation. (5:15)
  • Giving to nonprofits has been on the decline for the last two decades. This is a problem that nonprofit development and communications staff have to solve. (5:43)
    • A recent report found this trend has been reversing since March 2020, but it’s not guaranteed to last. (We explored this in episode 51).
  • Establishing and maintaining communication and relationships with donors is particularly challenging. (6:41)
  • Organizations, like CrossFit, Peloton, and some churches, have people (particularly millennials) flocking to them. (8:00)
    • People come to a group for one thing, but they stay for the community. The community is what is “sticky.”
  • Nonprofits struggle to retain donors that come in response to an emergency (like a pandemic or a war) after a cause is no longer “hot.” (8:48)
  • Louis shares four keys for successful communities. (9:11)
    • Community must be participatory, a two-way relationship.
    • Community must be purposeful and bring people together to achieve a certain goal.
    • Community must be recurring—maintain the expectation of activity and be regular enough to become a habit.
    • Community must identify leaders. Community managers have a mission: to make connections, to persist with outreach, but the members themselves build on the infrastructure and create their own content.
  • It is human nature to want to find a place where we belong. If we do this thing, then we belong in this thing, then this thing is part of who we are. (10:30)
  • What results can be seen through building these super-committed communities that connect people on a self-identity level? (12:16)
    • At Muhlenberg College, they had the largest fundraising year for the annual fund in the history of the organization.
    • The largest single donor in the history of the college was a member of the strongest community.
  • Though there may not be a direct causal connection between the new structured communities and fundraising successes, there is ample corollary evidence. (14:05)
  • Community creates an infrastructure, and like any infrastructure it works best when it is designed thoughtfully and maintained regularly. Working a community model creates the most successful fundraising. (14:23)
    • People want to be part of the community because they get something out of it.
    • When connection is maintained, supporters are regularly thinking of you.
    • Always provide value to the members.
  • There is a deep need for a connection in the social fabric. People need a place to get together, whether in real life (IRL) or virtually. There are many options, platforms and channels for that meeting. (20:03)
    • Communities can be most-easily started where people are already congregating.
    • Don’t make them adopt a new tool, because that is a very high barrier to participation.
  • Approach a community with a content strategy that ties into the purpose. (22:13)
    • All donors are not the same. Segment based on the aspect that is most natural to the group, whether it is demographics and geography, or psychographics and interests. Feed the community with content, as this is the recruiting tool.
  • Content that works to keep a group interested and active includes things like polls or surveys where everybody sees all responses, things that build trust and comfort. (25:03)
    • Content doesn’t need to be formal and built by the marketing department.
  • Acknowledging gifts and recognizing donors frequently, and inside their small groups is an effective way to encourage other members of the community to give. (28:29)
  • A social contract comes into play when success stories are amplified inside a community—when people see their peers doing something, they feel like they have to do it, too. (30:00)
  • Give the Community Manager a metric, a key performance indicator (KPI) for success, such as donor retention, how many people are staying and giving regularly, how many people add content in the community, or how many people are engaging with content. (31:05)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Louis Diez

Louis Diez

Exec. Director, The Muhlenberg Fund

Louis Diez is an expert in annual fund development, digital fundraising, and engagement strategies.

He currently serves as the Executive Director of Annual Giving at Muhlenberg College and hosts the Donor Participation Project (joindpp.org).

Previously, he was Director of the Annual Fund and Development Business Operations at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Associate Director of Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS. In this last role, he led annual giving efforts and worked closely with the Latin-American Studies Program to fund major priorities. Prior to Hopkins, he was the annual fund director at a liberal arts college in TN.

Of varied interests, Louis holds an MBA from CUNEF, a PhD in Business Administration from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (both in Spain), and an MM in Music Performance from the University of TN. His thesis applied neural networks to predict economic performance indicators. He has also published articles on the investment value of musical instruments, edited peer-reviewed papers exploring applications for economic theories of legitimacy, and been featured in the music business section of the College Music Society’s journal.

Connect with Louis Diez

EP51 - Tim Sarrantonio - Featured

Episode 51: New Report: The State of Nonprofit Donor Support, with Tim Sarrantonio

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 51

New Report: The State of Nonprofit Donor Support, with Tim Sarrantonio

In this Episode:

There’s a new individual giving report, and the good news is that household charitable giving is on the rise. The bad news is that over 80% of new donors don’t give to the same nonprofit again the following year. The biggest difference maker? Treating donors as individuals, understanding their motivations, and reinforcing how your work connects to their personal identity. In other words: personalized, story-based communication.

Today, for example, people are generously donating in support of Ukraine, which is on our minds because of the invasion, violence and humanitarian crisis we are witnessing. For Boris, the crisis in Ukraine goes much deeper than what we are seeing on TV, but how likely are most people to continue giving when another crisis dominates headlines? Are we just locked in a cycle of emergency response giving?

Tim Sarrantonio, the Director of Corporate Brand at Neon One, an integrated network of products and support for nonprofits, knows that finding accurate data and making connections between data and the broader story is the key to successful nonprofit fundraising. Neon One’s data report, Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving, was released on March 8. He’s here to talk about what they discovered.

[00:00:05.690] – Intro
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 world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.930] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I am your host of this show, and I am the chief storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy. My name is Boris Kievsky, which today is a kind of topical name. As we record this, there is a lot of uncertainty around what’s going to be happening in the city that my family is named after that I’ve visited many times. My thoughts and hopes are with those people, and I’m encouraged by the fact that shows like this and guests like the one we have today are here to help more organizations do more good, to create a better world for all of us, to hopefully minimize this kind of disruption, violence, and, frankly, evil in the world.

[00:01:11.370] – Boris
With that, thank you for listening to my little intro there. But let me introduce the guest for today’s show. He is the Director of Corporate Brand at Neon One. His name is Tim Sarrantonio, and Tim has more than 10 years experience working with and volunteering for nonprofits. He’s raised over $3 million for various causes, engaged in enhanced databases of all sizes, procured multiple successful grants and formulated engaging communications and successful fundraising campaigns for several nonprofits.

[00:01:43.560] – Boris
He has presented at international conferences, and is a TEDx speaker on technology and philanthropy. He volunteers heavily in his community around… I should have asked him how to pronounce that before, Niskayuna, New York. And he describes his superpower as finding the connections between data and the broader story we all want to tell. Let’s welcome Tim onto the show.

[00:02:06.990] – Tim Sarrantonio
Hi, Boris. Thanks for the warm welcome. And you did get it, Niskayuna. That’s correct.

[00:02:11.800] – Boris
Awesome. It’s always a priority for me to pronounce things correctly, and then if I don’t rehearse it, you never know. But at least I got your name right, I hope.

[00:02:20.880] – Tim Sarrantonio
Yes, you did. Absolutely. It’s like San Antonio, but roll some r’s into it.

[00:02:26.330] – Boris
Well, we could get into the Russian “r” rolling.

[00:02:30.030] – Tim Sarrantonio
No, thank you. Right? But yeah. Thanks for having me on the show. Really excited.

[00:02:34.810] – Boris
It’s my pleasure. I’m glad to have you on. And we’ve been chatting a little bit about what you have to share with us. I’m really excited to get into it. Before we do, though, why don’t you share a couple minutes. What’s your story? Why do you do what you do? How did you get here?

[00:02:50.570] – Tim Sarrantonio
How did I get here? Okay. My story: I was born in New York City and grew up where my father was an author. My mom worked in the city, so my dad was home. My mom would go into the city for work. And so I always had a really interesting childhood in that way where eventually I thought, I wanted to be a lawyer, trust and estates lawyer, actually, growing up, because that’s what my mom did. And then I went to college and said, I don’t want to be a trust and estates lawyer. But I love storytelling. I love hearing what the average person is going through. So, I actually wanted to be a labor historian and tell the stories of the average working person and the things that they did. Very Studs Terkel-like in terms of what was the experience that people would go through.

[00:03:44.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
And so I did what every budding academic would do, which is I just dumped a bunch of money into more school. I went to live in Ireland. I went back to New York City and got a degree there, too, and then moved to the Midwest because that’s where all the great labor programs are, is in the middle of a cornfield.

[00:04:03.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
And what happened was I didn’t get into any of the programs that I wanted. And my dad said, “Get a job.” And so I still wanted to help people. And there was a nonprofit day labor center in Chicago that was hiring for a grant writer. And so I got that job. And it was 2008. So, I promptly stopped getting grants, pivoted to individual fundraising and that job didn’t work out. It was a weird organization, but I learned a lot for working for something that had $90,000 in their entire budget. Worked for a few other nonprofits, including a pretty big Catholic school in the north side of Chicago, Rogers Park neighborhood.

[00:04:49.630] – Tim Sarrantonio
And then there was this company that did a database for nonprofits. And that was very intriguing to me because I had used things like Raiser’s Edge and tried to build my own databases—unsuccessfully, I might add. And that was about ten years ago, actually, when I first joined them. And I’ve been with them ever since. And finding the ways that people tell stories through data has been my journey there. It’s been an interesting ride. People are like, “Oh, so you have a background in data?” No, not at all. Liberal Arts, but it works out, kids. It does work out.

[00:05:26.350] – Boris
That’s a cool and circuitous journey. Not too different from my own, although I started more on the tech side of things in New York, then went into the storytelling side of things all over the place, came back, and now combine everything that I know and love in the service of nonprofits, similar to you. Definitely fascinated by the data side, still focused on that a lot of times, but story for me is paramount. It’s the most critical thing to actually make the connection between data and people. And I think you and I are on the same wavelength on that.

[00:06:01.990] – Tim Sarrantonio
And what’s interesting, by the way, just because I was so excited about your show, in particular, Boris… I helped found a comic books in literacy nonprofit, so heroes and just even the intro and all that type of stuff, it really resonates with me. And especially as a father of three young kids, we need that type of light more now than ever. And so, again, really excited to be here.

[00:06:27.610] – Boris
I appreciate that. And we can geek out about comic books and stories of all sorts later on.

[00:06:34.290] – Tim Sarrantonio
Later on. Yes.

[00:06:36.070] – Boris
But let’s go ahead and get into why we brought you on the show, frankly. And that is to talk about your point of view sitting at Neon One. For those of you who aren’t watching this video and are listening, Tim, as the director of corporate brand, is wearing the merchandise. He’s got his Neon One hat on. I’m pretty sure that’s written into his contract somewhere. So what is going on? What are you seeing from your point of view? What’s happening?

[00:07:05.900] – Tim Sarrantonio
So, yeah, it’s been interesting because since the onset of the pandemic, a lot of things have changed, but a lot of things have stayed the same. So Neon One provides connected fundraising. And what that means is that we look at things from what’s happening in a CRM, what’s happening with email and online payments and events, arts and culture giving days, peer to peer, a lot of different perspectives.

[00:07:30.760] – Tim Sarrantonio
And so what was frustrating to me when I stepped back is that a lot of the narratives that we were looking at in the broader world around charity were things like, ‘Edelman Trust says that nonprofit trust is down’ or ‘household giving is down in the United States according to USA today.’ And they’re citing data and things from 2019 or before! And that still is happening. I can go on Twitter and people are still citing data that’s from before the pandemic. So what we wanted to do in our partners at Fundraising Effectiveness Project, which is an initiative between the Association of Fundraising Professionals and GivingTuesday, which has data from us, Bloomerang, DonorPerfect, Keela, lot of different data sources, very, very objective, probably the most objective understanding of individual giving and largest data set of individual giving in the world.

[00:08:34.940] – Tim Sarrantonio
And so we wanted to say what’s actually happening from March 2020 onward, right? We’re coming up to two years. Amazing, right? It doesn’t seem… It seems like way more than that. This is probably what the last week as we’re recording this, the last week of normalcy that happened two years ago. And so what we wanted to actually understand is what has changed with donor giving behavior. A lot of times we hear it from the perspective of what maybe a board member thinks is happening or what we feel as fundraisers or marketers should be done. And what we wanted to set out and answer was, what are actually donors doing? What’s changing in their behavior? So we’ve been researching that heavily, both with Fundraising Effectiveness Project as well as the report that I’ve been working on forever, basically that we’re about to release.

[00:09:30.150] – Boris
So I’m excited about all this because I have looked up data and I have tried to look up trends in the past. And I do see papers from before 2019 referencing data from even before that by a couple of years oftentimes. And so it’s difficult to get a pulse, if you will, on how people are behaving today. And so I’m really excited to learn what it is that you guys figured out in this report. Can you give me the highlights? What’s happening?

[00:10:00.730] – Tim Sarrantonio
For reference for folks, a lot of times when you see these trends, it is also frustrating because sometimes they’re referring to panel data. And panel data is a very fancy term for, ‘it’s a survey.’ And so I actually I don’t mind that if it’s helping inform what’s a larger understanding of actual transactions. Because donors can lie, too. People lie on surveys all the time or they misremember information. Let’s maybe put it a little bit more positive.

[00:10:31.540] – Boris
Self-reporting always needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

[00:10:34.040] – Tim Sarrantonio
Exactly. So what we do and what we did was look at the actual transaction data. So Neon One alone had over $2 billion from 2020, 2021 to look at each year. So billions upon billions of dollars to analyze this. And what we’re seeing across the board is that when we look at how donors are actually acting, there was a long trend happening year-over-year of household giving going down. But that appears from March 2020 onward to be reversing, to be reversing, that people are coming back, people are being more generous.

[00:11:13.120] – Tim Sarrantonio
And also beneath the surface, from a data nerd standpoint, I actually don’t think that people were being less generous. They were showing it in different ways. They might be doing things on Facebook, they might be doing things in mutual aid groups or other GoFundMes and things like that. But what we’re seeing in the nonprofit space is people are coming back to nonprofits. They’re saying, I trust this with my money to actually make impact in my local community, in the world at large. So that’s a good trend.

[00:11:47.830] – Tim Sarrantonio
The concerning trend, though, is that retention continues to still be a problem. And that is, somebody’s given, and now they trust you again and again. And retention, especially of people who gave to you for the first time, is as low as 20% overall. I’m rounding a tiny bit, but 80.8% of your donors in the first year are likely to not come back. And so that is a concerning data point that we need to reconcile. If more people are coming back, but then we’re immediately losing them, what’s happening there? And especially given that data shows the cost per acquisition of a new donor is about $1.25 to obtain $1. If you lose that person, that’s trouble. But if you retain that person, it actually cost you 20 cents for that dollar. So retention is the way.

[00:12:46.760] – Boris
Absolutely. Yeah. And I’ve had several guests and conversations on this show about donor retention and how it is so much cheaper to keep a donor than it is to acquire a new one. And there’s only so many donors you could keep cycling through before you eventually burn out. Americans are generous, and this is a large country, and if you’re overseas, I’m sure there’s generous people everywhere, but it’s a little exhausting to keep trying to get new donors all the time and keep losing them.

[00:13:15.010] – Tim Sarrantonio
And it can be demoralizing, too. The thing is, that I feel what the opportunity we truly have here is to invest in an abundance mindset because people are generous. It’s that we need to look at them not as a transaction, but as a person. View them as somebody where we want to shift from a situational-giving moment to a transformational, identity-based giving moment. And that is ultimately where data and storytelling come together for that ultimate team up, right? Like it’s the Avengers of fundraising, if you will.

[00:13:55.230] – Boris
Sure. So you don’t need to twist my arm or sell me with metaphors on that. I’ll preach that all day. But let’s come back and break it down a little bit what you said in those big headlines, because there’s a lot there. So first of all, amazing that the trend is up in terms of household giving. I do wonder—and I don’t know how easily it is to test and so how deeply you guys were able to get into it, but response giving—emergency response giving is always higher than average, you know, everything is calm and OK giving. And we all faced a giant emergency. I talk a lot in storytelling where you’ve got your heroes and you’ve got your villains. And the bigger the villain, the more people can identify that villain as being horrible, then the more they’re going to rally around it, right?

[00:14:46.150] – Boris
To touch a little bit more on what I introduced before I brought you on in terms of Ukraine. Right now, the entire world is suddenly rallying around Ukraine. How much they’re doing is a whole other issue that I don’t want to get into right now. But Putin has made himself very clearly the villain to the Western world. And now there’s hardly a place in the Western world where you won’t find demonstrations and rallies and governments trying to figure out ways to support, right? Whereas he was the same person a couple of months ago and nobody did anything. And once this situation is over, which I hope it won’t take too long for it to resolve and in a positive way… how much is that going to be in the forefront versus a new thing coming up?

[00:15:28.480] – Boris
So the pandemic, and, in this case, so many organizations are getting a windfall of donations for Ukraine and for the work that they’re doing there. Is it normal to just expect that these are going to be spikes and then, well, people aren’t interested in the long run about supporting this kind of program? So they’re going to then drop right back off?

[00:15:51.970] – Tim Sarrantonio
Fascinating question. And there is data that dives into this, and we touch on this in the report, because we did see obviously there were spikes around the pandemic. There were situations around social justice and racial justice that happened around George Floyd. There’s more localized elements that might happen, such as Tennessee natural disasters that we saw just even a few months ago, or things that are happening with wildfires, so environmental disasters. So there is data that… And we will see it. I guarantee that we will see this happen in the Ukraine situation, too, where there will be that initial spike and then there’s going to be a sharp drop off.

[00:16:40.570] – Tim Sarrantonio
But then what happens, though, and this is where the light comes in, is that especially for organizations who are cultivating that relationship and keeping people in the loop that the people who especially are giving maybe over the course of their relationship, $500 or more, they’re coming back. They’re sticking around. That’s what we are seeing in the data. If we start getting into kind of the buckets… I don’t like thinking about people as transaction buckets, but it is a good starting point for at least wading through all of this.

[00:17:11.200] – Tim Sarrantonio
And people that are investing $500 or more, they’re staying around. Their retention is actually very healthy. It’s the folks under $500 where we’re seeing a lot of pretty concerning drop off there. And that’s regardless of different things, regardless of different missions. Though there are different impacts depending on the type of mission itself. But overall, there is that cyclical flow. And what we need to do is recognize that and anticipate that and adjust our strategy for that, too. Because once we drill even deeper, there are some really fascinating impact elements and strategies there, tactics there. But I still am confident that depending on the organization, if you stick with it, those people will stick with it too for you.

[00:18:06.230] – Boris
Awesome. And I obviously agree with everything you’re saying, especially when the data shows these things. It’s interesting that people who gave over $500 during the course of whatever the campaign or lifetime of the emergency was, that they’re the ones who are most likely to keep coming back. I talk a lot about this concept of donors feeling invested. The more they give of themselves, whether it’s their time or their money or their voice, whatever it might be, then the more invested they are. So the more they identify—and you’re leading to this, so I really want to do dive in—the more they identify themselves with your cause as someone who cares about that cause, as someone who is going to take action for that cause.

[00:18:50.420] – Boris
So in the case of Ukraine, is it that we care about Ukraine, or is it that we care to stop despots? Or is it that we care to stop all wars in general, right? And then how do we, I guess, as nonprofits hook into that sense of identity and keep that connection going?

[00:19:10.850] – Tim Sarrantonio
So just like humans in general, philanthropic identity is multilayered. And we do get into this in the report. There’s a whole chapter on the why of giving, and it talks about philanthropic psychology, which is an emerging field of analysis, primarily driven by Professor Jen Shang from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy out of the UK. I had the pleasure of taking a certificate course—and passing, thank goodness—otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about it. But I was really fascinated because they talked about the different elements of identity. And what you even just talking about there hit on several different types of identity that people might be drawn to depending on who they are and the organization that might be articulating that.

[00:20:03.950] – Tim Sarrantonio
Some people are going to identify because of their national identity, geographic identity. “I have a tie to Ukraine because my family is from there, because I know people there.” So there’s relationships. But then also they might be drawn to it because of the religious undertones that are definitely happening there, the antisemitism that is rearing up in some of it.

[00:20:31.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
But then it’s also going to be, some people might be drawn to it for more what it represents in the larger world: there is an attack on democracy, liberal democracy around the world that we’re seeing. So those people might actually not care too much about Ukraine itself. It’s more the larger thing that they’re worried about. So it’s not an easy answer because people are not easy, ultimately, other than the fact that people are generous. And that’s the underlying thing that is baked into our DNA, that philanthropic psychology understands that biology understands is that our brains are activated better—there’s more dopamine that comes in—when we’re generous as opposed to buying something on Amazon or something like that. So if we understand that core base, then we have a lot of things that we can do together.

[00:21:23.970] – Boris
Right on. I think identifying those reasons of why someone in an emergency situation, like coming back to the pandemic, is giving. What is it that they want to support within your work and within your mission, within your community? How do they identify with it? And we can ask them. And I know surveys aren’t always great, but in this case, self-reporting is probably the best way.

[00:21:52.640] – Tim Sarrantonio
Yes. Yes. And we see this all the time in situations because we see it with things like GivingTuesday. We see it with community giving days. We see it with peer to peer fundraising, where the initial connection might be light. But then you can cultivate that relationship by zeroing in, even with something as simple on your donation form online. What inspired you to give today? Make it unrequired—this is a tactical suggestion—make unrequired. And if somebody fills it out, even if it’s like, not that useful, they filled it out. So it shows a bit of a hand raiser there. And then if they actually put something useful in it, that can help inform your engagement strategy with them.

[00:22:38.460] – Boris
Yeah. And I think you can make it—you don’t have to make it required, of course, but you can make it even simpler. Leave an open-ended question, because open-ended questions give you a lot of interesting qualitative data. But make it a checkbox list of what are the things that you are most passionate about? And let them check off some of the different things that you’re working on. And then start to segment them, start to talk to them, because… there’s this disconnect where people think segmenting is very cold and analytical, when in fact, segmenting is a lot more personal because you’re able to talk to people about what they’re interested in rather than about what you are interested in.

[00:23:19.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
One of the interesting trends that I think we’ll start to see is that underneath the surface, the data is actually showing a really interesting spike in investment toward environmental and animal conservation organizations. A lot of different trends interfacing there, but ultimately that’s a fascinating one to explore. And in that situation, an example I like to use is, I went to an animal shelter and I adopted a cat, a dog, something like that. The segment could be as simple as adopted? in your CRM. Adopted, yes? And that’s it. That’s your segment. Then you can actually segment and say, “You, how is your furry friend doing?” Right? Like, you can personalize things because you know that person has a deeper relationship with your organization and that can be with any type of organization, any type of mission has a version of that. Segmentation is actually one of the most intimate things that you can start with from a tactical standpoint.

[00:24:23.490] – Boris
And also it shows that your donors that you care. That you are not just interested in getting their money and moving on, but that you are interested in them and building relationships with them.

[00:24:34.360] – Tim Sarrantonio
The term that Steven Shattuck at Bloomerang used that I was so jealous that he came up with it first: “seglumping” where it’s, “thank you for your donations/membership/volunteer interest/newsletter sign-up,” where it’s just you just shove all the engagement points into one kind of prey and spray situation. And that’s one of the worst things that you can do. A lot of times, donor retention is directly correlated with the communication strategy. Some of the top reasons people stop giving, if not all the top reasons, are communication centered.

[00:25:11.370] – Boris
So let’s then talk about this communications issue. What is it that organizations can do? What should they be doing? How is it done right?

[00:25:25.410] – Tim Sarrantonio
I would say that you start with that foundation of good data on a person, right? I remember working at one of my jobs where we had a donor-cultivation event, thanking people, and I printed out the name tags and a woman had crossed her name off that we had printed off and wrote something else. And I stared at it and she used her nickname, and I ran up and updated the database immediately like I was helping clear the wine glasses and stuff like that, and I just ran upstairs and entered it.

[00:25:58.870] – Tim Sarrantonio
Now, luckily, with cloud-based databases, you don’t have to run upstairs anymore. So what you start with is a good foundation of data hygiene. And then you start to build into what we were just talking about, Boris, that cultivation and personalization strategy. If you start there, then the data foundation bleeds into inspiring those stories. You have to then marry that with storytelling. If you just use data, you’re going to miss the soft skills that people and donors respond to. But if you just solely focus on just the storytelling, you actually might be telling the wrong story to the wrong people then, too. So it’s combining those two, and any size nonprofit can start with that.

[00:26:44.350] – Boris
And then how do we then best steward those relationships? So we’re identifying people, we’re segmenting them, we’re figuring out what stories to tell them. But then what do we do with that? How do we steward our new donors to keep them, to retain them much better than the average rate that’s currently out there?

[00:27:03.170] – Tim Sarrantonio
Continue to communicate with them. What we see is that people are not communicating enough. If you think that people are receiving too many communications from you, you’re probably not doing enough. And if you think that people are not wanting to give to you again, if you are properly communicating with them from a foundation standpoint on impact, on storytelling, you can ask them more. They will respond. Recurring donors, for instance, are more likely to give another gift than certain other segments. So somebody might even be giving you $10, $20 up to $60 plus a month. And then you can ask them again. Or they might leave you a legacy gift, for instance.

[00:27:50.070] – Tim Sarrantonio
In the report, we actually have time period analysis too—moments of giving—really geek out on that, even down to like, what day of the week and what time people are giving online: 11:30 a.m. Central on a Thursday, but that’s a random data point. But ultimately it comes down to, we’re not engaging our donors enough, actually, because our donors are not our donors. As Mark Phillips from BlueFrog Consulting in the UK likes to say, “Our donors are not our donors, we are one of their charities.” Average donors giving up to seven different nonprofits. So ultimately what we need to do is realize that we have to stand out to them on why we as a nonprofit will identify with them.

[00:28:45.310] – Boris
So, so on point. There’s this concept that people are people, and we need to relate to them as people. But then there’s also this mistaken viewpoint, I think that a lot of organizations have, which is this ownership of a donor that they are their donor to ask money from, versus this idea that as individuals, donors, human beings in general, we have so many different ways to spend our money. We could be shopping on Amazon, as you said before, we could be donating to I don’t know, what is it one and a half million different nonprofits now in the U.S. that are currently filed. Right?

[00:29:28.470] – Boris
So what is your unique value proposition to the donor? What is your relationship with them that’s going to tell them, yes, this is the right way to spend and continue spending their money, that this is the right investment for them to see the kind of change they want to see in the world. And if you’re not giving them that reinforcement, then there is either buyers’ remorse if it happens pretty quickly that you drop off, or there is basically just this disconnection of, well, that’s something that I did, but that’s not necessarily me because, well, that was just then and now I’m moving onto something else.

[00:30:03.150] – Tim Sarrantonio
There’s a lot of data that shows that even if a nonprofit received a donation from a donor, they might many times receive a follow-up communication that said, “Why am I on your newsletter list? I never had a relationship with you.” And it’s like, how many nonprofit fundraisers then look back and see them, “you gave to me last year.” When, actually, what you should be doing is not blaming the donor in that situation. You should be looking inward and going, where did things fall off? It’s not always your fault, but you should at least stop and go, what could I have done better here from a communication standpoint?

[00:30:39.950] – Boris
Yeah, I get emails all the time that seems like I’ve signed up to their list and I don’t remember because I haven’t heard from them. I haven’t gotten value from them. And so I assume that they’re just spamming me. And sometimes I’ll actually mark it as spam if I’m pretty sure that it is. Other times I’ll just unsubscribe because I don’t have a connection to you anymore.

[00:30:59.020] – Tim Sarrantonio
Absolutely. And so that’s where we need to identify the gaps in communication and start to fill those through. And you can do that in a wide variety of ways. You can use video, you can do webinars. Nonprofit fundraisers need to think about content production a lot more going into 2022 and beyond.

[00:31:20.600] – Boris
Yes, please. Thank you. So we’re at the half-hour mark now, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time and our listeners’ time today. I’m really looking forward to diving into this report. By the time that this episode airs, the report will have been out, whereas at the moment I haven’t seen it yet. So I’m actually super excited. This is a great teaser for me to get into it. But what are some of the metrics, I guess, that organizations can be looking at? Do you guys get into some KPIs, some Key Performance Indicators?

[00:31:52.120] – Tim Sarrantonio
Absolutely. So retention—we’ve mentioned that a few times. And one of the resources that we always fall back on for inspiration, here, is the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. And so again, that’s the largest analysis of individual giving in the world. And so there’s 200 different metrics that they pay attention to for their data scientists. But the reality is that a nonprofit professional can zero in on things like retention, acquisition. So how many new people are you bringing in? Are you keeping them? How many recurring donors are you setting up? That’s a really big one that nonprofits, especially in our research, we found small nonprofits in particular are very effective at setting up recurring giving programs and helping automate some of those processes off your plate.

[00:32:41.570] – Tim Sarrantonio
And then overall growth in giving, which is a metric that basically is the revenue increases and revenue decreases being reconciled. A lot of this stuff you can find on the AFP website, for instance, for Fundraising Effectiveness Project on how to calculate these things, too. There’s a lot of great resources there. But ultimately we need to move from thinking about things from solely a profit and loss, a P&L standpoint in our QuickBooks or what have you, and move into that overall abundance growth of projected revenue over multi-year capabilities. And that’s where we’re going to start to see success. Because then, you’ll know, this channel or this relationship approach is working. Let’s further invest in that.

[00:33:31.210] – Boris
Absolutely. And you started mentioning some resources. I always ask my guests for resources. You mentioned the AFP Global Project, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. What are some other tools and resources that you recommend organizations check out, nonprofit professionals check out to dive into this stuff further?

[00:33:49.650] – Tim Sarrantonio
So definitely the work that Fundraising Effectiveness Project is doing. I mentioned the philanthropic psychology course, especially if you’re interested in copywriting or understanding the deeper motivations of your donors. That’s a really good and valuable investment that I found. And I like that that covers the data side and the storytelling side. But there’s a great book, and I do have it here because we’re on video, so I can actually show: Hooked on a Feeling by Francesco Ambrogetti, and he is a fascinating guy, works for UNICEF. And he is kind of taking both of those sides and merging them, thinking deeply about data, but then thinking about feelings and storytelling. And so I love that book. I base a lot of my research that I did ultimately about the soul of what that book represents. Our report is just basically coming in and saying, “here’s billions of dollars of analysis that help round this out on all the different facets of donors.” But I love those three different resources because they guide me in my own work, too.

[00:34:57.120] – Boris
I’m looking forward to checking all of them out. I’m always looking for great books to read and courses. I love online courses. So I’m going to check out the certificate in philanthropic psychology, is that correct?

[00:35:09.140] – Tim Sarrantonio
That is correct, yeah. And they have a copywriting certificate, too. Really interesting work that’s Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang, a lot of great, smart folks over there.

[00:35:16.540] – Boris
Phenomenal. I’m excited to add those to my own inventory and, of course, to share them with everybody that’s watching and listening. They are all going to be linked up in our show notes, so you don’t have to go looking for them. The other thing we’re going to definitely link up in our show notes is, of course, your report. When does that come out?

[00:35:34.980] – Tim Sarrantonio
So the full public launch of Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving is going to be Tuesday, March 8, and that’ll be free to download. And it’s 87 pages of goodness. But then we’re creating a lot of supporting content for people to kind of guide through their own journey and kind of break that into smaller digestible chunks for people who are like, ‘that’s great, but I don’t necessarily have time to wait for an 87-page report. Can you give me something just on this?’ We’re going to be doing all of it.

[00:36:10.270] – Boris
I can’t wait to see it all. And I’m definitely going to download and do my own deep dive into all of the data and conclusions that you guys have come up with. If I have a chance, I’ll even do my own little summary and pitch for it.

[00:36:23.270] – Tim Sarrantonio
I would love a recap of your thoughts on it. I think you’d bring some really awesome insight to it.

[00:36:28.580] – Boris
Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing all that with us today, Tim. If people want to follow up with you, what’s the best way to reach you? Are you into getting in touch with folks?

[00:36:37.300] – Tim Sarrantonio
I love talking to folks. I love talking to folks. So LinkedIn—good spot. I’m very active on LinkedIn and on Twitter, but LinkedIn is a good, easy one because it’s just my name, Tim Sarrantonio. Pretty unique. But then, tim@neonone.com, drop me an email. Let’s connect. I don’t care if you’re using our product or not. That doesn’t matter to me. I just want to help. I want to help fundraisers become more connected, and that’s my mission.

[00:37:04.750] – Boris
Fantastic. And I hope people take you up on it. You and I connected on LinkedIn, and I’m so glad we did. I appreciate everything that you’re doing with this report and in general for the nonprofit space. And thank you so much for joining us today.

[00:37:17.600] – Tim Sarrantonio
Thank you. Thank you for having me. It was an absolute pleasure.

[00:37:20.850] – Boris
Awesome. And thank you, everybody who has tuned in. Whether you’re watching this on YouTube, on our website, on any of the social media platforms that we share this on, or you’re listening to it on your favorite podcast player, we try to make this as available as possible to every nonprofit professional that’s interested in creating more heroes for their cause.

[00:37:39.780] – Boris
I hope this episode has helped you do just that. If you like the show, please do leave us a review. If you don’t like the show, send me a note. Let me know what you didn’t like about it so that I can make it better. I’ll fire Tim. No, I won’t. But if you also want to be on the show, send me a note. Let me know. I’m always looking for great fascinating guests like Tim, and others who are in different aspects of this amazing industry and doing the important work that really needs to be done. Thank you everybody. We’ll see you again next week.

[00:38:11.950] – Tim Sarrantonio
Thank you.

[00:38:12.870] – Intro
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:

  • You don’t have to have a data background to focus on, and make connections with, data. (5:15) 
  • The narratives around charity too often cite outdated data, from before the pandemic. It is frustrating to try to work without an understanding of what has actually changed with donor giving behavior in the last two years. (7:32) 
  • The Fundraising Effectiveness Project combines data from multiple initiatives and data sources to provide an objective understanding of individual giving. (8:12)
  • The Neon One report, Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving, looks at transaction data more than “panel data” a.k.a self-reporting surveys. (10:34) 
    • The report examined billions of dollars in giving over the last two years.
    • It found that while household giving had been declining, that trend has been reversing since March 2020.
    • “People are coming back to nonprofits. They’re saying, ‘I trust this with my money to actually make an impact in my local community, in the world at large.’”
  • Retention of donors is still a problem; the data shows that over 80% of first-year donors aren’t likely to come back for a second year. (11:49)
    • To acquire a donor, it costs $1.25 for each $1 of donation. But to keep them only costs $0.20.
  • Data and storytelling can combine to create the ultimate transformational, identity-based giving experience.(13:17)
  • Emergency response giving is always higher than average. It is normal to expect that there are going to be spikes and drop-offs around events. (15:51)
  • The data seems to show that people who give $500 or more over the course of their relationship with a nonprofit are more likely to continue to support that organization. (16:50)
  • People give to charity for numerous reasons, but all of it is somehow tied into how that person identifies themselves. The more they identify themselves with a cause, the more action they will take in support of that cause. (18:26)
  • Philanthropic psychology, an emerging field of analysis, identifies multiple layers and elements of identity, including national and geographic, familial, religious, and political identities, and any of these can be tied to why a particular human is generous. (20:03)
  • Without asking people to self-report, it can be difficult to get useful qualitative data around which to build the stories that attract and retain supporters. (21:50)
  • Tim believes that segmentation of your audience, and then personalization of messages, is actually one of the most intimate things that an organization can do from a tactical standpoint. (24:30)
  • The top reasons people stop giving are centered around a failure of communication on the part of the organization. Successful communication requires 1) clean, precise data 2) a personalization strategy 3) impactful storytelling. (25:58)
  • Organizations that offer a unique value proposition to the donor, frequent follow up and connection, and perform ongoing internal auditing of their own processes and messages will have more success retaining donors over time. (29:28)
  • There are a number of key performance indicators for organizations, including retention, acquisition, overall growth, and how many recurring donors are being set up. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the largest analysis of individual giving in the world, looks at data through 200 different metrics. (31:52) 
  • Tim believes that calculating not just profit and loss but shifting to think about building and investing in relationships to secure overall abundance and growth over multiple years is where organizations will see the greatest success. (33:00)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Tim Sarrantonio

Tim Sarrantonio

Director of Corporate Brand, Neon One

Tim Sarrantonio is a team member at Neon One and has more than 10 years of experience working for and volunteering with nonprofits. Tim has raised over $3 million for various causes, engaged and enhanced databases of all sizes, procured multiple successful grants, and formulated engaging communications and fundraising campaigns for several nonprofits. He has presented at international conferences and is a TEDx speaker on technology and philanthropy. He volunteers heavily in his community around Niskayuna, NY.

Connect with Tim Sarrantonio

EP50 - Kathleen Murphy-Toms - Featured

Episode 50: Tenth-Year Takeaways and What’s Next for GivingTuesday, with Kathleen Murphy Toms

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 50

Tenth-Year Takeaways and What’s Next for GivingTuesday, with Kathleen Murphy Toms

In this Episode:

Whether you participated this year or not, the reach and impact of GivingTuesday is undeniable. Nonprofits in the U.S. alone raised $2.7 billion in 24 hours. Millions of people around the world gave money, time and voice to the causes they care about.

But it’s not as simple as saying it’s GivingTuesday and asking for money. We invited Kathleen Murphy-Toms, GivingTuesday’s Director of Digital Strategy, back on the show to talk about what works, what doesn’t, what to do now, and what’s next for the movement after 10 years.

Not surprisingly, we had a lot to talk about…

[00:00:04.310] – 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 world for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:21.310] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today is a very cool and interesting episode for me. It is the first time we’ve got a guest coming back to the show. This guest has already been on once and while we were on the air the first time, I said we’ve got to have you back because we want to talk about what happens in the six months since we’ve had her last time.

[00:00:42.620] – Boris
She is Kathleen-Murphy Toms. We had her back in episode 26. Kathleen, for those of you that don’t know, didn’t catch that episode, you might want to go check it out. But she is the Director of Digital Strategy for a little organization called GivingTuesday. Also known as the biggest philanthropy movement in history, GivingTuesday leverages social media and a broad network of nonprofits, community activists, schools, brands, small businesses and individuals to ignite a movement and global call to action to give. It has seen record breaking engagement at every level of society, from some of the world’s biggest celebrities and influencers, to students, volunteers and everyday givers.

[00:01:20.110] – Boris
Kathleen studies the use of digital tools within social movements, particularly their use in shifting power, creating mass mobilization, instilling behavior change, and achieving global equity. Kathleen has coached thousands of social impact leaders and grassroots organizers from nearly every continent on how to not only generate funds for their cause, but to inspire and mobilize grounds for movements to create systemic change.

[00:01:43.700] – Boris
She is on the faculty at New York University Center for Global Affairs, where she teaches social changemakers how to develop innovative content marketing and digital strategies to activate and engage new audiences. Her class is actually coming up soon. If you’re listening to this and interested, you might still get a chance to sign up for a spot. It is limited.

[00:02:00.900] – Boris
And Kathleen describes her superpower as navigating the tools that are worth the time… Sorry, navigating the tools that are worth the time investment versus those that just aren’t. With that, let’s bring Kat onto the show. Hi, Kat.

[00:02:18.740] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Hey, it’s good to see you again.

[00:02:21.390] – Boris
It is always a pleasure to see you. We get to see each other not often enough, I’d say, but I do feel privileged I get to run into you in several circles at this point. And it’s always a pleasure to hear from you, to chat with you, to discuss what’s going on in the world with you. And I’m excited to have you back on to do just that, specifically from your little vantage point of expertise.

[00:02:45.370] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It’s a little vantage point of expertise. I’m humble. You know this.

[00:02:50.850] – Boris
I do know you are humble. And I do know that you also happen to be very knowledgeable and sitting on top of a pyramid of so much valuable information. And you are luckily very generous about sharing it with everybody. And so that’s exactly what we’re going to do again today.

[00:03:09.230] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Let’s do it. Let’s get into it.

[00:03:11.160] – Boris
All right. Catch me up. What’s happened in the last six months since you’ve been on here? There was this little event, GivingTuesday 2021, how’d that go?

[00:03:19.770] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It was a little thing. It happened. It wasn’t little. It never is. We say this every year, right? And we can never anticipate. We talked about this last time. We can never truly predict what’s going to happen. We don’t know. There’s literally no way for us to guess, and so we don’t. But every year it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. This is the 10th GivingTuesday, this past one. But now we’re in year ten. So this year is our ten-year anniversary. I can’t even… None of us can wrap our mind around it. We feel like this was just yesterday when we were trying to explain to people that, yes, it’s “pound” GivingTuesday. Yes, you type in the pound sign Giving Tuesday. That’s what a hashtag is. To now, having raised $2.7 billion in 24 hours for charities in the United States alone, it’s mind blowing every single time I say it. And I always—I have a sticky note on the corner of my laptop to make sure that I get the number right, because I get it wrong every single time. $2.7 billion in the US alone that we know about, right? The numbers that we put out are always conservative.

[00:04:30.730] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
What else do we know? Volunteerism was up. 35 million adults participated in GivingTuesday by raising their hand to volunteer in some way. A lot of it was micro-volunteering this year, right? And virtual volunteering. Things that I can do from the comfort of my own couch. Some of the things we were suggesting people do. If you’re a bilingual person, you can transcribe things for people. You can help the Smithsonian digitally transcribe stuff. I’ve done before. It’s cool. What else happened on GivingTuesday? Goods donated. Sorry, 13 million people gave their voice. So these are things like sharing a cause that’s meaningful to them, signing a petition, committing to get out there and create change locally in your community by raising your voice. It was a big day. It’s always a big day, but it doesn’t stop on just this one day, right?

[00:05:31.490] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
So the rest of the year we spend trying to convince the whole world that GivingTuesday is actually every single Tuesday. And what happens if we wake up every Tuesday the same way we do on Mondays and go, “Oh, it’s Monday motivation day, or it’s Friday vibes day.” Whatever it is, today is Tuesday, it’s the day to give back in a little way or a big way. Because if we all do that and act together, that’s how we change our whole world.

[00:06:03.230] – Boris
I love that. And I think it’s a great philosophy, mantra, whatever you want to call it. About gratitude and about giving back. There’s certainly enough psychology studies done around the fact that when folks experience more gratitude, when they’re more aware of gratitude and they are doing things for others, they’re happier themselves. So it’s not even—if you’re an organization trying to instill this kind of concept of GivingTuesday on a regular basis—it’s not even selfish. It’s actually, in its own way, doing good for society to encourage that volunteerism, that kind of giving back in one way or another. I love that.

[00:06:42.380] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And that empathy for each other in our communities and being a more community-centric society. I think these past two years have shown us exactly the need for this sort of behavior change. So that’s the little thing that we’re working on over here at GivingTuesday.

[00:07:03.830] – Boris
Yeah. I feel like in the last few years, we’ve really as a world had something really large in common. And I’d like to talk a lot about heroes and villains. And certainly most people will see the pandemic COVID-19 as a villain, and it was big enough that it united an entire world against it. Unfortunately, there were also some major splits and differences within that of how we should go about it, what we should do about it. But I do think in almost every way, it did help form communities.

[00:07:39.470] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And when it comes down to it, we need to become a more generous humanity. I think we are inherently. But there’s always room to grow that, right? What does it look like if our whole world values generosity above all else? Do we become the more just equitable society and world? I think we do. I think that’s the path forward to anything, any of our crises at the moment.

[00:08:08.390] – Boris
Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good vision to me. Let’s talk then, I guess, about GivingTuesday and giving in terms of the numbers that you do have. I know that you guys measure giving not just on GivingTuesday. You measure it for the entire year-end period and year round. You’ve got partnerships with all kinds of CRMs, right? So can you talk to me a little bit, first of all, GivingTuesday was huge. Did it detract at all from the rest of the giving season? Do you know about those numbers yet?

[00:08:42.690] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
So it never does. This has been an age old focus and an assumption about GivingTuesday since the early days., right? This incessant focus on the transaction and that it’s how it’s related to the scarcity mindset. And we think that’s severely limiting the social sector. So many organizations feeling like they’ve just hit their giving ceiling. And GivingTuesday itself is a perfect example of this. In the early days, there was this assumption that it couldn’t possibly be additive. Skeptics would tell us that giving is flat and you couldn’t increase it. There was just no way. All you could do is move money around and that if somebody gives today, then they’re inherently going to give less later on. And the reality is that that’s just not true.

[00:09:34.950] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Some of the earliest work that we did with the GivingTuesday data department was to examine the years of transactional-level data, and we found that the statistical impact of GivingTuesday is that it generates a spike. It’s always additive. This notion of cannibalization is just not something that happens. And if that’s like the number one thing that the data commons and our team wants to put out there, that this scarcity mindset is just not it guys. People are going to give and they’re going to give repeatedly to the causes that they care about. We have to adopt an abundance mentality if we’re going to move forward.

[00:10:18.510] – Boris
Absolutely. Couldn’t agree with you more on that. I find organizations in general have a scarcity mindset, and I kind of get it. Most start as scrappy, young nonprofits with not a lot of resources. But even as they get and hopefully grow into becoming midsize and even large organizations, there’s always this, “we’ve got to have as much as we can in order to do as much as we can,” which I get. But there’s a sense of competition where it doesn’t really need to be there. I agree with you. If we can activate more people and if we could show them the benefits of giving and the benefits of creating a positive impact in society, then we’re going to want to do more of that, right? As individuals, it’s going to feel good to us. We’re going to keep on doing it.

[00:11:02.960] – Boris
However, if we take someone’s money and then don’t communicate with them and then don’t ask them for their input and their feedback and to come along on the journey with us, then sure, it might create a negative association with giving, and we definitely want to avoid that. But assuming that we can tell our stories well, steward our donors. Even from the point of GivingTuesday to the very end of the year, we might be very surprised as to what happens with those same donors.

[00:11:33.300] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Absolutely. This is about how do you rally all your folks and build a movement for your cause? It’s not just about fundraising on one day of the year. The opportunity is to create mass mobilization for your cause, and we can do that if we all come together. We have a lot of coalition campaigns that happen on GivingTuesday. It’s one of the things that we’re most proud of. Nonprofits from various causes will all come together to work together on GivingTuesday. So there’s Giving Zoo Day, there’s a domestic violence coalition. There are Muslim organizations who all work together to uplift each other. It’s really beautiful.

[00:12:14.610] – Boris
Sort of the rising tide lifts all boats concept.

[00:12:19.530] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Absolutely. Absolutely. And we want to see more of these. So if you are listening and you are a part of a cause and you go to the GivingTuesday website, you don’t yet see a GivingTuesday cause coalition for you, contact us and let us know. We want to help you launch it.

[00:12:35.310] – Boris
So organizations are usually fearful that their donors will donate to someone else instead, right? If they enter a coalition like that. Do you have any data on what actually happens in these coalitions so that we could assuage some of those fears?

[00:12:48.930] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
What happens more often than not is that they’re giving to multiple organizations. So in certain age groups—and they tend to be the younger age groups, but this is happening a lot—folks will be really interested in giving to a cause, but not necessarily one individual organization. They might not care exactly which organization it goes to, just as long as they’re advancing the cause of hunger, poverty, whatever it is that is the cause of their heart. So these cause type of coalitions are a great thing to be a part of.

[00:13:23.850] – Boris
Do they then pool the money that comes in and split it among all of them? How does that work?

[00:13:30.350] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It depends on how each coalition is free to operate however it is that they want to operate. There’s a leader of each cause coalition. The infrastructure varies quite a bit. Sometimes they do these pooling strategies, but a lot of times they’ll just be all together on one website and some of the systems will show another nonprofit to you after you’ve given. They’ll say, “I see that you like this cause, what about this other one? They are also a hunger-related cause.” They might not necessarily be located in your city. They might be located across the country. Would you be interested in giving also to this organization? And so many folks press the yes and raise their hand and say, yes, I am also going to give to that organization, too.

[00:14:12.750] – Boris
That’s amazing.

[00:14:13.980] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
People give and they want to give.

[00:14:16.890] – Boris
Yeah. You could almost think about it like you care about a cause and you want to affect change. Almost like investing. So if you’re trying to invest in a certain outcome in the world, you might want to put a little bit of money here, a little bit of money there. Overall, you might put in more money because you see more ways that you could affect positive change rather than just on one organization’s small scale or large scale, whatever it might be.

[00:14:42.160] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yes. That’s a great way to think about it. It is. It’s an investment in the world that we want to live in.

[00:14:48.390] – Boris
So what else is working? What else worked, as far as you could tell for this past year, that organizations should be thinking about for next year in terms of GivingTuesday and year-round giving?

[00:15:00.550] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
A lot of things. I mean, one of the secret sauces to GivingTuesday is this sense of urgency, right? It’s the most important driver of donation behavior. If you’re a donor, you want to be in on that fun. It’s great to give on GivingTuesday, but it’s not a reason to give to your organization, right? These nonprofits still have to tell a compelling and emotionally-driven story of impact in order to tap into that heightened environment for giving. So it’s not just about GivingTuesday. You can create these moments all throughout the year.

[00:15:35.380] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It’s one of the reasons we created GivingEveryTuesday. What does it look like to create a mini-GivingTuesday every single Tuesday of the year? If you’re not tapped into that, please join us. You can find out more at givingtuesday.org. But you can do this in your own communities, too, to create these giving moments that create a sense of urgency and collective action all throughout the year. And keep those GivingTuesday donors and all of your donors engaged all throughout the year. We’ve seen folks give calls to action to not just donate. Maybe you have a volunteer day throughout the year. Maybe you have an advocacy year, but keep those folks engaged throughout the year.

[00:16:15.320] – Boris
So there are different resources that we could devote to organizations. You already actually covered them a couple of times in different ways. But it’s money, it’s time and it’s voice.

[00:16:24.880] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:16:25.730] – Boris
So advocacy would fall under voice and/or time, volunteering falls under time. And of course, money donating to a cause specifically. And I like that you’re saying stagger or don’t always just ask for one thing, show other ways that people could get involved, other things that they could do to feel like they’re part of the cause, like they’re giving of themselves and investing into you, because then they’ll be more invested in seeing a positive result.

[00:16:51.420] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And investing in their own communities, right? You have to frame it that way. It’s not necessarily investment in you and your specific work. It’s their investment in their own community or in that cause that they are so passionate about, all about that framing.

[00:17:06.250] – Boris
But when you say urgency and you mentioned that a couple of times, are you just saying “today is the day,” or are you saying on the sense of… like, I just got an email this morning from an organization that I support that’s worried about what’s going on in Ukraine. There’s definitely a sense of urgency there. We can’t manufacture that year round. And I actually have seen organizations try to say, every other day is seemingly… obviously I’m exaggerating, but now we need your support now more than ever. Every other day.

[00:17:37.490] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It can’t be fake. It can’t be fake, right? There are limits to your creation of urgency. I think it’s recognizing the moments that are going to work for your community, though, right?

[00:17:51.280] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
If you’re an organization that’s on the ground, doing refugee work, then there have been moments this past year that have been very obvious for you to do something. And I think there’s a lot of hand wringing about over-asking. We get this question a lot. Am I over-asking? And the answer is absolutely not. In fact, we are not asking nearly as much as we should be. Asking broadly, right? Now. We’re not advising that you ask for money every single day of the year and run weekly fundraising campaigns. That might be too much for your community. But asking in the sense of getting your folks involved in all of the different ways that we just mentioned.

[00:18:33.910] – Boris
I totally agree that organizations tend not to ask enough in different ways for different things. There is this fear of donor fatigue and asking too much of your donors. But if you’re trying to engage them as human beings, not as ATMs, and asking different things of them on a regular basis, then I definitely think that just gets them more involved and more invested, as we were saying before. But then how do we… GivingTuesday itself, let’s focus just on the one big day, right? The day after Cyber Monday or the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. How do you create a sense of urgency on that day? I mean, it’s a known day at this point. But is there…

[00:19:22.460] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yes, so you don’t have to. It’s already there, right? We are now known. We have the most brand awareness that we’ve ever had, right? And that’s just going to keep on growing globally. I don’t want to say everybody knows about what GivingTuesday is, but there are a lot of people who know what GivingTuesday is at this point. And your opportunity is to harness that energy that’s already happening. We know there are millions of people who participate in GivingTuesday. We saw it last year. We’re going to see it again next year. It’s an already existing urgent day that is happening with or without you, which sounds like a harsh thing to say. But use that. And whether you use it for fundraising or not… you don’t have to use it for fundraising. You can use it to mobilize your community in a different way. You can get them ready for your end-of-year campaign when you’re ready to launch that. But use that as a rallying cry for people who are already interested in giving.

[00:20:31.450] – Boris
Sort of as a springboard.

[00:20:33.850] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
But you can’t say it’s GivingTuesday so give to my organization, right? You can’t just fire off five emails throughout the day that say give because it’s GivingTuesday. You can say “it’s GivingTuesday and here’s all the impact that we are doing in our community. And if you’re new, here’s an overview of what we accomplished last year. And if you’ve been with us this whole time…” and you’re ideally sending those, you’re using your targeting.

[00:20:59.950] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
We’ll talk about this in my NYU class about email, marketing and targeting. Ideally, you’re sending these emails to different folks, but you’re sending another email, “you’ve been with us all this year, thank you. A thousand times thank you. And here are a bunch of different ways you can give to us. And here’s why. And here’s the impact that we’re creating along with you.”

[00:21:19.400] – Boris
Right, you still …

[00:21:19.070] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
But never, “you’re just giving because it’s GivingTuesday.” That’s going to fail.

[00:21:24.730] – Boris
Right. Right. You still need that story.

[00:21:32.530] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And that’s almost always the answer that we get from folks when they’ll complain at us that well, GivingTuesday was a failure for us. Nine times out of ten, that’s what they end up saying to us. I sent an email that said it’s GivingTuesday, will you give to us? That’s not going to work. We know that’s not going to work.

[00:21:47.390] – Boris
Yeah. GivingTuesday is an opportunity to engage, but it’s not engagement in and of itself.

[00:21:53.700] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Right. Nailed it.

[00:21:56.920] – Boris
Absolutely valid point. So I’m glad we’re sharing that. Alright. So, if we want to have the best year of giving right this year and we want to have the best end-of-year campaign, starting with GivingTuesday in 2022… what are some of the trends, what are some of the things that we should be doing and looking at today to get ourselves in the best position to have the best results this year?

[00:22:23.280] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
So we are in the most volatile and uncertain market that we’ve ever been in, right? So thing number one to do is follow GivingTuesday, get on our newsletter because we are constantly putting out new data about what’s going on in the moment. Best thing to do is get on our newsletter. Second best thing that you can do is start working on your donor retention. Keep chugging along on that and work harder at it than you had in previous years because it’s been falling, right?

[00:23:01.450] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Folks are interested in giving to new organizations. And while that can also be great for you, still want to work on retaining those folks. So think about ways that you can create moments this coming year to engage your folks, to keep them moving and activated toward your cause. So they’re not just hearing from you once a year. It’s a little trickier to do. I know we’re not in-person in some places and out-of-person, however, we’re calling it in other places. But the thing that we’ve seen these past two years is that folks are creative and our sector is creative and resilient and innovative. And if you’re willing to experiment and we hope that you are, then you’re going to move farther, faster. And you’re going to retain more donors and you’re going to find new donors. I lost my train of thought, Boris. What were we talking about?

[00:23:58.170] – Boris
That’s okay. We’re talking about how to put ourselves in the best position for this year to have the best fundraising. We’re at the… when this episode is airing, it’s still the first quarter of the year. And so a lot of organizations are going through their processes. Hopefully, they’re looking at their new donors that they hopefully acquired starting the end of year last year, whether they picked them up during GivingTuesday or the rest of the end of your cycle. And I do agree, and I’ve had some other guests on the show talking about how donor retention is not nearly what it should be. And we need to be talking better—

[00:24:38.480] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
We got to do better. We’ve got to do better.

[00:24:41.630] – Boris
We need to be engaging our donors on a more regular basis, giving them value. That idea that you said before of how putting out constantly calls for money and just saying, give me money, give me money, give me money, donate, donate, donate is going to burn donors out. But if you’re giving back to them, if you’re providing value on a regular basis to your donors, then they’re going to be much more engaged and willing to pay you back for the value that you’re giving them. And sometimes that value might just be the work that you’re doing in your community, which they’re seeing, or that you’re sharing stories with them about. That’s also valuable to them and makes them feel good about the money they’ve invested.

[00:25:21.450] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And they feel a part of that. That’s critical to frame it in a way, because they are. They’re part of that. And you have to show them that or you’re going to lose them.

[00:25:29.190] – Boris
If you think—and I’m going to try not to beat this analogy to death, but if you think about it—in terms of investing, if you had invested in Amazon when it was just first IPOed, came out on the stock market and you saw how well it was performing, you would likely invest more. And you would invest more over time because you kept believing in the company. You kept seeing how the work it was doing was working, and it was making more and more money for the folks that were investing. You might keep investing in Amazon or pick any company. It doesn’t really matter.

[00:25:58.960] – Boris
Similarly, if you’re investing in a nonprofit, the return on investment, it’s not financial, but it is very much real. They can see it. They can feel it and feeling perhaps being the most important one. So if they are giving to you and then seeing the return on investment over and over and over again, they’re much more likely then to keep trusting you with their money to provide that return again and again.

[00:26:23.820] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Exactly. If you don’t have monthly giving set up as an option on your donation page, I encourage everybody listening to do that. Mobile giving. It’s really critical that you get mobile giving—like that’s your Apple Pay, your… I click two times real quick, and that’s all I have to do in order to give to that nonprofit. That’s what I want. That’s what everybody wants. If your donation platform doesn’t offer mobile giving, now it’s February, plenty of time before end of year to investigate what that might look like, to move over to making things easier for your folks.

[00:27:03.162] – Boris

[00:27:03.990] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Streamline the whole experience. You have to, especially the way what folks expect of you. We have to make things easier and more efficient and more streamlined.

[00:27:19.570] – Boris
Absolutely. Removing as much friction as possible along the way. The river will cut through the softest rock. If I have to come back later to try to enter my credit card information on a desktop while I’m actually receiving a message on mobile and I don’t feel like typing everything in, then it’s going to—

[00:27:38.750] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It’s 2022. We cannot be asking anybody to type their credit card number anywhere.

[00:27:43.750] – Boris
Absolutely fair.

[00:27:44.720] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
I have very high expectations, but it’s possible. It’s also 2022, and we live in a world where it’s not hard to set this stuff up.

[00:27:55.570] – Boris
Speaking of 2022 and making things easy and giving them choices, do you guys track crypto donations as well?

[00:28:03.730] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
We don’t, but our community, we have a whole data… folks who are working on what that looks like. As you can imagine, that was a trend. This year we had crypto. What do they call it? There’s Bitcoin Tuesday, and then there’s crypto.

[00:28:19.160] – Boris
It’s Crypto Giving Tuesday. Yeah.

[00:28:20.420] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
There’s a couple of different donations—

[00:28:22.450] – Boris
The guys from The Giving Block created Crypto Giving Tuesday and NFT Tuesday.

[00:28:27.190] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
I was going to say there’s NFT Tuesday.

[00:28:30.610] – Boris
And they had a banner year. And they’re not the only folks processing crypto donations for nonprofits. But it was pretty impressive. Like 10X from last year.

[00:28:40.120] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It was immense, which I think we anticipated, right? But who knows if that’s going to be 10X for next year? Could not even hazard a guess. I don’t know what to say about crypto. I mean, if you’re in a position to try it out, I’m always inclined to say try it out. Get yourself a profile on Giving Block’s website. They walk you through how to do it, especially for people who have no idea what it is or what we’re talking about. They help you, you get your profile set up on there so that the folks who have Bitcoin and they want to donate it. You want to be there. There’s no sense in not being there.

[00:29:20.160] – Boris
Right. You can’t— you can only lose if you’re not going to get in the game.

[00:29:26.470] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Exactly right. And there’s not all that many that are signed up on the platform. Get in at the ground level, as they say.

[00:29:34.450] – Boris
All right, Kat, what else should our folks know? We’re coming up on that half-hour mark, which is what I aim for with every episode. And I always tend to run over. Hopefully, folks are staying with it because they love the content that’s coming across. And hearing from you certainly is one of those times when I’m happy to keep going. But what else should people know? What else should they be thinking about? Is there anything I didn’t get to ask you that they should be focusing on today?

[00:30:02.950] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
You’ve got time. We’re in February right now. So while I’m not saying that you should be thinking about GivingTuesday at this moment in your life, you can be thinking about things like making your systems more efficient, thinking about your offerings to your donors and how you’re going to keep them engaged throughout the year so that you are able to have a gangbusters GivingTuesday for this coming year.

[00:30:28.930] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Keep in touch with us. Follow GivingTuesday for all of the latest. We are offering programming all throughout the year. We have a partnership with MailChimp that I’m really excited about. I think this is the first time that’s ever happened. We’re investigating email. We’re looking at what happens to GivingTuesday emails. What’s the click through rate? All kinds of things. Partnerships with companies, brands, all kinds of things so that you can learn from the best of the best.

[00:31:06.110] – Boris
That’s pretty awesome. A couple of years ago or last year was it, you had an additional GivingTuesday kind of banner day in May?

[00:31:13.690] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yeah, we did a bonus GivingTuesday in May, right at the early days of COVID.

[00:31:19.200] – Boris
Is that something that you guys are looking at doing again or that was just a one off?

[00:31:22.810] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
No, that’s a one off. I mean, GivingTuesday is an open-source movement, though. So if somebody wants to have a GivingTuesday in the spring, they can by all means organize one. But now we’re going to keep focusing on our EveryTuesday.

[00:31:41.270] – Boris
That’s really cool.

[00:31:42.040] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It should be every Tuesday.

[00:31:43.280] – Boris
I look forward to seeing and hearing more about the EveryTuesday movement. It’s going to be called GivingTuesday, but just every Tuesday or are we starting a whole new hashtag?

[00:31:52.460] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:31:54.050] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:31:55.168] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yep, GivingEveryTuesday.

[00:31:55.330] – Boris
Love it. Awesome. Kat, thank you so much for coming back on and debriefing us on what happened and giving us some tips and strategies for what to do going forward. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you and to learn from you.

[00:32:07.040] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:32:08.750] – Boris
Awesome. And I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again soon and I hope I’ll be seeing all the folks watching or listening to this episode again soon. We’ll be back again next week with more fantastic guests. If you like this episode, if you like any of our episodes, please do leave us a review. That’s how more folks like you find it and get to learn from people like Kathleen Murphy-Toms of GivingTuesday, and all the great guests that we bring onto the show. Thank you, everybody and we’ll see you next week.

[00:32:35.030] – Intro 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:

  • GivingTuesday is now over 10 years old and keeps growing. Here’s a snapshot of what happened in 24 hours this past year: (3:11)
    • U.S. organizations alone raised a combined $2.7 billion in 24 hours
    • 35 million people participated by volunteering in some way, including virtual volunteering and micro-volunteering (like transcribing or translating for organizations)
    • 13 million people gave their voice by sharing a cause, signing a petition or acting locally
  • GivingTuesday is working to make *every* Tuesday a day to give back year-round. (5:31)
  • The last few years have shown us the need for community-centric thought and action. COVID-19 was a powerful “villain” that united a lot of people around the world to overcome. (6:42)
  • Does GivingTuesday cannibalize year-end giving? The data clearly shows that it is additive. Organizations fear they hit a “giving ceiling” but that’s a false assumption. Giving is not flat, it can be increased. (8:10)
  • The scarcity mindset is counter-productive. (9:56)
    • “People are going to give and they’re going to give repeatedly to the causes that they care about. We have to adopt an abundance mentality if we’re going to move forward.”
    • This is not about fundraising one day of the year, it’s about how you rally your supporters and build a movement.
    • There were many successful coalition campaigns this year—nonprofits working towards similar goals uniting to fundraise together. GivingTuesday is looking to help more of those coalitions launch.
  • GivingTuesday creates a sense of urgency, but that’s not the reason people give. They still need a great, compelling story of impact. And you can create these moments all throughout the year. That’s why they created #GivingEveryTuesday. (15:00)
  • There are three types of resources that people can give: money, time and voice. Keep people engaged and helping you in different ways throughout the year. (16:15)
  • Organizations are overly worried about over-asking. The reality is that we’re not asking nearly enough, as long as it’s not just asking for donations each time. (18:11)
    • “If you’re trying to engage them as human beings, not as ATMs, and asking different things of them on a regular basis, then that just gets them more involved and more invested.”
  • You have to work harder at donor retention in an increasingly uncertain market. You have to work harder to keep them engaged and committed to your work. (22:48)
    • Make your donors feel good about the money they’ve invested and the change that they’re affecting in the world.
  • Think of the donations you get as investments in changing the world. You must show your investors—and make them feel—the returns on that investment in order to get them to keep investing in your work. (25:29)
  • Now is the time to start upgrading your giving systems. Remove all friction and make sure they’re as mobile friendly and easy as possible, including mobile payment options like Apple Pay. (26:23)
    • Consider accommodating Cryptocurrency donations as well.
  • GivingTuesday is an open-source movement. You can organize your own GivingTuesday day any season. (31:22)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    See Kathleen’s recommended resources from her first appearance:

    • Episode 26 – Kathleen Murphy-Toms talks about getting the most out of GivingTuesday

    Related episodes we recommend:

    • Episode 37 – Crypto-donations with Alex Wilson of The Giving Block
    • Episode 49 – Sybil Ackerman-Munson talks about types of donors and which ones prefer to give to nonprofit coalitions

About this week’s guest

Kathleen Murphy-Toms

Kathleen Murphy-Toms

Director, Digital Strategy, GivingTuesday

Kathleen Murphy Toms is the director of digital strategy for GivingTuesday. The biggest philanthropic movement in history, GivingTuesday leverages social media and a broad network of nonprofits, community activists, schools, brands, small businesses, and individuals to ignite a movement and global call to action to give. It has seen record-breaking engagement at every level of society – from some of the world’s biggest celebrities and influencers to students, volunteers, and everyday givers.

Kathleen studies the use of digital tools within social movements, particularly their use in shifting power, creating mass mobilization, instilling behavior change, and achieving global equity. Kathleen has coached thousands of social impact leaders and grassroots organizers from nearly every continent on how to not only generate funds for their causes but to inspire and mobilize groundswell movements to create systemic change. She is an adjunct instructor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs where she teaches social changemakers how to develop innovative content marketing and digital strategies to activate and engage new audiences.

Connect with Kathleen Murphy-Toms

EP49 - Sybil Ackerman-Munson - Featured

Episode 49: Recognize Your Three Donor Types… or Leave Money on the Table, with Sybil Ackerman-Munson

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 49

Recognize Your Three Donor Types… or Leave Money on the Table, with Sybil Ackerman-Munson

In this Episode:

“If you approach the wrong donor the wrong way, then you will leave money on the table and you’ll lose them at hello.”

All your donors are not alike. They certainly have one thing in common: they want to support your work. But their motivations and interests may vary widely. Unlike actors, they’re not going to ask you “what’s my motivation?” Rather, that’s a question that you should be asking them.

Understanding why they support you and how they prefer to do so can make the difference between greater support and alienation.

Sybil Ackerman-Munson of Do Your Good has helped funders give away over $45 million to nonprofits whose work aligns with their own ethos. In the process, she identified three donor archetypes, based on their motivations for giving.

Sybil joins the show to explain how nonprofits can better understand and communicate with each type of donor to create better, more beneficial relationships for both sides.

[00:00:04.970] – Intro
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcasting and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.070] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. As we do every week, we’re going to try to extract some value from one of our guests on how to help you create more heroes for your cause. Whether that’s through storytelling, technology, fundraising. Well, all of them apply to each other, really. And the data behind all of that.

[00:00:40.760] – Boris
Today we’ve got Sybil Ackerman-Munson, who is the President of Do Your Good. With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit professional and foundation advisor, Sybil taps into her vast experience and knowledge from working with donors whom she has helped to give away over $45 million in large and small donations to offer you step by step guides, through online courses, her podcast, and resources so that you can jump to the front of the line and waste no time in making a true and lasting positive contribution to the world on your terms. That’s what Do Your Good is all about.

[00:01:14.430] – Boris
When I asked her for her superpower, Sybil says she helps nonprofits hone their pitch to connect with donors at a high level. I’m excited to have her on the show. Sybil, welcome. I want to learn all about all of those things and get as much value as we can for our audience so that they can turn your concepts into action and create more heroes for their cause. Before we get into all of that, though, I just read your bio. Give us your pitch, if you will. What’s your story? Why do you do what you do?

[00:01:45.010] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Thanks so much for having me on. First of all, I’m just really happy to be here. And the reason I do what I do is I think the first thing is I can’t help it. I come from a family of teachers. My parents are both academics. My brother is a professor. I love to teach, and I love to share my knowledge. And so I have, as you said, over two decades of experience working both, with nonprofits, and then in the last decade, it’s been working for donors, getting pitched every single day by nonprofits. And I feel like it’s my responsibility to then create courses and everything else to support nonprofits, to help them raise more money more effectively because of all the knowledge I’ve gained so I can’t help it but be a teacher.

[00:02:35.830] – Boris
Awesome. I love it. I love what you’re trying to do. I obviously have very similar goals, so I’m excited for our conversation today. Let me start as I do most stories with, what does the world look like today and what might be wrong with that world?

[00:02:52.630] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Oh, my gosh. We’re living in a post-truth society. It’s really hard. How do you figure out what’s right, correct in your own mind but that helps change the world, to help make a big difference? And what I notice in the nonprofit sector is that there are good people doing good work all the time, and how do they rise above the noise and make sure that people who want to donate money know the truth—the true truth to what those nonprofits are trying to do. And that’s what I want to help do. And hopefully we can talk about that today.

[00:03:33.560] – Boris
I hope so, because otherwise, what’s the point of doing any of this?

[00:03:38.150] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
No, that’s the whole point is to help all these amazing people do good works in the world.

[00:03:44.710] – Boris
So talk to me about that, then. What is happening when nonprofits are talking to donors? How are they currently talking to them and what’s working and what’s not?

[00:03:56.830] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yeah, let’s talk about that. So what’s not working? And then I’ll go into what’s working. What’s not working is when nonprofit folks come to donors and they say, “Because we’re doing such good work, you just should give us money.” Doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. What does work is when the nonprofits come to donors with a certain amount of empathy and understanding about where the donor is coming from.

[00:04:25.130] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
The donors that I work for want to give away money. They want to support you in the nonprofit world, and they want to make a difference with that money. The trick is, as a nonprofit person, to be able to come and talk to the people I work with and to me myself—because I’m wanting to give you support and approach me in a way that really addresses the kind of donor that I am. And in my many years of experience working with donors, I see that there’s three distinctive kinds of donors. And if you know the kind of donor you’re approaching, you can raise money. If you approach the wrong donor the wrong way, then you will leave money on the table and you’ll lose them at “hello.” So we can talk about those three different types of donors in a minute, if you’d like, but definitely ask me if I didn’t get into anything else first.

[00:05:16.510] – Boris
No, I think that’s absolutely critical. And talking to people like they’re people and getting to know them and what they’re all about, and really understanding what their capacity is and what their interests are, I definitely want to get into all that. You said that… You mentioned what’s not working and what is working today. So what is working? What is a positive thing that you’re seeing out there?

[00:05:42.670] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Well, what I’m really seeing, especially in this time of COVID and what’s really working well is that in the beginning when we had the shutdowns, a lot of the nonprofits were very worried about what would happen with their donors. And what worked really well and what is working really well is that a lot of the nonprofits that I’ve worked with, they’ve created and they have a really good reserve fund. And they were able to articulate the fact that they have that reserve fund to be able to support their staff and other folks, even in this time of adversity, they’ve been able to leverage that by saying, “look, we are still around and we’re still strong. So donors, you need to give us even more support in this time of adversity.” And they’re succeeding in ways I don’t think they ever thought they would.

[00:06:28.400] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
In the beginning with the folks I worked with or helped give contributions to, they were very worried. They were sort of scaling back a little bit. And then they started realizing, wow, we can do a lot of things on Zoom and on the internet, and we can really bring more people in. And if we’re a little bit more cautious and then use our reserve fund that this is the time that we do it, then we can show our donors how much stronger we are. And they’ve had amazing positive responses from the folks that I work with by approaching it that way. Nonprofits that don’t approach it that way, that instead came to me with doom and gloom messages and negative messages, and “I’m not sure how we’re going to keep it together.” They actually didn’t really keep it together. They weren’t able to raise those kind of—reap the windfalls that some of the other nonprofits were able to do by thinking positively, talking positively, and using their resources in a really good way.

[00:07:21.850] – Boris
So focusing on the potential and then asking for support to reach that potential works better—and I guess this makes sense—than saying, “Hey, everything is terrible. Can you save us?” basically.

[00:07:36.480] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Exactly. And I have a feeling your listeners are saying, “but of course, we never do that. We never talk about the negative, talk about the positive.” But it actually isn’t true. A lot of times, especially when it’s so dire and so hard, like with the COVID situation we’ve been in. It’s easy for executive directors and other folks to get into that negative mindset. And I just want to tell my folks that doesn’t work. But what has worked really well is when the nonprofits sort of leaned into their reserve fund, leaned into supporting their staff, and then said, “Okay, donors, you need to step up even more.” And because of the way COVID happened, though, too, because the markets are doing pretty well, a lot of folks who do have wealth are able to give, and so they want to. That’s the thing. That’s sort of an interesting thing. You’d think that it wouldn’t happen that way. But a lot of the folks I work with are doing even better than they were before and want to give back even more.

[00:08:30.230] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So, like at the end of last year, I can’t tell you how many of my clients called me up and said, “Sybil, I’ve got more money to give away than I thought.” Who should we give to now? So nonprofits are in this really amazing place where if they position themselves right, they can really get a lot more money than they ever thought they would if they think positively and act proactively at this moment. We have a moment to seize with the markets doing really well, even though we’re in a really challenging time, which is a weird juxtaposition, right?And it’s not pretty—it’s not normal. You’s think that everything would be going down, but that’s not really true. My clients want to give you money.

[00:09:08.770] – Boris
Sybil, I’m sure that makes you a very popular person at nonprofit events.

[00:09:15.890] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
That’s a whole other story.

[00:09:19.130] – Boris
So then let’s talk about, what is the problem with the way that nonprofits are approaching donors. And you did mention that you have three different types of donors that you like nonprofits to think about when they’re talking to donors. But what’s going on right now, basically, are you seeing from your perspective that organizations are treating everyone the same without really understanding what type of donor they might be? Is that what’s happening?

[00:09:51.410] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yes. So I’ve seen this for the entire time I’ve worked with donors. And when I was a nonprofit person, I wish someone had told me about the three different kinds of donors. What happens is that nonprofits tend to think that they’re in a competitive environment with other nonprofits that are doing similar things to what they’re doing. And that’s sort of where the mindset stays. And so a nonprofit will come to me and talk to me in a silo about an issue that they’re working on or an important thing that they’re working on. But me, as a person who works with donors, I’m probably funding five or six groups that are doing similar things to what they are. And I don’t think of it as a competitive thing. I think, “Oh, my gosh, the donor I work for cares about forests.” There’s eight groups working on forests. The market is booming. Let’s give all those groups working on forests or climate change or houselessness money and let’s support them all or work together. And one of those groups is not going to get all the money because the donor wants to support a community of organizations. So that is a common mistake that I see happen a lot of times where a nonprofit will talk to me in a silo and not bring—and not talk about the collaborations happening.

[00:11:08.800] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And if they do that, what happens is, I’ll start hearing different stories from different nonprofits. It’ll make that particular issue look like it’s small. People are petty. People usually are saying things that are different, that don’t make sense, and the donor wants to work in community. And there are a lot of cool things going on out there. They’ll just find a different thing where there’s a lot of nonprofits working well together in that different issue. So that’s an important thing I just wanted to bring up. And I know you want to…

[00:11:38.320] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Let’s get to the three different types of donors because there’s a real strategy, too. In addition to not thinking of yourself in the nonprofit world as a competitor with your other folks, but rather a collaborator, then let’s talk about how to leverage that ideal of being a collaborator with the different types of donors that are thinking about how to fund things in the world.

[00:11:58.500] – Boris
I’m in. Let’s do it.

[00:11:59.790] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
All right, cool. Okay.

[00:12:00.450] – Boris
What are these three types of donors and why does it matter?

[00:12:04.690] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Okay, so the three types of donors are, there’s a sustainer kind of donor, a campaigner kind of donor, and a launcher kind of donor. A sustainer donor is a donor who just loves your nonprofit. They want to fund you as a nonprofit year after year. They go on your outings or they’re on your board. They love the community. Their kids are volunteering for your organization. They’re in like Flynn. Every year they’re going to give you money. They’re going to sponsor a table at your big gala. They’re great, okay? Those are the kind of donors I find that nonprofits tend to think everybody should be and is.

[00:12:43.980] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So a lot of times a nonprofit will approach me in a way that a sustainer donor is. They’ll say, “Hey, you should come to my annual meeting, in our outings and do all these things with us. And aren’t we great?” Good to have a sustainer-donor base, okay?

[00:12:58.470] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But there’s two other kinds of donors that are equally important that you don’t want to lose. The campaigner donor is a donor that cares more about an issue, like houselessness or climate change, than they do about your nonprofit. And nonprofits, get over it. It’s okay that they don’t care about you as a nonprofit just because you’re there. That’s okay. Be okay with that. Instead, say, “Oh, my gosh, donor, you’re a campaigner type of donor. You care about moving the needle on climate change or houselessness. My nonprofit works on that. And this is the project we’re doing in that area so give us money to do that project.” And only talk to that campaigner donor about that project and how you’re moving the needle on that project.

[00:13:44.870] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And that’s where this collaboration thing is so cool, too, because you can say if you’re working on a project, I am so certain that you’re not doing it alone, that you’re probably working with six or seven other nonprofits that are experts in that particular area as well. But maybe you are really good at media. Maybe another partner that’s trying to move the needle on climate change in your area is really good at grassroots organizing. Maybe another group you’re working with is really good at the legal strategy, you name it. And so you talk to that campaigner donor about climate change and about how you’re fitting this particular niche, and you need money for this part.

[00:14:20.780] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And then you bring up all the other groups, and then you maybe have a meeting with that donor. And then that donor says, “Oh, I’ve got friends that want to fund this, too.” And so what happens is you create this great thing that happens with all these different folks that come together. When that works well, and when the nonprofit knows how to use that and knows they’re talking to a campaigner donor, they can raise so much more money. If they don’t, they actually raise $0. They come in… So I’ve really seen it like that.

[00:14:47.020] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And then I want to talk about the launcher donor, who is similar to a campaigner donor in the sense that a launcher donor cares about an issue more than they do the nonprofit itself. They care about moving the needle on the issue. But where they really get excited is they want to fill a gap in that issue. So they’re like the venture capitalists of the for-profit world. What they want is they want to talk to the nonprofit, “okay, you’re doing this, this and this. But what’s the thing that you don’t have yet that you really need in order to move the needle?” And most nonprofits know that. They’re like, “We’re really good at this and this, but darn if we just had more resources and money to do this thing, we could really make it happen.”

[00:15:30.230] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Too many times I’ve seen nonprofits focus so much on their own budgets and on what they can get done within a certain context that they fail to think about what’s that gap. And maybe there’s a launcher donor out there who wouldn’t fund all the regular work but would definitely fund the gap, and you could fiscally sponsor it as a nonprofit. You know you don’t have to have it as part of your overall budget, but it could really help you then move the needle and all the other things that you’re fundamentally doing at the nonprofit. So that’s why I divided it up into those three key areas.

[00:16:03.970] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And what I recommend to nonprofits that they do is first, they sort of survey their current donors to find out, sort of do an audit to find out what type of donor they are. Because you might find that there’s somebody who you thought was a sustainer donor, but actually also might be interested in moving the needle on a particular issue. So then you can actually approach them for a project, too, and you might even get more money and support from them. So those are the kind of things that are really fun. I love talking about this. I should stop and see if you have questions. It’s like you’re on a roll.

[00:16:40.650] – Boris
No, you’re clearly passionate about it, and I love it. Where did these terms come from? Are these terms that you created or are these some sort of…

[00:16:45.600] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
I created them.

[00:16:47.030] – Boris
You created them. Okay. Awesome. So I talk a lot about storytelling and about avatars specifically. Just, you know, every story needs a hero, and all heroes are not created equal, they’re not equal by design, not equal by intention. And oftentimes a nonprofit will think that they only have one avatar and that’s the donor. And what I like to break down for them is there’s a lot of avatars, not just donors. But there’s also within donors, different avatars, and you’re breaking them into categories that I actually hadn’t really thought about before. Although interestingly, I’ve had people on the show talking about some of these different avatars, including I’ve had a couple of episodes with Sarah Lee from New Story Charity and with Greg Harrell-Edge from CoachArt, where they’re talking about having funders that are interested in 10X-ing their mission. And when you’re talking about launchers, when you’re talking about the VC type in the nonprofit space, those are the folks that are excited by innovation, excited by creating something new, that’s going to change things, that’s going to fill a void, as you said, or in startup language, 10X the results. So that’s really interesting avatar for me to think about and to talk to clients about. And I’m glad that it’s coming up now.

[00:18:10.540] – Boris
The campaigner is someone I hadn’t thought about very much, but it makes sense—especially when you say it, because obviously you know what you’re talking about—but that folks want to see organizations working together a lot of times. And I do see, like you said, there’s this scarcity mindset that a lot of organizations have where, “either they’re going to give money to us or they’re going to give money to someone else. So we’ve got to frame our story and we’ve got to just give our pitch that we are the only ones that can do this.” And I do often come back to them and say, “Well, how are you different from every other organization that’s doing it?” And if you’re not the best, why aren’t you collaborating with the best or ceding that ground to them and working together, of course, as a bigger community? I didn’t know actually that there are donors that prefer that type of interaction, that type of organizational effort.

[00:19:02.510] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yes. And I love this conversation because the other thing that’s really… A nonprofit that does this well, they can really unlock quite a lot of funding and they also can support not only them but their partner nonprofit. So once the nonprofits, like a light bulb goes on and they realize that too, it supports them and working better together, too. And the other thing is that if you know that you are working with a campaigner or a launcher donor, especially a campaigner donor, the other thing that really works well is if you create—so let’s say you’re doing a campaign on something with a bunch of folks trying to move the needle on an issue you care about. You can proactively organize funder briefings and you in the nonprofit community can do that. But you talk with like two or three of the donors that you know are super into it and have the donors co-sponsor it with you.

[00:19:59.040] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
A lot of times as part of that limiting mindset, the nonprofits feel like, “oh, we have our donors, we sort of own our donors. We guard our lists so carefully.” This is a much more open way of doing it. But what happens when I’ve been engaged in this and I work in partnership with my nonprofits—I shouldn’t say mine. They’re not my nonprofits. I just have ownership over loving what they do.

[00:20:21.490] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
I literally was on the phone with one of my favorite grantees the other day, and we’re co-creating a funder nonprofit briefing, where I know my clients and the donors are going to want to come and just hear informally from two or three or four of the leading nonprofits working on a particular issue. And I’ve been really clear with everyone, let’s not make it like all these formal slideshows and things. Let’s have a conversation. That also gets donors… And donors know they’re in the room to give money. I mean, they know it and they’re okay with that. That’s what they want. That’s their role. But having those kind of conversations planned is really helpful. Donors shouldn’t be in the back room strategic meetings, that’s fine.

[00:21:04.530] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But you want to, proactively as a nonprofit if you’re doing a campaign, really when there’s going to be some major decisions, not only think about the major decision in the terms of grassroots or policy or other things, also say, okay, we know we’re going to have a major decision in June. So let’s plan a briefing and a conversation with the donors that are funding this campaign in July, right afterwards, and then maybe let’s plan one in September when there’s another decision that’s going to happen. And you’d be surprised how many times that doesn’t happen with the funders. I have to ask the nonprofits, when are these decisions, “should we do it?” I shouldn’t be asking. You all can think about it in the nonprofit world and have it as part of the conversation. I think it doesn’t happen unless, like, for example, I ask right now because of this competitive mindset, right? So if, like, one nonprofit says, let’s have a funder briefing, the others might say, oh, well, what are they just going to try to get all the money or blah, blah, blah. So sometimes a donor has to come in and say it. But I feel like I love this idealistic world in the future where I’m pushing the nonprofits to do that proactively, because then it puts it into their hands, not the donors hands about who they want to invite and where they want to go with it. But those are some little tips that I have for how to really engage donors in a way where you can magnify the amount of money you’re getting from them.

[00:22:22.160] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And again, donors are okay, they want to give money. They’re like, “We understand that we’re here because we can give you money.”

[00:22:32.490] – Boris
Right. Absolutely. And I like the concept of engaging with them and bringing them into the process, opening the curtain, or peeling back the curtain—whatever the expression is—and letting them see what’s going on underneath behind the scenes, how they’re making decisions and why. I actually think the more you can even give them some sort of agency and ask them for their input, the more committed they’re going to be, the more invested they’re going to be as well. I’ve talked about this on the show many times already, but the more someone gives of their opinion, the more ownership feel over something, the more invested they become and the more likely they are to keep supporting it because they are literally invested in the project at that point.

[00:23:21.890] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And Boris, I wanted to say something in addition to that, which is this is where it matters if it’s a sustainer, campaigner or launcher. If it’s a sustainer, what you just said is 110%, but let’s add some flourish if it’s a campaigner or a launcher. If it’s a campaigner or a launcher, those people who have money, if they’re campaigners or launchers oftentimes, but not always, they may actually have deep expertise in that particular issue, and they may have actually gotten wealthy from working on something. Like on climate change, let’s say there’s plenty of nonprofits working on it, but there’s also plenty of folks making money from innovative technologies that are based on renewable energy. And so you also might be able to tap not only that person’s wealth, but that person’s knowledge in helping move things forward. So that’s what’s also really cool is there could be some partnerships there on the campaigner and launcher side that could happen there.

[00:24:23.230] – Boris
Yeah. And you’re making them feel valued as more than just a source of money, but rather a source of expertise and direction and advice. Absolutely gets them fully invested in your work. So I love all of that. So how do we find out if someone is a donor or a campaigner? What was the first category?

[00:24:50.830] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Sustainer, campaigner, launcher.

[00:24:50.830] – Boris
Sustainer, campaigner or launcher. Obviously, they’re not going to know what those well, some might, but you might, right?

[00:24:55.790] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
You don’t need to use those words either. The general idea is there with the sustainer, campaigner or launcher. The first thing that I recommend you do at a nonprofit is survey your current donors. And you might want to use different terminology, because I think if you’re a nonprofit person, you’re like, oh, I know that donor is probably a sustainer. They’re on our board. They love our group. They just love what we do. This other one is always talking to me about this one particular issue. Oh, they’re a campaigner. So let’s just focus on that. And maybe there’s three other nonprofits that we can have to meet with them with us and that kind of thing.

[00:25:31.470] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But you want to survey your donors either maybe through a simple thing like a SurveyMonkey. Or if you’re somebody who’s really close to your donors or your executive director, you can go talk to them and say, “Hey, what kind of donor do you think you are with us? Do you love us year after year? Are you just thinking you’re going to keep giving us funding, or is there a particular issue you care about? Are there some gaps you’re worried about filling?”

[00:25:52.950] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And so then what you should probably do in the background is tag those people as leaning more towards sustainer, more towards campaigner, or more towards launcher. That’ll give you sort of some expertise and experience in being able to figure out what kind of donor you’re talking to. The other thing that that’s good with is like, for example, me… I don’t only talk to one person in an organization. And so it’s really important that everyone in your organization knows the kind of donor that they’re talking to because it really can go badly if an executive director gets the person dialed. But then a staffer will start talking to the person like they’re a sustainer donor when they actually just care about one issue or vice versa. You want to be careful about that.

[00:26:35.420] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So start getting used to sort of tagging your current donors in those three different categories. Once you get used to that, then when you start meeting new people that could potentially be prospective donors, you can talk to them. It’s actually so not rocket science, right? So if you’re talking to them, if you have a chance to really talk to them, you can say to them, “So do you love what we do because you have a deep understanding and love for planting trees or for watching birds or for any issue that you like? We do those things. Do you like that? Do you want to be a part of our board?” They’ll be pretty clear with you pretty quick. They’ll be like, no, they’ll either say, “Yes, we love that or no, no, no, I just care about this one particular piece. I’m attracted to you because you are working on X.” That is an indication that they’re a campaigner kind of donor.

[00:27:22.090] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And then you can keep digging in and say, “Well, here are the things we do. Here are the gaps that I see need to be filled.” And if they seem to gravitate towards those gaps, you know they’re more of a launcher donor. And so you can really start exploring those things through conversation. You don’t need to say, “Are you a sustainer, campaigner or a launcher?” They won’t know that, but you can talk to them and tease it out. And that helps you then figure out how to have real conversations with them for the future. So just getting in the habit first by looking at your own donors and then translating that into more of like your future looks for other donors.

[00:27:55.600] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
You can also do that with your… I love your—Boris, when you talk about avatars. So if you’re doing online work or other things like that, you can do quizzes or you can do special outreach, email line inquiries where you can ask questions that will get a donor to answer it in a way that will link them in more as a sustainer, campaigner or launcher. I actually am experimenting with that with my business right now to track donors and see, are you a sustainer, campaigner or launcher? And I’ve created a little quiz on that. So those are the kinds of things you can do that are creative online to then be able to make sure that when you’re approaching them through email and other things, you’re also approaching them in a way that will make them say, “Hello, we want to support you.” Rather than this group is planting a bunch of trees. I don’t care about—if you’re a campaigner, “I don’t care about that. I care about old growth forests or something.” I always use environmental examples because that’s where my expertise lies. But you name it.

[00:28:56.970] – Boris
Absolutely. So we’re ultimately talking about gathering information and data, really, but in a qualitative way, in a lot of ways. So surveys are wonderful, and I’m a big advocate of surveys. One of the most powerful things you could have on a survey, though, is this open-ended question. Why do you love what we do? What is it about our work, right? So you can say, are you most interested in this, this, this or this or rank our three. But you could also, just in addition to that, ask an open-ended question to get their input, not just their feedback.

[00:29:36.040] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So surveys are great for feedback, but you could get input as well, because that might open you up to realizing something you didn’t know about this particular donor or about the work you’re doing in general and how it resonates with people. And even if you’re collecting stories, which talk to me anytime about collecting stories and using them properly, but then you have the language that they use so that you can turn around and use it with more donors just like them and you can communicate with them more clearly. So you’re preaching to the choir here. I love everything that…

[00:30:08.000] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So much fun. Love it.

[00:30:10.070] – Boris
So, okay, we are now going to segment our donors. We’re going to put them into three categories of the sustainer, the campaigner and the launcher. I’m glancing back at my notes because I want to get this right. We are now asking them what it is that they love about our work and how we can then segment them. And it might be through fun, interactive quizzes. Absolutely. I’ve deployed those for a few organizations, and it gives you so much data, and people don’t realize they’re giving you data. They’re not getting anything too personal or too private that they wouldn’t want to, of course. But you can then really use that and put that back into your database. As you’re saying, tag people. We have the concept in databases of taxonomy, which is different types of labels you could put on folks. But definitely you do want to track that kind of interest over time, especially so that if you do have a transition between people, one person is talking to the donor, one time one person is talking, and another time. I’ve had customer service experience where they don’t realize who I am from one point to the next. And that’s frustrating. I can only imagine if I’m giving money to a nonprofit and that happens to me how disconnected I’m going to feel, right? How impersonal and alienated I’m going to feel. “Oh, you don’t even know who you’re talking to.”

[00:31:23.830] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yeah, especially Boris if there’s an executive director transition and then the new either interim or the new ED is approaching everyone from scratch. As a board, you should be worried about that because a lot of money could be lost in that transition if you’re not seamless in terms of helping the next person come into the scene talking to the donors in a way that you know that they want to be discussing the issues.

[00:31:54.330] – Boris
I guess, what should nonprofits do if they’re not already segmenting, how do they get into this? Where should they get started? We talked about surveys. What else could they be doing to get into this mindset? And actually, I think I’m going to ask for some calls to action from you. And I think you’ve got a great suggestion for folks. But I’m also going to add in. I think in this episode I’m going to link to my avatar worksheet because I think this could be perfectly laid out on there as well to get into what you’re talking about. But where should organizations begin if they haven’t done it yet? Should they go through their entire database and send everybody a survey, or is that too cold? What should they do?

[00:32:36.570] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Well, I think that they might want to send everybody a survey. I think that would be really helpful for them. It depends, though, on the nonprofit. There’s so many different kinds of nonprofits. It could be that the executive director of a nonprofit is listening to this right now and they’re like, oh, well, I have like ten top donors. I really need to hone in with them. That would mean coffees with them again. Or they might even know them well enough where they can actually go into their database and tag.

[00:33:04.630] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
To me, the most important thing is in your ultimate database, you have your donors tagged to one of those three. And so doing a survey and writing it in a way that works for you and your donors is key, just as long as you have in the back of your head the differences between the three. That’s I think really important. And Boris, I’m happy to talk to you offline more about your avatar worksheet and how maybe we can work this into that to support your folks in having them think more about that.

[00:33:34.520] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
The other thing that, and we’ll talk about this later, too, if you’d like. But I also have started a little mini course series called be R.E.A.L. It’s a little bit higher level, but it’s to help you as a nonprofit person really work through. There’s four different mini courses, and I talk a lot about how to think through these three different types of donors. And that way you can address it even more.

[00:33:57.650] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But the number one thing, I think is to really get to know your donors in terms of if they’re one of those three. And I can tell you that almost none of even the grantees that I give to really have that segmented. They’re lucky—the ones that are really good fundraisers are lucky because the executive directors naturally know that. But there’s just a whole bunch of things there… For example, if you’re a sustainer donor, if you know you have a sustainer donor, sometimes they’re so hooked into your group, you can have the development director do most of the outreach to them, versus if it’s a campaigner donor, you as the executive director or the campaign director needs to be meeting with that campaigner. The development director, that’s bad news. Don’t do that. I love development directors, but they’re not the one the campaigner wants to talk to. Campaigner donor.

[00:34:50.670] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
There’s all of these tricks and tools and important things to think about as you tag them there. So, Boris, let’s work more on that together, because I just want to share.

[00:35:00.870] – Boris
I would love to. That sounds fantastic. And I am going to link to your course, the be R.E.A.L. mini course, so that anyone who is listening and wants to take action can sign up and get started with you on that. Any other calls to action? Is there any way that folks should follow you or get in touch with you if they’re interested?

[00:35:18.100] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Please, yeah, yeah. So my business is called Do Your Good for obvious reasons. And you can get on my website at www.doyourgood.com. But I’m also on Instagram and Facebook under Do Your Good and I also have my own weekly podcast, and that’s under Do Your Good. And it’s streaming on all the regular channels. And you can type in my name too Sybil Ackerman-Munson to find it as well. But on my website, I’ve got everything there.

[00:35:46.670] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And I also have information there for donors. I have mini courses for donors, but as well, like how to think about project funding, how to decide what kind of donor you are, how to fund collaborations. I have templates on how to think through for nonprofits and donors to think through, good funding budget templates, all kinds of things like that. I think nonprofits would get a lot out of those things, too, even though they’re geared more towards donors. But I also have stuff just for you in the nonprofit world.

[00:36:19.230] – Boris
Awesome. It sounds like a great resource. I will check it out as well because I’m always interested to see what other folks are doing and maybe there is some great opportunity for collaboration. I would love that.

[00:36:28.360] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Oh, I know there is. I know there is. I’ve been watching your podcast and you have such great advice for folks. I was talking to myself while I was listening and like, “oh!” And your guest and I’m like, “yeah they’re right!” So everybody who’s listening to this keep listening to Boris’s podcast because he has got it all down.

[00:36:47.430] – Boris
Thank you so much, Sybil. Thank you for joining us today. Thank you for all the value that you’ve shared with our viewers and listeners to the show. I really appreciate everything you’re doing out there to help nonprofits similar to my own mission, activate more heroes for their cause.

[00:37:03.990] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Great. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

[00:37:07.240] – Boris
And thank you everybody for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed listening to my conversation with Sybil Ackerman-Munson and I hope you will tune in again next week. And if you do like what you are watching or listening, please go and give us a quick review, a rating on any of your favorite podcast platforms because that’s how more people discover us and more people get this kind of valuable insights from guests like ours today. Thank you, of course for doing everything you do to make the world a better place and we’ll see you next time.

[00:37:38.070] – Intro
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:

  • Some nonprofits take the fundraising approach of, “because we’re doing such good work, you just should give us money.” This just doesn’t work. What works is having an understanding of and an empathy towards your donors first. (3:56)
    • Know who your donors are, what they want to support and how.
    • Sybil classifies donors into three different types, based on what motivates them.
  • At the start of the pandemic, a lot of donors were worried about nonprofits shutting down. They were hesitant to give money to organizations that might not be able to deliver on their promise. The organizations that had strong reserve funds gave donors the confidence to keep supporting them and increase their giving. (5:42)
  • Focusing on the positive and potential in your messaging with donors is a lot more effective than focusing on the negative and fears. (7:21)
  • Even in really challenging times, wealthy donors might be making more money and looking for strong organizations to support. (8:30)
  • Nonprofits tend to look at funding from a scarcity mindset, in competition with other nonprofits for donations. The reality is that many donors want to support a community of nonprofits working on an important cause from multiple angles. (9:53)
  • Sybil has identified three types of donors, based on how they prefer to support a cause. Each of them will be motivated by different approaches for funding. (12:04)
    • Sustainer donors love your nonprofit and the work that you do. They want to become part of your community, supporting your work year after year.
    • Campaigner donors care more about an issue than the organizations working on it. They want to move the needle forward and will support any number of nonprofits they believe can do so. This is where being a collaborative organization is beneficial.
    • Launcher donors get excited about filling a gap on an issue. They can be compared to venture capitalists in the for-profit world. They respond to a need or an opportunity within an organization that will move the needle in their work, versus funding the work that you do on a regular basis.
  • The first thing nonprofits should do is to survey their donors to find out which of the three types they are, so that you can approach them about what they’ll be most likely to support. (16:04)
  • Every story needs a hero, but all heroes are not created equal. Within the Donor category of heros, there are multiple avatars. Understanding how to tell your story to each of them will create better connections and raise more money. (16:47)
  • The scarcity “us or them” mindset is detrimental to fundraising and to the issues that you’re trying to resolve in the world. Collaboration, leaning into the strengths of multiple nonprofits, can work better and unlock a lot more funding. (18:11)
  • When collaborating with other nonprofits, there are opportunities for additional sponsorship and through a joint funder briefing. Launcher and campaigner donors particularly respond well to this. These don’t have to be formal, they can just be a conversation that allows donors to feel involved. (19:25)
  • Donors know you want them to give you money, that’s why they’re there. The more you ask for their input and make them feel involved, the more invested they will be in your success. (22:22)
    • Campaigner and launcher donors may also have deep expertise on a particular issue that can move your work forward and make them feel valued for more than just their money.
  • Survey your donors either in person or through digital tools to determine what motivates them and what type of donor they are. Ask questions about why they support you, what they’re interested in supporting and how they prefer to be involved. Then tag (segment) those people for future fundraising and communications. (25:02)
  • Be sure to track your donor tags/segmentation in a way that others in your organization can understand and follow along with, even in times of staff transitions. You don’t want to have the alienating situation where one person is speaking to a donor as a sustainer and another is approaching them as a launcher. (30:48)
  • Knowing what type of donor each person is can also help you better allocate staff resources, delegating who on your team maintains certain relationships. (34:25)
  • Sybil has developed courses and other resources to help nonprofits and donors better understand themselves and each other. (See the Resource Spotlight and Call to Action for the links.) (35:18)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Boris’s Avatar Worksheet – Identify the ideal person who will step up and be a hero for your cause
    • Check out our previous episodes that talk about the VC donor type and how to fund innovation:

About this week’s guest

Sybil Ackerman-Munson

Sybil Ackerman-Munson

President, Do Your Good

With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit professional and foundation advisor, I tap into my vast experience and knowledge from working with donors who I have helped to give away over $45 million in large and small donations to offer you step-by-step guides through online courses, a podcast, and resources so that you can jump to the front of the line and waste no time in making a true and lasting positive contribution to the world on your terms. This is what Do Your Good is all about.

Connect with Sybil Ackerman-Munson

EP48 - Regina Alhassan - Featured

Episode 48: Using Donor Data to Deepen Relationships, with Regina Alhassan

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 48

Using Donor Data to Deepen Relationships, with Regina Alhassan

In this Episode:

Most every organization keeps records of their donors—whether it’s in advanced CRMs or simple spreadsheets. But there’s a wide gap between keeping records and maximizing donor data to build strong relationships that raise more money.

Regina Alhassan of ResearchPRO joins us to share her strategies for collecting valuable data, tracking it over time and allocating your resources and your requests accordingly.

[00:00:03.710] – Intro
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 world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:19.990] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today we’re going to be focusing on the subject of data, but specifically how to utilize it or perhaps start collecting it properly and then turning it into insights so that you could predict donor behavior and maximize it to well, as we like to do every week on the show, create more heroes for your cause. I wonder if that’s become a drinking game yet; every time I say create more heroes for your cause, somebody takes a drink. That’ll make for a fun nonprofit party.

[00:00:50.470] – Boris
Today’s guest is Regina Alhassan, who is the founder and CEO of ResearchPRO, a leading prospect development consulting firm. Regina is an award winning TEDx speaker with total dollars identified in the billions that’s with a B. And Regina’s work has fueled major gift campaigns for organizations across the country, including The Ohio State University, I Am Boundless, Mid Ohio Food Collective, Communities and Schools, and Children’s Literacy Initiative. Her 20 years of prospect, research and management includes wealth analysis, software development, end-user training, leadership coaching, knowledge management, moves management, systems management, donor relations and development operations.

[00:01:33.430] – Boris
Currently, she is the Secretary for the Central Ohio Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. And Regina is also an artist, writer, and philanthropist. She describes her superpower as finding qualified prospects for multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns, something that I’m sure we would all like to be better at ourselves. So with that, let’s bring Regina onto the show. Hi, Regina.

[00:01:58.050] – Regina Alhassan

[00:01:59.530] – Boris
Welcome, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today.

[00:02:02.260] – Regina Alhassan
Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.

[00:02:04.870] – Boris
It is absolutely my pleasure to try to extract as much knowledge from you today at the end in the time we have together, because that’s what I love to do. Before we get into that, though, I read your impressive bio, and I’d love to just hear from you, though, tell our audience, why are you who you are? What’s your story? Why are you doing this? Why are you the ResearchPRO?

[00:02:26.850] – Regina Alhassan
Yes. Like many other fundraisers, I fell into fundraising sort of on accident. Fresh out of college, my first job as a program assistant in the development office at Ohio State. And so just kind of a light bulb moment really revealed, like, oh, this is how people change the world. This is why there are names on the buildings on campus. This is how I can change the world, make an impact, et cetera, and move the needle on social justice, all the things. And so it was just sort of a field that felt right. Major gifts fundraising was a career that just was the right fit for me, most especially within prospect development. So really digging into the science of fundraising. Certainly appreciate the art of fundraising and that frontline engagement, but there’s also power in the science and the sort of behind the scenes in the strategy and all of that. So that’s what really caught me. Nonprofits really tug at my heart. About four years ago, five years ago now, in 2017, I started my firm, ResearchPRO on my own, decided to launch out on my own and just have not looked back and really enjoy being the CEO.

[00:03:52.450] – Boris
Yeah. I sometimes enjoy being the CEO. And sometimes I tell people that I’ve got the worst boss. He doesn’t give me any breaks—

[00:03:58.340] – Regina Alhassan
Yeah. Getting that, too.

[00:04:04.045] – Boris
No sleep, 24/7.

[00:04:03.890] – Regina Alhassan
Yes. And so along with that, I’m also a wife, a mom, all the things. And I have to say, my 6-year-old would probably say that my superpower is slaying the monsters in the closet and making the best Rice Krispies in the world—best Krispy treats in the world. All the hats.

[00:04:27.890] – Boris
That’s fantastic. You’ll have to teach me your monster slaying techniques some time because I have some kids at home who could use a little bit of that myself. I do love that you are at your own intersection—because I’m at mine—of the way that human beings behave and the science and data behind them, right? How do we get people to take the actions? What does the research and the data say about it so that we can channel it towards creating a greater world for all of us, right?

[00:04:59.380] – Regina Alhassan
Yes, absolutely.

[00:05:01.190] – Boris
So let’s look at that. And from your point of view, what is happening in the philanthropy, in the nonprofit space at the moment these days, how’s it looking?

[00:05:11.930] – Regina Alhassan
What we know is that people are giving. It’s looking good. So certainly some organizations are struggling. I have colleagues that are sort of questioning what they’re doing with their lives, the paths that they’ve decided to take in the nonprofit world. But we also know that fundraising and philanthropy is on the rise. Donors are being more generous. New donors are being more generous. First-time donors, et cetera. Millennials are giving in interesting ways. People continue to be generous. That is what continues. And that is what gives me hope. So that’s always exciting.

[00:05:56.240] – Boris
I love that you’re so positive on it, because I do know that there’s also some negative statistics that came out a couple of years ago that average donations per individuals really have gone down, while major gifts have gone up to kind of counterbalance it. So overall fundraising has gone up, but individual donors have kind of declined. I wonder—I’m hoping that new research is coming out soon, actually, that I’ve been hearing about. It’s going to show that it’s not as doom and gloom as people have been making it out to be. I think the pandemic specifically and please talk to this if you’ve got some more insights. But specifically, during the pandemic, more people became more generous because we all felt more like we were in the same boat and we could empathize with others much more so in times of hardship. And so people became more generous at that same time. Do you find that to be the case?

[00:06:49.030] – Regina Alhassan
Absolutely. And so I really enjoy the Giving USA report, and I look forward to that every year. And so that measures and provides all sorts of analysis and data about philanthropy in the United States. And so according the report, giving is up, the numbers are up. Individual giving is up. Corporate giving actually is down a bit. And so that, I think, is a huge queue that we should rely less on those organizational dollars and those grants, et cetera, and really lend our attention and zero our attention on individual giving and prospecting among individual donors.

[00:07:33.230] – Boris
I think you’ve got a great point there. I did have a guest not too long ago talking about corporate giving. And I definitely feel like there’s a huge role for that, too. Hopefully now that the economy is moving in better directions, that’s going to come back up. But we can’t rely on any one source, no matter what. A lot of organizations put their eggs in one hypothetical basket. So I definitely agree with you. We shouldn’t be focusing fully on that as well. So if everything is looking good from a donor perspective, then what’s wrong with the way things are now?

[00:08:08.090] – Regina Alhassan
Well, there are still some challenges, internal challenges that each organization has and that we continue to kind of stay in these ruts. And so the pandemic as challenging and as terrible, as chaotic and disastrous as a pandemic can be, it certainly created some opportunities for us to adjust the way that we go about our status quo.

[00:08:35.030] – Regina Alhassan
But one thing that comes to mind specifically is event-based fundraising. So we had an opportunity really, to move away from that and to get creative and innovative. But more and more, I’m seeing organizations shift right back into that big annual event fundraiser. It’s safe now, et cetera. So they’re starting to do that. And it’s just like, oh, I thought we said… I thought we all kind of collectively agreed we were happy to see those go away. So I think there still are some things that we’re just kind of used to the way that it is, whether or not that’s the way that we do our outreach, whether or not we embrace web-based outreach, a lot of organizations are still shying away from that. Online giving is up. It’s still a small percentage of all total giving, but it’s growing.

[00:09:31.250] – Regina Alhassan
And so that’s an opportunity that organizations still are not latching onto and grasping and fully utilizing. So I think the opportunity is there. Still, we have just about half of all Americans are philanthropic. So that are actually our donors are being counted as donors. So that still is a huge population of people that we are missing. And so I think there’s an opportunity to especially with what we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic. There’s an opportunity to get really creative and innovative about who we prospect and bring in new donors.

[00:10:11.990] – Boris
So I think it’s natural that a lot of organizations are trying to get back to what they’ve known and what they’ve done so well, hopefully, for so many years before. I do agree that the world has shifted and there’s no full going back. And it might be a mistake to try to go fully back. What then should we be doing instead? And honestly, where does data come into this? Don’t we just keep trying new things and hopefully raising more money? What should we be doing?

[00:10:40.530] – Regina Alhassan
Yeah. So all the things that we try we should be tracking somewhere in the database. All the people that we engage, all the names, all the contact information, whether or not they’re donors, they’re fans, they’re members, they’re advocates, they’re students, they’re clients, no matter what their constituency is, we should have that name and that data and be collecting it. We should be tracking the way that we engage with them, the touchpoints, etc. And all of that, so that we can then do some predictive analysis and determine where do we have the most reach? Where do we have the most impact? Who’s engaging the most? And then we can maximize our effort and our strategy in those directions.

[00:11:27.750] – Boris
Okay, those are some great exciting words. I want to challenge you to really let’s break them down for our folks. When you say predictive analysis, I wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, some folks out there thought, oh, AI, is that what you’re advocating for? Are you talking we should start using Artificial Intelligence tools to figure out what donors are going to do in the future?

[00:11:51.270] – Regina Alhassan
So to be candid, most organizations are not ready for AI, big AI. Most of us are still using—many organizations are using Excel or just one step up from Excel, very rudimentary CRMs and databases for our donor databases. So the idea of using big data or AI and adopting that is not realistic. What is more realistic is that we can take a look at past donor behavior, past donor giving history, et cetera, and use that to predict how our donors may behave going forward.

[00:12:32.010] – Regina Alhassan
So a great example is a local arts organization I’ve been working with. And so one of their board members had a fundraiser, a birthday fundraiser on Facebook. And so they generated a lot of new interest, new engagement. I think they got up to over $3,000. They kept surpassing the goal. And so just for fun, he kept upping the goal and they kept surpassing it. And so then there’s an opportunity. Let’s capture that data. Let’s not just say, oh, that was fun. That was cute. Let’s capture that donor information, even if it is just Facebook profiles. And let’s begin to build from there. Let’s reach out to them. If we don’t have their email or address, you have their profile handles. So let’s reach out to them some way and begin to build that data. So we know we have demonstrated proof for next year we’re going to repeat this birthday fundraiser. And in fact, let’s experiment and see what happens when another board member has a birthday fundraiser.

[00:13:43.550] – Regina Alhassan
There’s demonstrated evidence that it works. So let’s try it again. So that’s the type of predictive analytics that many of us are in a position to do and to implement. What has already happened? What have we already had success with? Let’s repeat that. Or what was the challenge, what didn’t quite work the way that we had hoped? Let’s not do that again. Or how can we adjust that and then get to the success we were hoping for? So those are the type of predictive analysis analytics that all of us can begin to engage in, no matter what state our data is in, no matter what it’s in.

[00:14:21.810] – Boris
So I’m glad you said that, because I do think AI is incredibly powerful and helpful. But AI relies on large data sets to even work in the first place. And if you don’t have sufficient data, then you might be coming up with false conclusions. A lot of times that is a problem. And even when all kinds of research is being done, that’s a common issue that’s seen. So essentially you’re saying, let’s look at past performance as an indicator or predictor of future results, even though they might turn out different from year to year, from attempt to attempt. But let’s track that data, let’s see what worked, what didn’t work, and then let’s iterate on that. Am I getting that right?

[00:15:06.170] – Regina Alhassan
Yes. And you have to start somewhere. So many organizations are afraid of starting because they don’t have all of this aggregate information, because they don’t have 10 years worth of information. You must begin—it’s like that saying, “begin to begin.” You have to start somewhere. And I encourage organizations to take that brave step, be brave and just begin. Start with what you have, even if what you have is pretty scrappy. Start there and recognize the holes that you need to fill, recognize the gaps that you need to address.

[00:15:46.050] – Boris
So what are some of the common gaps? Because a lot of organizations do have a CRM that they’re using. It might be one of the big mainstream ones, or it might be an Excel spreadsheet, which if that’s the best you’ve got at the moment, then that’s a great starting point. What are some of the holes that you’re seeing they’re not actually filling?

[00:16:06.910] – Regina Alhassan
Relationships, first off. It continues to be—it surprises me. Like that’s been an issue throughout my entire career. I see organizations struggle with that. So mapping relationships within your database, whether or not it’s spouse relationships, children, familial relationships, company relationships, who works at the same company, what are their positions, et cetera. And these sound basic, but so many organizations really are challenged by that. So that’s one huge gap that I see.

[00:16:44.840] – Regina Alhassan
Along with that, all of this relates to data integrity. So that’s sort of the umbrella gap, data integrity. But under that, tribute, honor, memorial gifts, the way that we track that information and kind of another sort of offshoot to data integrity are the protocols. So because we don’t have consistent protocols, because the way that we enter data and the way that we track information and manage information changes so easily based on who’s actually doing the job, the data integrity and the protocols get lost and then the data, it’s hard to make the insights as meaningful as they could be.

[00:17:35.430] – Boris
Right. If your data is not compiled consistently, then you can’t analyze it across different time periods or just the same time period, but two different people entered it. So you wind up having something different. Are you advocating then… And I think this might be a good solution, with a process doc that clearly states out—

[00:17:54.675] – Regina Alhassan

[00:17:55.350] – Boris
Step-by-step how to enter the data? Is that the answer to that?

[00:17:56.860] – Regina Alhassan
Yes. A process doc that is easily accessible and that everyone has access to. It’s part of onboarding for new staff that no matter what the role is and it’s just something that you use. You can have a process doc, but if it’s just in a shared file somewhere, it’s not meaningful.

[00:18:18.510] – Boris
Yeah. And I like that you’re saying have everyone, every new person on staff to go through it. I think even if they’re not necessarily the people who are going to be entering that data, for them to at least understand the type of data that you’re trying to collect and the way that you’re looking at your supporters is going to be helpful to everybody.

[00:18:36.930] – Regina Alhassan
Yes. Absolutely.

[00:18:37.860] – Boris
So then I want to take it back to the thing that you said just before, that, which is these relationships—mapping relationships. I can understand how for a nonprofit, especially smaller nonprofits, without a big data department within their development team, it feels cumbersome to try to figure out those relationships and track them. Why is that necessary? What is the advantage that’s going to give us? How does that pay off, I guess is my question.

[00:19:05.250] – Regina Alhassan
Yeah. So there is a quote by John Rockefeller, and he talks all about the relationships and knowing whether or not someone is your friend. Are they a supporter? How much did they give you last year? What do you have in common? How likely are they to support you again? All of that insight requires information. You have to have record of it, some memory of it. And so that’s where the data comes in.

[00:19:39.890] – Regina Alhassan
The data also allows you to get really strategic. So it’s not always about finding the next big donor. Sometimes the data also lets you release some of those donors that are still important. But if we are talking about transformational change and we need transformational gifts, we can automate some of our stewardship. And so sometimes that data helps us segment our donors, our constituents, which then we can put some of our people on autopilot, and it frees up the time to work towards those transformational gifts, those leadership gifts, to work towards other types of impact and program impact, et cetera. So the data has the opportunity to drive so much of our work.

[00:20:36.010] – Boris
I just had someone on recently talking about these onboarding campaigns to set them on autopilot, but still—with data and with proper usage of these autopilot features—still making them personal, still making them interactive as much as possible. Because the relationship shouldn’t just be one way, right? It shouldn’t just be blasting things at you. We are actually also interested in you and really building a relationship in that regard. And how do we though… And maybe there’s no perfect answer to this, but how do we use the data that you were saying specifically about who is connected to whom in terms of a family? Where is that relevant, and how do we then turn that to our advantage knowing that kind of information?

[00:21:25.200] – Regina Alhassan
Yeah. Part of that is just knowing and being able to show your donors and your supporters that you know who they are. Like you said, it’s not one sided. Just like you have a story, your donors also have a story. And so part of it is showing a respect for their engagement and the fact that they do have a story and that they do have these relationships that could be important to both of you. There’s also opportunity to leverage those relationships, especially with board members. Obviously, if we’re looking for connections on the executive level, depending on what your organization is and who your leadership is, but there are opportunities to leverage those relationships.

[00:22:16.580] – Regina Alhassan
There’s also an opportunity, I think, to really just sort of widen the base and demonstrate that, yes, this is an impact. This is a mission that is worthy of all of our investment. And that’s sort of the high level feel good answer. But when we’re talking about specific donor strategy, it is important to know if your board member knows the person on the board at the foundation that is giving the grant and awarding the grant. Those are important connections to have.

[00:22:54.910] – Regina Alhassan
It’s important to know, do you share LinkedIn connections with other potential funders, et cetera? It’s important to track those so that just again, just so you can have that institutional memory and draw upon it for future support.

[00:23:13.430] – Boris
Very cool. Very cool. Okay. So if we do start, let’s say we’re an organization that isn’t tracking all the data that we need to be or isn’t doing a great job of stewarding that data in one way or another. It is a big lift sometimes to get started. What does it look like if we’re successful? What kind of results can we expect if we put in all the time and energy into creating our databases, maintaining our databases, and stewarding our databases?

[00:23:50.490] – Regina Alhassan
Happy donors, happy staff, staff that has direction, staff that is not working above capacity. So I’ll share a success story with you. One of my clients, they’ve been a client for about three and a half years now. When the VP first arrived at the organization, they had never done… they had not really pursued charitable giving before. They only relied on federal dollars, et cetera. So when she got there, they had a collection of records, about 3,500 records, and that was their database. But there wasn’t any really great contact information. No giving information, no real rationale about why these people are—why we even have these records.

[00:24:44.970] – Regina Alhassan
So she was really bold and said, “We’re just going to scrap it. I can’t work with bad data. But what I will do is keep the records for anyone that has given and has a clear indication of why they are connected to us. If that is in the database, then let’s work with them.” But she scrapped the bulk of it, I would say over 90% of the database and built from there. So now they’re back up to closer to 4,000 records. And they know that they are… But this is all within three years. They know that everyone that’s in that database has a strong affiliation with the organization. There’s a reason why they’re in there. It’s clearly documented and all of that. They just went through a software conversion from Bloomerang to Salesforce. They are getting ready to launch go public with the first phase of a larger campaign. The first phase is $10 million, but they have not yet gone public. But they’re already, I think, halfway towards that $10 million.

[00:25:55.880] – Regina Alhassan
And that is with the position being very, very careful about: we’re going to bring in the right people, we’re going to track these relationships. We’re going to build out the prospect pipeline, we’re going to invest in the infrastructure, invest in the right team, etc., so that they can be positioned for within just a few years to launch a $10-million campaign as the first phase of a larger campaign. So that’s what good data can do for you. That’s what good strategy, good planning, good development, good fundraising can do for you.

[00:26:36.370] – Boris
That’s pretty impressive results. Good for them.

[00:26:39.840] – Regina Alhassan
Yeah. So three years is a bit of a wait, but we know the average donor cycle is 18 months. And so we have to put forth that investment and again, we have to start somewhere.

[00:26:53.710] – Boris
Awesome. So speaking of, we have to start somewhere. Where should we start? If an organization isn’t doing what best practice might look like, or they’ve been compiling data into their CRM, whatever that looks like, but not really going to it and strategically looking at it and using it, where should they start to get on this road to success with their data, where they can really maximize it and increase their impact?

[00:27:26.980] – Regina Alhassan
Yeah. So the first place that I tell people to start is screening your data, whether or not you screen all of your donors at once, or you screen them individually and by screening what I mean is to find out what is their capacity. What is the capacity of your donor database? And again, you can screen your entire database at one time, or you can do the individual research to figure out your top donors or start with your board, what is the true giving capacity for those individuals and go from there and match that or not necessarily match, but compare that giving capacity with their actual giving history to your organization. And wherever there are gaps, then we can start to build out some strategy to get people closer to their true capacity.

[00:28:17.710] – Boris
Now that seems to me almost a little cold. What’s their capacity to give, right? It’s putting a potential dollar amount on a person. What does that actually look like? How do you do that? How do you quantify that? And then how do you approach talking to somebody about it?

[00:28:36.130] – Regina Alhassan
Yeah. So the capacity really is internal work, and you don’t necessarily tell someone, oh, I figured out what your capacity is. That’s not the conversation that we’re having. This is very internal so that you can build out a strategy, and it can be cold, to be quite honest. But again, this is not front facing. This is all internal. And so with that, it is a bit cold, but it also allows you to create donor segments and donor buckets.

[00:29:08.540] – Regina Alhassan
And so if you determine that a particular donor only has capacity for $10,000, well, then there’s no reason to try to solicit them or cultivate them for $100,000 gift. Or if you may get a surprise, that, oh, here’s someone that really has a $50,000 capacity, but they’ve only given us $20. Well, why is that? Maybe we should have a conversation with this person or let’s try to engage them so that we make space for a conversation. And so those are the opportunities, those are the gaps that we’re looking for. And having the capacity will allow us to do that. It’s a little cold, yes, but it’s very internal. This is the science behind it, and this is a necessary step to build our strategy.

[00:30:02.830] – Boris
I think even as I’m listening to you talk about it, I think it actually can be not cold, but kind of the opposite of it, which is warming things up. You want to know as much as you can about the folks that you’re speaking to. Now, ideally, you learn as much as you can directly from them. But if you have third-party sources, of course, it’s still valid and valuable information. We have, I’m sure you know, this concept of the donor-size problem where you’re not going to ask just anybody to put their name on a building, for example, just to go to the extreme of it and to be the base of your capital campaign. But if you don’t know who those folks are that you can approach, then you might just be throwing it out at everybody and turning people off.

[00:30:54.790] – Regina Alhassan
Unfortunately, we lost connection with Regina just as we were trying to wrap up the episode there and ask her for some resources, but I was able to get them from her. We were just talking about screening your donors and being able to identify whom you can approach for different types of campaigns.

[00:31:11.790] – Boris
You don’t want to approach folks with a very limited budget and ask them for a whole lot of money. It’ll be actually insensitive. And at the same time, you want to ask the people who are capable of giving you more to give more because you want them to know, I should say, that you understand them and their ability and their capacity. And it’s not necessarily cold to then say, “Hey, I know you care about these things, and I believe that you could really take us much further. And we’ve got opportunities specifically for someone like yourself.”

[00:31:45.850] – Boris
So I had asked Regina what resources she recommends and specifically for screening, Regina recommended the iWave free screening tool. So I’m going to link to this in the show notes where you could go to iWave and screen up to 200 of your donor records to really see what their capacity is and extract whatever data you can. It’s an easy and cheap way, because for free you can do this, to get some information about some of your folks, dip your toe into these waters if you haven’t been already doing this.

[00:32:16.220] – Boris
The other resource that she recommended was actually “The Philanthropy Revolution” by Lisa Greer, who we have had on the show. I’m going to link to that podcast episode as well. I love Lisa and the way that she talks about herself being a philanthropist and how we need to change the way that we talk to people, including deeper-pocketed philanthropists like herself, to treat them more as human beings and develop these relationships rather than as just cold data points or sources of money like ATMs, which I think is a very important mission that she’s on there.

[00:32:49.160] – Boris
AnSd you can follow Regina and get to know her more by following her at @theresearchpro. And she does offer an intro call for nonprofits who are looking for donors, whether they’re high-end donors or just ways to maximize your current database. And I will link to her currently where you can just go ahead and book a slot with her as well in the show notes.

[00:33:12.400] – Boris
Thank you, everybody, for joining us. Thank you, Regina, for being on the show today and talking about all these important things in terms of using your donor data, really developing relationships based on data as a whole. We will hopefully have more from Regina in the coming episodes because I would actually really love to talk to her about how to screen donors and how to find those bigger donor prospects, the bigger philanthropists. That’s a conversation for another time.

[00:33:41.990] – Boris
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please do share it with your friends. Please do leave us a review on iTunes, on Spotify on YouTube or wherever you find this content so that you can help us help more people create more heroes for their cause. Thank you everybody. We’ll see you next week.

[00:33:59.170] – Intro
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:

  • Regina hadn’t planned to go into fundraising, but discovered that this was a way to change the world—and that there was some science behind how it works. (2:26)
  • Fundraising and philanthropy is on the rise from new and existing donors, but many organizations are still struggling. (5:11)
  • The pandemic created some new opportunities for creative fundraising, but many organizations aren’t embracing the new ideas, preferring to go back to the old ways of doing things like having big in-person annual galas. (8:35)
  • Around half of all Americans are actively donating to causes. That means that there is still half of the population that we haven’t reached yet. (9:42)
  • Everyone who engages with your org should be tracked in your database, whether they’re donors, fans, members, advocates, students, clients, etc. (10:40)
    • We should be tracking their names and contact info, but also all of the touchpoints in our engagement with them to be able to do some predictive analysis to maximize our efforts.
  • Using donor data to predict future behavior doesn’t have to be costly or involve artificial intelligence. We can simply look at what different donors have responded to in the past to make intelligent guesses about what they might do in the future. (11:27)
    • Every time you have an event or raise funds, capture as much data as you can. Look to see what worked and what didn’t, and then iterate on it for the next attempt.
  • You don’t need a lot of aggregate data to get started, you just have to start with whatever data you have and build on that. (15:06)
  • Regina sees two major issues in nonprofit donor data: relationships and data integrity. (16:06)
    • Relationships: How well are you tracking family relationships, network relationships, company relationships, etc.?
    • Data integrity: Not everything is tracked and, perhaps more importantly, things aren’t tracked consistently by different people over time.
  • Having a process doc that is easily accessible and is part of the onboarding process for all new staff is critical to data integrity and consistency over time. (17:35)
  • Using data to understand your donors, you can segment and allocate the right resources to nurturing your relationships, automating some aspects but keeping them personal. (19:39)
  • Sometimes it’s better to restart your database entirely than to continue with a database that’s incomplete and ambiguous. Regina shares a client success story of an organization that scrapped their database and rebuilt it over three years, but now is on track to fulfill a $10-million capital campaign. (24:03)
  • To maximize your donor database, Regina recommends screening your data to find out their capacity, whether you do it one donor at a time or the entire database at once. This can feel like a cold process, but it can be used to make your relationships stronger. (27:27)
    • Knowing what people are capable of giving allows you to focus your efforts more strategically.
    • Donor capacity can also be used as a guidepost for engaging them in conversations and approaching them with problems on a scale that they can solve, rather than asking for too much or too little, which could feel insulting.

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Regina Alhassan

Regina Alhassan

CEO, ResearchPRO, LLC

Regina Alhassan is Founder & CEO of ResearchPRO, a leading prospect development consulting firm. An award-winning TEDx Speaker with total dollars identified in the billions, Regina’s work has fueled major gift campaigns for organizations across the country including The Ohio State University, I Am Boundless, Mid-Ohio Food Collective, Communities In Schools and Children’s Literacy Initiative. Her 20 years of prospect research and management includes wealth analysis, software development, end user training, leadership coaching, knowledge management, moves management, systems management, donor relations and development operations. Current Secretary for the Central Ohio chapter of Association of Fundraising Professionals, Regina is also an artist, writer, and philanthropist.

Connect with Regina Alhassan

EP47 - Allison Shurilla - Featured

Episode 47: Evaluating and Optimizing Your Nonprofit Programs, with Allison Shurilla

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 47

Evaluating and Optimizing Your Nonprofit Programs, with Allison Shurilla

In this Episode:

Which is a better way to serve your nonprofit’s program participants: Experience and knowledge-based assumptions, or regular input from the participants themselves?

The answer is, of course, combining both. After all, how do you know how to apply your knowledge if you’re not regularly asking your beneficiaries what they need and how it’s working?

That’s where evaluation comes in, to collect the feedback and input from your constituents and provide insights (and stories) to how you’re doing and how you can serve them better.

Allison Shurilla is the founder of AS Community Consulting. In this interview, she lays out how evaluations can help nonprofits by first clarifying what they want to achieve, then establishing the evaluative processes that they can use, and finally incorporating them into their regular processes.

[00:00:05.030] – 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 world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.670] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. We talk a lot about storytelling. We talk a lot about donor engagement, and we talk a lot about technology. And today’s guest is actually at the intersection of all three of those I think, in that she helps organizations figure out what is working and what is not working within their programs so that they can then apply it to their storytelling, their technology and their programs in general and create better connections with donors, but also deliver more value.

[00:00:52.730] – Allison Shurilla
So I’m going to bring her on in a second, but let me tell you a little bit about Allison Shurilla. She is the founder and lead consultant of AS Community Consulting, where she helps community organizations build a culture of evaluation and integrate evaluation into their organizations so they can learn about their work, to do it better, and have the greatest impact. AS Community Consulting supports community organizations in building evaluation culture through consulting, coaching, and leading trainings and workshops. And that’s kind of what I’m going to have her do today. Her superpower Allison describes is connection, both in terms of connecting people and ideas.

[00:01:26.660] – Boris
And with that, let’s connect with Allison and bring her onto the show. Hi, Allison.

[00:01:31.760] – Allison Shurilla
Hi, Boris. Thank you for having me here.

[00:01:34.470] – Boris
It is absolutely my pleasure. We’ve been talking about having you on for a while now. So I’m excited that you are finally here, and I’m ready to pull as much information as I can out of you for all our nonprofit heroes at home or at work or in their cars, wherever they’re watching or listening to this show. Don’t watch and drive, it’s bad. But before I do, before we dive in, Allison, tell us a little bit more. What is your story? Why do you do what you do today?

[00:02:00.310] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So my background is actually in education and youth work. I started out as a nonprofit professional, and I decided that I wanted to do something at not the ground level. I originally thought I wanted to be doing policy work, and I got a Master’s in Public Policy, and I thought I wanted to be doing research. And I ended up finding evaluation while I was in policy school and while I was kind of pursuing learning about research. And evaluation really struck me as the thing that could have a really huge impact by helping people and organizations use the information that they have to make decisions to improve their program, to have the impact that they ultimately want to have. And ever since I learned what evaluation was, I have been running with it and trying to find the best ways to do it and to find the best way that it can be helpful for organizations and really help them do what they are here to do.

[00:03:00.550] – Boris
Awesome. So many of us started out in the nonprofit space on the inside and then realized that we could hopefully have a bigger impact and help more organizations do more. It’s a common transition. And I appreciate that you have taken on because it’s not easy going out and suddenly opening up your own shop, if you will, trying to get your message out there. But you know that it’s important. You know that it’s helping organizations. So I, for one, appreciate what you’re doing, and I’m sure your clients do, too.

[00:03:30.930] – Boris
But let’s talk about what is the problem that you’re solving. And let me start by asking you what’s happening right now? Maybe things have changed since the pandemic began. Maybe not. But what’s happening right now in the nonprofit space, from your point of view?

[00:03:45.970] – Allison Shurilla
I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty and there’s still a lot of questions. Like uncertainty is a word that we still hear every day. People are still talking about whether or not they’re going to do programs online or in person or how they’re going to navigate changing or what’s going on with the populations that they’re working with and what’s going on in their communities. And there’s just a lot of questioning. And evaluation ultimately helps to answer those questions. That’s why I’m here to do what I do. So I’m finding that everywhere from what’s going on with the participants in our program, what’s going on with their lives, how can we help them? How do we optimize our program so that we’re serving them the best way? To what is the impact we’re having anyway? We can’t tell because things don’t look the same way they used to.

[00:04:34.270] – Boris
I definitely can see that. And especially since the move to digital, the great jump into digital that everybody had to take, I feel like a lot of organizations did things based on instinct or reactionary, which was necessary, and I’m not judging any of them for doing it. But they may not then realize what the effects have been or they’re not sure how to look at it. Is that the kind of thing that evaluation is really there to help them with?

[00:05:02.230] – Allison Shurilla
Absolutely. I think that evaluation sometimes gets put in this box of surveys or reporting or just looking at your numbers. But it’s really there to help you answer those questions. And when things change or you know things are going good and you want to figure out what exactly is working, evaluation is here to help you dig into that and really answer those questions.

[00:05:25.390] – Boris
So what’s the problem with the way that, let’s say most or the organizations that don’t incorporate evaluation into their lives, into their work lives? What’s the problem with the way that they’re making decisions today?

[00:05:38.470] – Allison Shurilla
I think that it is lacking a specificity and the type of information they’re getting in real time. So program developers, executive directors, whoever they may be, they’re making their decisions based on a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience. Maybe they went to school for something. Maybe they’ve been living in the community they’re working in, and they have this really in-depth knowledge about what goes on or how to design a program. But they’re not necessarily getting regular feedback about what’s happening at this moment or what’s happening in real time or if something like a pandemic comes along, what you do now, because everything you know, it’s not the way that things have become. And so the problem is that if you don’t have an evaluation system that’s helping you look at things as they change or even just look at things in general, you’re kind of just running on guesses based on maybe previous knowledge, based on academic knowledge or community knowledge, which are all important. But evaluation gives you that extra real-time piece.

[00:06:42.910] – Boris
I find that that happens a lot in organizations. I work with their storytelling all the time, obviously, with their communications and marketing. And I’ll check out their websites. And there’s a lot of inside the bubble speak, right? We’re inside our organizations. We’ve been in them sometimes for 20, 30 years. So we know everything so well. And we assume that all of that gets communicated. Similarly, we know everything so well we assume that we’re doing the right thing. We’re doing the best thing without necessarily having that evaluation or testing our hypotheses or to see whether or not there’s a better way or something else that we can optimize.

[00:07:23.110] – Boris
So then I guess what’s the solution to that? You mentioned surveys, and that’s what a lot of people think when it comes to evaluations. Maybe we should start with what does it mean? What does evaluations mean in the sense that you’re using it? And what does it mean for nonprofits in general?

[00:07:40.810] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So kind of along the previous conversation that we were having, I was having a conversation with a group of evaluators recently, and we find that we’ll come into an organization and they’ll ask us for the answer. They want to know what the best way is to develop a program and they want to know what the best practices or they’re using what is known as the best practice. And we as evaluators are in real time creating the best practice.

[00:08:06.090] – Allison Shurilla
So in the organization, we will come in and help you look at talk to people in your community or talk to your staff to harness that knowledge. So all of those things that we just talked about, the best practices, the going to school, the knowledge of the community, evaluation kind of takes that and puts it together and looks at it to answer very specific questions so that you can use that information to make changes or to increase efficiency in your organization; to find out what it is about your program that’s really having the biggest impact; to find out what your community really needs so that you can be serving them to the best of your ability.

[00:08:47.890] – Allison Shurilla
And then it also gives you tools to communicate that, so you can communicate that to your funders, to your donors, to the community itself. If you want to get more people coming to your program, you can use that as evidence of saying, “Hey, come here, look at this great time all these people are having.” Or, “This is how it’s influencing people and impacting people.”

[00:09:07.690] – Boris
So it definitely sounds like a very powerful tool to use in our processes, in our systems. I know you talk about this all the time. Is it something that we should be doing on an as-needed basis, or is it something that organizations should be doing on a continual basis hand-in-hand with whatever program they’re delivering or whatever services they’re working on?

[00:09:31.810] – Allison Shurilla
It should be done along with the program. It should be something that’s continuously done as part of the work that you’re doing. So evaluation, in my opinion, is most powerful when it is part of what you’re doing and not a separate add-on. So a traditional evaluation or a way that is very commonly done is that I, as an evaluator, might come in, do a big research-looking study. I might design some surveys, or I might do some interviews or focus groups with people. Then I would write you a nice report that tells you what I think and what I found out.

[00:10:04.570] – Allison Shurilla
I think it can be much more powerful for an organization to be able to build in processes so that they’re looking at data, they’re looking at the information, they’re talking to people and gathering feedback from people in a way. And then using that to make their decisions as they’re trying to develop program changes or applying for a grant or trying to decide what to do for their big event that they’re doing, right? Evaluation is the thing that can give them these little pieces of information that can help them make those decisions with real-time information that’s happening in the community.

[00:10:41.050] – Boris
So then, you mentioned surveys early, and it sounded like you were saying that’s what people associate with evaluation, but that’s not necessarily the heart of it, which I totally understand. But then are surveys then… How do you do ongoing real-time evaluation unless it’s something like a survey? Are there other tools that you put in?

[00:11:03.370] – Allison Shurilla
I talk about surveys a lot because they’re still very common in evaluation. And that’s the thing that I get asked about a lot. And so it comes up a lot, and I witness it happening. Most organizations have familiarity with it in some way. But they can be busy work. They can be giving you information that’s not that valuable. They could be not giving you the right information that you need. And so I deal a lot with conversations and talking to people. A way that I really like to work with organizations is, say that you have something like a youth program, like my background is in working with youth in education.

[00:11:43.810] – Allison Shurilla
We have a youth program that we meet every Tuesday, and so we have this population of kids, right? That we’re talking to our students or young people, whatever language that you want to use for them. And we give them a survey once a quarter. They give their answers. It feels like a test. It doesn’t necessarily feel like something where they can feel like they can authentically engage with the organization or with the program.

[00:12:07.750] – Allison Shurilla
Another option might be to have a conversation that’s integrated with the program, an activity that you design to gather feedback from the students to find out what they think and how they’re responding to the program and what they think would make it work better, how they can get their friends there, maybe how it’s impacting their grades and their relationship to school or to their families or to community.

[00:12:29.000] – Allison Shurilla
Whatever your goal is or your focus of that program, instead of just handing over a piece of paper or an online survey to students, you can have a real conversation with them. And that can be extrapolated to your staff or to parents or to other community members you’re working with. I also work a lot in public health. And if you’re working with patients, how can you really get some authentic, real information from them? That’s not… The survey can be a little dry and a little removed.

[00:13:07.410] – Boris
I see. So whereas a survey feels more designed to collect data, you’re actually trying to be more interactive conversational and almost extract stories from them, but really let them guide some of the conversation as well, rather than just a one-directional or I guess two-directional, but an exchange. It is an actual kind of interactive conversation about the subject. Is that right?

[00:13:37.060] – Allison Shurilla
Yes. And a little bit more about my background is that the methodology that I use is based in story collecting and qualitative methods is what we call them, as opposed to quantitative methods, which are like statistics. And a survey is actually considered a quantitative method. And in community-based participatory research methods, which is a little bit of a big word. But basically the essence of it is that the people that we’re gathering information from have a lot more to give than just a data point. They have a lot more to give than just a one to five on a survey. I’m sorry I’m hating on surveys so much. I don’t hate surveys. I use them. I think they’re very valuable. Please, nobody come for me for hating on surveys, but they can be overused and they can be improperly used. And I see that happen a lot, which is why it’s such a common example that I give.

[00:14:32.670] – Allison Shurilla
And so the type of evaluation that I do and the way that I work with organizations tries to move them beyond that so that evaluation isn’t just a piece of information, but it’s a process, and it is a relationship, and it is something that harnesses both the expertise and knowledge and talents of the people working in the organization as much as the people that are receiving services from the organization or interacting with the organization.

[00:15:06.510] – Boris
So if I’m a nonprofit professional right now, listening to this episode, I’m thinking, okay, that sounds nice, but it sounds super resource intensive. It’s going to take a lot of my time or my staff time. How do you answer that? Is it worth it, first of all? I’m sure you’re going to say yes, but how do you justify all of that time and expense in terms of staff power, to do this kind of work?

[00:15:37.170] – Allison Shurilla
I mean, certainly it can be resource intensive, and it can turn into a very big, comprehensive thing if that’s what you want to do. But it can also be very simple. One of my passions is to work with organizations to make it simpler and to make it integrated into what they’re doing. I don’t want to create extra work. I don’t want to create busy work. We have enough to do. Nonprofit professionals, we’re doing everything, right? And so how can evaluation be something that is a part of all of that? So with the youth program example, we’re already using the program that we have. We’re not developing anything new. We might take that information that we get and use it in a staff meeting to talk to our staff, or we might integrate a couple of minutes of a staff meeting every time to talk about… To go over maybe a dashboard or to talk about evaluation.

[00:16:30.390] – Allison Shurilla
And the way that I also work is in looking at the information that’s actually going to be the most valuable to help you do what you need to do, to have the impact that you want to have, to have the processes that are efficient. Evaluation can actually create efficiencies by finding the things that are working well and the things that aren’t working as well; and using the things that you’re doing every day and just putting a different lens on it. Like, looking at it a little bit differently so that you’re using it as an evaluative process or an evaluative culture so that you can learn from that way and you don’t necessarily need to do a big extra thing.

[00:17:15.450] – Boris
So in the case of your youth example, your youth group, are you talking about at the end of each… I don’t know. Let’s say they do ongoing meetings. At the end of each meeting, they spend five minutes asking for feedback.

[00:17:29.010] – Allison Shurilla
It could look like that, or it could be a dedicated session that you work with them on it. I’ve also worked with youth programs to do what’s called youth participatory evaluation. So they’re actually involved in the whole process and helping you make those decisions and answer questions. And it’s a program in itself. It can be… So it can be a very generative thing for those students as they learn how to look at data and process data and talk to people and writing skills, and they can learn all kinds of things. That’s a very robust example, but … I think in my work, I find that it works different ways with different programs and whatever is going to work for you, it could be as simple as doing something every once in a while, or it could be a lot more comprehensive. I hope that answers your question.

[00:18:23.030] – Boris
It does, it does. I’m still just trying to figure out exactly how much extra resource it might take up. It sounds like what you’re saying is that’s really up to you. It could be as little as you want or as much as you want. And you can make an entire program out of just your evaluation—or at least an event out of your evaluation—where you might discover what it is that you should be evaluating in the first place because you’re going to get input from your constituents.

[00:18:51.710] – Allison Shurilla
One of my goals as a consultant is to help organizations find the sweet spot about how much they want to invest in this and in what way they want to invest in it, right? So do you want to do a big extra project? Those are really valuable and really important sometimes. But do you want to develop a system within your organization so that it’s so seamless you don’t even know that you’re doing it? It’s hard to answer that question because they’re just limitless options, right? It could be very simple or it could be very, very comprehensive. And I think even when it’s simple, it can be very powerful because you’re just starting to look at information a different way that can help you do your work a little bit differently.

[00:19:39.930] – Boris
Okay. So how do you know that your evaluation program is working? Let’s assume that we’ve signed on for this concept of continual integrated evaluation. How do we know that it is working, that we’re asking the right questions? What are some of the results we might see from the process and the work?

[00:20:07.570] – Allison Shurilla
The results that you’ll see is that you will have more confidence. I think is one of them could be that you are making the right decisions instead of being like you’re guessing. I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to say that people aren’t confident in the decisions that they make. But what you’ll see is that when you are talking to your community or you are working with your community, you know the way that you’re affecting them, you know the way that you’re impacting them—is really powerful, and it’s something that is your unique way of working with them. As opposed to, like, they couldn’t just get it from anywhere else. Because they know that your organization is the one that’s making the difference. Your organization is the one that’s affecting them that way because you have the data to back that up. You have the stories, you have the numbers, you have whatever it is, those things are going to tell you what exactly is happening.

[00:21:02.110] – Allison Shurilla
Another thing you might see that I witnessed in my work is that you can find out what it is about your work that is having the biggest impact, so that you can be dedicating your time and resources to those things that are really having the impact instead of the things that may not be.

[00:21:18.500] – Allison Shurilla
So you might know that you’re having a great impact on your students or on your community. You might know that their grades are doing really well or they’re having great conversations about health with their peers. But you don’t know which part of your program is doing it, right? You don’t know if it’s because they have the one class or if it’s the entire program or if it’s the frequency of the program or if it’s the guest speakers you have in. So you might be dedicating all these time and resources to developing these programs. Evaluation can help you understand what about them is working, and it can help you poke the holes in the gaps that might be not working so well so that you can change those and not be wasting your time doing something that’s not so effective. And you can take that and extrapolate it to anything in the organization: your staff, your work processes, whatever you might have a question about evaluation is going to help you kind of boil it down into what’s working really well, what’s not working, what’s missing so that you can fill in those holes, all those pieces.

[00:22:26.350] – Boris
That sounds pretty great and I think really important. Again, for organizations that… like most organizations that I’ve worked with, for example, go on instinct, they go on experience and they might start a new program. It may or may not work. Then they’ll try something else, which is totally fine and fair. But really knowing why something is working, what parts of it are working, what parts that are not working will definitely help you optimize and decide what to double down on, what to pull back from, so that you can better serve your community ultimately and so that you can empower them better with the tools and the things that they really crave or are responding to in your particular situation.

[00:23:08.230] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. I mean, nonprofits, the organizations I work with, ultimately, they’re mission driven, right? They have a purpose. They have something they’re trying to achieve. And evaluation helps you know whether or not you’re achieving that, how you’re achieving it, and what you can do to achieve it better, what you can do to do it better.

[00:23:29.130] – Boris
Or as we say on the show, how to create more heroes for your cause.

[00:23:32.210] – Allison Shurilla

[00:23:33.430] – Boris
So if an organization is not currently doing evaluations, if it’s not currently in a culture of evaluation, within the organization. Where should they get started? How do they start approaching this or thinking about this concept of evaluation?

[00:23:50.290] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So my recommendation is always just to start with a question. And when I say that, I mean a really simple question. What is something… If you’re talking to someone in the hallway, you’re talking to a family member or a friend, you say, “I wish I knew this.” Or, “I wonder…” The kind of thing that you’re like, “I wonder about this because I think knowing the answer to that would have an impact on my work.” It would help me be more confident in my work or make changes or be able to do my work to the best of all.

[00:24:20.100] – Allison Shurilla
You just start with a question and then you look at how you’re answering it. And when I lead workshops on this and when I lead people through this process, I encourage them not to think about evaluation. I’m already there as an evaluator. But I’m like, don’t think about it right now. Think about the really organic ways that you’re answering that question. Right? So we talk to people. I talk to the staff member, I talk to people in my community, I talk to my students or my patients or Joan at the front desk. And she told me, right, like, what’s going on? Those are the things that you can take.

[00:24:57.700] – Allison Shurilla
And then once you think about it that way, you can start to drill it down into something that looks a little bit more strategic. So how can you turn that into a more robust conversation, like a focus group or develop a survey? This is when we decide whether or not we need a survey, right? This is when we say, you know what? It actually would be really helpful if we send out a survey to every single person we talk to to ask this question or whatever it might be. That could give you some really great information. And so it can be very simple. And you can start with one question or one issue or one topic and put those little pieces in so that it doesn’t feel like a lot and it’s integrated into what you’re doing.

[00:25:43.810] – Boris
You just brought to mind the known unknown matrix. You’re familiar with that one? Where you’ve got four quadrants of known knowns. What is it? Actually, I’m going to look at it. Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns.

[00:25:59.180] – Allison Shurilla

[00:25:59.790] – Boris
Right? And it sounds like and maybe this is where the whole survey thing comes in is a survey can measure the unknown knowns, right? Or the known unknowns. But it can’t measure the unknown unknowns, whereas an evaluation process is going to help you discover the things you don’t even realize you don’t know. And some things that you might know that you didn’t realize you knew.

[00:26:23.770] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. That’s actually a really good framing. That’s absolutely correct.

[00:26:28.990] – Boris
Free of charge. You can incorporate that into your next workshop. So then it looks like we start from what you’re saying. We start with first, evaluating or no, just is it brainstorming and writing out what is it that we wish we knew? So what are our known unknowns things that we know we don’t really know yet, and then start going deeper and deeper from there?

[00:26:53.300] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah, I think that would be a good way to put it. And if you want to start real small, I have a tool that you can use that you just take like 10, 15 minutes, like just a few minutes, and just sit down and kind of brainstorm some ideas and kind of work through this in your head what it might look like. And it can start with baby steps like that, and eventually it can become something a little bit deeper.

[00:27:19.630] – Allison Shurilla
So you start with, what do I wish I knew? If I could know anything, what would be the answer? What would be the information that I would have? And then you drill it down into very simple things like, what do I know now? And how do I know that? And then you learn how to make it more specific. And ultimately, at the end of all of this, you will have a process where this is so seamless that you’re just, like asking questions. You’re bringing out ways to answer them. You’re answering them. You’re making your program changes based on what it is, and then your senior community flourish because you are such an amazing, efficient nonprofit that you’re doing all your work the best you can.

[00:28:04.330] – Boris
That’s awesome. And I think that’s a great point to wrap up the conversation. But I do want to ask you, if people are interested in learning more about evaluations in general or maybe an example of evaluations done well. Are there any tools or resources, books even that you recommend people might go check out?

[00:28:21.010] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So I have my own resources on my website that talk a little bit about evaluation that do help you walk through the process that I just described. I have a workbook and like a one pager that kind of helps you start to think about it.

[00:28:34.810] – Allison Shurilla
One of the resources that I always point people to is called, I believe the title of it is like, “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” And it’s from an organization called Chicago Beyond based in Chicago. And it’s basically like this tool that talks about research, which evaluation is kind of a type of research, and relates it to the human side of it and the person side of it, instead of just seeing people as ways to get data or ways to get information or to extract information from. It’s a very long kind of comprehensive thing. But if you look at it on a very basic level, it does help you put into perspective what evaluation can look like that isn’t just a data point. And I just love the resource because it’s one of the bases for kind of how I do my work.

[00:29:27.430] – Boris
Fantastic. We’re going to link to that and to the resources you have on your website, because I have checked them out. I like them. They’re a great, very simple framework to just start thinking and brainstorming around these topics and then to hopefully take some actions to implement things. So we’re definitely going to link to all that. Do you have any other calls to action for our audience? How should they connect with you? What should they do once they’ve finished listening to this episode and wanted to follow up with Allison Shurilla?

[00:29:55.450] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So you can go to my website, you can send me an email, get in touch with me that way. I do free consultations. And there is also a link in my website that you can go ahead and just schedule that directly with me. And I have a newsletter that you can sign up for and a blog. And so you could sign up for my newsletter, keep in touch with the kind of things I’m working on, what I talk about. If some of these ideas are interesting to you, but you want to hear a little bit more about them, that’s a great way to just kind of follow me. So that you know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about and what I think about some of these things.

[00:30:32.290] – Boris
Awesome. And I do encourage people to go and do that. Check out Allison’s site, get those resources, and then book a call, spend some time picking her brain for free to figure out what it is that you could be getting from evaluations and how you can conduct evaluations to better optimize all your processes and ultimately your impact on the world.

[00:30:55.690] – Boris
Thank you, Allison, so much for joining us today and breaking down what is really a difficult topic to just wrap around. But I think we’ve really gotten to a point where hopefully if people don’t fully understand it, didn’t fully understand it before, that they get a really good idea of it now and all the benefits that it can provide them. And I appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to share that knowledge with us and how to start implementing a culture of evaluation or thinking about evaluation within our own programs.

[00:31:22.990] – Allison Shurilla
Alright. And thank you for having me. It’s been great to talk to you today.

[00:31:26.540] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, everybody who is watching, listening or reading the transcript of this episode, be sure to check out our show notes at nphf.show for all of the takeaways from this episode and all of the resources that Allison has shared with us. We’re going to, of course, link to them right there on our site. And if you like this episode, please do share it with your friends. And please leave us a review on iTunes, Spotify, or whatever your favorite platform is, YouTube as well. We do, of course, have the show live there every time too. Thank you everybody. Have a great week. We’ll see you soon.

[00:32:00.250] – Intro 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 chat platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Evaluation helps people and organizations use the information that they have to make decisions that increase impact. (2:23)
  • Two years into the pandemic, there is still uncertainty today around the most effective ways to deliver programs, online or in person. At the same time, the lives of program participants have often dramatically changed. (3:45)
  • Most organizations run on experience, accumulated knowledge, instinct and assumptions. But they’re not testing those assumptions and getting regular feedback. (5:38)
  • Evaluation helps organizations harness their knowledge and resources and understand how to best apply them in service of their community’s needs at a given point in time. It also gives you the tools to communicate your impact to funders and the community itself. (8:07)
  • Evaluation is most powerful when done continuously, not as an ad-hoc tool. (9:32)
    • Traditionally, evaluation is done as a big research effort, but it’s more powerful to build in evaluation to their processes and programs to get continual feedback.
  • Surveys are what most people think of when it comes to evaluation, but surveys are limited because they only collect the data you ask for, like a test. Evaluation should engage with the participants in a more authentic way that allows them to lead the conversation and give their input rather than just feedback. (11:03)
  • Community-based participatory research methods are based in the idea that people have more to offer than just a quantitative data point. (13:37)
    • “Evaluation isn’t just a piece of information, but it’s a process, and it is a relationship, and it is something that harnesses both the expertise and knowledge and talents of the people working in the organization as much as the people that are receiving services from the organization or interacting with the organization.”
  • Evaluation can be integrated into processes without adding a lot of additional burden. It can actually also create efficiencies in your existing processes. (16:43)
    • Both types of efforts—dedicated evaluation programs and incorporated evaluation in your regular programs—can be valuable, depending on your goals and resources.
  • Data and input from evaluations helps organizations make the case for the unique value they offer their communities, because they have the data and the stories to back up those statements. (20:24)
    • It also helps you see what aspects of your work are having the greatest impact, so that you can better channel your resources to what’s working.
  • Alli recommends starting with a really simple question, like what do you wish you new, which, knowing the answer would have an impact on your work. (23:50)
    • Don’t think of it at first in terms of evaluation. Start by looking at the ways that you’re already answering the question.
    • Then you can start to boil it down into something strategic, whether that’s a conversation or a survey.
  • Within the known-unknown matrix, surveys can help you with your known-unknowns and unknown knowns, whereas qualitative evals can help you discover things you didn’t realize you didn’t know (unknown unknowns) and some of the things you didn’t realize you knew (unknown knowns). (25:43)
  • Once you incorporate evaluations into your programs, you should have a seamless process in which you’re asking questions, collecting answers in different ways, and evolving your programs in response to better and more efficiently serve your community. (27:38)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Allison Shurilla

Allison Shurilla

Founder, AS Community Consulting

Allison Shurilla is the Founder and Lead Consultant of AS Community Consulting where she helps community organizations build a culture of evaluation and integrate evaluation into their organizations so that they can learn about their work to do it better and have their greatest impact. AS Community Consulting supports community organizations in building evaluation culture through consulting, coaching, and leading trainings and workshops.

Connect with Allison Shurilla

EP46 - Sean Kosofsky - Featured

Episode 46: Raise Your Nonprofit’s Profile with an Effective Media Strategy, with Sean Kosofsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 46

Raise Your Nonprofit’s Profile with an Effective Media Strategy, with Sean Kosofsky

In this Episode:

Getting media attention for your nonprofit’s work is a powerful way to reach new people, build your authority, and shape the narrative around your mission. It’s not enough to put out a press release and hope it gets picked up by some new source. Today, nonprofits of all sizes need a media strategy built on relationships and the ability to provide value to both the reporter and their audience.

For better and worse, news media itself has been undergoing rapid change over the last 20 years. With newsrooms shrinking, news cycles accelerating, and news sources multiplying, the competition for attention presents both a challenge and an opportunity for media-savvy nonprofits to step in and make their voices heard.

Sean Kosofsky, founder and CEO of Mind The Gap Consulting has been working with nonprofits to develop their media strategy. He joins us this week to break down how any org can develop relationships with news media and to be part of the public conversation versus simply reacting to it.

[00:00:04.610] – 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 world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.910] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. As always, I am your host Boris Kievsky, and I am here today with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a few years now. I don’t know how many we go back. Maybe he can remember, but his name is Sean Kosofsky. Let me pronounce that right. And I love his moniker of the nonprofit fixer it says a lot right there. But he is a coach, consultant, trainer and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates, raise millions of dollars and transform nonprofit organizations and leaders.

[00:00:57.690] – Boris
Sean has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits from policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more. All really great, important issues. Sean’s work has been covered in media outlets—really relevant to today—internationally, and he has received numerous awards for his work. He’s an author and the owner of Mind The Gap Consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in New York with his husband and their dog, Harry.

[00:01:39.790] – Boris
Before I bring Sean on, let me just tell you that his superpower is pitching. He says that he’s very good at breaking things down and explaining them simply in a way that is easy for people to understand and I’m guessing very effective for hooking media attention, because that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. We’re going to be talking about your PR and media strategy and training. With that, let’s bring Sean on to tell us more. Hey, Sean.

[00:02:03.190] – Sean Kosofsky
Hey. How are you?

[00:02:04.410] – Boris
I’m doing great today. I’m really happy to have you on the show. We, as I said, have known each other for a few years now. We’ve done a few things together. And finally, I get to have you on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:02:16.510] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here to talk about all things nonprofits.

[00:02:21.550] – Boris
Awesome. And I know you can talk about all things nonprofits, but we’re going to zone in and hone in, I should say, on one particular strength of yours, which you have several, and that is the media training thing. But before we dive into that, I read your bio and your superpower here. Clearly an impressive dude. 28 years. Hats off to you off of my bald head here. But real quick, why don’t you give the folks at home a little introduction? What’s your story? Why do you do what you do today?

[00:02:48.130] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that for me, nonprofit work has been a lifelong journey, as you said 28 years. I got my start at age 16, really stayed in the sector, had no idea in college what I wanted to do when I grew up. But when I fell into a really great job at a civil rights organization in that state at age 20, I was hooked and realized I could make a career out of doing this. And I have just been in the nonprofit space ever since. But I really think the experience as a gay man of being in the closet when I was a teenager, the painful experience of being in the closet and what that felt like has really driven so much of my advocacy and so much of my activism during my life because I really want to make sure that I can end suffering wherever I see suffering happening. And if I can get paid doing that, that’s amazing. So my journey has always taken me to organizations where I can specifically tackle people suffering or struggling or the world in some ways with climate organizations that I’m with now, the world sort of struggling.

[00:03:46.870] – Boris
That’s awesome. It’s interesting because a lot of nonprofit founders, I feel, get into the work because they personally have their own mission. Obviously, they have to be mission driven in some way or other. And a lot of it stems from what in the for-profit space might be called scratching your own itch, right? You have a problem and you want to solve it. I think most of us can resonate with that. And I really appreciate that you shared that bit with us today. So let’s then dive into what’s going on in the nonprofit sector, particularly when it comes to PR and media? What’s happening in terms of COVID? How is the world happening? How is the world working or not working these days for organizations?

[00:04:33.460] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think for a lot of people, they’ve realized that the news environment and the media environment has really, really changed. And especially for nonprofit organizations, it’s changing a lot because it’s getting harder and harder to break through. So some of the things we’ve noticed that are happening out there in the past 10 or 15 years is that newsrooms are shrinking. Not only… I mean, most of the newsrooms, the daily and local print and radio and broadcast publications across the country are getting smaller. It has to do with the fact that more and more news is available more and more freely for folks. And whether Huffington Post or all these different trends really started this idea or Facebook or whatever it is that people can get lots of their information now for free, that we are seeing a lot of individuals out there sharing news and sharing news around the country more freely. But it is causing news sources to kind of shrink. And that means that people’s sources of information are actually shrinking, too.

[00:05:34.430] – Sean Kosofsky
So many people around the country are getting more and more of their trusted news locally and that really can be a good thing for nonprofits since most nonprofits are small. But it also does mean that there’s more polarization. So this is one of the other problems that exist out there is that increasingly people are being pushed to one side or the other based on where their new source is from. You can look at this through a lot of demographic data, more than partisanship, more than almost anything else. Where you get your information from has a big indication of where you fall politically. And that has a lot to do with the fact that some news is getting shared and repeated across the country that is not being fact checked because newsrooms are shrinking and fact checkers are shrinking, right? So the problem in the news media for nonprofits, especially advocacy organizations or anyone trying to dispel myths or rumors or bad information, whether you’re working on mental health or you’re working on advocacy or civil rights, it’s really a problem that we are seeing across the media environment.

[00:06:33.970] – Boris
So that’s absolutely all spot on. And there’s a lot to unpack in there in terms of what’s happening in the world. Yeah, absolutely. Newsrooms are shrinking because anyone now has access to become their own media channel. Anyone can now become a news source in one way or another now, whether or not they are biased. I mean, it’s hard for any human being to not be biased in some way or another, but there are trained professionals who try to limit their bias when it comes to their reporting. And then there’s the rest of us who just want to present our point of view, our perspective. And now that anyone could be their own media network, right? Look, right now we’re on our own show. Even 15, 20 years ago, this was near impossible for us to do. Pre dotcom boom. It was completely impossible. So that’s definitely having a positive and negative effect. There’s more news to find and more individual personal stories that you could access. And at the same time, there’s less of what you’re referring to as fact checking and more of that echo chamber effect that when you get into it, the world looks one way as opposed to what everyone might be seeing on the other side.

[00:07:50.860] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:07:52.030] – Boris
So then how do we manage that? How do we navigate that as organizations? I guess we want to get our point of view out there. Hopefully, it’s a fairly accurate and neutral point of view. But of course, organizations have opinions, too, right? If you didn’t think… have an opinion that there’s something wrong with the world, you wouldn’t be starting an organization. So how do you differentiate and then let’s talk about how you get your point of view out there.

[00:08:21.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think one of the most important things is to not sit idly by and let the media or news environment happen to you. It has to be proactive engagement with newsrooms. It has to be actively putting out there to your email list, your website, social media and to your media list, your point of view, your perspective and the facts. I think that for a lot of organizations, this really does mean holding truth to power and making sure that when you see articles that come out, that you contact that reporter and say, “Hey, here’s this thing you just ran, or here’s this thing that’s actually problematic or wrong.” So we need to be correcting a lot of the things we see in the media. And that’s one of the ways you can get press attention. It’s simply watchdogging and policing it and making sure that it’s actually accurate.

[00:09:06.430] – Sean Kosofsky
And then you can do your own sort of work where it is packaging the work you do, the accomplishments you’ve had and pitching newsrooms or building relationships with reporters or publishers or in some cases influencers to get a larger audience for your organization.

[00:09:21.930] – Sean Kosofsky
But I do think one of the biggest things out there is getting the discipline down for organizations to understand what is my key message? What is the thing that I want to say and that I’m talking to the reader and to the viewer, not to the reporter, right? You’re trying to reach the actual public, not some conduit, not some journalists. They are helpful. They are important. But they are a means to getting the truth out to the public. That’s what journalism does, and that’s what the news media does. And successful organizations will know how to harness the media to get out its point of view and its perspective.

[00:09:54.250] – Boris
Okay, awesome. Let’s break all of that down. So first of all, you mentioned holding truth to power and watchdogging. Does that mean whenever you see something that you disagree with out in the media, it’s about putting out a statement? Is it trying to get in touch with the publication source, or is it just putting out your own thing somewhere else? How do you define watchdogging? What does that kind of look like for an organization?

[00:10:20.950] – Sean Kosofsky
I think if you… Let’s say you’re an organization in Metro Detroit, my hometown. And the Detroit News or the Detroit Free Press is deciding to cover something in the news, like the recent shooting in Oxford Township, Michigan. There was this shooting there, right? If you’re an organization working on public safety or gun issues or gun safety, or if you’re a gun advocate, whatever the issue is. If there is an article or a series of articles covering something that is untrue or is based on a premise that you believe is untrue, you can contact that reporter and contact the different media outlets and use the coverage of what you’re seeing as part of what story it is you want to cover, right?

[00:10:59.500] – Sean Kosofsky
Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy. So when I say watchdog, I don’t mean being a pain in the butt, right? I just mean that folks can absolutely reach out to journalists or to the editorial page or to broadcasters or to independent journalists and bloggers and say, “Hey, here’s something I’m noticing happening and this needs to be corrected.” This is part of the whole issue environment that we’re traveling in right now that people keep referring to with this word or this term or with the wrong angle. And those are things you can do as a watchdog.

[00:11:33.750] – Sean Kosofsky
Or you can also put out your own statement, right? Responding to the events of the day with your own written statement through email, through press statements, through social media. All of that can have an echo effect for your followers to be saying the same thing that you are and elevating that perspective.

[00:11:50.050] – Boris
I love that because it’s empowering your supporters to really get your message out there more and feel like they are helping the cause at the same time. Like it’s an easy action that they could take to share your message in response to something to get more people looking at it from your point of view.

[00:12:07.010] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:12:08.110] – Boris
So then it seems like you’re talking about major news outlets, right? In this case, like the Detroit Free Press. What about these smaller or more independent outlets that you’re talking about, these smaller local news outlets or even some of these folks you mentioned influencers earlier. You’ve got… Right now, as we’re talking, there’s an ongoing I don’t know if it’s a scandal or debate about Joe Rogan and his influence on Spotify. I don’t think a lot of nonprofits are going to be able to reach out to Joe Rogan and say, “No, I want airtime on your show.” Right? So what is it that we can do when it’s not a major news outlet, but yet we want to respond to something or change the conversation around something?

[00:12:59.890] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, a lot of people are getting their news more locally. So obviously a ton of people are tuning into Rogan and they’re getting information from huge influencers, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow. They’re getting their information from huge sources, right? But I think the most important thing for most nonprofits is to focus locally, right? So if you notice… again, newsrooms are shrinking, so there’s fewer and fewer journalists. So these newspapers are subscribing to content around the country.

[00:13:26.790] – Sean Kosofsky
So if your company owns the Washington Post and like 30 other newspapers around the country, you’re going to recycle the same articles around the country to save money. So if you’re a local paper in the thumb of Michigan—folks from Michigan know there’s like a thumb in the shape there—there’s local papers there that might be just syndicating or copying or subscribing to the same misinformation that’s happening around the country.

[00:13:47.780] – Sean Kosofsky
A year ago, for example, a year ago maybe this week was the big freeze in Texas where they had this giant storm that froze the entire state or for vast swaths of the state. And there was a huge disinformation campaign about what was to blame, right? Was it the windmills which people were circulating images of windmills that were not in Texas and saying that this is the reason why this happened. So as someone who works on climate and clean energy, I know that that is a perfect moment to reach out to your local paper and say, “Look, we all know locally where our energy is actually coming from, especially in Texas.” It is gas and oil, right? So we know that it’s not the windmills causing this problem. So there are opportunities locally to have an impact. And then when people are doing fact checking or their Google searching, as they are right now around the one year anniversary of that thing that happened in Texas, they can see the truth, right?

[00:14:35.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So you might not be able to break through with the large folks who might have a commercial interest in actually spreading disinformation or misinformation. But locally you can have an impact. National nonprofits typically are a lot more sophisticated and have a larger press list and can actually go after a Joe Rogan or someone else and say, “You need to stop this.” And there’s a lot of advocacy right now around what’s happening with Spotify, misinformation about COVID-19 and artists pulling back their content from Spotify. So that’s an activism thing.

[00:15:03.800] – Sean Kosofsky
We’re seeing this opportunity of how do we confront misinformation and disinformation? And one of the creative tactics emerging is getting artists to take a stand in this area, not just on Spotify, pulling back their content until they correct things on the Joe Rogan show about these vaccines, but also in many, many other ways where we’re seeing people use artists to tackle these large platforms because the little guy might not be able to do that.

[00:15:29.510] – Boris
Right. So it’s leveraging someone else’s power who might believe in you and is hopefully already part of your community in one way or another to get them to draw attention to something because they have that bigger platform to speak from.

[00:15:43.670] – Sean Kosofsky
Right. Absolutely. Depending on your issue, depending on your locality, depending on the demographics you serve, you’re going to have different tactics available to you.

[00:15:51.860] – Boris
Very cool. And I like the statement you made about larger nonprofits will have a more national reach and have larger distribution lists, whereas local nonprofits, smaller nonprofits, whatever it might be, can still have an impact on a smaller or more local scale, but still a dramatic impact. I also think that it’s sometimes an opportunity for a smaller nonprofit to break out and get its voice heard on a much larger scale, sort of go viral, if you will, if they do take a great stance in opposition to something that’s going on and make their voice heard.

[00:16:28.270] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:16:29.830] – Boris
So then how do we develop these relationships with newsrooms? You mentioned that earlier. And when I think of developing a relationship, it’s communication, it’s getting on phone calls or going out to dinner with somebody, before COVID you’d take a client out to dinner or something like that. I don’t imagine that that’s how it happens necessarily with newsrooms. But what do you do? How do you get that going?

[00:16:56.770] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that the first and most important thing, if you’re a local organization, which most nonprofits are or even regional or statewide, the most important thing you need to do is create a media list. A media list can be really simple. It can be a one-page piece of paper or a spreadsheet or someplace or in your donor database, wherever you’re keeping track of contact information, to create a list of all of the outlets that you want to have a relationship with. These can be daily papers. These can be weekly alternative news magazines that tell you about concerts coming to town, all that stuff. If you’re in a rural area, it might be the local register that talks about like purse snatching or the price of agricultural products. I don’t mean to be dismissive of that, but like those smaller town rags, people gobble that information up, right? And the information is hyper, hyper local typically, right?

[00:17:47.490] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you’re working in a rural environment or a local environment, make a list of all of the outlets that you want to be in, including digital. So don’t just think of broadcast in print. Think about, does someone have a great blog? Does someone have an important Substack or Medium channel that they can, or even a Facebook following or Instagram following that you want to make sure that that person is on your list of people to build a relationship with. And then over time, if you have anyone focused on communications in your organization, have that person or the executive director be the main point of contact with that person. You want to be familiar with these folks. You want to be helpful to these folks.

[00:18:28.230] – Sean Kosofsky
Most journalists and writers, they have deadlines, they have facts, they have things they need to do. And if you can be a resource to them and make their job easier, they’re going to call you every single time. One of the most important things with media is to make it easy for the media to cover your issue. I send out a press release that has three quotes in it already from experts. I’ve made their job so much easier as a reporter, right? So they’re going to call me every single time an issue comes up on my topic because I make it easy for them.

[00:18:56.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So build a list of your outlets. Who’s the person there? Get their Twitter handle, all that different stuff, and then begin building that relationship regularly with them and make it easy. Then they start calling you. You don’t even have to do the pitching.

[00:19:10.930] – Boris
How does that work, though? How do you start building that relationship? Is there just a cold outreach that you do, a campaign where you just start either tweeting at them or you send them an email somehow. How do you begin that relationship?

[00:19:25.760] – Sean Kosofsky
Yes, it’s totally cold. If you have a warm connection, great. But unlike fundraising, where it’s a little trickier, right? You want to make sure you come in as a fundraiser in a way that warms them up or doesn’t look too salesy or whatever. But for a reporter, you want to help them do their job better. They want resources. They want people who are sources. They want people giving them information. So it’s actually a lot easier with journalists.

[00:19:47.840] – Sean Kosofsky
I would just reach right out to them with a phone call. People don’t make phone calls anymore. They text or they email. But I really strongly recommend when it comes to a reporter because they deal in facts and they deal with clarity. And sometimes getting a conversation on the phone is so much better than something over email or text. I would definitely reach out, even if it’s cold, and say, “Hi, this is my name. This is the organization I work with. We are experts in this. And whenever you cover this issue, we’d love to be considered as an expert source.”

[00:20:15.350] – Sean Kosofsky
And we do this all the time. My clients, we do this. We reach out to daily and regional outlets and say, “Please make sure we are on your short list of sources when you’re covering gun violence or when you’re covering climate.” So that you start getting calls. But yeah, it does start as a cold outreach. And it could be again, text, social media. But I always recommend a phone call if you can find their phone number.

[00:20:37.090] – Boris
So I’m really glad you said that you should just do a cold outreach and just introduce yourself and try to get on their list. I was wondering, should you wait until there’s an opportunity, until they’re actually talking about something that you can give input to and respond to?

[00:20:55.370] – Sean Kosofsky
No, I would say be a resource before your subject pops, right? When a reporter has… Reporters have deadlines, sometimes multiple per day. They have several stories that they need to get this topic or this 500 words or whatever it is to their editor by 01:00 p.m., right? They have very little time. It is like a very, very deadline-driven career. And so you want to be top of mind that they have things like on their desk or in their phone. They immediately can know who they can pull up, right? They do keyword searches and figure out who do I go call. And so you don’t want to wait until something breaks or something explodes or some topic erupts for you to get in front of them. Obviously, that’s a good time to start if you’re late. But you don’t want to wait for that moment, right? You definitely want to be an expert in their mind before they need a resource.

[00:21:44.290] – Boris
Really cool. And I just wanted to add, because you were saying earlier about local and regional publications for the smaller nonprofits. I think there’s another opportunity that today, because anyone can start their own media channel, there are certainly specialized media channels as well. So it might not be a publication or a news outlet of some sort that covers many different topics, but it might be a specialized blog or like you said, Substack or Medium that’s talking about something very specific that you really are an expert in.

[00:22:16.830] – Boris
And one of the things that I love about media outreach in general and the types of strategies that you’re outlining is, it really establishes your organization and individuals within it as thought leaders in the space. And every brand wants to be a thought leader. So this is an opportunity to put your nonprofit brand out there as one as well, right?

[00:22:39.790] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. I think that there are many, many places now where people are basically publishing. So in addition to blogs, in addition to social media, there are now Substacks and Medium. Medium was launched five or six years ago to be a new publishing platform for creators or anyone to help them to develop their own audience. Substack is the same way. I can create a newsletter and get paid for that newsletter for my own individual content. Individuals are now publishers, and increasingly people who are experts or just really opinionated are publishing their own stuff. And if it strikes a chord or it’s accurate or they uncover something really interesting, it just takes off or it goes viral.

[00:23:19.550] – Sean Kosofsky
I can’t tell you the power that is in that, simply being local makes you an expert. Someone nationally could just need a local take on something going on. For example, simply being a local person in a battleground state heading into a presidential election could make your voice really matter about what you’re seeing on the ads on TV, what you’re seeing about whether politicians are talking about your issue or not.

[00:23:41.550] – Sean Kosofsky
So lots of folks can use social media. You can begin just tweeting what you’re seeing happening live with police violence or something, anything at all, right? And people are going to start gravitating toward your platform, whether it’s your Twitter feed or whether it’s your Substack or whether it’s your Facebook group. You can start publishing anywhere where you can develop an audience.

[00:24:00.170] – Sean Kosofsky
So nonprofits have access to all of these platforms for free. Substack is free. All these things are free. Social media is largely free. Tik-Tok, all of these things. So don’t hesitate to use your platform and your topic as a reason for creating expertise. If you want to be a thought leader, begin putting out not just newsletters to your own members, but commentary and comment out to the public through a different channel. It’s an additional way to get noticed by the press.

[00:24:28.510] – Boris
One more channel I’d add to that is, well, it’s a combined channel of shows like this one where people are doing either video or podcasts, exclusively audio and they build up an audience, they build up a following. And like me, for example, they’re always looking for great guests. They’re always looking for people who can speak to something that may be topical or at least relevant to their audience. So it’s another opportunity to put yourself out there and to develop your thought leadership and branding out in the world.

[00:24:57.220] – Boris
I do want to ask if, let’s say your organization, a nonprofit, has the resources to have multiple people in these roles where they have a marketing—a dedicated marketing person, dedicated press person, or maybe they’re the same person, but whom should they be pitching? Should it just be anyone in the organization, or should they be trying to develop a relationship with, for example, the executive director or the head of a particular program that the organization is sponsoring?

[00:25:27.910] – Sean Kosofsky
So to make sure I understand your question correctly, who would be doing the pitching in this situation?

[00:25:33.320] – Boris
It’s not necessarily who would be doing the pitching, but you talked earlier about establishing relationships and saying, “Hey, we are in authority on this.” When it comes to a reporter calling for some sort of input or quoting someone, I would imagine usually it would go to someone who is on a senior level at the organization. Do you try to say, feel free to reach out to so and so at any time, or how do you structure that relationship?

[00:26:03.130] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the nonprofit itself, you usually have dedicated people who are the actual spokespeople for the organization. Usually it’s the executive director or senior level staff that have been given clearance to talk to reporters. So for the reporters out there to know who to talk to usually start with the executive director. They’re usually the biggest conduit, right?

[00:26:20.690] – Sean Kosofsky
And then internally in a nonprofit, you could dedicate someone on an issue to being a spokesperson based on their seniority or based on their closeness to the issue, right? So you could say, I have a frontline organizer who is involved in this local community where this horrible thing happened. And simply by being from that community makes them an expert. I deputized them sort of to become our reporter, to become our media spokesperson. So I’m not sure if that really answers your question, but I definitely think within organizations you should have a strategy for who can speak. And people should definitely get trained. You don’t want to put folks out there in front of a reporter without getting some kind of media training. It can go bad. And then for reporters and journalists out there, definitely they have a beat.

[00:27:01.420] – Sean Kosofsky
Normally, with newsroom shrinking, it’s harder to have just one beat. Sometimes one reporter is covering four beats now, so they need to know who inside an organization is their first point of contact because they are in a hurry. Reporters definitely want someone who can respond on the spot. A lot of folks are like, “Oh, let me think about this and get back with you.” Well, reporters aren’t going to call you back again if you constantly have to make them wait. If you’re able to get on the phone and immediately give comment because you are practiced, they’re going to call you way more frequently in the future. So that’s the person you want in your nonprofit basically taking these calls.

[00:27:33.170] – Boris
That’s exactly what I was trying to find out from you is, do you have within your organization folks who are deputized, as you just said, or really authorized to speak on behalf of the organization, to speak to media and hopefully are trained in doing so? That’s exactly on point. Thank you.

[00:27:51.250] – Boris
So then we’ve developed this relationship. We know who in our organization can speak to certain topics when they are called upon to do so. But there is this other angle of pitching, pitching your stories. I know that reporters are constantly and publications are constantly looking for content. And if you could give them something worth publishing that works for them, they’ll be happy to take it a lot of times. But what goes into a pitch and this is part of your superpower, so I’m going to really put you on the spot here. How do you structure a pitch? What goes into a pitch to a potential publication?

[00:28:33.280] – Sean Kosofsky
So different than fundraising, when you’re pitching a newsroom, you have to be thinking there’s two sides of this. There’s what do I know newsrooms want to hear? And then there’s what do I want to say as a source, right? So the first thing as a source, as an organization, I have to be thinking about what is actually newsworthy about this moment? Just because it’s not making headlines doesn’t mean it isn’t newsworthy. I’ve uncovered a new trend, a new piece of information, some new facts, some new report that came out that a reporter didn’t know about. What makes it new? What makes it newsworthy, right? So when I go to pitch a newsroom, I can’t just be like, “Hey, climate change is happening.” Yeah, we know. What’s new about this, right? So the first question is going to be, what do you have that makes this deadline-driven medium and this deadline-driven culture newsworthy?

[00:29:14.140] – Sean Kosofsky
So the first thing is, why is it new and why is it newsworthy? Did someone locally do something? So make it local. The more you can make anything local, the more interesting it is. You also have to be able to make something super like national. Not only is this thing happening here in Poughkeepsie, but it’s also a national problem, and here’s why. So make sure it’s new and newsworthy, but you can localize it and nationalize it, that goes into any kind of pitch.

[00:29:37.890] – Sean Kosofsky
What I need to be thinking about as I pitch is what’s on the other side of that pitch call, which is the reporter’s constraint, which is why should I care? Every news desk, every editor of every outlet out there is getting 500 people pitching them for news stories every single day. And every day they are throwing all of them in the trash saying, “Why do I care? Why do I care?” So if you can break through to them and say why this matters to your readers, to your constituency, to your stakeholders, that’s how you’re going to break through.

[00:30:05.750] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the reporter side, they have an editor that they need to get this through, right? And that you need to convince them why this matters now. So the case, the super succinct way that you can explain why this matters, human harm, suffering, violence, corruption, what is happening right there that you can prove that will break through because that’s the number one filter they’re using is, why do I care? In order to sift through the 500 different pitches they’re getting.

[00:30:31.810] – Boris
It sounds like what I teach in storytelling a lot. And what I learned in fourth grade, which is you want to really present the who, what, when, where, and most importantly, why, why it’s relevant, why it’s significant, why it deserves column inches in print or screen inches on digital.

[00:30:53.050] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:30:54.310] – Boris
Cool. All right, Sean, I want to be very conscious of your time, and we’re hitting the 30-minutes mark now. I know that when I asked you for resources, you had a whole bunch of them that you wanted to share with us. Give me the highlights, which… I’ll link to all of them in the show notes. They’ll all be there for folks to find. But what should people be looking at as they’re trying to develop their own idea of media strategy?

[00:31:16.850] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you have a little bit of a budget, I definitely would say folks could look into Cision. It’s a little tricky spelling. I think it’s C-I-S-I-O-N. Or some people might know one of their products as PR Newswire. If you don’t have an in-house communications capacity, you could pay for a subscription to disseminate your news releases everywhere. I will say that I don’t always think that just blasting news releases all over the country is the best use of your dollar. But it is a way for some organizations to get into newsrooms for sure. So Cision and PR Newswire is one way you can both pay to track news and also to distribute news.

[00:31:52.580] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way is Meltwater. Meltwater is just one of the many ones out there that does clipping service. So if you’re getting a lot of coverage and you want to track trends or your opposition is getting lots of coverage and you want to track trends, Meltwater could be an interesting tool. I don’t know the pricing right now, but I know that you can subscribe to Meltwater.

[00:32:09.860] – Sean Kosofsky
But for those on a budget, I think that Google Alerts is really powerful. You can set a Google Alert on anyone, any topic, any keyword, any event, and see what’s actually happening the minute something hits a blog or the news, you will get an email on that or get a daily digest on that. That’s a free option for you.

[00:32:26.980] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way to see whether something is popping in terms of a trend, to see whether something is newsworthy is to use Google Trends. Google Trends is free. Anyone can go to Google Trends right now and see what words are popping. Is it some popstar like Dua Lipa, or is it something about Ukraine right now? What issues are popping? How can your issue fit into that trending issue, right? See if you can figure out whether your topic matches something that’s in the national conversation right now.

[00:32:53.480] – Sean Kosofsky
If you have a Twitter account which is totally free, they have a trending section, right? See what’s actually popping on Twitter right now and see if your issue can sort of fit into there. Those are different ways for free or for cost that you can kind of track issues and then use that to capitalize on how to fit your issue into that stream, right? Another tool out there for folks… Can I mention the tools that I have or you want to check…

[00:33:16.440] – Boris
Sure. I usually ask anyway, what is your call to action? What do you want people to do? And I’m happy to have you promote any of your work that you think is relevant to this. So please go.

[00:33:27.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Excellent. Yeah. So folks, I think in the show notes you’ll be able to get these links and stuff. But I think that one of the things that’s really important is for nonprofits to learn how to create a unique value proposition. This is something created by marketers and the private sector to help understand how to sell products. But I think nonprofits could really benefit from learning how to take not just their case statement, but also take a new thing called a unique value proposition and really explain to people why my organization is the most suited to solve a particular social problem and what the call to action is.

[00:33:58.650] – Sean Kosofsky
I have a free guide on how to create a unique value proposition. I didn’t see anyone out there offering this particular tool, so I have a free resource for you to download on that. I also have a handout that you can grab for handling tough media questions. Some folks want to avoid the media because they don’t like being put on the spot and they’re afraid of getting really tough media questions. I have a free guide about handling tough media questions, rapid fire questions, trick questions, all that stuff.

[00:34:25.650] – Sean Kosofsky
And then also you can grab my full course, which is not very expensive at all. But I have a course training nonprofit leaders, how to do media engagement, how to write press releases, how to do editorials, how to actually craft your message. All of that is based in my course Media Skills Crash Course for Nonprofits, and I’ve been spending many, many years training people on how to do the media. And so you’ll get a link to that course there. So those are just some of the resources I have today.

[00:34:51.320] – Boris
I really appreciate all of them. The free ones I use all the time. Google News Alerts and Google Trends. Google Trends is interesting. You might find things that you weren’t really looking for there, but there’s definitely really great knowledge to be absorbed from it. I know I’ve worked with Cision before as well, and I know that you put out great stuff. So I’m actually going to check out some of those resources.

[00:35:14.150] – Boris
I talk about unique value proposition when I work out an organization’s storytelling plan. But as you just said, I’ve never actually seen just a tool to figure that out. So I’m really curious, actually, how you do it. And I encourage everyone to go check it out. We’re going to have all the links to all of the resources that Sean mentioned, whether they’re on his site or some others in our show notes. So I hope everybody will come and check those out. Any parting words for the folks at home, Sean?

[00:35:41.080] – Sean Kosofsky
No, just I really encourage folks to lean in, engage the public, engage the media. It’s your friend. You really can be more powerful and get a huge audience for your nonprofit and make a bigger impact faster by engaging the media. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Engage.

[00:35:56.110] – Boris
Absolutely. Thank you, Sean, for breaking all of that down. You didn’t hold back anything that I was asking. You broke it down as best as possible. And I hope that organizations—nonprofit leaders, because organizations don’t have ears, but nonprofit leaders do—who are listening to this really do follow up and take the actions to engage with media. Get your voices heard. Don’t let the story be controlled by the Joe Rogan’s. No offense. Not that he’s going to be listening, but no offense, if you’re a fan of his, don’t let them control the narrative. Take charge, take power back and hold truth to power or yes, hold truth to power like Sean said earlier.

[00:36:35.200] – Boris
Thank you, Sean, for joining us. Thank you, everybody for watching and listening today. I hope we have helped you create more heroes for your cause with these strategies. If you enjoyed it, please, please, please do leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform so that more folks like you can consume this content, can find it, and can create more heroes for their cause, too. Have a great day, everybody.

[00:36:57.550] – Intro 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:

  • Sean’s story began as it has for so many others, feeling hardship in his own life and not wanting others to struggle in the same way. (2:48)
  • The news and media environment has changed significantly. Newsrooms are shrinking their staff as more news sources have become available. This makes it hard for nonprofits to compete for the attention of journalists at larger publications, but also more opportunities for attention at the local level. (4:45)
  • It also means that there’s a lot more polarization based on where people choose to get their news today. Nonprofits themselves have an opinion about the problem they want to solve in the world that others might not share. (5:41)
  • It’s critical that nonprofits try to get involved in making the news and shaping the narrative, rather than let it happen to them. Such as: (8:21)
    • Speaking truth to power, correcting or rebutting the mistruths or problematic stories that news media puts out.
    • Packaging the work you do and your accomplishments and developing relationships with reporters and publishers
  • Nonprofits first have to understand their own key message. What’s important for your audience to know? (9:21)
  • Watchdogging: “Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy.” (11:00)
  • Focusing media efforts on local issues and publications can actually have broader reach, as many of them syndicate content to affiliates around the country. (13:00)
  • It is difficult for a small nonprofit to compete with large influencers, but they may be able to find influencers on a similar level who can help them get their narrative across and to whom larger media will listen. (14:35)
  • Developing relationships with reporters starts with creating a media list of outlets and reporters with whom you want to have a relationship—both traditional and new media. (16:29)
  • If you can be a resource to journalists who are stretched thin in a way that makes their jobs easier, they will want to keep working with you again and again. So make it easy on them. (18:28)
  • Start building the relationship by reaching out to them directly, even if it’s a cold call. Sean recommends calling the reporter on the phone. (19:26)
    • Introduce yourself and the value that you offer to the reporter.
    • Ask to be on their shortlist of sources for covering your topic.
  • You don’t want to wait until a topic erupts before you get in front of reporters. You want to have a relationship by then so that they turn to you when it arises. (21:25)
  • Getting your message out in the media helps establish your organization’s expertise and authority on the subject. Sometimes being a local expert can catapult you on to a national stage. (22:18)
  • Anyone (or any organization) can become their own media company today with online tools for sharing your stories. Developing your own audiences on these channels is another way to get the established media to notice you and think of you for news stories. (22:40)
  • Who should be the point of contact for media at your organization? Nonprofits should have designated individuals on the team who are authorized to speak to the press on particular subjects. (24:57)
    • These people should be trained in dealing and speaking with media.
  • Newsrooms are constantly looking for great content. Your pitch has to present it to them in a clear value-driven way. (28:04)
    • What is newsworthy about this moment?
    • How does your local problem resonate on a national level?
    • Why should the reporter being pitched care about this story? You have to be able to relate it back to their readers, and why they’ll care about it.
  • Sean recommends free and paid tools that you can use to track what’s happening in the news around your cause, and what’s trending that you might be able to speak to? (30:54)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Substack – online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters.
    • Medium – open platform where readers find dynamic thinking, and where expert and undiscovered voices can share their writing on any topic
    • CISION – PR and Marketing Tool that you can use to track and distribute news
    • Meltwater – Also a PR and Marketing Tool to track trends and news
    • Google Alerts and Google Trends – On a budget, this can also help you track trends and news about contents that you are interested in
    • You can also be active with Twitter and use the hashtags (#) to see what’s trending under their trending section.

About this week’s guest

Sean Kosofsky

Sean Kosofsky

Owner, Mind the Gap Consulting

Sean Kosofsky is the Nonprofit Fixer! He is a coach, consultant, trainer, and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates raise millions of dollars and transformed nonprofit organizations and leaders. He has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits (policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more.

His work has been covered in media outlets internationally and has received numerous awards. He is an author and the owner of Mind the Gap consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in NY with his husband and their dog, Harry.

Connect with Sean Kosofsky

EP45 - Rachel Bearbower - Featured

Episode 45: Email Sequences that Keep Donors Donating, with Rachel Bearbower

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 45

Email Sequences that Keep Donors Donating, with Rachel Bearbower

In this Episode:

Does it feel like your nonprofit running on a donor treadmill? You’re constantly expending your resources to attract new donors, hoping that you get them quicker than you lose the ones that you had before so that you can do more. It’s exhausting and often demoralizing… and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Improved donor engagement and retention starts with a great welcome experience. Using a combination of personalization and automation, an email welcome sequence can start a conversation and build a relationship that provides value to both sides and lasts for years.

Rachel Bearbower of Small Shop Strategies helps overwhelmed executive directors create simple, effective welcome sequences on autopilot. She joins us this week to share how they work, and the 5-email formula you can use to get started today.

[00:00:04.610] – 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 world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:20.790] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. One of our recurring topics is storytelling for fundraising specifically and the different ways that you could tell your story to your funders, to your donors at different times. Today we’re going to focus specifically on what I hope is a pressing issue for you. So if the end of year went well for you, and I really do hope it did, you might have a lot of new donors coming on board, a lot of new supporters in various levels that have not had a lot of contact with you in the past. Maybe they don’t know your organization as well as you’d like them to, and you want to convert them into long-term donors.

[00:00:58.930] – Boris
So we’ve got an expert today that does just that. She helps organizations do that. Her name is Rachel Bearbower. She is the founder and CEO of Small Shop Strategies. Like many of you, Rachel is a fundraiser, former ED, and founder. She has also been in the trenches of an underfunded limited resource system-less organization. And the stress, overwhelm and frustration it can cause. I know we can all relate to that. That’s why Rachel is who folks turn to for systems, structure and a plan.

[00:01:29.870] – Boris
And when all of these are in place, she promises you’ll have more time to serve those who mean most to your organization and raise the funds needed to keep your mission moving forward. Sounds pretty great. Rachel describes her superpower as being really good at seeing a big problem and then being able to drill down into the weeds to create an action plan. She’s also great under pressure and loves taking risks. And she is here with us today to help us with all of our strategies around donor retention. Rachel, welcome to the show.

[00:01:59.850] – Rachel Bearbower
Hey, Boris. It’s so good to be here. Happy New Year.

[00:02:04.480] – Boris
Thank you. Happy New Year. And it is a brand new year. And we’ve got hopefully all these new donors that have signed up wanting to hear from us, wanting to help us with our cause. And I’m really excited that now, I think is a great time, perfect time maybe, to have you on to talk about how to convert them into more sustaining donors. But before we do that, I want to get to know you. And I want the folks at home to get to know you a little bit more. So besides your impressive bio, very re-readable bio, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get to be who you are today? What’s your story?

[00:02:39.210] – Rachel Bearbower
Oh, my gosh. Well, I feel like I’ve lived a lot of lives, but I think I can kind of sum it up with: I have moved across the country four times and I’ve tried to walk across the country once. So I’m a big fan of, like big, bold moves. But I really fell into the nonprofit industry. I was actually working in finance, and I didn’t love the corporate world. It was really not my jam. And so moved across the country. And it’s like, can’t be that hard to start a nonprofit. Famous last words.

[00:03:33.350] – Rachel Bearbower
I decided to jump into working with an animal welfare organization and then ended up founding my own organization and spent the greater part of a decade really just learning everything I could about this incredible sector. And when I did eventually decide to leave, there was another cross country move. I decided to move to the Midwest, went ahead and fell in love with a farmer. And we decided to move to the Midwest and become farmers. So—

[00:04:09.071] – Boris
As you do—

[00:04:10.070] – Rachel Bearbower
As you do, yes. So I’ve done every coast now. Now I got to do the Midwest. But I realized, you know, that as an Executive Director, I felt just so isolated in my role. And I would look at—I’d go to these networking events, I’d be like, “How do I be like that person? How do I sit at the big kids table?” And I didn’t know how to get there. And I felt like I was recreating the wheel. I was like, somebody else has done this before. I don’t know what this is, but somebody else has done this before.

[00:04:52.150] – Rachel Bearbower
And so when I finally left, I was like, I don’t know what I’m creating, but I’m creating a space for executive directors to not have to recreate the wheel. I’m just going to teach everything I know and just put in place a community where you don’t have to feel so alone. Here I am, middle of Iowa, driving tractors, hanging out with EDs. It’s what we’re doing. So that’s my journey.

[00:05:28.880] – Boris
That’s a pretty great journey. I can relate to a lot of that, including moving coast to coast. I call myself tri-coastal because I lived in LA. My family is in Miami. I’m up in the New York, New Jersey area.

[00:05:40.000] – Rachel Bearbower
I love it.

[00:05:42.350] – Boris
So I can totally relate. And I can totally relate to wanting to help others with the knowledge that you’ve accumulated. I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing. You and I have talked before about what you do and how you do it, and I’m very impressed and think it’s invaluable to all kinds of organizations, executive directors and other senior people in there.

[00:06:00.550] – Boris
Also, you were talking about how you thought, “Hey, how hard can it be to start a nonprofit?” A lot of nonprofit founders, and frankly, for-profit founders think it can’t be that hard. And naivety is a superpower because, without it, I don’t think anyone would ever do anything when it comes to starting anything worthwhile anyway. So the good news is there are folks like yourself and like me in certain situations that are there to help—once you start seeing those roadblocks, help you overcome them.

[00:06:32.540] – Rachel Bearbower
I said that I am so lucky that I was so naïve and so overly ambitious, because that is really how—if I would have had any idea how hard the work was that I was doing, I would have never even started. But you just keep putting one foot in front of the other one and day at a time, and you do it.

[00:06:59.060] – Boris
Yeah. And hope that when you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you do it in the right order and don’t trip. But if you do, you get back up and you keep going.

[00:07:06.260] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:07:07.790] – Boris
So, Rachel, let’s talk then about what’s going on in the nonprofit sector. You’re working with a lot of EDs. Based on your company name, Small Shop Strategies. I’m assuming it’s mostly smaller organizations, smaller shops. What are they experiencing right now? What are some of the issues that they’re facing?

[00:07:29.350] – Rachel Bearbower
Yeah. So limited time. I did a survey. I’m always talking to my EDs. I’m surveying the people that are in my sphere. And I’m like, “What do you need? What’s going on?” Time. It always comes back to time. How do I manage my time? How do I find more time? What are time saving tips? Like always coming back to time. And so, when it comes to working with your donors and so much of what I’m seeing, especially with small shops, the focus is getting new donors. It’s all about getting new donors. Finding them, finding them, finding them. And then… what? And there’s no conversation about after that. There’s like “You should make sure to thank them.” We’ve got that. Okay, so that’s great.

[00:08:38.710] – Rachel Bearbower
But it is so much more than that. It is so much more than that. And that donor retention, there’s a statistic out there that 70% of new donors only give one time to an organization, and it’s probably higher than that. But I mean, that alone, why are you working so hard to get these donors if you’re just going to lose them? So when I heard that, I was like, okay, time out here. We got to be a little more efficient with our time here because we’ve just spent all this time trying to get our donors, and we’re trying to connect with them and do all the things we’re supposed to do. Let’s come up with some systems here. So what I’m seeing in the nonprofit sector right now is limited resources, not enough time, and not enough focus on retaining our donors.

[00:09:43.590] – Boris
That seems so self evident. There may be organizations, though, that still need to hear that, A, that you’re not alone, that you are having these kinds of issues, and B, that it is something that you can compensate for if not even completely overcome. We’ve talked before on this show, actually, you know Ephraim, he’s been on the show and he’s a big—the word advocate is not even enough. He’s a champion and a zealot of, “you’ve got to treat your donors well.” And you’ve got to really connect with them and keep the connection going so that you don’t spend all your time and money, time being the biggest limiting factor, as I think you correctly labeled. You don’t spend all of it just trying to acquire, acquire, acquire. There’s a customer acquisition cost in marketing, but then there’s also customer retention rates and retention costs. And in nonprofits’ case, that often refers to the donor. What does it take to keep them? How much does it cost you to keep them versus losing them and starting another one? I’m pretty sure the stats are clear that it costs a lot less to keep them than to acquire them, am I right there?

[00:10:59.630] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. I have a great example of this. So let’s talk about Starbucks. Okay? So the average person… I’m going to just like… Everyone’s going to cringe. So I just need you to all take a deep breath. Okay?

[00:11:21.610] – Boris
Right. I’m with you.

[00:11:21.610] – Rachel Bearbower
Take a deep breath. The average person spends $14,000 at Starbucks on average in their lifetime. $14,000. You’re doing the math in your head. Let’s break this down. So that is over a 20-year period. That’s about like 67 something. It basically works out to two drinks a week. Okay? So when you get down to that, like that’s not that much. Two drinks a week, over 20 years, $14,000. Okay. That’s a pretty good lifetime value for Starbucks. They spend about $1,000 on you…

[00:12:16.950] – Boris
To acquire you as a customer.

[00:12:18.560] – Rachel Bearbower
To acquire you as a customer, to get you on the app, to do the, you know, you get like, well, I guess they don’t really do the cards anymore. But the free drinks and the birthday drink and the things that Starbucks does, they spend about $1,000 on you.

[00:12:36.100] – Boris
So it’s a 14X return. Not bad. I’d invest.

[00:12:39.760] – Rachel Bearbower
Not bad. So let’s think about that with our donors. If you were to have a donor for 20 years and that donor gave, say, $1,000 a year over 20 years, and it cost you maybe because math on video is hard, cost you $1,000 to acquire…

[00:13:10.530] – Boris
Acquire, maintain, yeah.

[00:13:11.790] – Rachel Bearbower
Acquire, maintain, steward them over the lifetime of their time with your organization, $19,000. It’s a pretty good lifetime value, right?

[00:13:24.980] – Boris
Pretty good lifetime value.

[00:13:31.630] – Rachel Bearbower
I think it’s important to continue to find new donors. I think there is a lot of missed opportunity in retaining our donors. And I think one of her biggest mistakes. And I am raising my hand here because I did this. Remember, founder, Executive Director, person who did not know how to fundraise, did not know anything, guessed at everything. I’m a pretty personable person. But then I would go and talk to my donors and I would turn into a robot. An absolute robot. Like, my letters would turn so formal. Dear Sir or Madam, or To Whom It May Concern. And I think that we forget that humanizing this whole thing could make our lives so much easier.

[00:14:37.370] – Boris
Yeah, we do forget that our clients , our supporters they’re people. And that we need to treat them like people at every point possible. And oftentimes we think we are. We think, no, this is a person. So I’m going to send them this update. But it’s an update rather than a conversation, rather than something that a person would say to another person in person.

[00:15:00.770] – Rachel Bearbower
I will say one time I was trying to get some letters out, and I’ve got dogs, and I had a dog. And this is when I worked at the animal welfare organization. I was trying to get these letters out, and one of my dogs stepped on the letter and it was a muddy pot. It was what it was. And I was like, you know what, I’m just going to send this. And I made a little note. I was like, “haha, Grayson got to this. He says hi, too.” The donor loved it.

[00:15:37.930] – Boris

[00:15:39.050] – Rachel Bearbower
And I was like, next time I did notes, I was like, Grayson, come on, get muddy. And it was something that was completely by accident. But that little tiny thing made a big difference. It made that connection of like, oh, yeah. No, totally been there when my dog has gotten something muddy. That’s a human connection.

[00:16:02.870] – Boris

[00:16:03.660] – Rachel Bearbower
And something that we forget.

[00:16:05.810] – Boris
Absolutely. I love the dog print. And instantly, as soon as you said, I’m like, oh, I’m sure that donor loved it. And from now on, Grayson needs to step on a stamp pad and then walk across all your letters. Just lay them all out and then have stamp pads and Grayson, come on, let’s go.

[00:16:20.560] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:16:22.310] – Boris
So at this point, you’ve got us, first of all, reconsidering our Starbucks habits. But second of all, shaking our heads along of, yeah, that does make sense. Donor retention, of course, if we didn’t already know, which I’m sure most organizations did. But again, they’re strapped for time, and they don’t necessarily know how to apply that. Donors drop out for lots of different reasons, but none of them should be you. None of them should be because you didn’t do what you could and should to keep them engaged and happy with the work that you’re doing. So let’s talk about that. And let’s break down how you help organizations, what we can all do to improve our donor retention rates right now today, as we’re listening to this show.

[00:17:05.670] – Rachel Bearbower
I love it. Okay, so automation is one of those things I get very excited about. Now, I realize that this is not something that everyone gets excited about, but I do. So I want to talk to you about a welcome series because it is one of the most efficient and most effective ways to bring someone, whether that someone is a caregiver who is filling out a form looking for information from your organization, or is somebody who just gave a first-time gift. However they are coming into the sphere of your organization, there needs to be a conversation.

[00:17:49.630] – Rachel Bearbower
And actually, whether you’re a small organization or a large organization, having that one on one personal relationship with every single person is just not feasible. And so coming up with strategies to be able to do that in a way that feels one-on-one, but it’s actually an automated way. Okay? So a welcome series is the perfect way to do that. And the idea of a welcome series kind of makes people nervous because they’re like, oh, there’s tech, there’s like lots to do. But what it is, we’re just going to boil it down, is you’re providing value to whoever it is who just came in.

[00:18:41.230] – Rachel Bearbower
So I’m going to use an example of a non-donor. Okay? So you have somebody who just signed up for your newsletter or a caregiver. Because I have an example for this from an organization, I’m going to tell you the story. It’s going to blow your mind. It’s awesome. But this organization, they’re an Alzheimer’s organization. They have caregivers that come into their organization. And, you know, it’s typically maybe young adults or people with aging parents who are looking for more information, looking for support. Okay? And they come in, they get the support, and then what? Okay? And mind you, you can do this with new donors, you can do this with anyone, but you want to provide value.

[00:19:38.600] – Rachel Bearbower
So what’s the first step in a relationship? Acknowledge that a connection was made. “Hey, I’m glad that you are here.” Okay? So the idea is that you provide value. What is it that my audience needs? What is it that my donor needs? What is it that this person needs? And you provide value, provide value, provide value, provide value. Said that four times.

[00:20:04.110] – Boris
You did.

[00:20:04.950] – Rachel Bearbower
And then make an ask. Okay? So it’s a five-email welcome series. Okay? I have a couple of tips. But first, I want to tell you about this organization, because this, I knew welcome series worked until I heard this story. So I just got this information yesterday because I knew that this was going to be important. So let me grab these numbers because I do not want to get any of them wrong.

[00:20:36.470] – Rachel Bearbower
So this organization, as I mentioned, it’s an Alzheimer’s organization. Okay? So they implemented a welcome series because they’re like, we have all these people coming in and they’re these caregivers, and we don’t quite know what to do, like how to have a personal relationship with them, how to have this one-on-one. And I was like, “Let’s get them into a welcome series.” Okay? So we created five emails, which I’ll go through those emails, and we automated it. So through their email providers. So whether you have MailChimp or Constant Contact or ConvertKit, all of those have that feature. Okay, the open rate on these emails, 53%. The average open rate, 53%.

[00:21:29.700] – Boris
Is that consistent from email one to email five?

[00:21:31.980] – Rachel Bearbower
Yes. That is the average of all five emails.

[00:21:34.980] – Boris
That’s pretty impressive.

[00:21:36.240] – Rachel Bearbower
53%. The average click rate, 11%. Now, to give you some perspective here, industry standards, like open rate is about 20%. Click rate is 2% to 3%. Okay? So these percentages are blowing it out of the water, like doing an incredible job. So here’s where it gets really, really cool. They started sending this welcome series in April. Okay? They started stewarding this group of people, and there was about 480 people that went through this welcome series, and about 16 of them donated to the yearend campaign, which is about a 3% ROI.

[00:22:40.530] – Rachel Bearbower
When you start thinking about stewarding a brand new group of people and then what can happen, I mean, and we talked about that lifetime value. You know, these people donated for the very first time. They’re starting to see the impact they’re feeling from your organization. And they decided to give a gift. Had they not felt like you were trying to make that connection, you weren’t going to get that gift. You might have gotten a gift, but maybe not. And the organization… they don’t do anything.

[00:23:34.550] – Boris
They just set it on autopilot.

[00:23:36.060] – Rachel Bearbower
It’s on autopilot.

[00:23:37.500] – Boris
Love it. That’s awesome. And good for them for getting that set up. I know lots of providers, email newsletter providers do have these sequences that you can create these automations. I know some organizations use their CRM also as their email platform, and I don’t think those are as good with automations in terms of sequences or drip campaigns as they’re sometimes called. So you might want to look if you are using a CRM into a supplementary system and MailChimp, I think still has their free tier. They certainly have discounts for nonprofits. But you could find free or low cost options to get people through that, even if you’re only sending your new donors through that and then keeping them in your CRM and taking them back out so that your email list and rates for subscription doesn’t go up too high what you’re paying monthly.

[00:24:30.960] – Boris
So I love that. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t like automation. I love automation and what technology can do and how technology can still be used to keep things personal. That’s awesome. When you’re talking about these email sequences and how you used to speak to people via letter or email. Today, we are much more used to an informal conversation in the first place. Think about, I would say if you are meeting someone on Zoom, a video meeting, you’re not going to start off with Dear Sir or Madam, and you’re not going to say, I’d like to tell you today about the numbers of people that we have, blah, blah, blah. You know, you’re going to start off with, hi, it’s so good to meet you. Thank you so much for joining me and for the time that you’ve spent, really means a lot to the organization. How are you today? Right? You want it to be more of a dialogue and then come into by the way, I really want to thank you for your gift. And here’s what it’s helping us do.

[00:25:27.520] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:25:28.260] – Boris

[00:25:30.750] – Rachel Bearbower
This is a great opportunity to share the stories of your organization. You are doing incredible work and impacting the lives of so many people or animals or whoever your beneficiary is. But tell the people in your organization. I think sometimes we hold those stories close, but this is a great opportunity to just be like, let me tell you something cool.

[00:26:04.810] – Boris
Yeah. You don’t have to sell me on storytelling.

[00:26:07.100] – Rachel Bearbower
Right. I do know this.

[00:26:10.270] – Boris
Yeah. No, I completely agree with you. So I do want to break down a little bit. And I want to be respectful of your time and folks at home because we are bombarded with so much media these days. I like to make these as packed with info as possible. So I’m just going to try to squeeze a little more out of you, Rachel.

[00:26:27.080] – Rachel Bearbower
Yes, of course.

[00:26:27.900] – Boris
You said five emails where it’s value, value, value, value, ask. Great. Love the sequence in those terms. How frequently are those emails sent? Because you said that one organization started in April. But are you talking about one a month? Are you talking about one a week or daily? How often do you send those out?

[00:26:48.650] – Rachel Bearbower
So it really depends on the frequency that you are sending emails. Like, if you’re an organization that’s only sending an email maybe once a month, then the frequency might be a little bit further apart. It really depends. But ideally, once a week, once every couple of days, that would be ideal.

[00:27:16.090] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay, let’s dig into these emails. I’ll quickly go through them. So the first email, first thing that you want to do when somebody enters into your sphere is align the value. So introduce you. When I say you, I mean you Executive Director, whoever is sending that email, you are a person. And while you do run an organization and we like to introduce ourselves as like, the face of the organization or whatever. But introduce yourself as a person. It’s okay to say, like, hey, I’m the person behind this organization. You’re talking to a real person. So introduce yourself and align values.

[00:28:05.050] – Rachel Bearbower
So then the second thing is, second email is to spark a conversation. So start with maybe sending some kind of article, podcast that’s interesting. I don’t know. Boris, do you have any recommendations for great podcasts? Send some podcasts that are interesting. Ask a thought-provoking question. Okay?

[00:28:32.060] – Rachel Bearbower
So then you want to move on to sharing a little bit more about what your nonprofit does. So a great, you know… do a show and tell. This might be sharing a story. Ask for the donor or whoever the audience is for their feedback. What do you think about that? Okay? Engagement, continuing that conversation. Okay?

[00:28:58.620] – Rachel Bearbower
So then the fourth one is to ask for feedback, get advice. So if you have an opportunity to do some sort of survey or get a little bit more information about who it is that you are talking with. So if it’s a donor, why did you give? And it doesn’t need to be a 20-question survey. This could be two questions like, why did you give and what’s your name? Very simple so that you can really understand why is it that people are coming into your sphere.

[00:29:35.250] – Rachel Bearbower
And then that last email, that’s where you have this opportunity to make an ask. So something you’ve probably heard on this podcast is that, the best time to make an ask, if you have steward your donors really, really well, the best time to make an ask is six to 12 weeks after the first ask. So do it. Time to make an ask. You’re like, hey, we’ve got this problem. This is what’s going on. You are clearly a supporter and you are interested in what we’re doing. Would you consider making a gift? Bam. So, five emails.

[00:30:22.030] – Boris
Love it. And thank you for bringing all those down. We’re going to have all that written out in the show notes as well as links to any additional resources which we’ll talk about in a second. But that 6-to-12-week-cycle, I think is great. The ask at the end of that is right on point. You got someone for the first time, chances are they’re dipping their toe in the water. They aren’t fully committed to your organization yet. So now you’ve stewarded them. You’ve provided them all that value, as you so eloquently and correctly said, four times at least you’ve provided that additional value to them. And then you’ve explained that there’s a bigger problem or a new problem or more that they can do in a way that is tangible to them or feasible for them to actually do. And then you ask them to please help you with that problem. I think that’s great. And I do agree that that six-to-twelve week period. I think you said eight to twelve. Sorry, I want to pick that right.

[00:31:22.940] – Rachel Bearbower
Six to twelve, eight to twelve somewhere in there. It kind of all depends.

[00:31:27.250] – Boris
I think that’s the longest you want to go with the sequence. I think regardless, and it’s totally fine if you and I don’t see this part of the strategy the exact same way. It is definitely subjective, but I don’t think it even matters how often your newsletters go out. This is something that’s separate from your newsletters and something that should feel personal and really establish that relationship. I know when I meet someone at an event, I might hit it off with them for a few minutes, but two weeks later I might not remember their name. I might not know who they are. So you really want to get that connection solid in their minds between their gift and what they’ve been able to do with their gift, how they become a hero and how your organization has helped them become that hero.

[00:32:14.600] – Rachel Bearbower
So really quick because I know that going and writing five emails. Right? Like just lifting them off is really hard. Something that you might want to try, especially as we’re in kind of first quarter after year-end giving, write one of those emails a week for the next four or five weeks, and then take each one of those emails and after you’ve written them, then turn them evergreen. So what I mean by that is make it sound like it could go out at any time and put those emails into that automated series. So then anyone after—that comes in after then receives those emails. So then you don’t feel that pressure of having to write all five of those emails right away. Great way to get it done.

[00:33:11.770] – Boris
I also did want to highlight that you said survey them, ask them some questions. You do want it to feel interactive. You don’t want them to feel like… And this should be the reality. You care about them and what their concerns are, the reasons why they gave. It’s not about you, the organization. It is about a human being. As you said, identify yourself in that first email. And it is about the person who is supporting you, why they’re supporting you, and what is it that they’re hoping to achieve. So hopefully you could deliver on their promise. I think later on it’s great to send a bigger survey asking for more information about them. I think quarterly is actually a good cadence for major donor surveys, especially to new donors, to update your own stats. But that initial couple of questions survey is a great idea to make them feel like you care.

[00:33:59.010] – Rachel Bearbower
Yeah, totally agree.

[00:34:01.000] – Boris
Alright, Rachel, I feel like I extracted some great stuff out of you, and now I want to help people take the next steps. So you’ve already told them how to get started. Write one email. This doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And then, by the way, when you’re finished with the fifth email the following week, go back and tweak maybe your first email because you’ll have some feedback. You’ll see how it’s working. So start playing with the copy, start playing with the headline, whatever it is that you want to start tweaking. Maybe if you’ve gotten some feedback, I’m going a little too far maybe now. But if you’ve gotten some feedback in those surveys, incorporate that into the email sequence to use their own language.

[00:34:36.680] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. Can I say one more thing that’s really cool. So that example…

[00:34:40.890] – Boris
No more value, Rachel! No more value!

[00:34:42.050] – Rachel Bearbower
I know. I’m sorry. I’m not sorry. This is awesome. So that first email, the example from the Alzheimer’s organization. So in the first email that they sent when the organization, the Executive Director was introducing herself and kind of aligning those values, she asked, “How can I best support you right now?” Because remember, it was going out to caregivers. So how can I best support you and provide you with the resources that you need? The responses—she couldn’t really quantify the responses that she received, but she received enough responses that she had to get another staff person involved in answering emails. Because that many people were responding to her emails. I think that is really powerful. Really, really powerful.

[00:35:36.990] – Boris
It’s connection and it’s investment. Someone is now not just giving you money or doing something, but they’re also investing their time in communicating with you, in giving you feedback, and in feeling like they’re actually talking to somebody like they’re having a conversation. That’s amazing. And taking on that extra person will pay for itself in multiples, I’m sure.

[00:35:59.620] – Rachel Bearbower
Absolutely. For sure.

[00:36:01.810] – Boris
Rachel, I always ask if people have any tools or resources that they’d like to share. And when I asked you this, you actually sent me a whole lot that I’m going to share on the show notes. Are there any that you kind of want to highlight specifically while we’re on the air and then we’ll share the rest in the show notes?

[00:36:18.380] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. I have so many tools and resources, so please go and look in the show notes because it’s like my favorite thing. I think that my favorite… I’m going to just kind of put this all together. I think my favorite resources are the ones that can simplify my life. And I say that generally because I know that I tried MailChimp and then I tried Constant Contact and then I found ConvertKit, and ConvertKit worked with my brain. Some people love MailChimp, some people…

[00:36:56.940] – Rachel Bearbower
So I’m not going to recommend a specific email service or a certain social media scheduler because we all work a little bit different. But if you can find some tools that you can use to automate the system or automate the work that you are doing and create systems in your organization, it’s going to save you a lot of time and allow you to move away from doing that system work and allow you to focus on building relationships and raising more money. Okay? So finding those tools.

[00:37:41.510] – Rachel Bearbower
I also love, love, love, love Brene Brown. So anything by her, I think really getting into understanding just who you are as a leader. Dare to Lead is a great book. And then Essentialism is a fantastic book to just start shedding, like all the extra crap that we are all doing just because we’re doing it. You are too busy. You are too busy. So let’s eliminate that in this new year and just start doing the things that are most important and bring us the most joy.

[00:38:23.690] – Boris
I love all of it. I love some of the tools, specific tools that you did recommend that we could list. But I agree the tool that you’ve got at your disposal and can use quickly and comfortably is the best one. Can you later upgrade? Sure. But sometimes I have a problem of I’m looking for the perfect tool and I spend too much time doing that.

[00:38:42.940] – Rachel Bearbower
Those don’t exist.

[00:38:44.220] – Boris
They don’t exist and even just the perfect tool for you isn’t necessary. The perfect tool for you is the one that you can use right now, and then later you can upgrade or do whatever it is to transition to another one. I’ve also read three out of the four books that you listed in the notes, which we’ll share as well.

[00:39:00.380] – Rachel Bearbower
Which one didn’t you read?

[00:39:01.770] – Boris
Profit First.

[00:39:02.950] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:39:05.150] – Boris
Okay. Yes. Assigned and downloaded on Audible already.

[00:39:08.950] – Rachel Bearbower
Excellent. Excellent. It’s a good one, actually, every nonprofit should read that one because I think finances is one of our… I think if everyone read Profit First that the nonprofit industry would completely turn around. But that is a different podcast episode, so we will save that for next time.

[00:39:28.160] – Boris
We’ll have to do another one then. So thank you so much for all of the value and stories that you’ve shared with us today. What is your call to action for our heroes at home who are slaving away, working away at their nonprofits and need some help? What’s your call to action to them today?

[00:39:47.230] – Rachel Bearbower
Oh, my gosh. Okay, so gratitude. First step, you get that first donor, you got to thank them or just any donor. So I do have a thank you template that is like mad libs for nonprofit. So go and grab that. It’s on my website. It’s smallshopstrategies.com/freethankyou. I just had somebody reply back to me and she was like, “Wow, that was like powerhouse little template.” I was like, “Well, thank you.” So there you go. Random review, sending that out into the internet.

[00:40:26.770] – Boris
Social proof is invaluable. We talk about it all the time. If other people are enjoying it, then chances are you will, too. So thank you for sharing that little social proof right there. And of course, we will have that link linked up in our show notes so anyone can head on over to The Nonprofit Hero Factory at nphf.show and find Rachel’s episode right there and get all of the stuff that we talked about and more.

[00:40:52.520] – Boris
Rachel, thank you so much. I do actually hope to have you on again talking about some of the other things that you help organizations do, because frankly, if we could just keep extracting everything out of you, I think we’re going to help a whole lot of people really quickly.

[00:41:03.570] – Rachel Bearbower
Thank you. It was wonderful. I really appreciate being on, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.

[00:41:11.720] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. I’m sure you got some great value out of this conversation today. And Rachel’s insights and her five-email sequence for welcoming or onboarding new donors so that they become longer retained donors on your books. If you did, then please, please, please leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. And tell a friend, because chances are you’ve got friends who are also nonprofit and can learn about marketing, about communications, storytelling, technology, all of the things fundraising, of course, that we talk about on the show every single week. Thank you, everybody. We’ll talk to you soon.

[00:41:53.810] – 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:

  • Sometimes, naivete is a superpower. If nonprofit founders new all of the work that goes into starting and running a nonprofit, many would never start. (6:00)
  • The biggest challenge small-shop nonprofits are facing today is limited time, and the focus tends to be on getting new donors. (7:30)
  • Statistically, 70% of new donors only give one time to an organization. It seems that not enough focus is being put on donor retention. (8:38)
  • It costs less to keep an existing donor than it does to acquire a new one. (9:48)
  • Starbucks spends an average of $1,000 on acquiring and keeping their customers. The average 20-year return on investment from those customers is $14,000. (11:00)
  • We forget that our donors are people, not abstract money-givers. We have to treat them like people at every point possible and engage them in conversation, not just one-way updates and requests for money. (13:41)
  • Rachel shares a story about a muddy dog print that changed her view of donor communications. Little things that make a human connection can make a big difference. (15:48)
  • Donors drop out for different reasons, but none of them should be you. (16:22)
  • One of the most effective tools for donor engagement and retention is an email welcome series, which can be automated. The key is to personalize and provide value. (17:05)
  • Rachel recommends a five-email welcome series. (19:38)
    • The first step in a relationship is acknowledging that a connection was made.
    • Then, “provide value, provide value, provide value, provide value… and then make an ask.”
  • Welcome series have much higher open and click rates than average email. More importantly, they nurture people to give again. And once they’re set, they can be put on autopilot in your email/newsletter system. (21:36)
  • Automation shouldn’t mean losing personal connection. Think of the emails as parts of a conversation, much like you’d have In a meeting. Connect personally and share stories. (24:31)
  • The frequency of your email sequence may vary depending on your other communications, but Rachel recommends one per week or so. (26:48)
  • Rachel’s 5-part donor welcome sequence: (27:17)
    • 1. Introduce yourself, as the executive director. Make a personal connection.
    • 2. Spark a conversation, share a story and ask a thought-provoking question.
    • 3. Share more about what your nonprofit does with a little show-and-tell and ask for feedback to continue the conversation.
    • 4. Ask for feedback. Send a short survey to learn more about them.
    • 5. This is your opportunity to make an ask.
  • You don’t have to feel overwhelmed at the thought of writing 5 emails. You can start by writing one per week, then turn them into evergreen elements of your welcome series. (32:14)
    • When you’ve completed the series, go back and tweak them as you get feedback and see how they’re working.
  • There’s no such thing as the perfect tool. Use what you can now, and upgrade later. (38:44)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Rachel Bearbower

Rachel Bearbower

Founder/CEO, Small Shop Strategies

Like you, Rachel Bearbower is a fundraiser, former ED, and founder. She has also been in the trenches of an underfunded, limited resource, systemless organization. And the stress, overwhelm and frustration it can cause.

This is why Rachel is the one you turn to for systems, structure and a plan. And when all of these are in place, she promises you’ll have more time to serve those who mean most to your organization and raise the funds needed to keep moving your mission forward.

Connect with Rachel Bearbower

EP43 - Joshua Peskay - Featured

Episode 43: Navigating Nonprofit Cybersecurity to Reduce Risk, with Joshua Peskay

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 43

Navigating Nonprofit Cybersecurity to Reduce Risk, with Joshua Peskay

In this Episode:

For most nonprofits, the cost of a cybersecurity professional seems unjustifiable. However, the cost of an attack could be catastrophic. (And if a cyberattack sounds like something that happens to large tech companies, you haven’t been keeping up with the headlines.)

Fortunately, there are simple approaches along with low-cost tools and training that can help mitigate those threats, help you meet requirements and help you sleep easier at night knowing that your supporter data, funds and, more importantly, supporter trust is secure.

Joshua Peskay of RoundTable Technology started out as an “accidental techie” in a small nonprofit, so he understands the struggles they face. He joined us on the show to talk about the risks, the tools and the strategies for minimizing and managing the threats that we all face today.

[00:00:04.310] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcasting podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:20.670] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today’s episode, I think is going to be one of the most important ones that we’ve had on this show. As amazing as all of the speakers have been, we have been trying to cover cybersecurity specifically ever since I started this podcast. I think it’s critical to an organization not just in terms of your online presence, but in terms of your trust and your credibility with your supporters, with your donors, with your volunteers, and anybody who might be visiting your website or examining your online storytelling in one way or another.

[00:00:51.990] – Boris
I’ve been trying to get our guest today on the show pretty much since we started the show. But he’s been incredibly busy and trying to coordinate schedules, has been tougher than just about anybody else I’ve been getting onto the show, so I’m really excited to have Joshua Peskay on the show. Josh is the vCIO and Cybersecurity at RoundTable Technology. He has spent nearly three decades leading technology change for over a thousand nonprofit organizations. Joshua is especially dedicated to improving cybersecurity in the nonprofit sector and works regularly with at-risk organizations to address digital security challenges.

[00:01:28.030] – Boris
Joshua regularly presents and teaches on topics such as technology strategy, cybersecurity, project and change management. When I asked him his nonprofit superpower, he said, it’s helping nonprofits leverage technology to do more, do better and be more cybersecure. Obviously a mission very close and dear to my own heart. So let’s bring Josh onto the show. Hey, Joshua.

[00:01:49.410] – Joshua Peskay
Hello, Boris. Thank you so much for having me here. I’m so excited to be on the Nonprofit Hero Factory. This is great.

[00:01:55.610] – Boris
Thanks for finding the time in your busy schedule to do this with us today. I know that there’s constant cyber threats. I mean, I read about them all the time, and so I’m sure you’re busy pretty much all the time.

[00:02:08.590] – Joshua Peskay
Yes. Sadly, that is the case.

[00:02:11.970] – Boris
Yeah. I know that actually, cybersecurity is one of the most in-demand fields right now that recruiting is going through the roof that people are getting poached from one cybersecurity job to another. It’s kind of a crazy time.

[00:02:24.750] – Joshua Peskay
It is. Yeah. The cybersecurity industry really needs a lot of talent and the demand just keeps on growing. So there’s a lot of great organizations trying to build up more cyber talent, but if anybody’s interested in it, we need you.

[00:02:38.850] – Boris
Absolutely. So we’re going to go in and break down all of the different aspects of cybersecurity, what’s going on out there and what organizations can and should be doing to improve it. But before we do that, Josh, I always like to start by asking, what’s your story? How are you the person that you are today? What led you here?

[00:02:56.750] – Joshua Peskay
Sure. I grew up—I kind of bounced around a little bit but grew up largely in the Midwest. But all my family lived in New York and around New York City. And so I visited here a lot as a kid and decided really at the very young age of, I think, 13, that when I was old enough, I would move out here to work with the homeless. And at the age of 22 when I graduated from college, that’s exactly what I did. I came out here and actually was a social worker for homeless, mentally ill adults.

[00:03:23.090] – Joshua Peskay
And the organization that I worked at at the time, which is Fountain House Incorporated, wonderful, a nonprofit that helps little adults kind of discovered that I had some technology skills. And for those of you familiar with the term “accidental techie,” I was one of the first. That was probably back in 1994. They very quickly converted me and my colleague Kim Snyder, who I still work with today into accidental techies. We help build databases, set up networks, build websites. And that long story short led me to ultimately RoundTable Technology, where I’ve had the wonderful opportunities to just help so many phenomenal nonprofits with technology, cybersecurity and lots of other things.

[00:04:05.130] – Boris
That’s cool. So you wanted to do good in the first place and then got sidetracked or intentionally tracked into—

[00:04:16.660] – Joshua Peskay
Yeah, a bit of both. I mean, the organization—I wanted to work with homeless, but the organization quickly convinced me that given my skills, I could do more good by helping them leverage technology toward their mission than I could by delivering direct services as a social worker. And I agreed with them and found that work equally rewarding. And so I’ve been trying to take the skills that I have and use it to do the most good that I can. And that’s worked well.

[00:04:45.310] – Joshua Peskay
One thing I want to just make sure I hit on Boris, because I know that you are also a theater nerd like myself. Although you I think, did it much longer and further into your career than I did; I’m sure have many more accomplishments. But I grew up as a theater, which is kind of like theater nerd being a gateway to tech nerd, perhaps. But I was continuing to try to do theater when I was first in New York City.

[00:05:09.060] – Joshua Peskay
My wife, my brother and I actually were in the New York City Fringe Festival all the way back in 2002, and people can Google this. If you Google my last name Peskay, and the words “In the Wire,” alright? So “Peskay In the Wire” you’ll actually find a New York Times article from 2002 where we had a reporter talk about our play because we depicted how email traveled through the internet. And in 2002 in that story, which is also referenced in the article, there is a cyber security threat. The ILOVEYOU virus, which had been popular the year before or nefarious the year before, was a part of that play. So technology and theater came together way back then, Boris.

[00:05:54.270] – Boris
That’s awesome. I’m going to have to check it out. I think I had left New York for LA around that time, so I probably missed it. Actually, I don’t remember.

[00:06:04.990] – Joshua Peskay
You missed a Fringe Festival off-off-off-off Broadway show in 2002 my friend.

[00:06:09.380] – Boris
I know, all my friends were doing Fringe at the time. It was the thing to do. It was a great way to test new plays and get people’s eyeballs on it. I had actually done a few shows around technology myself. I did a one-man show called Dialogue, where I traced my own evolution and technology, starting from the TRS-80 COCO Model 2 up to what I was doing at that time. And all of the different media, including email, including instant messaging, and actually featured a DDoS attack as part of that show, Distributed Denial of Service Attack.

[00:06:47.170] – Boris
There’s definitely crossover, and you and I will probably geek out over all of that stuff at some point, maybe in the real world, IRL as we call it. But let’s talk about what hopefully most of our listeners are more interested in than my own personal theater stories, which is cybersecurity and nonprofits specifically. What’s going on out there in the world today? What are you seeing from your point of view?

[00:07:14.240] – Joshua Peskay
Well, first of all, for any nonprofits that are listening, or any people at nonprofits that are listening, especially if any part of your job means being responsible for cybersecurity: my sympathies are with you. Because it’s hard and it’s difficult, and I know it’s something that you’re struggling with, or at least most nonprofits that I talk to are really struggling with. It’s a challenge for nonprofits that are not technology companies have trouble even getting technology talent, let alone cybersecurity talent. And so it’s a real challenge.

[00:07:44.380] – Joshua Peskay
And that’s honestly what I’m seeing, Boris, is that organizations are overwhelmed, confused and unsure of really what is a reasonable level of cybersecurity for them to have. They don’t know if they have it, they don’t know if they should have it. They don’t know what it would look like if they did. And they’re getting pressure from a lot of different directions. One of these we can kind of describe is this bureaucratic direction. So you’ve got privacy regulations and data regulations such as HIPAA for Protected Health Information. You’ve got GDPR, CCPA, New York SHIELD, which are data privacy laws that protect the data of individuals like you and me, Boris, which is nice for you and me that there are laws that are telling nonprofits that have our data that they should be taking steps to protect it.

[00:08:38.510] – Joshua Peskay
But for those nonprofits that have all this data and are used to collecting it and keeping it and collecting as much as they can, these regulations really pose some challenges for them around what they’re supposed to do with that data in terms of protecting it and getting our consent to keep it, right? That’s one.

[00:08:56.390] – Joshua Peskay
The other thing is, if they’re trying to get cyber-liability insurance, which is increasingly something that nonprofits really want to have and certainly should have. Those cyber-liability insurers are asking them some very hard questions about what their cybersecurity and data privacy practices are. And a lot of nonprofits are now, frankly uninsurable. They don’t have things like multi-factor authentication in place on their major applications. The cyber-liability insurer is just going to say, “Sorry, we’re not even going to give you a policy.” And even if they will give a policy, it’s going to be prohibitively expensive.

[00:09:29.530] – Joshua Peskay
Other places they’re getting these kind of pressures from business partners where those business partners are saying, “Hey, if we’re going to work with you and share information with you, then you need to show us that you’re protecting this information in different ways.” So we’re going to audit you or give you a compliance checklist or a questionnaire. And the nonprofits are wondering what they do with that. They’re not even sure how to answer a lot of the questions if they understand them. So it’s all of these different kind of bureaucratic areas where the nonprofits are getting a lot of pressure to comply with different standards that are being thrown at them, and they have a hard time understanding what they mean.

[00:10:08.290] – Joshua Peskay
On the other side, you’ve got the pressure coming from stuff that’s in the news all the time, which is the cybercriminal side. So you’ve got ransomware attacks, you’ve got what you referenced, Distributed Denial of Service Attacks, and you’ve got what doesn’t get talked about, but is honestly the thing that’s most impacting nonprofits from where we’re looking at, which is straight up, social engineering and business email compromise where attackers are in various ways, essentially just asking for money and nonprofits are inadvertently giving it to them. And what that can look like is, “Hey, this wire transfer that’s supposed to go through instead of going there, it should go here or the new employee that just started last week, we need $1500 of gift cards right now. Can you please ship those over?” And unfortunately, nonprofits who aren’t training their staff on a regular basis and putting good practices in place are really vulnerable to these very simple but very effective tactics that criminals are using.

[00:11:08.830] – Boris
Yeah, those are all so spot on all of the different sides that organizations are having to have to respond to all of the different ways they’re kind of getting attacked, death by a thousand paper cuts, if you will. And I do think that phishing, which is what you were just talking about, where someone will impersonate someone within your organization and social engineering. I mean, that’s been going on since the very first early days of computers and hacking. Who was it Kevin Mitnick? I don’t remember.

[00:11:37.620] – Joshua Peskay
Kevin Mitnick, yeah.

[00:11:39.970] – Boris
Yeah, who wrote the book on it basically, and identified that the weakest link in any cybersecurity chain is actually people. People just don’t realize how vulnerable they are to these types of attacks. And I know several organizations and for-profit companies who have been attacked in this way, where they’ll just get exactly what you said in email, basically saying, “Hey, I actually need this to go to this address instead.” So people are somehow getting passwords one way or another, hacking passwords perhaps, then inserting themselves into conversations that you’re already having—so it sounds totally normal, it’s not like out of the blue—and diverting funds or getting greater access to things and hijacking an organization in so many ways. Why is that such a big problem for nonprofits specifically?

[00:12:31.210] – Joshua Peskay
It’s a problem for everyone. But it’s a problem for nonprofits, I would say, for two reasons which kind of tie back to the core reason, which is just the normal resource constraints the nonprofits have. So I used the term accidental techie before. For those who don’t know what that term is, it’s a term within the nonprofit space that describes a role that emerged… I first heard it probably 25 years ago, and it still happens in nonprofits, where you’ve got a 10 or 15-person nonprofit.

[00:13:01.370] – Joshua Peskay
And as you go from three to five to 10 to 15 staff, you develop this need for technology functions in the organization, right? Someone needs to set up the new computers, create the user accounts, manage our Google Workspace manager Salesforce instance. And there’s no designated technology role at the nonprofit because there’s only 10 staff. So someone… the office manager, the development assistant, sometimes the CFO, winds up with this technology role, not because anyone said we’re hiring you as a technology person, but because they were the person who seemed the least afraid of taking on this role and the most competent to do it. So that’s an accidental techie.

[00:13:44.050] – Joshua Peskay
And that is because nonprofits are resource constrained. So it’s the point at which they can hire an IT manager, a full-time IT director or an outsourced company like RoundTable. It’s a big financial investment for a nonprofit that’s trying to dedicate as much of their resources as they can to delivering their mission and views operational expenses as kind of like this necessary evil sadly, and adding this technology operational expense can be a real challenge. So that leaves them constrained in the technology space.

[00:14:12.360] – Joshua Peskay
And then, of course, cybersecurity is one element of the cybersecurity space. And you have the same problem in a nonprofit that you have in a business, Boris, which is that cybersecurity in most cases doesn’t drive revenue. So no one is donating to a nonprofit because they’re the most cybersecure nonprofit out there. So if you’re looking to invest resources, you’re saying, “Where’s my return on investment for being more cybersecure?” it’s not raising us more funds, right? So it’s hard to make a business case to reduce risk.

[00:14:45.070] – Joshua Peskay
And so once the accidental techie emerges because they do need their computers to work, they recognize that… but making them even more secure is like, yeah, it’s kind of tough to really do that until, of course, that happens. And then everybody’s like, oh, boy, that now we’re really in trouble.

[00:15:04.390] – Boris
Yeah, I find that accidental techie phenomenon happening a lot in nonprofits, but it goes beyond techie in the term of IT and cybersecurity. It goes into online marketing, goes into so many things. Few people go to school and get degrees or advanced degrees even in these kind of marketing and technology fields, and then say, I want to apply that to nonprofit. More often, especially in smaller nonprofits, it’s people who are coming in because, like you, they want to do something good, just like how you started. And then for so long and still to this day, the youngest person with a TikTok account is the one who’s responsible for the social media.

[00:15:49.010] – Boris
Similarly, I understand it’s happening with technology, too. And it is, as you rightly said, really hard for nonprofits to devote those kinds of resources when cybersecurity experts right now are making so much money because there’s such high demand for them among for profits. How do you compete for that? So I absolutely get that. And it’s a really real problem.

[00:16:10.440] – Boris
I also want to add that whereas a for-profit company, if they get hacked, okay, they might have to pay a ransom. They might have to do something. It might slow them down. They might lose some trust with their consumers. But we’re also used to that right now. At this point, I feel like we’re almost numb to it that, oh, another 15 million user accounts have been hacked on Facebook. Go change your password or something like that.

[00:16:34.470] – Boris
For a nonprofit, first of all, you’re not dealing with that kind of scale. But second of all, for a nonprofit to lose that kind of credibility, if you’ve got to pay ransom to hackers that’s coming out of—especially if you’re uninsured—that’s coming out of your funds that you’ve raised from donors who want you to spend it on feeding the homeless, for example, as you were doing.

[00:16:58.670] – Joshua Peskay
Yes, there’s a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year about a large nonprofit, ironically called Treasure Island I believe in San Francisco, that business email compromise took them out of about $650,000. And so you imagine that main page story in the Wall Street Journal. What’s that doing to the confidence of your donors, to your reputation? You know, reputational damage from these kinds of attacks is really something that’s very hard to cost out in terms of what damage that does.

[00:17:30.550] – Joshua Peskay
But the other thing that’s kind of not captured, Boris, in the dollar amount that’s lost is like how much time was taken away from mission focus while you’re cleaning up after some cyber incident that happened and the stress, the morale impact. It’s very tough. The sad part is and this is what we can talk about a little bit as we move on, Boris, is that there’s really some basic, inexpensive, simple things that nonprofits can do that reduce the risk dramatically of being in a cyber attack. And it’s unfortunate that not more of them are taking these basic efforts because they view them as onerous or not a priority.

[00:18:14.570] – Boris
Absolutely. And you’re absolutely right. Let’s get into that. Let’s talk about what are the solutions? What should organizations be doing right now?

[00:18:23.450] – Joshua Peskay
So I would say the first thing is to identify who in your organization is going to take on the cybersecurity role. Generally, it’s going to be whoever is already your accidental techie or technology person. If you have an outsourced vendor that you work with, it’s great to go have a conversation with them and say, talk to us about cyber security. But typically it starts with some kind of basic assessment that you can do.

[00:18:50.910] – Joshua Peskay
And at RoundTable, there will be resources I believe in the show notes, Boris, but we have at our website. If you go to surveys.roundtabletechnology.com, we have some self-assessment surveys that you can do to kind of baseline yourself and get some basic findings and recommendations. A great tool was released by the Ford Foundation called the Cybersecurity Assessment Tool or CAT, and that will also be in the notes, I believe, Boris. That’s a great tool that people can use. And that’s a great place to start to get a sense of where your risks are.

[00:19:25.600] – Joshua Peskay
Now those things will produce reports based on your own self assessment. You’ll answer a bunch of questions and then you’ll get a report, but then you have work to do, right? You have to look through that report and it’s going to be a lot. So I’d really encourage you to work with someone, either any kind of cybersecurity consultant or a friend on the board or someone you can find who knows this stuff a bit and help you prioritize those findings and recommendations and put them on some kind of a timeline.

[00:19:59.630] – Joshua Peskay
For example, Boris, if we do an assessment and we find out that you’re on Google Workspace and you’ve got 20 staff and only three people have multi-factor authentication turned on for their account. Right? Then getting that turned on for all of the staff at the organization and enforcing that as a policy is going to be the number one priority because the data is totally clear. Enforcing multi-factor authentication on core things that you use is one of the biggest things you can do.

[00:20:36.540] – Joshua Peskay
Another thing, if we find out that you’re not training your staff on social engineering, on phishing, on using multi-factor authentication, on using strong passwords. Like a lot of the stuff you talked about, Boris, that’s an extremely low cost thing.

[00:20:50.850] – Joshua Peskay
Again, we’ll have a resource for you where you can get that done for your whole organization for free in 1 hour. Right? So all you gotta do is get your staff to sign up and attend for that 1 hour and you can get your staff the training for free. These are really basic free or low-cost things that just take a bit of time to set up that dramatically, I mean, profoundly reduce the likelihood of your organization being victimized by these kinds of attacks.

[00:21:19.950] – Joshua Peskay
So it’s really kind of the basics of making sure—I often say there’s three things I would start with just to give people really actionable stuff, right? Multi-factor authentication on everything but you possibly can start with email, then go to file sharing, then go to your CRM like Salesforce, but get MFA enabled, by the way, on your WordPress admin accounts, too. Boris, I know you’re a WordPress guy, so I’m sure you’ll appreciate that. Next thing is train your staff. And then third thing is backups.

[00:21:48.330] – Joshua Peskay
And going back to WordPress, something I see in assessments all the time is that organizations either don’t have a backup of their website or the only backup they have their website is with the host who’s hosting it. And that can be a real problem if the host itself suffers a ransomware attack and their backups are destroyed or encrypted as part of that. Now you not only is your web host down, but the backup that you would use to go and try to get your website up somewhere else is also down in the same attack.

[00:22:20.790] – Joshua Peskay
So getting some offline backup of your website that is separate from where it’s currently hosted and having some plan of what kind of hosting plan do we need? What would be the process for taking that backup and actually getting it live? That’s a really good thing to have in place, especially if it happens like a week before your annual gala, right? Boris, what do you do to back up the websites for the organizations you work with?

[00:22:47.700] – Boris
So it depends on how the organization is set up and where they’re hosted. I always recommend host. I recommend SiteGround, and I could link to that as well in the show notes, along with every single tool that you’re talking about because they’re all so important. SiteGround does daily backups with the plans that I have organizations sign up with or host them on. But then, yeah, I will do at least once a month. There’s a tool, it’s free, called Duplicator. And with Duplicator, you could create an entire backup of the entire site, plus a PHP script, basically a file that you could run that will restore it anywhere you want to go.

[00:23:24.150] – Boris
So if a host goes down or if something gets hacked, I can, within 15 minutes, have the site back up on the same server, on a different server. It really doesn’t matter. We point it to the new address, and for the rest of the world, it looks like nothing has happened while we can resolve… okay, what happened? How did that hack even come into place, and break things down and keep things running.

[00:23:45.900] – Boris
Besides that, of course, I could talk ad nauseum about WordPress security, but there’s a few different functions that I think everybody just to quickly list off should be doing, like changing your default login URL, because all WordPress comes with the same one. And that’s the easiest point for hackers to try to guess passwords

[00:24:05.712] – Joshua Peskay

[00:24:05.260] – Boris
slash wp dash admin, uh-huh!

[00:24:07.670] – Boris
Second is, and Josh, you and I were talking about this and you mentioned it as well. People leave admin accounts up, someone came in and did a little bit of work or someone was working, and then they left and that admin account stays open. And you don’t know what the password was. You don’t know if their password keeper gets hacked, and then they could come in, whoever gets it and hijack everything you’re doing. So checking and making sure that only the right users have the right levels of access, and you could get really fancy with that.

[00:24:40.050] – Boris
But I think more than anything. And this is what you were talking about before, Joshua. It’s a matter of education, because the most frustrating thing to me, and I try not to reveal how frustrating it is when I’m talking to clients is passwords, and knowing how important it is to actually have a secure password, every organization thinks, oh, we’re not going to get hacked.

[00:25:00.790] – Boris
What are the odds that somebody’s going to guess my dog’s name? Well, guess what? If it’s a simple password, they don’t have to guess it. They’ve got a dictionary of millions of common names and words that they’re going to barrage into your server at a rate of couple thousand a second until they break open. Number one is that education piece.

[00:25:22.510] – Joshua Peskay
Yeah. And listen, I know folks that are listening to this may be feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like we’re giving all this work to do. And I want to kind of say, hey, first of all, take a breath, calm down. And you want to approach this like you would, let’s say, like a fitness program, where if I’m not in shape and I’d like to get fit, physically fit, I have some upfront work to do to kind of start doing some exercise, eating a little healthier and doing stuff. And maybe in three to six months, I can reach a sort of level of fitness, and I feel a little bit healthier and less at risk of having a heart attack or other bad things happening to me.

[00:25:59.820] – Joshua Peskay
But if I don’t continue doing some level of maintenance and exercise and diet, then I will fall out of shape again. So it requires—to do cybersecurity, you’re not going to run a marathon tomorrow, and you also don’t need to run a marathon. You just need to do a nice, easy 5K and be able to do that on an ongoing basis. That’s the level of fitness you’re looking to get to as a nonprofit, right?

[00:26:28.460] – Joshua Peskay
Unfortunately, most of the nonprofits right now, if I asked you to go do a nice easy 5K. You’d be puffing by the first kilometer. So the idea is to get started, identify where your most vulnerable points are, go after those, do it in a reasonable and sustainable timeline and fashion, and then continuously be looking at. Okay, now that we’ve got MFA enabled, what’s our next week point? Let’s review our WordPress admin account. So next month we’re going to make sure we clean up those WordPress admin accounts and enforce multi-factor on everything.

[00:27:07.930] – Joshua Peskay
And then the next month we’re going to make sure we’re backing up. We’re going to set up that Duplicator process and make sure we’ve got a backup of our website and a plan to restore it. Next month after that, we’re going to make sure we train our staff and set up something so that we’re training them every month or every quarter. After that, we’re going to maybe deploy password managers to our staff and get them to use that. After that, we’re going to go look to cyber-liability insurance.

[00:27:30.060] – Joshua Peskay
So you’ve got a one-year plan, where all you need to do is one thing each month. And it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. But a year from now, you’re in a totally different place than you were now, and you have this practice that you’re doing. So that’s what I want people to kind of think about. You can do it. It is sustainable and manageable. Just don’t try to do it all tomorrow.

[00:27:52.550] – Boris
I love the comparison of a fitness plan. I know that it’s January when this episode is playing for those of you who may be watching or listening to it later on. And January is the month that gyms love because they get so many sign ups. It’s a New Year’s resolution, and I think that this could also be a New Year’s resolution for organizations is to create a cybersecurity fitness plan with these commitments as you’re going along throughout the year.

[00:28:25.130] – Boris
What you’re advising, I think, is absolutely brilliant, which is make a plan that is simple and easy enough to follow along rather than trying to fix everything at once and feeling overwhelmed triaging, essentially, what are your biggest risk factors? I still think that training is the number one thing. So maybe in January you commit to having your entire staff watch a one-hour video on cybersecurity practices. Right? That’s going to really take you to a huge new plateau from which you could then climb further and further.

[00:28:58.610] – Joshua Peskay
Absolutely. I love that. So, we at RoundTable offer an annual training, so we call it very modestly “The Best Free 1-Hour Cybersecurity Awareness Training Ever.” This year will be our 6th annual, Best Free 1-Hour Cyber Security Awareness Training Ever. It’s going to be on January 27th. Me and my longtime colleague Destiny Bowers do it together as a two-person show. We try to make it really fun, really entertaining, really funny.

[00:29:29.400] – Joshua Peskay
We actually—not only is it free for your entire organization to attend, but we offer cash prizes. We do a quiz at the end. It’s a competitive quiz, so the hundreds of people that attend the webinar, all can compete with each other, and you can win up to $100 by simply attending the webinar and getting first place in that quiz. And in other years, we’ve given little $25 prizes for people during the webinar for whoever’s first in the chat with the answer to a question or something like that. So be on the lookout for that. We’ll have a link in the show notes, and it really is a really fun time and a hugely important thing you can do for your organization.

[00:30:10.890] – Boris
Sounds like a holiday party to start off the New Year with prizes and quizzes, all those kinds of things. I think that’s awesome. And I’m glad that you are making it free to everybody, including everybody at the entire organization. Is there anybody who you don’t think needs to take that kind of a training within the organization, or should it just be everybody from top to bottom?

[00:30:32.770] – Joshua Peskay
I think it’s a lot of the regulatory compliance guidelines that we talked about before or laws actually require that everybody in your organization complete a cybersecurity awareness training. So many of you, if you’re in New York and you’re subject to New York SHIELD, you are required to be training your staff at least once a year. So you can satisfy that requirement by having every single staff person your organization register for a webinar with your organizational email. And if you ask us, we’ll send you the list of everybody that registered with your organization’s email who attended the webinar. And you can have that as proof that you’ve met this requirement of these various compliance laws. So everybody in your organization should take this training.

[00:31:19.830] – Boris
Awesome. I think I’m going to sign up to take it myself to see if there’s anything that I should be aware of that I’m not already that’s not already on my radar. I know you guys are doing great work in this field, so why not learn from you as well? Joshua, thank you so much. I know, actually, as we’re recording this, I know that there’s some severe cyber threats that are currently going on that I’m probably distracting you from, so I’m going to let you get going.

[00:31:45.420] – Boris
But thank you so much for joining us today and talking to us about all of these critical areas that nonprofits may not be devoting enough of their time and brain power to address.

[00:31:59.070] – Joshua Peskay
Yeah, well, Boris, thank you so much for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure to talk with someone who understands these issues really deeply and cares about them and is doing so much good for the nonprofit space. And for all the nonprofits out there, I get it. It’s hard. You’ve got your missions to pursue. I’m not asking you to do a ton, but just do a little bit on an ongoing basis I promise it’s enough and it will get you better. But you got to do it.

[00:32:24.190] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. I hope Joshua and I didn’t scare you too badly in terms of cybersecurity, but it is really an important topic, and there are practical steps that you can take, and we’re going to have links to all of those resources in the show notes, as well as a summary of everything that we talked about to make it as easy as possible for you guys to really secure your online presence so that you can maintain your trust so that you don’t have to worry about giving up hard-earned resources to cyber criminals and so that ultimately you can then create more heroes for your cause.

[00:32:56.920] – Boris
Thank you for joining us, everybody. We’ll see you again soon.

[00:33:00.570] – Intro 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:

  • Cybersecurity is especially challenging for nonprofits that aren’t technology companies and don’t have the resources to attract trained cybersecurity professionals.(7:14)
  • Nonprofits are feeling pressure from multiple angles, including data privacy regulations and laws, HIPAA compliance, and others. (7:56)
  • A lot of nonprofits are uninsurable when it comes to cyber-liability insurance; which is a major threat to the organization’s survival should something go wrong. (8:56)
  • There’s also pressures from the threat of cybercriminal activity like hacks, viruses, denial-of-service attacks and social-engineering attacks (phishing). (10:08)
    • “Unfortunately, nonprofits who aren’t training their staff on a regular basis and putting good practices in place are really vulnerable to these very simple but very effective tactics that criminals are using.”
  • Due to resource constraints, the person responsible for the technology and data at a nonprofit is often an “accidental techie” — someone who is tech-savvy, but not trained for the position and its responsibilities—and it’s often in addition to their primary role that they were hired for. (13:01)
    • It seems difficult to justify to supporters the expenses of cybersecurity… until a breach happens that costs a lot more.
  • Nonprofits, even more than for-profit businesses, can’t afford the cost of ransom demands or losing the trust of their supporter base. (16:10)
  • There are basic, inexpensive measures that nonprofits can take to dramatically decrease the risks. (17:30)
    • 1. Identify who in your org will take on the cybersec role
    • 2. Take an assessment of your current vulnerabilities and opportunities
    • 3. Start doing the work to mitigate the threats, triaging in terms of priorities
  • Three low-cost, simple things you can do: (20:28)
    • Enforcing multi-factor authentication on your coor tools is one of the most important and inexpensive things you can do.
    • The second thing is training your staff on social engineering, phishing and other vulnerabilities.
    • Create regular backups – and keep some off line, separate from where it’s currently hosted.
  • When it comes to nonprofit websites on WordPress, securing them starts with: (22:47)
    • Creating regular, off-site backups
    • Changing the default login URL
    • Making sure that the right users have the right access
    • Creating strong, unique passwords
  • It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but you can approach this like a fitness program. Set it up in stages by order of priority to get yourself to your desired level. Then set up a maintenance routine to keep yourself there. (25:23)
  • RoundTable offers a free annual 1-hour cybersecurity training in January (it’s happening next week) (29:00)
  • A lot of regulations and laws require that everyone within an organization complete cybersecurity training. (30:32)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Joshua Peskay

Joshua Peskay

vCIO / Cybersecurity, RoundTable

Joshua (he/his) has spent nearly three decades leading technology change for over a thousand nonprofit organizations. Joshua is especially dedicated to improving cybersecurity in the nonprofit sector and works regularly with at-risk organizations to address digital security challenges. Joshua regularly presents and teaches on topics such as Technology Strategy, Cybersecurity, Project and Change Management.

Connect with Joshua Peskay