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.
Read the Transcript
[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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
[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 SarrantonioDirector 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.
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.
Read the Transcript
[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?
About this week’s guest
Sybil Ackerman-MunsonPresident, 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.
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.
Read the Transcript
[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
[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
[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 AlhassanCEO, 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.
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.
Read the Transcript
[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 ShurillaFounder, 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.
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.
Read the Transcript
[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 PeskayvCIO / 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.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 31
How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck
In this Episode:
Are nonprofit fundraisers forgetting that donors are people and alienating them in the process? When it comes to campaigns, donors are commonly segmented into convenient, pre-defined buckets, based on the amount of and time period since their last donation.
While that’s a good starting point, its assumptions and lack of nuance may be doing more harm than good. The truth is that nonprofit donors don’t see themselves in terms of your fiscal year, your budget or your segments. Segmenting and communicating with them based on their last gift or trackable trend reduces your relationship to “what have you done for me lately?”
T. Clay Buck, an individual giving consultant, has performed countless database audits and has witnessed this alienating segmentation trend too many times. Clay joins us this episode to share his approach to finding the story that donors are telling organizations, and challenging the standard segmentation processes, to make a more personal connection and increase donor engagement.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:18.050] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:19.540] – Boris
Hi Everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. That da-ding just makes me smile every time. I love it. We’ve got a great show lined up for you today. My guest is Clay Buck, and we’re going to be talking about storytelling and data and donors. And really, where the three intersect, so that you could better listen to the stories that your donors tell you so that you can respond and engage them accordingly. So let me tell you a little bit about Clay Buck. He is the founder and consultant at TCB Fundraising.
[00:00:51.550] – Boris
He is a 30 year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a frontline fundraiser as he has a consultant. Boy, that really makes him sound like he’s been down in the trenches of this fundraising war, which I kind of understand. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high-level results. He is the founder and lead consultant for TCB Fundraising an individual giving fundraising consulting firm. He has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.
[00:01:26.300] – Boris
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia and MFA from Michigan State University and a certificate in professional writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a certificate in philanthropic psychology with distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP master trainer. That’s pretty impressive. Clay describes his superpower as “building the processes and systems that create strong individual giving programs.” And with that, let’s bring Clay on to talk to us about all of those things.
[00:01:57.760] – Clay Buck
[00:01:59.200] – Boris
Welcome to the show, my friend.
[00:02:01.650] – Clay Buck
Thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:03.440] – Boris
It’s exciting to have you on. I’m looking forward to hearing all of the wisdom that you’re ready to impart on us.
[00:02:09.524] – Clay Buck
[00:02:10.550] – Boris
But first, I did read that you have your MFA.
[00:02:14.117] – Clay Buck
And I happen to know you’re a bit of a theater nerd like myself. No pressure Clay, but why don’t you tell us your story?
[00:02:24.450] – Clay Buck
Yeah. I started out to be an actor. I did… really, when I was an undergraduate, I did an internship at a smaller summer stock theater in North Carolina. And my internship was running the box office. And so, “You bought your ticket. You want to give $25? $50? $100 to support the theater?” with every ticket sale. And fast forward, finished my master’s degree, moved to Chicago and realized that A) I hated auditioning and B) the $300 that I had in my pocket was not going to be enough to sustain this lifestyle.
[00:03:00.020] – Clay Buck
So I wound up getting a job as a grant writer and sort of made the connection, “oh, this business of fundraising is the same thing that I was doing at this theater.” Okay. Made the connection. And as they always say, if you find something you love more and can do better, go do it. So I did. So that was 30 years ago. Then I started doing that. And then just through that process, developed… I’ve done somewhat everything from being a grant writer to special events to corporate foundation and really developed a love and an affinity for individual giving, particularly at the low and the mid range.
[00:03:37.210] – Clay Buck
So I have really zeroed in and focused on that as kind of of where the area of fundraising and I love the most and work in the most.
[00:03:44.920] – Boris
All right. Not bad. That’s a good story.
[00:03:47.370] – Clay Buck
[00:03:50.810] – Boris
I’m a theater snob, Clay, so not bad for me is one of the highest compliments you could possibly get.
[00:03:55.830] – Clay Buck
Okay. Well, there we go. There we go.
[00:03:58.070] – Boris
Yeah. No, but it had a good opening. Nice hook, middle, and I liked it. I like it. You’re a good storyteller, Clay.
[00:04:04.770] – Clay Buck
I try. I do try.
[00:04:07.230] – Boris
So that’s your story. Now you’re working in individual giving programs, helping organizations develop, optimize, do all of that kind of stuff. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing out there in the trenches.
[00:04:19.300] – Clay Buck
Yeah. So when I started my own firm a couple of years ago and again, a chief development officer, I’ve been on the front lines. I also worked for a couple of different consulting firms, as well. So I’ve kind of seen both sides of the equation. Where I really focus is building strategy and the infrastructure and process for individual giving. And I’m— volatility is the wrong word because volatility implies some negativity. It implies… or at least it does to me. But I’m seeing a lot of volatility in individual giving.
[00:04:56.170] – Clay Buck
And there is a ton of great technology. There’s a ton of great strategy. There’s a ton of information and learning. And I am seeing a lot of “let’s try this. Let’s do this. Let’s adjust this. We can add this. We can do social media, we can do this streaming…” Right? So there’s a whole lot of noise. Where I’m seeing the real success is defining strategy and using data to tell us which way to go. Looking back at that historical data and historical donor behavior to tell us what’s the best strategy for us, which direction should we go? And where should we be implementing the most?
[00:05:38.510] – Clay Buck
And the way I frame it is—because we’re both actors we’re both theater people, we talk a lot about storytelling and the stories we tell our communities, the stories we tell our donors, how we’re telling the story of our case for support. I kind of frame this as “what’s the story the donors are telling us?” And they’re telling us those stories by what data they provide, how they behave, what their giving patterns look like.
They’re telling us their stories in a whole lot of different ways. It’s on us to really be listening to it and to be looking for what those stories, and how they’re informing how we work with and talk to our donors. Right?
[00:06:15.340] – Boris
Yeah. So first of all, I think it’s great that nonprofits are out there experimenting with all these different things, and I encourage them to do so. I do feel like—and maybe this is what you were implying—there’s a lot of “let’s just throw things at the wall and see what sticks” rather than a concerted strategy for their online engagement, for their efforts. So, a bit of a Catch 22. Good on them, but also now let’s take it to the next level and really sharpen our focus and actually use data to see what’s working and what’s not working. That’s a whole other level. That’s step three, let’s say, but we’ll all get there, I hope.
[00:07:00.860] – Boris
So with these stories that donors are telling us… first of all, what are you seeing? Are there any trends right now in data that you’re seeing? What kind of organization are you even working with at the moment to pick this up on?
[00:07:14.480] – Clay Buck
And I personally, I work with a wide range. So I have everything from large scale programs with hundreds of thousands of records to the small nonprofit with literally 250 records. The trend seems to be the same across the board. Here’s the fundamental thing. And especially if we look at giving over the last year: donors care. There’s a lot to care about. And in many ways, donors are trying—they are trying to exercise their philanthropy. They’re trying to exercise their caring by giving to us. They might, well, it’s not might… They aren’t following our rules.
[00:07:53.710] – Clay Buck
They’re not necessarily behaving and saying, I give year over year, so I fall into a clean retention rate analysis. They’re not following standard paths of upgrading, and they are definitely not following standard path of channel behavior. So they’re giving online. They give via check. They come to an event. They’re all kind of over the map. What donors are saying to us is, “I care about you doing it on my terms and in my ways. And in the way that makes the most sense for me and my family to do it.”
[00:08:26.040] – Clay Buck
One of the biggest trends that I see… so, one of the services that I offer and do, and I do a lot of them, is database audits, where we really dig into the data and look at the giving trends over as long a history as we can get. One of the biggest trends that I see in every single file that I look at is what I call “consistent, but not consecutive.” So a donor will make a couple of gifts in one year, and then they take a year off, and then they give another gift that’s higher than the last gift or lower than the last gift.
[00:08:55.160] – Clay Buck
And then they take 18 months off, and then they give three gifts right in row. So when we look at it over the history, they don’t necessarily behave in what our standard segmentation would would define. Right? We tend to think, right: current donor, lapsed donor, long lapse, LYBUNT, SYBUNT. And those have very strict definition, whether it’s a year or 18 months or so forth. When we look at it, historically, we see donors coming in and dropping off. And what happens if we standardize our approach, we’re treating them like you’re a current donor or you’re not.
[00:09:32.500] – Clay Buck
So they’re giving, and they’re actively engaged with us how they want to be engaged. But we keep shifting how we think about them because we’re not looking at them from a longitudinal perspective. And the biggest point there is in the testing and in the analysis that I’ve done and I’m seeing: those folks are out there walking around going, “of course I’m a supporter. Of course I’m a donor. I believe in taking care of…” whatever the mission is. In their minds, their loyal supporters in our minds, their lapsed donors.
[00:10:09.450] – Clay Buck
So how do we shift our approach to approach them the way they think of themselves?
[00:10:13.660] – Boris
So it sounds like even though you’re analyzing the data, you’re saying that they’re not points of data, they’re actual humans?
[00:10:19.870] – Clay Buck
That’s shocking, isn’t it, right?
[00:10:23.680] – Boris
Yeah. And so, as humans, I’m sure they’ve got their lives beyond our organizations. And they’ve got their concerns and their priorities beyond our organizations. Many priorities shifted over the last couple of years. A little pandemic swept through the world. Is still kind of here. And so I’m sure that shifted a lot of patterns as well. Is there any sort of consistency in terms of people went away and they’re coming back or is it really down to the individual?
[00:10:54.940] – Clay Buck
It’s really down to the individual. I mean, a lot of organizations, many organizations were very fortunate to see kind of an uptick during the pandemic. Right? Some crisis giving some “I need to feel agency. I need to feel control. I’m going to give to a thing.” So I think we’re still kind of evaluating what those kind of one-time donors look like and how they behave. But there’s always something. And I don’t mean to minimize the years of the pandemic, but there’s always something that might drive, right, this increase in one time gift or caring gifts or crisis giving, quote, unquote.
[00:11:31.630] – Clay Buck
The question that we really have to look at is, who are the donors that keep coming back to us in different ways? Who are the donors that are sticking around with us and through their behavior and through what they provide to us in terms of data, are telling us that they have a loyalty and an affinity that we might not necessarily see.
[00:11:53.640] – Clay Buck
And I will also add, it’s not just giving behavior. It’s actually what data they provide us, because it’s a whole lot easier now to just in drop my name in, right? I can drop my name in. I can fill out my credit card information. I can do this. I can do giving really quickly. There are a whole bunch of different ways that I can send a gift to super fast without giving you. But if a donor is taking the time to give us their name, their email address, their address, their contact information… they’re filling out forms. They’re responding to the surveys. Whatever it may be. If a donor is taking the time to share that information with us, what they’re essentially saying is, hey, Boris, I want to hear more, right?
[00:12:31.360] – Clay Buck
I’m trusting you with my information. I’m trusting you with my name, with my contact information and saying, Tell me more, and they’re waiting on us to respond to them.
[00:12:41.550] – Boris
Yeah. So, oftentimes the donor doesn’t receive a lot of consistent communication and engagement and might therefore drop off, become a lapsed donor. And it just looks like a data point that flipped off—a switch off—rather than trying to look at what the causality underneath that might be. I want to come back for a second to what you were saying in terms of COVID giving and how some organizations definitely saw upticks because of the need that was presented during the pandemic and the challenges that communities were facing.
[00:13:19.980] – Boris
I think. And maybe you could confirm or deny this in terms of the data you’re seeing. But to me, it feels like people who already care about specific organizations, those are the organizations they turned to—back to—to support and give more to, when they were worried either that the organization wasn’t going to have the funding that it needs. And I saw this a lot. Or when they thought, oh, this community needs help instantly. They associate giving that help with the organization that they already believe in and trust.
[00:13:53.220] – Boris
Does that sound about right?
[00:13:55.330] – Clay Buck
It sounds about right. I have no data to support this. So this is purely anecdotal kind of what I’ve seen from organizations that I work with, kind of what I’ve seen from the community that I live in. I think the overarching statement is that giving the act of giving gift donor agency, it gives us the ability to say I feel out of control. I acknowledge that this huge situation is happening. I want to do something about it, but I’m in lockdown. I’m five thousand miles away. I’m trying to deal with my own family in my own job, but I care and I’m concerned. I want to do something.
[00:14:36.370] – Clay Buck
So the act of giving gives us and gives donors some level of control to be able to say “I did something.” Right? And, “I feel good about myself.” More than likely donors that increased giving during the pandemic—and this is true of any crisis giving when you see a hurricane, a natural disaster, times of national tragedy and anything like that—people are giving to something that gets to their core identity and their core values. Who I am as a person. The things that I care about on a daily basis that I see myself as kind and thoughtful and caring and generous in these areas.
[00:15:13.160] – Clay Buck
For me and my family, that’s animal rescue. That is our go to when we feel we need to do something we go to. And then the organizations who told really good stories to donors who didn’t know about them or the work that they do in the midst of crisis in the midst of anything, give introductions to new ways to capitalize on that feeling. I do think donors tended most to go either to organizations they already cared about or to organizations and missions that have very, very, very clear, identifiable impact on the situation itself.
[00:15:51.320] – Boris
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love that you brought up that donating makes them feel like they have some sort of agency. It’s something that they can actively do. Because that’s, talk about storytelling, that’s something I talk about all the time. You are—your organization is empowering somebody to become a hero who may or may not feel powerless without the work that you do. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t know that I could affect the food shortages in certain communities. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t have the ability while I’m in lockdown, as you just said, to make a positive change in the world. So you’re allowing me to be a hero under these circumstances.
[00:16:37.900] – Clay Buck
Do you know the starfish story? That old sort of anecdote. If I could let me just really quickly, right? A guy goes down to the beach at sunset. The tide has gone out, and there’s another man, an older man on the beach. And he’s walking down the beach. And all of these starfish have washed up. And as the tide washed out, it left him stranded on the beach. And this older man is walking along and he bends over and picks up a starfish, throws it back in the ocean so that it’s in the water. Otherwise it’s going to dry up.
[00:17:07.930] – Clay Buck
The guy watches him do this. And he’s doing the starfish one at a time, and he finally goes up to him and he says, look, why are you doing this? There are literally thousands of starfish on this beach. You cannot possibly make a difference for all of them. The guy bends over, picks up a starfish, throws it back into the ocean and says, “made a difference for that one.” And I think that’s what donors are telling us. And again, this is why I love the low in the mid range donors.
[00:17:34.830] – Clay Buck
I think these donors are saying to us, I’m out of control here. I can’t control this global situation. But you know what I can do? I can feed one person. I can rescue one dog, I can educate one child. And this is a place that I already care about, and I can exercise a little agency, a little control and make a difference for that one. I really believe that’s what donors are telling us. Our response, then, is how do we reinforce that feeling for them?
[00:18:12.110] – Boris
Go on, go on.
[00:18:13.350] – Clay Buck
Which, which again, I go to the patterns that donors give tell us a lot about how—see, I don’t think donors—I don’t think I know. Donors don’t care about our fiscal year. Our annual year donors give when they’re going to give. Our responsibility is to make sure they have the pathway to give they have the opportunity to give. I do not talk about asking donors. I talk about creating an offer. I talk about creating an invitation. That’s what we’re doing. Whatever platform, whatever channel, however we’re doing it, we are creating an offer for them to make a difference in the world, or we are inviting them to be a part of our mission, inviting them to be a part of our visions and creating pathways to make that easier for them.
[00:18:59.360] – Clay Buck
We’re very good at sending out multiple emails, multiple whatever platform we’re using. We’re very good about putting out multiple times and giving donors a lot of ways to say “no,” “not now,” “not yet.” They’re giving on their timeline. And again, when we look at their behavior—and I have done hundreds of these by now, if not thousands, which is terrifying—in every data file I look at, there is always a core group of donors, a smallish but significant percentage of donors who give multiple times per year, give every other year…
[00:19:38.220] – Clay Buck
They’re giving on their schedules because they’re not—in their minds, they just gave. In our data, it was 14 months ago, so now they’re a LYBUNT, right? I think if we start to construct some of our segmentations and some of our approaches in acknowledging that… “Boris, you’ve been one of our most loyal and generous supporters. We were just going through our records and seeing that you have been giving to Acme charities for seven years. Wow. That’s amazing. The difference that you have made over those seven years is almost immeasurable. Thank you for being a part of that.”
[00:20:14.560] – Clay Buck
Right? If we can take that in some very simple segmentation and some very simple messaging, and what I have found is that using that again, I call it consistently, not consecutive using that and treating them as a separate segment. They’re responding wildly to it, and they are actually also converting, quote, unquote to more regular giving, quarterly monthly making commitments. Right? Because I’ve been doing that anyway, so this is an easy step for me to do. Because we’re conveying the message that “you have done this, do you want to do a little more?” Because usually the answer is, “yeah. I fed one person. If I can feed five by just giving you my credit card number? Excellent. Let’s do it!” Right.
[00:20:59.780] – Boris
Yeah. So rather than treating them as someone who gave X months ago, you’re treating them as someone who has been an active supporter in one way or another for a certain number of years. So it’s not… I think the analogy here is it’s not just what have you done for me lately or you’re only as good as your last donation. It’s you’ve been supporting us. That this low period of time and helping the community that we’re serving.
[00:21:31.150] – Clay Buck
That’s it. The analogy that I will often use is, you know that friend that you look at their name in your contacts list, and you think, “I should call them. That’s been way too long.” And it feels like you just had lunch with them. But actually, it was two and a half years ago? And you pick up the call, you pick up the phone, you call them or you text them. And it’s like no time has passed at all. And then you do meet for lunch and you’re like, “I love this. You’re wonderful. Why don’t we do this more often?”
[00:21:58.200] – Clay Buck
That’s who these friends are.
[00:21:59.821] – Boris
[00:21:59.830] – Clay Buck
Because the reality is, they’re most likely fine with us. Because they’re thinking, “yeah, of course I support Acme. Of course. I feed hungry people. Of course I rescue pets.” They’re not thinking, “oh, I haven’t written a check in 14 months or 16 months or whatever it is.” They’re thinking, yes. They’re walking around with their capes on, going, “I feed hungry people.” And then when we do reopen it in their minds, we’ve always been present. We’ve always been there.
[00:22:27.100] – Clay Buck
Yes, there are some. Yes, there are some that go, they didn’t hear from us. They haven’t heard from us. They don’t know what’s happening. And they are a little ticked off, and they are a little harder to renew. Yes, absolutely true. But I’m also convinced that there is a group that is walking around going, “I love them. I love that organization. I love what they do. I’m a part of it.” And we go, “yeah, but you haven’t written a check in two years.” Right?
[00:22:48.080] – Clay Buck
So let’s shift our story to them based upon the story they’re telling us.
[00:22:54.380] – Boris
So what should the nonprofits be doing? How can we modify our current segmentation practices, data analysis practices, whatever they are, ultimately the way that we perceive people, how do we reevaluate it and do it better?
[00:23:12.360] – Clay Buck
I think the first step truly is acknowledge. Well, actually, the first step is committing to data literacy. Right? I’m an actor. There’s nothing except having done all those light plots in undergraduate, and we used to call it “torture and design” “torture and decor.” But there’s nothing in my background that makes me an excel person. There’s nothing in my background that makes me a data person. I took algebra twice—three times, for crying out loud. But I learned early on that we needed data, and so I forced myself to get good at it. So I don’t hold anybody accountable to something I haven’t done myself.
[00:23:52.470] – Clay Buck
I do think that data literacy and technological literacy are two of the greatest skills that fundraisers can invest in right now. So understanding and working to understand the different types of segmentation that’s number one—valuing it for yourself, valuing it for your staff.
[00:24:10.780] – Clay Buck
Then secondly, acknowledging that there are different types of segmentation than what our normal sort of binary lapsed, not lapsed, current lapsed, we’ll look at, and taking the time to invest in it. I know this sounds kind of highfalutin and a little high values.
[00:24:32.860] – Clay Buck
We are in a position as a profession where we are going to have to be the ears and the advocates for using data and technology and fundraising, because it is a governance issue. But our boards and our leadership are looking at bottom line. And they’re looking at how fast can we raise how much money, how quickly. It really does become incumbent upon us to take a kind of front line in the trenches leadership role, and stop and go, “look, here is the ROI and the value of investing in data here.”
[00:25:01.400] – Clay Buck
And bring to the table, “look, I took the time and here’s what I found. I found these thousand donors that over ten years have contributed over a million dollars, whatever the number may be. And we’re going to invest in this strategy. We’re going to test it and we’re going to find out exactly how they do respond.” So the short answer is taking the time to dig a little deeper and year end is a really good time to do it. I know, year end, processes are flying and we’re approaching fourth quarter at a mad pace, and so a lot of things. But taking the time to invest in how can I look a little deeper to find the things I haven’t traditionally seen?
[00:25:43.980] – Boris
So, are there any universal starting points for actually looking at the data? Like, I really like the example that you brought up of someone who hasn’t given in 14 months. That doesn’t mean that they’re not still a recurring or repeating donor, that they’re completely lapsed and you’ve lost them, and that you need a campaign to get them back, right? Because otherwise they’re gone for good. So are there, without those specific mile posts of one year, six months, two years, whatever it might be, how do we know where to start segmenting? Where to make that switch between one bucket or another? Or is it that everybody should be in multiple buckets, but then they might get different communication.
[00:26:37.500] – Clay Buck
I think segmentation is absolutely critical. I think we can get into over segmentation and make ourselves crazy. If you have a full time data person and you have the sophistication to do multiple layers of segmentation and then deliver messaging on that, bravo, you. You are the exception, not the norm.
[00:26:55.790] – Clay Buck
Quite honestly, one of the most simple things to do. And I’m kind of giving away the farm here a little bit because this is how I do it when I audit it. Most. If not all of our CRM platforms have roll up summary fields, first gift, first gift date, last gift, last gift date, second gift, right? Second gift date.
[00:27:15.180] – Clay Buck
If you can get those six fields, you can find these people. Because what you do is you look at their first gift and go show me everybody whose first gift was five or more years ago. And then you look at their last gift and go, show me everybody from this group who is five or more years ago was their first gift. Show me everybody whose last gift was in the last two to three years. And now you start to see this group of people. “Oh, wow. Boris first gave to us in 2010. His second gift was in 2014. His last gift was in 2021?”
[00:27:47.480] – Clay Buck
And we start to say, oh, okay, Boris looks like a lapsed person. And that’s a bad example, because I did say 2021. But even so, it looks like a lapsed person. But when we see… Or using a summary field like total number of gifts… look at a lapsed donor and you see a total number of gifts of ten. That’s a huge clue that. Oh, wait. He’s been far more active than just this last gift renewal.
[00:28:14.850] – Clay Buck
Because the other thing we do—if we are doing, and a little lot still aren’t, I know that—but if we are doing a lapsed renewal, so we’re sending a specific thank you letter to a lapsed renewal and treating them as somebody who lapsed but then came back. But we look at that behavior, they have lapsed and come back multiple times. We’re just re-treating… It’s going out to that friend that you’ve missed and saying, “okay, catch me up again. What’s been going on in your life?” And your friend’s like, “come on, we did this last year, right?”
[00:28:45.910] – Boris
Yeah. And that friend analogy that you made before. I never thought about it that way, but I absolutely love it because it’s instantly something that I think all of us can relate to, where we haven’t been able to catch up with friends, but we still view them as close friends that we may have been friends with since childhood, but we just don’t get to speak on a regular basis because life.
[00:29:08.100] – Clay Buck
They’re also that friend that we describe as, I haven’t talked to them in five years, but after I call them tomorrow and said I have an emergency, they’d be the one that would be there. That’s who these donors are. They want to sit and metaphorically have lunch with us. They want to know what’s going on, but because they care, and because they’ve shown that they care, they’ll still give us a gift if we ask directly and ask, right. But let’s take the time to take them out for a beer. Not literally. Maybe literally. Some of them might be literally, you know.
[00:29:39.300] – Boris
Yeah. Or send them some beer because they might be in a different part of the country. And you’re not traveling with COVID.
[00:29:45.480] – Clay Buck
Let’s not get into shipping alcohol and all of the ramifications of that, but yes!
[00:29:48.910] – Boris
There’s delivery service. There’re delivery services. I’m not advocating anything illegal here. Clay, this is great stuff. I’m sure we could talk about a whole lot more things, but I’d like that we’ve really zeroed in on one particular thing that I think nonprofits should be thinking about right now, especially as year-end giving season is upon us. If they haven’t started yet, what’s the first thing they should do? I feel like we kind of covered this actual data.
[00:30:20.070] – Clay Buck
Yeah, audit the data. Take a look. Take the time to invest in it. Either hire a firm to do it. Sorry, shameless plug for me and the many firms that do database audits. Or take the time to pull all the data out of the CRM and just run some quick analysis on it. Use those summary fields to take the time to look and see. And while you’re at it, take the time to look at your data quality. How many addresses do you have? How many emails, where are you missing phone numbers, etc., etc., etc. Because we can’t reach our donors then, right? It’s pointless.
[00:30:49.960] – Boris
Perfect. I think that’s a great place where everybody should be starting. Even if you think you’ve been looking at your data all this time, look again. Look for those people that neatly fit into the buckets that you’ve previously made and talk to them as a human being with their own life rather than someone who lapsed off your list for X months.
[00:31:10.840] – Clay Buck
[00:31:13.220] – Boris
What’s a tool or resource, Clay, that you recommend nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals, I guess, specifically, should check out.
[00:31:21.200] – Clay Buck
I know you want to talk tech. I know “technology.” I know there’s tons of stuff out there and there’s all kinds of great resources… if it’s not on your bookshelf, if you haven’t read it, I think every fundraiser, everywhere, needs to once a year read Harold J. “Sy” Seymour’s “Designs for Fundraising.” Published in 1967, before we had technology and digital and whatever… all the things that we have. The principles in that book are the same principles today. We’re still using the same techniques. We’re still using the same strategies. And he’s absolutely right in the importance of relationship and the importance of donor behavior and how they tell us.
Sy Seymour isn’t it telling… Doesn’t say anything in the book that I haven’t said today to be perfectly honest. So that is always my go to resource, and I actually do reread it once a year just to refresh and keep myself focused.
[00:32:15.160] – Boris
And I’m sure if it’s that popular, they have a digital version, so you don’t have to—
[00:32:22.460] – Clay Buck
It was written in 1967. You’re going to get a beat up old copy from—
[00:32:24.490] – Boris
they don’t print anymore? There’s no new addition.
[00:32:26.921] – Clay Buck
[00:32:27.740] – Boris
Sounds like an opportunity to buy them all up and—
[00:32:30.240] – Clay Buck
No, don’t do that!
[00:32:31.970] – Boris
No, that would be bad. And donate them to nonprofits!
[00:32:35.480] – Clay Buck
There you go. Good. Good. That was a good recovery. It’s readily available. You can find it absolutely from your favorite book store, your favorite online source for books. But it really is just a phenomenal book. And just for perspective, Sy Seymour is who Jerry Panis learned from and developed his theories from. Right? So this is generational knowledge being passed down to it and to us all as fundraisers. I learned from people who learned from Jerry. So there’s a whole lot of generational approach there.
[00:33:10.100] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes, as well as anything else that we touched on in this episode and some definitions of some of the terms that we talked around that might be helpful as well. If anyone wants to follow up with you directly, Clay, what’s the best way to do that? What should they do?
[00:33:28.200] – Clay Buck
LinkedIn is the easiest. You can pretty much find me anywhere online under T. Clay Buck. It’s usually @tclaybuck or some variation thereof. LinkedIn is a great place to find me. I am on Twitter, with an alarming frequency and my Twitter handle is @tclaybuck. But you can also visit my website at TCD fundraising.com.
[00:33:50.280] – Boris
We’ll have all those links as well as the show notes and takeaways for nonprofits to get started with all the awesome things that you were just recommending to do. Clay, thank you so much for joining us today and talking about this stuff.
[00:34:03.160] – Clay Buck
My pleasure! Thanks for having me.
[00:34:04.780] – Boris
Awesome and thank you everybody for joining us today for the nonprofit Hero Factory. If you like this type of content, talking about what nonprofit leaders can and should be doing to increase the number of supporters, to activate more heroes for their cause, with experts like Clay… please, please subscribe and leave us a review. Leave us a rating on your favorite platforms, on iTunes, wherever you might listen to us so that more people can discover this show and benefit from people like Clay and all of our other amazing guests.
[00:34:34.960] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. See you next week.
[00:34:56.500] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- There’s a lot of experimentation in nonprofit fundraising today. But success only comes when there is a strategy, informed by data. (4:53)
- Donors are telling us their stories just by providing data, like giving patterns and other interactions that they have with a nonprofit. And the data show us that many seemingly lapsed donors care about what we’re doing, they just might not be showing it in ways that neatly fit into our preconceived notions of donor behavior. (5:51)
- One of the biggest trends that Clay sees is the preponderance of “consistent-but-not-consecutive” donors. These are supporters who may not give in consecutive periods, or may give less one time and more another. Too often, they get mislabeled into lapsed or similar categories, and the communication with them becomes inconsistent with their views. (8:40)
- Donors are human beings with changing priorities and life circumstances. In times of crisis, their patterns change, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to support the causes they care about. (10:13)
- For donors, the act of giving is an act of agency. They are attempting to make a change in the world, to right some wrong and not feel powerless. Even in times of crisis, though, they are likely to increase support for the organizations that they care about, as well as those that have a clear connection to the current crisis. (14:07)
- The Starfish parable: donors want to feel like they’re making a difference, even in the face of unfathomable odds. (16:37)
- Donors don’t care about a nonprofit’s fiscal year. They give when they want to give, and our job is to make that as easy as possible. Don’t assume that, just because you haven’t heard (or received a donation) from a supporter in X months, that they no longer identify themselves with your organization and cause. (18:22)
- Creating segments of donors who are consistent but not consecutive, and approaching them as long-time friends and collaborators rather than labels like lapsed/LYBUNT/SYBUNT, and giving them a reason and a way to increase their support has proven very effective in increasing giving. (19:50)
- The first step to changing how you view and engage your donors is to commit to data literacy. You don’t have to be naturally great with math or an Excel pro, you just have to be willing to learn. (23:18)
- The second step is to acknowledge that there are different possibilities for segmentation than the binary tests that are dominant. Consider what your donors’ data is actually telling you about them, and then treat them accordingly. (24:10)
- There are six donor record fields that can be pulled from most any CRM platform that, when looked at the right way, can identify your consistent-but-not-consecutive donors. Don’t send them yet another reacquisition campaign that shows you don’t understand them. (26:55)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
T. Clay BuckFounder/Consultant at TCB Fundraising
Clay is a thirty-year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a front-line fundraiser as he has as a consultant. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising, with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high level results. He is the Founder and Lead Consultant for TCB Fundraising, an Individual Giving fundraising consulting firm; he has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia, an MFA from Michigan State University, and a Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology With Distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP Master Trainer.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 25
How to Use Data to Increase Your Nonprofit’s ROI, with Alexandra Mannerings
In this Episode:
One of the key roles of nonprofits is to channel resources—time, money and voice—to communities in need. We work hard to get people to trust us with those resources. So how do we make sure to then allocate them as effectively as we can to do the greatest good? The answer is likely in our data.
Alexandra Mannerings is a data scientist blending human wisdom and values with the insights and knowledge of science to help amplify the impacts of nonprofits. We talk to her about what data can do for nonprofits, where to start (even if you have never considered using analytics and don’t have any background in data science and analytics), and how to make sure you’re using it to steer you in the right direction.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:19.210] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:20.660] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited for our guest today who is going to be talking to us about nonprofit data analytics and decision making, two things that are near and dear to my heart as a geek myself. The alternative title that I had for this episode when she and I were talking earlier was “The End of This is How We’ve Always Done it”. Let me introduce Alexandra Mannerings.
[00:00:48.440] – Boris
She is the founder of an analytic education and consulting company, Merakinos, who helps social enterprises and nonprofits harness the power of data. She earned her PhD in veterinary science epidemiology from the University of Cambridge, UK and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Emory University. She has also run the data center at a State Hospital Association, rowed for the Light Blues, built trails across Colorado parks and is currently raising two spirited toddlers. Being the show that we are, I ask everybody what her superpower is, and Alexandra said it is blending human wisdom and values with the insights and knowledge of science to help amplify the impacts of nonprofits.
[00:01:35.230] – Boris
With that, let me bring on Alexandra Mannerings.
[00:01:40.120] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much for having me today, Boris.
[00:01:43.060] – Boris
Thanks for coming on. Alexandra, I stuttered a little bit through your bio, which is all the more reason to say, hey, Alexandra, what’s your story?
[00:01:51.190] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much. My story is a bit of a winding journey. I like seeing where I came from academically because I like pointing out that analytics doesn’t have to be a computer science technical path. I am a scientist who works with data. I’m not a data scientist. I can’t code in Python to save my life. But I know how to ask impactful questions of data, and I use tools that empower me to do that without having to learn to code.
[00:02:16.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I come to nonprofits because I really believe that analytics is one of the most powerful tools we have to make sure we are good stewards of our resources as nonprofits and that we have the biggest possible impact in what we’re trying to do.
[00:02:34.740] – Boris
I think that’s an amazing mission that you’re on, but how did you make the transition from veterinary science to data analytics for nonprofits?
[00:02:45.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
Right? So I did actually want to go into public health. So I wanted to work in global health. I wanted to be an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. Got to the states and found out that having a foreign degree was challenging when you wanted to work in the very rule-bound space of government. So they would say, “Well, you know, you have this foreign degree. We want to see an American looking transcript. Can you provide that?” And notwithstanding that, Newton was an alumni of some of the same school I went to. I had trouble proving that I had the credentials that they wanted to see.
[00:03:18.750] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I sort of had to flounder around to find how I was going to put the skills of asking questions to use. And when I ended up in my first job, I found out that I could ask questions of a computer data set just as easily as I could of field research stuff. And that started me on my path of realizing just how powerful analytics is for everybody, not just scientists. And along that journey ended up starting a family, wanting to explore a new space.
[00:03:50.220] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so after 10 years not as an entrepreneur, I felt that I’d finally reached a point of wanting to go my own direction and figuring out how I could help as many organizations as possible, not just the one I was employed to. And it felt less like a leap into starting my own business and more of a culmination step. Right? I built all these skills, all of these relationships. I had tried and failed and tried again and had learned ways of doing things and wanted to bring those to bear to the nonprofits who needed them out there.
[00:04:19.080] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so, yes, well, veterinary medicine feels like it’s very far away from what I’m doing now. I think it’s just a different expression of the same research skills.
[00:04:29.430] – Boris
And so you created Merakinos and you and I had a conversation about this earlier, but why don’t you share with us how did you come up with that name? What does that mean?
[00:04:38.310] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes. So that was probably the hardest part of starting my own business was what I was going to call it, because you need a domain. And turns out all the domains of normal names are taken, let alone having to file your LLC and all of that. And so I decided, well, I’m creating this hybrid organization, one that really respects and honors the values that we bring as humans and understands that we can use data and analytics to offset our weaknesses.
[00:05:03.900] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I took two Greek words that reflected that, that haven’t existed in a word together yet before I came up with it. So, “Meraki” is a Greek word that talks about doing something with all your heart and soul and even leaving a little bit of yourself behind in that endeavor. And then “Nos” is the root from our word “Cognate” like, “Cognos” and “Nos” means that deductive logic, the physical facts of the world. And so bringing those together. Right, doing something with all your heart and soul and that cognitive logic.
[00:05:32.280] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to think that you could translate Merakinos, if it were a real Greek word, to mean like soulful logic or heartfelt knowledge.
[00:05:40.060] – Boris
That’s pretty awesome. So let’s then get into what it is that you do and how you help organizations and what, frankly, everybody listening to this show can learn from your work. So what do you see as the current state of data analytics in nonprofits?
[00:05:59.550] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I find that it usually, not for everybody, but for many nonprofits, especially within the small to mid-sized ones out there, falls into two camps. One is “I’m too busy to even try to figure this out,” so it doesn’t exist. Or “That’s just for donors.” “That’s just for our development branch.” And I actually heard from one person in a nonprofit I was working with, “oh, well we’re foundation-funded. We have a set funding that comes in so we don’t have to worry about analytics.”
[00:06:28.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I totally understood where he was coming from. And it made me take a step back to think about, well, wait, right, everyone thinks about analytics from how am I going to segment my donors? How am I going to test the effectiveness of my latest mailer? But for me as a scientist, I realized that we’ve kind of missed that mark in realizing that analytics needs to be as fundamental as HR or as having, you know, a cash flow strategy.
[00:06:54.250] – Alexandra Mannerings
Data underpins all of the efforts that we have anywhere in our organization, whether it is in hiring, whether it’s a determining program evaluation, whether it is in fundraising, and seeing if you’re doing that effectively. Whether it’s in your marketing strategy, whether it’s in anything you’re trying to accomplish effectively, analytics should be part of that. So whether you feel you’re too busy to get it started or whether you feel it doesn’t apply, both of those aren’t quite the right way to think about analytics.
[00:07:22.930] – Boris
I think that’s a common problem with nonprofit organizations, especially the smaller ones. But really all the way up through the top where they’re so focused on the work that they’re doing on the ground, if you will, that they don’t want to pull resources and buy resources, including human capital, from those tasks to the more back-office kinds of things which they associate analytics with. But when it comes to, like you talking about the person that you were speaking with from a nonprofit that was foundation-funded. If the foundation is doing its work well, it always asks for results. Results from your programing. How do they know that their money is working?
[00:08:06.950] – Boris
And I think that’s the same question that most donors out there in the world want to know, too. That sure, it feels good to give to your organization. But how do I know that yours is the best organization to give it to? That my money is being spent well and wisely, that I’m not just putting something out there in hopes that it’s doing good.
[00:08:26.270] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yeah, and I would actually like to challenge us even further that we shouldn’t want to know that what we’re doing is working just to tell our donors that. Right? We ourselves shouldn’t be satisfied with the work that we’re doing unless we know it’s working. And that goes back to “the end of how you’ve always done things,” right? That we oftentimes have done things because it resonates emotionally with us or because that’s what we’ve always done. Right, when I was at Cambridge, two reasons things happen: because that’s how they’ve done it for eight hundred years or because of health and safety.
[00:08:59.120] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I think that for us to take a step back and actually challenge ourselves, like, why do we lead our Monday mornings the way that we lead them? If you have your Monday stand-ups, like, “is that actually the most effective way of empowering your team?” “How do you know that?” I mean, really just starting to turn that question around and asking ourselves, why do we do this and how do we know that it’s accomplishing the thing that we think it’s accomplishing?
[00:09:25.340] – Boris
Absolutely. You know, the expression “that which is measured grows.” If you’re not measuring your current performance in your current impact, whatever it might be, then how do you know if it’s growing or not? Aside from feeling like or seeing that there’s more coming in or going out in one way or another, how do you know that it’s the most effective way? Right? These are all the things that I talk about as well. And I want to hear from your perspective. So what’s…
[00:09:56.040] – Boris
Let me back up for a second. Change is difficult. Change is scary. And you’re asking nonprofits, those that aren’t already deeply steeped in this philosophy, to take a radical step for them of reallocating some of their hard-earned resources to analyzing how things are going and working. And then rightly, as you just said, to reconsider some of the things that they’re doing. That’s big and scary. Let’s try to break it down for them a little bit and talk about what’s the first thing that they need to know or think about when applying analytics.
[00:10:42.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
I agree. It is a big, scary task and I think breaking it into chunks and realizing you aren’t going to eat the whole whale in one go. You got to take steps and those individual steps will give you rewards. So it’s not that you’re not going to get value until you finish this journey. You will get value at every step of the way and you will learn important things at every step of the way. So every little step you can take, even if it’s one step and then it’s six months before you can take the next step, that’s fine.
[00:11:10.300] – Alexandra Mannerings
Every step you take is important. So don’t feel like you have to do this whole massive journey all at once and you don’t have to change how you do everything all at once. Ask one question of one thing you’re doing. Measure it, improve it. One thing. And then, add another one and then add another one. Right? And you can do it that way. And I think that one of the places that you can start asking yourself a question, that’s a deep question. But at the end is actually a simple question to ask…
[00:11:38.200] – Alexandra Mannerings
Are what you’re currently measuring? Are they outputs or are they outcomes? And we’re all measuring something. Very few of us have zero numbers or zero metrics in place. And I like starting with that question of are you measuring outputs or are you measuring outcomes because you can answer it without actually having to change anything just yet. You’re just asking a question. And we’ll find that most of us are measuring outputs because those are the easiest things to count.
[00:12:06.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
How many free lunches did I deliver? How many pets did I vaccinate? How many programs did I lead? And those are really important and they’re outputs. But we as nonprofits exist for an outcome. We exist to change something about the world, about our communities. And so I would challenge, then, when you ask that question and you get the most likely answer that you’re measuring outputs… could you find one way, just one metric that would measure one outcome that matters to your organization? And just put that in place and add it next to the outputs that you’re measuring.
[00:12:41.470] – Alexandra Mannerings
So if you report to a board and you’re reporting those outputs, add your outcome measure, just just one start there.
[00:12:46.960] – Boris
Can you give us an example of what an outcome measure might be or look like?
[00:12:49.990] – Alexandra Mannerings
So the most effective outcome measures are going to be tied to the reason that your nonprofit exists. So if we go back to the free lunches, why do you exist? And a free lunch program might exist to advance students, academics. It might exist because they want to make sure that kids are healthy. It might exist because they’re trying to create a fair starting point for everyone. That’s going to be unique to the organization. So your outcome measure should tie back to that goal. Right?
[00:13:21.670] – Alexandra Mannerings
So instead of measuring the free lunch, which is the outcome, if our goal is for students to perform better in academia, then you should be measuring the scholastic outputs of your students. Right? You should be saying what actually are their grades? And I would challenge you to push a little further because maybe you’re thinking, OK, well, we’re here to increase their grades. But are you really? Like, grades are one thing. What’s actually the thing that you would want to come after that?
[00:13:43.690] – Alexandra Mannerings
The next level outcome might be, well, we want them to be self-confident. Right?Or we want them to be able to do well in high school. Or we want maybe ultimately we want them to get jobs. I mean, like, I don’t know, it would be unique for each individual organization. But the trick is to get to if this thing I’m measuring were accomplished, could I close down my nonprofit? Right? Like if we got to one hundred percent on this measure, would I get to have the biggest, best party ever and say we’re done? And if you could say yes, then that’s the outcome you care about.
[00:14:18.530] – Boris
So it sounds like basically your outcome is very much tied to your mission.
[00:14:22.820] – Alexandra Mannerings
One hundred percent.
[00:14:24.080] – Boris
Are you succeeding in making the world a better place the way that you are promising, the way that you have declared to your donors who have now supported you to do?
[00:14:35.600] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes, one hundred percent. And like I said, if you look at a lot of what’s out there right now. People do the sleight of hand, I think it’s accidental and how we think about things, I don’t know that it’s intentional, that we’ll say “we are supporting our middle school students because we’ve given one hundred thousand free lunches.” Right? Well, you’re not actually there just to give free lunches, right? That’s the tactic that you’ve picked to accomplish the real thing you’re out there with.
[00:15:02.490] – Alexandra Mannerings
And food’s a little bit different because most of us agree foods like an essential thing we need. So we don’t have to do a lot of effort to prove that, like feeding people is a good idea. But with other things, like I said, the yoga example. Right? If you do yoga to try to help reduce post-partum depression, you need to be able to show that participating in a yoga class does actually result in reducing post-partum depression.
[00:15:26.140] – Boris
Right on in acting, and I always bring things back to acting for some reason or other in filmmaking, we have the objective for any given scene and an actor knows their objective or they hopefully figure it out before they even go into the scene to record it or to do it on stage. But it’s not enough to try to go for an objective. They also, every line is often tied to a specific tactic, some way that they’re going to try to achieve that objective in that scene.
[00:15:56.770] – Boris
So in your case, the way that you’re laying it out, the outputs are the measurements of the tactics. It’s OK, my goal in this scene is to convince so-and-so to do this. One way I’m going to do that is by saying this. OK, how well did that work measure that? OK, that didn’t work as well as I want it. I’m going to move on to something else and I might have 15 in a scene all the same time.
[00:16:18.160] – Boris
And so those are my outputs and my outcomes are did I achieve my objective? How well did I achieve my overall objective for the scene? I love it.
[00:16:27.220] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yes. And I think this is the second half of once you start to kind of get these measures in place, you touched on, it’s hard to change. So if you’ve done a program for 15 years and it comes back up like this actually isn’t getting us as far as we want. It’s not giving us a good ROI. Maybe it’s accomplishing a little bit, but it’s costing us a tremendous amount to get that little bit of gain. And this new pilot project we’ve seen for half that amount gets twice the benefit. And so you may have to make some hard decisions when it comes back that some of these tactics aren’t quite the way that you want. And what I like to say is, make sure that you talk about that, where you put all of the people who are part of this on the same side. Right?
[00:17:06.550] – Alexandra Mannerings
Don’t be like, oh, we have to shut down Boris’ activity. No, no, no. Boris and I are going to sit there and we’re going to talk about how we achieve this outcome together and maybe Program A is the right one or maybe program B is. But we’re all on the same side here of trying to get closer to that objective. It’s really easy to slip into making it about people. Whether you tie the idea to the person or, like, Boris isn’t wrong.
[00:17:29.680] – Alexandra Mannerings
It’s that this program that Boris happens to be part of isn’t achieving the outcome that we wanted. And it feels small, but or sort of pedantic. But if you watch this happen and watch how we talk about things, then we have to change it. You’ll realize we make things about people all the time. We love to say that other people are bad or wrong because, like, something didn’t work when it’s really just that idea or that particular execution or whatever it is. So try to stay away from making it about the people.
[00:17:56.260] – Boris
And if we keep the scientific mindset in these decisions, then it’s more about rational thought.
[00:18:03.280] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:18:03.640] – Boris
And in working together than it is about personality,
[00:18:06.390] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:18:06.820] – Boris
[00:18:07.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:18:07.260] – Boris
or achieving, receiving validation.
[00:18:11.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
Right. And it doesn’t have to feel like, “oh, the boss likes my idea better than someone else’s.” We’re just looking at the numbers we’re picking and we’ve picked what we care about. We’ve picked and we all agree. What’s the outcome we’re headed towards, what’s the direction we’re all rowing towards? And we all know that that’s where we want to get. And so it becomes much easier to be like, yes, I’ll let go of this one thing so I can add in something else that’s going to make us go fast.
[00:18:33.250] – Boris
And what I love about this line of thinking is that I often encourage organizations to adopt new strategies on a on a different scale. For example, if you’ve been teaching something in classrooms for many, many years and you’ve been achieving certain results, that’s wonderful. But if your mission is to teach as many people as possible, what if you put that same education up online? And one of my clients is doing that right now. And I think it’s amazing because sure, it may not be quite as effective as you, doing it personally, person to person.
[00:19:06.850] – Boris
But if you could reach ten times as many people and have even half the effect, well, that’s a five x improvement on the overall goal towards your mission.
[00:19:20.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
And that’s why you have to be really clear what you’re trying to achieve. Because the data can’t tell you where you should try to get to. They’re just going to tell you if you’re getting there faster, more effectively. So you have to decide what your final outcome is based on your values and what drives you and what drives your organization. Science won’t to do that for you. But science is going to help you get there the best way possible.
[00:19:43.330] – Boris
So what’s the second thing then? That nonprofit should do?
[00:19:47.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
So I challenge, like start with that one outcome measure. And I think the next step then you take is review your strategic plan and there should be an outcome measure associated with every step in that strategic plan. And every outcome measure that you put in that strategic plan should all feed back into that ultimate driving goal of your organization. And when you did the outputs versus outcomes, you may not have picked the one big outcome measure for your organization. You may have picked something small. Right?
[00:20:14.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
Start small, pick something that’s easy. So build to that so that you have sort of this pyramid of strategic measures that are accounting for all of your strategic goals. And they should all align with that one reason you exist.
[00:20:29.450] – Boris
And those measures, we often refer to them as key performance indicators or KPIs, is it just one per strategic goal?
[00:20:37.520] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to start with one, because it forces you to determine what actually do you mean by this goal. If you can stuff a whole bunch in there, sometimes you will allow yourself to keep maybe even competing goals in the same one or not gain clarity about what actually are you trying to achieve. You’re going to go back to your class example, right? If their goal out of their education, right, the outcome they want is that they’re training people.
[00:21:06.800] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I don’t know the organization you’re working with, but if they’re training people to get jobs in the technical sector. There is a final outcome that they want from the output of them having these courses. And it could be that if going online and only getting half the benefit that might not get people to the level where they’re hirable in the tech sector. Right. But they got to be real clear that the outcome that they want is getting them hired.
[00:21:31.750] – Alexandra Mannerings
And that then leads them to like, what’s an acceptable drop-off in effectiveness or not. But if we’re just like we want to empower people in technology. You know, you might have a very broad strategic goal and you’re like, OK, we’re going to measure how many people get hired and we’re going to measure how many people pass the certification. We’re going to measure how many people—you stuff, all the stuff in here. You’re not getting down to that real specific, “No, no, no. Are we here to get people hired? Or are we here to, like, help them do hackathons? Are we here… why are we actually here doing this thing? If that makes sense.
[00:22:03.190] – Boris
It does, and so is there a way to measure that you’re measuring the right things? Not to get too meta on you here, but how do you know you’ve set the right KPIs up for your goals?
[00:22:15.160] – Alexandra Mannerings
I like to use that, “is it helpful? Is it useful?” Do you find that by measuring this thing, you’re able to make better, more accurate predictions about what will happen when you do X, Y or Z? Right. And if you find that you use this information, you make a decision A and X, Y, Z does not happen, then that’s probably not the right piece of information for you. Right? If you’re finding yourself constantly being surprised by the things that are happening out of the decisions you’re making, you’re not measuring the right things.
[00:22:47.260] – Alexandra Mannerings
Or if you find that having those information and pieces of information aren’t helping you make the determination, right, you get to this decision point. I have to choose between route one and route two.
[00:22:58.810] – Alexandra Mannerings
I would look at my available information and, “wait, none of these measures determine or help me think that one might be better than the other.” Well, then also, you’re not measuring things that are helpful for you because they’re not helping steer you.
[00:23:13.770] – Boris
So this sounds like it could get kind of, well, challenging for organizations and their internal teams to be able to wrangle. What suggestion do you have if an organization wants to go deeper down this road but doesn’t have the internal resources to do so?
[00:23:36.000] – Alexandra Mannerings
And I completely respect that. This is something that doesn’t come naturally to us as humans, doesn’t come naturally to us as organizations. So, again, that’s what I was saying, start with those baby steps. But if you are really committed to that, I would make a roadmap. Right? Here’s where we are. Here’s ultimately where we want to get to. Can we determine the steps we have to take to get there?
[00:23:55.540] – Alexandra Mannerings
And if you are struggling with that, reach out to outside help. Right? I mean, that’s one of the reasons my organization exists. But we’re not the only ones out there. There’s lots of different organizations that can help you based on where you are and where you want to start. And they can help you with that strategic planning. Right? Here are the steps we think you need to take. Or they can help you with those individual steps.
[00:24:12.360] – Alexandra Mannerings
So maybe you’ve been able to plot that and you’ll realize, oh, we just need help figuring out what technical platform to bring in. We don’t have the expertise to figure that out. And that could be where you bring that in. So those are all different ways that you can kind of think about how you get started. But to back it up just a little bit, you might not be at the strategic plan point. You might just be at that, “I want to take my first analytic step,” right?
[00:24:36.630] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so if you want to take that first analytic step, here’s a fun collaboration that I discovered is, reach out to your local university. There’s all of these grad students, masters and PhDs, who need a project to research in order to get a degree. And I can tell you, having been a candidate, having a project that’s going to make a difference is so much more meaningful than a project that’s going to sit on the shelf and collect dust when you’ve published it.
[00:25:01.680] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so you can look at what’s one pressing analytic question that you have that would be great for a grad student to actually research? Right? So, for example, it might be if we went back to our teaching, you want to know whether or not one of three different education approaches, which one of those is the most effective in producing either you’re hiring or your technical expertise or whatever it is. That would be a great grad student, a grad project for a student getting an Education PhD.
[00:25:34.890] – Alexandra Mannerings
Or if you’re in environment, if you’re protecting the environment and you’re trying to decide whether, you know, two different ways of cultivating trees is more effective and which one you should invest in, find an ecology major who’s doing a master’s program and you can have that be their research project. So you get great information back and you get to help a grad student. And I think it also is a great chance for us to shift as nonprofits. Right? We mostly think we have to ask for people to give us something. And this is a chance for you to give something to someone. The grad students need this just as much as you need them.
[00:26:09.000] – Boris
So to be clear then, it’s not that we’re looking for a grad program that studies analytics or something like that. We’re actually looking for any program related to the field that we’re in.
[00:26:20.790] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:26:21.170] – Boris
And the grad students are looking for things to research. And you’re offering them that opportunity?
[00:26:25.730] – Alexandra Mannerings
Absolutely. And this is where I point out that we often mis-file analytics, right? We think either analytics is like a technical thing. Right? So I can go with IT. Or it often seems to get attached to finance as well, right? Oh, it’s only for donors. But no, analytics is science. Right? It’s asking questions and using an experiment or using data to answer that question to help us understand the real world, what worked and what didn’t.
[00:26:51.990] – Alexandra Mannerings
And so, yeah, you’ll find a program and there’s probably a program out there, regardless of what you do. I’m sure there are programs for whatever you might need. And so you could find your local university or it doesn’t have to always be local, especially in COVID era. There’s going to be a university out there that supports the thing that you do and you can connect with them. And when they have the right grad student, it may end up being a really, really valuable collaboration.
[00:27:17.590] – Boris
I love that idea because I do really like that nonprofits don’t have to constantly be asking for something and feel like they’re asking, but they’re making a difference, perhaps in another way. But it might actually be related to your mission because you’re helping a candidate in the field that you are already passionate about. So it’s a win-win-win.
[00:27:36.060] – Alexandra Mannerings
[00:27:36.930] – Boris
And I like the whole process of it being a loop in terms of you’re asking a question, you’re then seeing what the results are. You’re learning from that and you’re iterating. There’s in lean methodology, which is very popular in the startup world for the last, I don’t know, over ten years now, there is a cycle of build, measure, learn. So you’ve got your program, you measure the results, you learn from it, and then you revise your program, you tweak it slightly. You change one of the things that you’re trying to do to better achieve your mission, to keep optimizing it like that. I love it.
[00:28:11.640] – Alexandra Mannerings
A hundred percent.
[00:28:13.310] – Boris
So I always ask, are there any tools that you recommend organizations check out if they’re interested in going down this path?
[00:28:21.050] – Alexandra Mannerings
Yeah, so my hands down favorite tool is something called Alteryx. And the reason I love all tricks is it allows you to ask pretty much any question you would want of any data. Manipulate, clean, transform, statistically analyze, visualize, without having to know very much coding. So I told you, I’m coding illiterate, I can’t do R, I can’t do SAS, I can’t do Python, but I can Alteryx. And it’s a drag and drop interface, so you connect different tools and you get to visually see how you’re connecting pieces of each of those analytic steps, whether it’s a joint or a formula or whatever you might need.
[00:28:56.820] – Alexandra Mannerings
So for those organizations who are a little bit further along, right. They’re ready to try to bring some analysis in-house and they might have some complex data that they need to work with on that. Highly recommend checking out all Alteryx. I’ve used it for eight years now and a massive fan of it.
[00:29:13.240] – Boris
Do you know if they have nonprofit pricing?
[00:29:14.970] – Alexandra Mannerings
They do. They most definitely have nonprofit pricing.
[00:29:18.990] – Boris
Excellent. I really appreciate that. I’m going to go check it out. And of course, we’ll have it linked up in our show notes so that anybody who’s interested can just click the link and take it on over. So being the very story-based podcast that we are, every story has to have in their hero’s journey a call to action. Alexandra, what is your call to action for those people that have listened to this so far and are interested in learning more about you and what you do?
[00:29:44.070] – Alexandra Mannerings
Well, generally, you can learn more about me by visiting my website, merakinos.com or connecting to me on LinkedIn. I always love hearing questions that come in over LinkedIn. My more specific call to action is that we are planning a small data summit for the end of September and in that we are going to invite ten experts to spend 15 minutes giving you at least one actionable thing that you can take for each step of the analytic journey. So we’ll go all the way from data strategic planning to putting data in the hands of decision makers and the steps that you take in between.
[00:30:15.030] – Alexandra Mannerings
So the idea is, even if you’re super busy, you can come drop in for 15 minutes or stay for the whole four hours that it will be, and hopefully learn the things that you need to at least get… take those first couple of steps in analytics. So it’ll be on my website under events. So you can check out more as we finalize the details for that.
[00:30:32.280] – Boris
We will definitely link that up. That sounds like a great event. I’m going to check it out myself because I’m always happy to learn more about data, about analytics, about all things geeky and about how to improve nonprofits’ performance in general. So thank you so much for doing that. And thank you for being on our show today.
[00:30:48.240] – Alexandra Mannerings
Thank you so much for having me, Boris. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
[00:30:51.900] – Boris
Likewise. And thank you everybody who has tuned in and watched or listened or read the transcript of this episode. We hope that you’ve enjoyed it. We hope that you will share it. And of course, if you like it, let us know by leaving a review on whatever platform you consume this content. Thanks so much, everybody. We’ll see you soon.
[00:31:30.340] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- We can use data and analytics to offset our weaknesses. (4:51)
- Nonprofits tend to think that analytics is about segmenting your donors or testing the effectiveness of your mailer. Analytics needs to be as fundamental as HR or having a cash flow strategy because data underpins all efforts in an organization. (6:28)
- Organizations shouldn’t be satisfied with the work that they are doing unless they know that it is working. (8:26)
- That which is measured, grows. If you are not measuring your current performance in your current impact, how do you know if it’s growing or not? (9:25)
- Every step you take is important. Organizations don’t have to change everything at once. Ask one question of one thing you’re doing. Measure it. Improve it. Then add another, one by one. (11:10)
- Start by looking at what you’re currently measuring: Are they outputs or outcomes? Most of the time we’re measuring outputs because they’re the easiest thing to measure. (11:38)
- Outputs are a measure of your tactics, like meals served or students tutored. Outcomes are a measure of your bigger goal behind your tactics, like ending hunger or helping students get good jobs. (14:35)
- When evaluating your ROI and making decisions based on data, be careful not to make it about the people working in those programs. You’re all on the same team, trying to create the most impact in the world. (16:27)
- Organizations have to be clear with what they are trying to achieve. Data cannot tell you where to go. It can only tell you if you are getting to your goal faster and more effectively. (19:20)
- Test whether or not you’re measuring the right things by looking at how well those measurements help you steer your organization towards making decisions that improve your outputs and outcomes. (22:15)
- Start with a roadmap: Here’s where we are, here’s where we want to get to, what are the steps we have to take to get there? (23:45)
- Consider reaching out to a university and partnering with a masters or PhD candidate doing research in your field. Giving them a meaningful project to work on creates a win-win and another way you can advance the field that you are focused on. (24:36)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Alexandra ManneringsCEO/Founder, Merakinos
Alexandra Mannerings founded her analytic education and consulting company, Merakinos, to help social enterprises and non-profits harness the power of data. She earned her PhD in Veterinary Science (Epidemiology) from the University of Cambridge, UK, and a BSc in Biology from Emory University. She has also run the Data Center at a state hospital association, rowed for the Light Blues, built trails across Colorado parks, and is currently raising two spirited toddlers.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 19
The Science of Creating Heroes for Nonprofits, with Dr. Beth Karlin
In this Episode:
Over the last few decades, there has been a sea change in the way we understand human behavior and guide or sway people to making decisions and taking action. This wave of research—observation and experimentation—has come to be known as Behavioral Science. Dr. Beth Karlin created the See Change Institute and devoted her career to help organizations use this power for good.
In this episode, Beth joins Boris to discuss why and how organizations should apply the principles of behavioral science to their communications and campaigns. From messaging that increases action-taking, to fostering a sense of identity around your cause, we break down dozens of ideas and strategies to activate more heroes for your cause.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:18.610] – 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 word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:20.720] – Boris
Welcome back, everybody, to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. Thank you so much for joining us again this week. We’ve got a fantastic guest. This is a wonderful person and friend of mine who happens to be a brilliant scientist, behavioral scientist. Her name is Dr. Beth Karlin. I’m going to read her bio. She is the founder and CEO of the See Change Institute, the Research and Practice Institute devoted to studying and shaping behavior change for the greater good. Her current projects, focus on health, equity, media representation and community energy programs.
[00:00:54.920] – Boris
Beth earned her B.A. in Psychology, Master’s in Public Policy and a Ph.D. in Social Ecology with an emphasis in social psychology. She probably lives in Los Angeles without a car. Beth describes her superpower as applying behavioral science, insights and methods to understand, measure and influence behavior. And with that, let’s welcome Beth onto the show.
[00:01:16.310] – Boris
[00:01:17.750] – Beth Karlin
Good to see you, Boris.
[00:01:19.370] – Boris
Great to see you this morning. Thanks so much for getting up so early in Los Angeles to do this with me today. So I read your impressive bio. Could you please share your story with us a little bit?
[00:01:31.100] – Beth Karlin
Sure. I actually started my career right after college in nonprofits. I worked at a volunteer center and I spent the next decade in education and I love the work I was doing. I ended up, after about eight years as a high school activities director, and I started to realize that I could have as much influence on young people and my students outside of the classroom as in. So I started thinking a lot about the power of culture to influence people.
[00:01:56.570] – Beth Karlin
And I just found myself making balloon arches during the day and then reading The New York Times about climate change on the weekend and just said, I want to go to there. I realized that, I mean, my undergraduate was in psychology and I always studied psychology, but I realized that culture matters and that understanding and influencing people to take action for huge issues like genocide and social justice and climate change could be done through behavioral science. So I went back to school and got a PhD.
[00:02:24.320] – Beth Karlin
I did my dissertation work primarily on residential energy efficiency, which sounds super boring, but it’s really trying to understand how the information ecosystem within our homes could help us improve our behavior. And then on the side, I started studying media. I worked with organizations like Story of Stuff Project and Invisible Children. And then afterwards, after a brief stint in government and academia, I started teaching so that I could just keep doing this work with nonprofits and government organizations without having to worry about the overhead or that red tape of the government or a university to do so.
[00:02:59.930] – Boris
That’s so awesome, Beth, I know you’ve worked with a lot of great organizations doing some really amazing and impactful work, I think, especially in the long run as it ripples throughout other areas. Let’s take a half-step back real quick. And for those that might not know, might not be geeks like me, for example, what is behavioral science? How would you define it?
[00:03:21.380] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so behavioral science, it’s kind of the cooler, newer nomenclature for what it used to be called social science when we were younger.
[00:03:30.050] – Beth Karlin
But behavioral science is really the empirical study of human behavior. Human behavior and its influences as well as its causes. So behavioral science broadly encompasses the fields of psychology, sociology, political science, education, behavioral economics and informatics and human factors, and probably a few more that I missed. But really anything, any study that’s looking at how do we behave, what influences that and what can we do about it?
[00:04:00.170] – Boris
That’s a great definition. And so as part of that, there are two sides to it, right? There’s the theory and the methods.
[00:04:07.130] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, the way I think about, and my training, as you said, is kind of broadly interdisciplinary. It’s in something called social ecology. But if you think about any discipline, whether that’s biology, ecology, psychology, any discipline has kind of two things. One is the level of analysis that it studies. So kind of the theory that encompasses it about what matters. And the other are the methods that are used to solve it. So if you think, if you’re studying a pond, right, a hydrologist would study the water, a geologist, the rocks, a biologist, the fish and ecologist studies the pond.
[00:04:44.000] – Beth Karlin
Similarly, any discipline and science always has kind of theories or ideas about what matters and how independent variables affect dependent variables and then methods that are used and every behavioral science discipline might use different methods from qualitative research into experimentation, conjoint analysis, things like that.
[00:05:03.290] – Boris
So you’ve done a lot of work, I know, with nonprofits, and I was excited to actually work with you on one project. How can, do or should nonprofits be considering and incorporating behavioral science into their work and their communications? What aspects of it really apply?
[00:05:22.040] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, kind of following what we were just talking about. If you think about these two sides, theory and methods, one, the first is applying behavioral insights into your work. There’s a lot of things that we’ve learned collectively over the past decades, centuries. If you go back into philosophy before they were actually calling it science, a lot of the ideas about what it means to be happy and why we care and virtue date back to Aristotle.
[00:05:49.220] – Beth Karlin
But if we look more recently into published annals of literature, you can look at what’s worked. So if you’re trying to send out an annual donor letter and increase the number of people that participate, there’s research on that. There are insights on how people respond to gain and loss, how people respond to information, how people respond to color, to normative information about what others are doing. So applying behavioral insights into your work, there’s significant evidence.
[00:06:14.750] – Beth Karlin
There’s some of the work I did I spent, as I said, a brief stint in government participating with the social and behavioral sciences team in the White House. And a lot of that work was applying behavioral insights into different governmental programs with the hope of increasing participation rates and improving outcomes.
[00:06:30.140] – Beth Karlin
And then the second side of it are methods. So you can apply these insights, you can go, “oh, I heard this thing that if you do X, it will lead to Y,” but test. So there’s this idea of trust and verify, right? There’s this old adage, “only half of marketing works; we don’t know which half.” That’s lazy. You can test. Right?
[00:06:47.780] – Beth Karlin
So you can apply behavioral insights and then make sure that you’re going in place and test it, testing. Also, the other goal is customizing. While there are kind of broad insights and broad ideas about how humans behave, every different area, region, behavioral context is different. And so understanding the unique attributes of the community that you’re reaching and the problem that you are trying to solve will help you apply those insights more effectively.
[00:07:17.080] – Boris
So how can… can you give us an example of how a nonprofit might use behavioral science in some of their campaigns or some of their even grant applications? How does it factor in?
[00:07:30.640] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so, I mean, one of the things that I’ve done a lot of research studying is social norms. So, for example, we found when I was in graduate school, a couple of my colleagues, we put out, we had done a conference and we’re just trying to improve literally the number of people that filled out the conference survey after we all have that problem, right? Any of us who put on events. And we put in we added one letter, one sentence into the letter that said in the email that went out that had been going out for years, that said, “dear person, thank you for coming to the conference. Please fill out the survey.” And we said, “join 70 percent of people who fill out this,” “join people, the other people who are filling out the survey.” And we saw a statistically significant of five to eight percent bump in the percentage of people that were filling out this conference survey. That finding has been replicated so many times. Actually, one of the original behavioral insights team studies in England that they brought over to the US when we launched it here, was looking at adding that same kind of sentence into the letter that the IRS sends to people who pay their taxes. It works there.
[00:08:33.460] – Beth Karlin
There was a company called OPOWER that was founded on the fact that sending that normative information, if you’ve ever received a bill from your energy utility that tells you how much you’re using compared to your neighbors, that was started by somebody who had read behavioral science research that was published right here in California showing that learning how much energy or water your neighbors used influence your behavior. That company, OPOWER, after about a decade was sold to Oracle for five hundred and sixty five million dollars.
[00:08:58.300] – Beth Karlin
So the power of this to to save enough energy in homes that you can value a company at that amount. And there’s other things on the report. But that was really the core principle. So you can do things like that. Also looking at some of the research we did in those some of those same reports, those same energy reports, we started studying imagery. So we found—this finding has been replicated in other places—that if you replace a photo without people, most of those reports had photos of like… water heaters and light bulbs, and if you put people in the photos, it increased people’s likelihood to click on the information and to take action and increased their likelihood to engage.
[00:09:38.330] – Beth Karlin
Also, if you are doing donors, this is research that Paul Slovic conducted going back and others going back a few decades called “Compassion Collapse.” That if you are trying to get people to donate to support a cause that affects people showing actually one person is more effective than showing a group of people.
[00:09:55.550] – Beth Karlin
So those are just a few. But there’s a ton of behavioral insights that if you apply and when you taken together, if you’re getting a percent increase here and a percent here and two percent here, you can see how those add up to really huge increases in the response to any of your campaigns.
[00:10:10.220] – Boris
And this is why I’m such a huge fan of the type of work that you do in behavioral economics and behavioral sciences as a broad subject because it directly affects user experience and story. It’s the story that we’re telling. It’s the way that we present certain stories and how we frame it so that people respond in a way that they might not if we didn’t use some of these tools and concepts. So it really gets into our core, the core of our psychology and social norms and triggers for us to then activate the good that we want people to to take.
[00:10:43.670] – Boris
I remember a similar study to the one that you’re talking about where and this is being done to this day. They they put cards in bathrooms, in hotels. You remember that one about trying to get people to stop just throwing their towels on the floor every single day?
[00:10:58.880] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, That was Noah Goldstein and Vladas Griskevicius ran the initial study on that.
[00:11:02.840] – Boris
And similarly, it was this not quite peer pressure, what do you call it? The desire to be like other people who were staying in that same room before you. So just by saying, “the previous people who stayed in this room used the same towels for…” I think they said two or three days or something, that sentence, crucially, just changed everything in terms of how often people would have their laundry done.
[00:11:28.100] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, and that was really interesting because actually saying people who stayed in this room was more effective than people who stay in this hotel. So it’s just this like this desire for consistency. We desire consistency with our past behavior and with others around us. And, yeah, that’s been found in so many different domains.
[00:11:43.880] – Beth Karlin
And I think what you said, the story really matters. And and that’s why it’s important that we don’t just, that you understand the context of your audience and your nonprofit and your brand, because if you just apply these because your brand, your nonprofit has its own story and so you have to remain consistent.
[00:12:00.170] – Beth Karlin
One of the studies, and I love when something I do fails as much as when it succeeds, because that’s when learning happens. We applied some huge body of work on personalization and the importance of personalization and kind of creating a relationship, and we worked with a major utility and we worked on a really more personal, casual, friendly, like trying to really build rapport letter as a welcome program. And we attenuated effectiveness with some of the changes we made.
[00:12:25.920] – Beth Karlin
And what we realized, and we followed up and did some qualitative research and reached out to people would receive them—a small sample of people like 10 or 20, you don’t have to spend a lot of money doing this—and we found that… and I got some of the ideas for the language in there from work I had done with Invisible Children, who had huge, great response rates to their messaging and had this fun brand where they they had I remember them. I did my first survey.
[00:12:49.110] – Beth Karlin
They rewrote the survey invites and I was like, I know how to read a survey and they just made it cute. They made it on brand for them. They were like, we love you, you love us. Tell us about it. Ten minutes, easy, breezy. Right? And I was like, kind of cheesy, but it worked, right? They got this huge response rate that email literally got… somebody screenshotted it and posted it on The Invisible Children Facebook was like “easy, breezy, Ben Keesey, anything for you.”
[00:13:13.020] – Beth Karlin
So I tried to apply these insights thinking, like, this is there’s a huge body of work on this. It worked here. But what I found when we talked to people was it didn’t match the brand, that messaging didn’t match the story of that energy utility. People don’t want their energy utility to say “easy breezy” because that’s not the brand. That’s not the narrative. That’s not the relationship you have.
[00:13:32.790] – Beth Karlin
So it’s really important that you can pull these insights, but really think about what is authentic for you. And that’s why that idea of thinking about story and thinking about relationship matters. And that’s where I caution against just like writ large applying behavioral economics insights, is that you really need to take caution and think about who you are and what relationship you have. And if you don’t like it, if you want to be more fun, then you’re going to need to spend a couple of years building that and kind of changing your brand, changing the story of who you are and how you relate to people until you get to the point where you can start saying easy breezy.
[00:14:07.860] – Boris
Because there are definitely some companies I know in the great large industries that do exactly that. They they go counter the norms and attract people who are like, “Oh, this is so much more personal. It’s so much more interesting.” There’re insurance companies, health insurance companies that do that, that say, “Oh, we’re not like some big random organization out there somewhere. We’re just people and we want to have interactions with you and be sure that you are doing well.” And it is really effective. But I really like, what you’re talking about personalizing, because even if you have your brand voice, you don’t have to talk to everybody the same way, nor should you. And so can you talk a little bit more about not applying one overall strategy or approach to everybody that you’re trying to speak to?
[00:14:57.570] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so kind of persona or segmentation and just to that point. So those companies I’m a member of, one of those health insurance companies.
[00:15:05.262] – Boris
[00:15:05.010] – Beth Karlin
I have Oscar. I love Oscar. I love that. Like they sent me Band-Aids and I forgot about it. I just put them in my in my medicine cabinet. And then I hurt myself and I took out the Band-Aid. I opened it and it was like super cute and said, “Charlie bit me.”
[00:15:19.860] – Beth Karlin
And it literally made me laugh out loud. I loved it. Also, that attracts—so the thing in a competitive marketplace, Oscar is attracting people like us who love that brand. Right? So there’s so there’s kind of a fit there. Right? Like people are finding themselves with Rocket for their mortgages and Lemonade and Oscar and going to Zappos to buy shoes because they’re attracted to that. So there’s a little bit of a reciprocation there. Right, because they’re drawing in people who want that.
[00:15:44.340] – Beth Karlin
So you will find that when you put your brand out there, you’re telling the world who you want to work with you. So Oscar knows straight out they’re not getting as many people that maybe want a little more staid, buttoned up type of health care company. There are people who think that that is not what a health care company should sound and look like. Right? So, when you really put your brand out front and center, you’re going to start getting the segments, the customer, the market segments that are attracted to you.
[00:16:09.450] – Beth Karlin
That’s kind of the thousand true fans methodology. That said, once you have customers and or what would you call for nonprofits?
[00:16:18.760] – Boris
[00:16:19.860] – Beth Karlin
Beneficiaries. Thank you so much, Boris. You might still want to segment them. Also, you may be serving really wide groups. So I work now with Medicaid providers and they do serve a large number of different audiences.
[00:16:32.850] – Beth Karlin
And so you might, it’s really important to look and say what are the commonalities and differences? And can I further customize and personalize to different groups? And that’s often called audience segmentation. And there’s different ways to do it.
[00:16:44.370] – Beth Karlin
You can—design thinking, says you kind of go in a room and like, think about who you think your different audiences are. I’m a scientist, so I’m going to say, again, trust, try that, and verify. I think the best way to do that is inductively, not deductively. So you collect data, run a survey and then look, how you can work with somebody to statistically analyze how people fall into groups on their own. What you’ll often find, is that people are not being grouped as much by demographics. You might not have, like, older women and younger men. You might have people who really crave certainty or people who are really focused on security or people who are working from home or people who travel on the weekends. And it depends on what your industry is. Right? I do a lot of work and energy. And so we find that people cluster based on their lifestyle and how much they… how much time they spend in or out of the house, whether they have children…
[00:17:37.590] – Beth Karlin
And some of that will follow along demographic lines, but it doesn’t have to. And the power right now of the Internet and of all the information we have is that we don’t have to rely on those old segments. So if you think about media, for example, when we were thinking about, if somebody was marketing for a Jimmy Buffett concert 30 years ago, the main thing you would think the best predictor of being a Jimmy Buffett fan was whether you were a man maybe between 50 and 65 in a southern Atlantic state.
[00:18:06.120] – Beth Karlin
But now we don’t have to think that. We can go… we can go, the best predictor of a Jimmy Buffett fan is someone who likes Jimmy Buffett on Facebook. And the second best predictor is someone who’s been tagged in a photo with somebody who like Jimmy Buffett on Facebook in the last six months. Because our Facebook friends don’t actually predict our behavior but the people we’re tagged in photos our real life friends, do. So you can start looking for newer ways.
[00:18:26.760] – Beth Karlin
You don’t have to think about just grouping people, because not only is that less effective than it could be, but in this day and age, it’s a little it’s a little off tone. Right? We don’t want to be putting people into socio-demographic buckets and saying this is what old people and young people and white people and black people think. So if we can find even new ways with interests and values in order to group people, you’ll be even more effective.
[00:18:48.500] – Boris
So let’s dig a little bit deeper, actually, now that you brought that up. When it comes to being a Jimmy Buffett fan, at some point, does that become part of one’s identity? How do we focus on people’s identities and getting them to self-identify, if you will, with our causes using the techniques that you study and implement?
[00:19:12.110] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, identity is huge. Right. Identity is a really powerful thing. And the thing is, we all have multiple identities. So what you’re trying to do is often prime… prime an identity. Right? So that it feels self-salient to the person. So if you ask me, Beth, what’s your identity? At any given time, I might be focused really strongly. Right now, I feel really strongly. My identity is a behavioral scientist because you’re interviewing me as one, right?
[00:19:41.970] – Beth Karlin
But I participate in a nonprofit organization called Reboot that’s for Jewish people. And so my identity, I’m very much Jewish in that environment. There’s other environments where I feel very much like a woman or a voter, or I might identify really strongly with my politics or a blood donor. And so one way is just to literally prime and push identity. So research has shown, for example, with voting appeals that if you ask people, “will you be a voter tomorrow?” As opposed to people—they had 11 percent increase in getting people out to the polls—over a message that said, “will you vote tomorrow?”
[00:20:17.900] – Beth Karlin
And the latter, will you vote tomorrow? Actually, grammatically, it just sounds much cleaner to me and tighter. I’d much rather say, will you vote tomorrow, or maybe come out and join us and vote, or join—that’s why social norms also work. “Join the 80 percent of people in your precinct who voted last election.” Right? But just “be a voter” is another way so you can prime social norms by saying there’s a group of people that do this.
[00:20:39.770] – Beth Karlin
And we see a lot… there were a lot of issues in the past couple of decades around messaging strategies that did the exact opposite. If you look at some of the youth drinking—and it’s really turned a corner—you used to get the message when you were a young person that everyone else was drinking and it was horrible and you shouldn’t. And if you notice, the messaging has changed. It’s “not every kid drinks.” So there’s this identity out there that is positive, that’s not drinking in college, right?
[00:21:06.200] – Beth Karlin
It’s not just focused on… we often think that we think and we think that the best messaging strategy to somebody that is one that really focuses on outcomes. Right? Because we’d all like to think that we’re like Mr. Spock, which is like measuring, carefully calculating what’s best for us and what’s best for the community. But we’re much more like Captain Kirk. We’re just rash and brash and we care about what we look like. So really, anything that you can do to make the behavior observable, to make it salient, to make people think that others are doing it, to make people think that others approve and not make them think—
[00:21:39.440] – Beth Karlin
This is important because I’m starting to sound manipulative. You have to use real data. Right. So for a behavior, for example, like—and this is research that Gregg Sparkman’s been doing at Stanford and now at Princeton—for a behavior that’s not yet normative, like, for example, being a vegetarian, you can’t say “join 80 percent of vegetarians.” So you can’t communicate a social norm that says this is a big identity. What you can do instead is communicate what’s called the dynamic norm to say more and more people are giving up meat, more people are eating or are going participating in Meatless Monday.
[00:22:11.270] – Beth Karlin
So you can talk about how something’s trending or shifting. And then again, the most easily you can just say be a voter, be a blood donor, be one of us. And that means thinking about what is the identity that are affiliating your supporter with. Right? What is their identity? What is a hero for your nonprofit look like? Who are they? Is it be a proud progressive? Is it be a voter? Is it be somebody who cares about…? Is it be a champion for charter schools in Delaware? Right? Like figure out what that identity is. What is that hero? What is that persona? And then do what you can to kind of craft that and then you’ll find those people. They’ll come to you and then you reinforce it. You reinforce it to them individually. And you reinforce it to them collectively. “You’re a part of a group of people that do this.” And that will start to kind of become a positive, virtuous cycle.
[00:23:05.090] – Boris
So I love all of this stuff, but I want to take it a half step back, because not everybody is going to instantly identify themselves as a voter, or decide that they want to be and now are a vegetarian or something along those lines. But there is the foot-in-door phenomenon where we could try to get them to self identify on a smaller scale and then slowly bring them up further. Am I think the right thing with Robert Cialdini’s work?
[00:23:32.570] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, yeah. There’s kind of. Yeah. Laddering, or the foot-in-the-door effect. Yeah, you can. So if you ask people to do a small behavior and then you come back and ask them to do a larger behavior, they’re often more likely to do that. There’s also kind of a door-in-face where you can come in with a really big appeal. And when somebody says no, you can ask them to compromise. Ironically, both of those can be effective again under certain circumstances.
[00:23:57.020] – Beth Karlin
Yeah. So, I mean, you can you can try and ladder or build. I think often there’s there’s a saying I learned back from way before I went back to school, which was like “participation precedes donation.” So one of the best things you can do in terms of an initial behavior is ask people for their thoughts, for their advice. People love giving advice. We love being smarter than each other. Right? So you can just engage people and say, you know, “what do you think matters in education? What do you care about?” And then from something they said, we really have this desire, as I talked about, for consistency. So if you get somebody to talk about caring about something, you might be more likely to get them to do something. I would also just say—just caution that, your cause, no matter what it is, isn’t for everyone. So you’re better off building a base.
[00:24:45.350] – Beth Karlin
I really, when I was in graduate school, as I said, I was really focused on climate change. And I started getting really interested in climate deniers because it just “What?” “Why?” “Who?” “Grrrr! What can I do about it?” And then I was in social movements class and and I think it was my social movements professor said in class, like Martin Luther King, to our knowledge, historically never addressed publicly the KKK. He never spoke at KKK meetings. He didn’t go after that group. He built a base. And so I think you need to focus on, like, you know, think about concentric circles.
[00:25:26.280] – Beth Karlin
Right. So there are some people that, like are not worth your time going after even for that starting behavior. So really figure out like, who those concentric circles are, who—I hate “low hanging fruit,” but there’s this idea of like don’t preach to the choir. But the choir is not meant to be preached to. I’ve never understood that. The choir is like on the stage singing to your congregation. Like train the choir. Right?
[00:25:52.360] – Beth Karlin
So you can get so you can again start getting people to communicate with each other and then, yes, train them with behaviors. There’s just again, behavioral science is really messy. There is a risk with that laddering or foot in the door called moral licensing. That there’s a phenomena that we can do one good thing—that when we do one positive action, we kind of pat ourselves on the back. We are morally licensed and we’re less likely to do another.
[00:26:20.140] – Beth Karlin
So this is where it’s kind of hard because there is significant evidence that foot in the door, that laddering works and there’s an equal body of work that says you might get somebody to go, “Oh, cool, I already helped your nonprofit, buh-bye! I’m going to go eat ice cream now.”
[00:26:37.780] – Beth Karlin
And so you want to be careful at how you do that and you want to reinforce and build reinforcement. And the way to do it is not just incentivize but to build identity. So with everything they do, connect them to you, build something that connects them to you.
[00:26:51.090] – Boris
Beth, this has turned into a fantastic master class. Thank you so much. The…what you were saying before about you can’t please everyone. You can’t go after everyone. You don’t need to go after the climate deniers. In my mind, basically to to reduce it really simply, “haters gonna hate.” And you don’t need to try to convince the haters to start loving. You can actually even use the fact that there are so many haters out there to recruit more people to your cause because you need masses to counterbalance the masses out there.
[00:27:24.510] – Boris
I don’t want to monopolize too much of your time this morning. I really appreciate it. But we’re talking around behavior. And I really want to get to B.J. Fogg’s behavioral model, the B=MAP. How do we get people to take actions? Because ultimately, whether or not a nonprofit succeeds, depends on people stepping up, becoming heroes, as we like to call them, and taking actions that further the mission of the organization. Hopefully further the mission that they feel an affinity for towards themselves. But how do we apply this B=MAP towards getting people to do more good?
[00:28:03.760] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so B.J.’s a psychologist at Stanford, and he’s put out a number of different, really great theories. And one of them is this framework that says behavior equals motivation, times ability, times a prompt. And it’s a simple model. I don’t think it includes everything that you could possibly manipulate or use. But what he’s talking about is, is that to get somebody to act, they have to be motivated in some way, which is largely true, although it is really possible to get people to take actions without being strongly motivated if there are corollary motivations or if you just make it easy for them. “Easy, popular and fun.” As another behavioral scientist, Ed Maibach at George Mason says, just make it easy, popular and fun. And those are that’s kind of his model, which also has a lot of empirical evidence. And they’ve done a lot of great work.
[00:29:00.010] – Beth Karlin
But B.J. talks about: Motivation, make sure that they’re motivated in some way to engage in the behavior. Ability, that relates to, kind of, self efficacy that they have, that they feel that they are able to engage in that behavior. And I think self efficacy is really interesting. People think of it as kind of a univariate construct, but you can think of ability or self efficacy in terms of two things. One is behavioral efficacy and the other is response. And I think that really, really, really, really, really matters for nonprofits. So behavioral efficacy is, “can I do it?” And response efficacy is, “will it matter?” And what we see in terms of like addressing pressing social issues is if we just think ability means something that you can do, people can vote.
[00:29:41.050] – Beth Karlin
A lot of young people weren’t voting for decades, not because they didn’t know how, because they didn’t think voting mattered. So when you think about ability, it’s not just identifying a behavior they can do and making it easy for them. But it’s making sure that they believe that that action will make a difference either individually or collectively.
[00:29:54.700] – Beth Karlin
And then, prompt just means getting in on their radar. So BJ’s model, the BMAP model, really is focused on building daily tiny habits, on getting people to, like, run, floss, eat better. And you might have a nonprofit that’s focused on that if you’re looking at people kind of getting engaged politically. I think it is also it’s also important to look at like easy, fun and popular. That those things really matter as well and like building that kind of social framework around your cause.
[00:30:26.380] – Beth Karlin
But when it comes to just getting somebody or yourself just to meditate in the morning, having that prompt or brush your teeth or whatever, floss your teeth, let’s say we already brush, floss your teeth, whatever those habits are, building habits is making sure that there’s a motivation there and that it’s intrinsic as intrinsic as possible, the ability that you know what you need to do and what the outcome will be if you continue doing it. And then that prompt or trigger, whether that prompt is like, something that’s external, like an alarm that comes into you, or it’s going to floss after I brush my teeth. The other thing he says is try and find like you were talking about, one tiny thing that you can do. So instead of saying I’m going to floss twice a day, you can say I’m going to floss one tooth. And then the thing is, once you pull the floss out and stick it in your mouth and you floss a tooth, kind of feels wasteful just to throw the floss away. Right?
[00:31:17.590] – Beth Karlin
So instead of running, it’s “I’m going to put my shoes on and leave the house.” So finding that way to find your own foot in the door so that you’ll start doing more and more.
[00:31:26.930] – Boris
And I think that model can actually be applied even broader beyond just like physical actions in the physical world, even on a donation page, using that kind of system where you inspire people, you help them feel motivated, you help them see that they have the ability to affect change. You make it very simple for them you remove all kinds of friction, also within the realm of ability. And then you give them a clear prompt, which is that call to action, which uses some of the verbiage that you were talking about earlier, the kind of language of inclusivity and we could all do this together. And you can, specifically, “you can make a difference.” I think just that framework tells a great story that works for taking small actions or large actions towards a common good.
[00:32:09.820] – Beth Karlin
[00:32:11.200] – Boris
So I don’t want to run too much over here, but I would love to just ask you, we talked about B.J. Fogg’s book. We mentioned Robert Cialdini. Where should nonprofits start if they haven’t started thinking about applying behavioral science to their own organizations?
[00:32:31.590] – Beth Karlin
My gosh, we’re we’re in a huge kind of push behavioral science renaissance right now, there are so many resources, Katy Milkman’s book just came out this year, some of my favorites are Nudge, which was written—so there are three times in the history of economic psychologists have won the Nobel. The first was Herbert Simon, which was several decades ago about work. The second was Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman has a book, it is thick, called Thinking Fast and Slow, but it is like the best primer to just how our brain works.
[00:33:08.980] – Beth Karlin
It’s not going to give you tips and tricks and tactics as much. It does a little bit, but it really gives you the foundation. And then the third group, the third pair were Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, for their body of work. But kind of the book that encapsulates that is called Nudge. Those are great places to start. Robert Cialdini, his most popular book, came out in the nineteen eighties called Influence that, unlike Thinking Fast, and Slow, is skinny and red and cute and easy read.
[00:33:38.620] – Beth Karlin
But there are tons of great podcasts. This is one of them. These days, Freakonomics, which is another book that talks about some of these ideas. They have a great podcast. There’s tons of resources.
[00:33:50.470] – Boris
Katy’s Podcast, Choiceology.
[00:33:52.090] – Beth Karlin
Yeah. Yeah. So there’s I mean, there really are a lot of resources and there are a lot of behavioral scientists that’re out there. So I would say try and reach out if you can. The best thing is, because like I said, applying these things requires an understanding of what’s called mediation and moderation. Which is, how does it work and for whom does it work? So if you can find a professor or a grad student, doctoral students are always looking for real-world, would love doing applied research.
[00:34:18.430] – Beth Karlin
I find that more and more and more my phone is ringing constantly. When I was in grad school and I said I wanted to do applied work, people thought I was crazy. Now there are more and more students interested in it and wanting to really get applied research experience because when they go out, there are more and more jobs. I just—one of my one of my graduate, the graduate student at See Change—just left us for the summer to spend the summer at Weight Watchers as an intern.
[00:34:42.610] – Beth Karlin
Almost every major corporation has behavioral science units. Now, Google has it. Facebook has it, Intuit has it. Right. And so so they’re looking for experience. So if you can, there are great books. There are great resources, but really meet a behavioral scientist. We’re really nice people and we want to do good. You will not only let them help you, but you’ll also be helping advance science. Because every time we can work with a nonprofit to apply real-world data as opposed to studying college students, it actually improves science. You’ll be helping other nonprofits after you, as well. So that’s my suggestion and plug.
[00:35:14.970] – Boris
Awesome. I really appreciate that. On the practical side, also, there are several things that you recommended throughout this interview today, including segmentation, including trying to figure out—testing—certain things and variables in your messaging and in your work in general that I think nonprofits should be looking at as well. We’re going to link to all of the books and other resources that you mentioned. If you know any others, drop them and we will add them to our show notes as well.
[00:35:43.120] – Boris
If viewers want to follow up with you specifically and with See Change, how can they do that?
[00:35:48.760] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, just visit our website, seechangeinstitute.com. You can drop me a line from there or you can email me directly, I’m email@example.com. Yeah. And I would love—I will take a consult that somebody sends me a message I am sent on LinkedIn, and say you have a question or you want to meet. I will send you a link to a thirty-minute consult and I’m happy to talk with people. I believe so deeply…
[00:36:14.860] – Beth Karlin
Like I said, I started my career in nonprofit. And I got my PhD because I thought that behavioral science could help nonprofits do the work that we do in the world, and that you do in the world better. So feel free to reach out, no strings attached. I would love to spend a half an hour with you.
[00:36:28.720] – Boris
I love that. And as someone who has picked Beth’s brain many, many times over the course of the years that we’ve been friends, I can tell you in thirty minutes, much like this interview, you’re going to get a whole lot of value from someone like her. So thank you so much Beth, for joining us today. And thank you everybody who tuned in to watch, to listen. If you liked it, please do leave us a review, give us a rating, subscribe, spread the word.
[00:36:51.100] – Boris
We want to help as many nonprofits as possible. That’s why Beth and I got into doing this type of work. Thank you, everybody. Have a great day.
[00:37:19.660] – 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:
- Behavioral Science is the empirical study of human behavior. It is any study that looks at how we behave, what influences that and what we can do about it. There are two parts to any science: Theory and Methods. (3:30)
- For nonprofits, application starts with incorporating behavioral insights into your work. Understanding what we’ve learned about human behavior, user experience and storytelling, and building that into your communications will take you a long way. (5:25)
- When it comes to people, there is no universal messaging that will resonate with everyone. That’s why the second step is to use behavioral science methodology, which is all about experimentation and refinement. (6:30)
- There are a lot of behavioral insights that can lead to improvements. When taken together, even the smallest improvements can add up to huge increases in response to your campaigns. (9:55)
- Story really matters, as does the way we tell it. That is why it’s important that we understand and speak to the audience’s context, along with our nonprofit and brand voice. Consistency and authenticity are key. (11:43)
- Your brand’s voice / the way you communicate your story speaks to the people you are looking to attract. It may attract some while repelling others, and that’s ok. (13:13)
- Knowing the commonalities and differences of your audience and customizing and personalizing to the different groups within your base (i.e., audience segmentation) increases the resonance and efficacy of your messaging. (16:40)
- Identity is a very powerful thing. In fact, we all have multiple identities that we switch between depending on context. Having people see their affiliation with your work as part of their identity is the difference between liking what you do and feeling like a hero for your cause. We can prime and push identity by phrasing our calls to action in terms of identity rather than just asking for action. (19:12)
- One of the best things you can do is ask people for their thoughts and advice. People love giving advice and they love to feel part of the process, not just someone being asked for time or money. “Participation Precedes Donation.” (23:33)
- Build behavioral reinforcements into your messaging. (26:37)
- The Fogg Behavioral Model (Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt) is a framework for increasing the behaviors you want your heroes to perform and habits you want to instill. (27:24)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Dr. Beth KarlinFounder and CEO of See Change Institute
Dr. Beth Karlin is the Founder and CEO of the See Change Institute, a research (and practice) institute devoted to studying and shaping behavior change for the greater good. Her current projects focus on health equity, media representation, and community energy programs. Beth earned her BA in Psychology, Masters in Public Policy, and Ph.D. in Social Ecology with an emphasis in Social Psychology. She proudly lives in Los Angeles without a car.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 9
The No-Shortcut Formula to Crowdfunding Success with Dr. Amir Give'on
In this Episode:
There are no tricks when it comes to crowdfunding. But there are time-tested, proven strategies that increase your chances of success. With Jewcer, Dr. Amir Give’on has helped nearly 1,000 nonprofits and individuals raise millions of dollars for worthwhile causes. Join us as Boris and Amir discuss what works and what doesn’t, and the pitfalls and benefits of crowdfunding you have to consider.
Read the Transcript
Welcome to the nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast in particular, where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more Heroes for their cause and a better world for all
Boris Kievsky 0:19
Hi everybody and thank you for joining us for episode nine of the nonprofit Hero Factory. We’re going to be talking about the No-shortcut formula to crowdfunding success with a good friend of mine, Dr. Amir Giveon. Amir is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is the CEO and founder of the Jewcer community funding platform, which is a crowdfunding platform that I’ve been helping out with a part of for, I don’t know, five or six years now maybe. He also served as an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of nonprofit management at American Jewish University, and he describes his superpower as helping people raise more money for worthy causes. So without any ado, let’s further ado Anyway, let’s bring Amir out onto the show.
Amir Giveon 1:06
Thank you, Lord. Good morning.
Boris Kievsky 1:08
Good morning. I know it’s nice and early for you out in California. But thank you so much for joining us today.
Amir Giveon 1:14
Thank you for having me on this show.
Boris Kievsky 1:18
So I mean, I know most everything about you at this point for I think over 10 years. Yeah, definitely over 10 years. But why don’t you introduce yourself beyond what I just said to the folks at home? What’s your story? And how did you acquire your superpower?
Amir Giveon 1:33
Thank you. So first of all, I believe it’s been more than five or six years that you’ve been involved in around what we’ve been doing with Jewcer probably closer to seven or eight years. We started very, very early on, I think in around 2011 thinking when crowdfunding was just Starting, today it’s something that you don’t need to introduce. You definitely need to explain and help with but you don’t need to introduce like we used to at the beginning. We’re talking about the days before even Indiegogo existed. It was just Kickstarter around and we specifically for Jewcer which helps Jewish and Israeli related causes. We identified it is a is a great tool for community engagement, yes for raising money, but around, I would say the lens of community engagement of really building a community around your cause. We very soon after and to answer your question, we, we started thinking we’re building a platform we really were so excited about the technology and the tools and the features and all those kind of things. And again, to Remind you right now there’s like thousands of crowdfunding platforms for any niche you can think of it those days there were very few. And we were really concentrating on the features of the platform. We launched it, we we got about 10 to 12 first causes and immediately realize that the technology is not really what makes it or breaks it when it comes to raising money and connecting with your community and everything around that which we’ll dive probably more into. We realize very soon after, and I mean, like after like 10 or 12 first causes that’s really what they need is help with the strategy around it, how to tell their story, how to reach people what to do first, what to do next. In really Take them in kind of like a through the process. And if to answer how we got these, or how I got these superpowers is I’ve been literally involved with more than 1000 campaigns. I usually throw the number 1000. But the reality is, is that is way more than that because a lot of them get started, start working on it and then realize that maybe they’re not ready for it or they come back later. So it’s probably more than 1000 but really 1000 that literally launched and started raising money. So the superpowers I guess, coming from the fact that most of the questions and most of the things I’ve encountered a few hundred times already. Yeah, so that’s really how we came about. So we started to just do to close that. We started as thinking we’re a platform What we really are is kind of like a hybrid between a Consulting Group. We are a nonprofit. So we’re kind of like a hybrid between those two things in the platform. So yes, we have the platform, and we have all those tools and lots of features that I still have a whole list that I would love to add. But the reality is, is that what really helps people raise money is is the other stuff not that technology.
Boris Kievsky 5:28
Absolutely. So yeah, we’re definitely going to dive into all of that. But before we do just a minor thing for anyone who is watching and knows the history of crowdfunding platforms, Indiegogo was actually first just nobody had heard of them. And Kickstarter came on the scene and made a huge splash. So people think of Kickstarter is the OG but it’s actually Indiegogo.
Amir Giveon 5:49
So just I mean, it’s that’s it Yeah, I didn’t even know that I I do know that a lot of people when they come to us, and rather than saying the word like I want to start a crowdfunding campaign, they Sometimes say I want to start a Kickstarter. Right? Yeah.
Boris Kievsky 6:02
Right. It’s kind of become that eponymous. Yeah. Word. So eponymous No What’s, what’s the term? I’ll think of it later like using Kleenex for xereo for photocopy if anybody photocopies anymore. Let’s dive in a little bit of mirror into what’s going on. And specifically right now the world obviously changed a couple months ago and it’s still continuing to change. I know a lot of nonprofits have to quickly adjust their Gallas and their fundraising efforts. What are you seeing in terms of changes going on at the moment post COVID during COVID, I should say yeah.
Amir Giveon 6:39
So again, just to explain my lens and the way that I see things is that we were heavily involved with every campaign that comes on board or reaches, reaches out to us to to start raising money. So as soon as it hits like around March, I all of a sudden, like Got bombarded with like emails and help, I mean through our ticketing system like questions and the first thing that was going on is like, should we proceed like they were like in the middle and in the process of like doing things and some are in different ways in different places in their process. So the first thing that I saw in it, you didn’t even need to just look at the like the KPIs like the the numbers on the platform is that everybody went into this kind of like a shock kind of like a frozen kind of a thing. Yeah, and yeah, there were like very clearly and not just on our platform it I mean, I see also other platforms and I see other things clearly became like a disaster like event. So there were and starting to be like a lot of people, a lot of organizations, individuals raising money specifically for things related to that. And that was the natural thing. So all the others we’re now in kind of like a uncertainty of like, should I still run my campaign? Should I pause it should I all those kind of things? So the graph if I would say was like, like it was like hitting a wall it was like all of a sudden like a lot of them were like, pausing stopping, less requests to start and like all those and I’m happy to see that we’re getting out of it. Like I’m not saying, it’s like I’m, I’m, it’s like I’m seeing like a I have like a pulse that I can see that life is starting to like, come back to it.
Amir Giveon 8:54
So during it The advice I used kept on giving to people is a first and it’s related again to strategy and implementation and all that is like, figure out if you’re able to run a campaign right now, like, you need the money yes. Got that like we all in many organizations but really try and figure out because a lot of people now used to work at it at work now they’re home maybe with kids like it’s like a lot of things changed. Their need maybe has not changed, but other things have changed. So the first thing I was telling people is like figure a figure out if they’re able to run their campaign around capacity. Yeah, exactly. And and we can probably dive more into it because it really is has to do with like, regardless of the times we’re in right now, just in general this capacity of running a crowdfunding campaign is sometimes not seen well enough from the outside. Yeah, exactly like people see the result, people see a lot of money being raised for something, but they don’t see the amount of work that is being put into it. So that was the first thing that I started talking with a lot of those executive directors and entrepreneurs. And I should mention, we work with anything from individuals to organizations that sometimes it’s staff in the organization that does it. Sometimes it’s volunteers, all sorts of things like that. So it was kind of like a lot of chaos, within personal lives. So I was trying to like first let’s figure out if you’re able to do it, then there was always the question of like, Is it still something that now on the other side of it, the people that now will hear about your cause, do they have the capacity now to process that, and connect with that they might have been very passionate about your cause, or potentially have or have the potential to connect with your cause. But all of a sudden the world is changing around them right now. Yeah. So it was a mixture of all those. So the short answer is that yes, like many things in the economy, it kind of like was like in a chaotic kind of a thing. It like went down. And now it’s like, kind of like, slowly, slowly, like waking up and coming out of it.
Boris Kievsky 11:31
There’s a lot of stuff in there that I definitely want to come back to, if we have some time. Actually, you know what, let’s go to it now. So the timing is, in some ways critical. And you and I have some theories on this that we’ve developed over time. But in some ways, the timing is critical. And in some ways, the timing is not. So what determines a good time to launch a campaign to run a campaign? What’s going to be crease success or decrease the odds?
Amir Giveon 12:02
Yeah, so I’ll answer that in a couple of levels and from a couple of directions. So first, my mind kind of like and again, I again to remind my lens like I get like those questions from people like and they feel like it’s like the first person that is ever asked that. But I get a question, for example, on the timing, like, what day and time of the week is the best to launch my campaign. So that’s like one level of that the other level of that is like, time when it comes to like, just like, what’s going on outside in the world and things like that. So in all around that is something and if there could be a takeaway from that for people, is that people naturally do so. are always looking for that One key that like unlocks everything. That’s one thing that like when they just turn it or just hit it exactly right. The effect is, you might like it Like,
Boris Kievsky 13:01
it goes viral
Amir Giveon 13:02
Exactly. Like I, like, I get so many times when they tell me like, I’m going to do this, this and that, and then it will be viral. Like, those kind of things. So when it comes to timing, my, I’ll answer it in two ways. One is my immediate one is saying is saying to people, it’s when you’re ready. Okay, that’s like the first thing and then I dive into them. They’re like, what do you mean is ready, and then I dive into, like, all the things that you need to do. And the second is to try and remove and it’s usually in layers, to try and get them to not think like, there’s going to be one thing they have to get right for everything to work. And at the same time, it also the other side is true, which is if they don’t get it, right, it’s not the end of their campaign. Like if you didn’t launch it on Tuesday at 10:23 in the morning, it’s it’s gonna be okay like, there’s still Now when it comes to like times and like what’s going on outside that has to do more with I call it kind of like riding waves. So it’s like if there’s a certain wave outside. And it’s kind of funny, like the meaning of outside now has like so many, so much depth into it. But if there are waves outside of things that are more trending right now it’s a trade off because people think like, Oh, I’m just gonna ride the wave, but you sometimes forget that there’s many others that are riding riding the wave with you. So now you’re just with hundreds of others that are raising money now to make face masks. Yeah, like, there goes your uniqueness there goes like you know. So that’s on one hand. On the other hand, you don’t want to start like trying to die. divert people’s attention from like, this is really happening now. But this is also important and people are like, No, no, no, we want it, we’re on this. So my go to answer is always follow the process and don’t look for that again the perfect wave if I’m not a surfer, but I have a feeling that that’s a phrase there. You know, like, it’s not there’s people with timing. They sometimes try to give like that kind of like weight to something that yes, it is important, but it’s not everything.
Boris Kievsky 15:42
So I’m gonna add on to that and and say, so my term for that wave is a site Geist, right. It’s the spirit of the time. It’s what people are going to be talking about at any given time. And you can plan a little bit around, for example, religious holidays, or national holidays or political events, anything that’s on the calendar, you know that’s going to get some. And I hate to use the term viral but some lift based on the fact that it’s a topic of conversation that that’s public right now. But yeah, as you were saying, the counter side of that is, there are going to be other people vying for those same eyeballs pulling on those same heartstrings, if you will, trying to get money at the same time. So there is some trade off. You Are you also touched on, you know, being unique. And absolutely, you need to have your own unique point of view. And you and I talk about this all the time, it needs to be organic, to your cause to your mission, if all of a sudden, you are a nonprofit that’s dealing with education, but now you’re launching a campaign to create masks and that’s an extreme example, I haven’t seen anything like that happening. But just to make it clear, if it’s something so out of your scope, you’re you’re not going to pick up any additional volume, but you’re also not even going to necessarily Engage your core base, which is so significant to your crowdfunding success. But right yeah
Amir Giveon 17:01
Even to completely agree and to add to that I’ve seen attempts and again I was part of those conversations and even like was thrown into email chains of like you know committees in organizations and of them trying to use the word organically but I you know, like you probably meant like in a natural way like there was like there were like people that were like trying to force a connection to something and it doesn’t come out authentic enough people on the other side are and and you’re absolutely correct. It’s like forget about strangers that have never heard of your organization, even your own base and the people that usually support you would be like, Huh, and in that would not get them super excited about it. You want to to stay with your core values your core mission if there is a natural connection to it if you’re a factory This is not a nonprofit but a factory that makes drapes and now turns into making masks. totally get it that totally makes sense. Yeah, so it all again going back to what helps running a good crowd in a crowdfunding campaign. Not just in these special times is really connecting all those dots in a natural way they need to all make sense. Like I always and beyond this I often find myself in conversations with them of making a list and I tell them imagine this is around the circle not as a list. All of them must sit together and be completely make sense to like a stranger that just looking at it like they are have money you want to raise? How much time you know, your campaign is all sorts of other things. They all need to always make a a natural connection. Because anything you force, comes out very, very easily.
Boris Kievsky 19:17
I think the key words, and we talked about this all the time on the show are really authenticity, which you mentioned. And integrity. And integrity can mean multiple things. I mean, it is something that you could speak with, with integrity and speak to with integrity and honesty, but also it’s integral to your mission. It is something that is actually part of what you want to do. It couldn’t be slightly tangential, but it can’t be something completely other. It could be a new way that you are expressing your mission and trying to achieve your mission. But it can’t be something that you just decided, Oh, you know what that looks like there’s a need and suddenly we’re just going to do this even though it has nothing to do with our primary Cause right?
Amir Giveon 20:00
Boris Kievsky 20:01
so we talked before about what to title this episode and we called it the the the no secret or no shortcut success strategy right? What is the no shortcut formula to crowdfunding success? Why? And you’re already talking about this but why is that the best title for this episode?
Amir Giveon 20:24
So again like my I don’t want to call it pain because it’s really not my pain it’s like something like I’m encountering all the time and I in a love helping people that are in that state is that they come in thinking oh, I saw those you know the other ones and other organization or this like raised a million dollars or raised a certain a big amount of money and they only see the tip of it, meaning the result in they in the back of their mind or at least if they don’t have any experience with raising money online. They think, Oh, I just need to like, explain what I need money for. Throw it on, let’s call it Facebook. It will be viral, and I’ll raise the amount of money that I need. The reality is just from my tone. That doesn’t happen. It’s the majority of people that come to us. In organizations, individuals have never run a crowdfunding campaign. They might have donated to one and definitely have seen one, but never seen the behind of it. They don’t see how much how many hours were put into describing and telling the story. They don’t know. They, see the number of iterations of telling that same story, they see just the last version or eight version, because they typically don’t even visit that page more than once. So I would say the no shortcut kind of formula is that I try to put them on this path of first working on what is it that they’re trying to raise money for? And really not the cause and not just saying, well, this is what my organization does, and we need money. Therefore, we have a place here for a crowdfunding campaign. to them If it was a Excel spreadsheet where they handed in within their organization, it makes sense to everybody. That’s what we do. That’s what we need money for great. But when it comes to raising money, you need to tell it as a story that connects to somebody many times to somebody who has never heard of you before, and not just resonate. It’s really to call them to do something. thing about it. There are many levels of it, right? Like sharing, liking it donating, of course, like all those kind of things. So the formula that and I doubt it, we’re going to get into all the details of it. But really to systematically look at crowdfunding is not what the lottery ticket is meaning that one thing that’s going to go so viral and it’s a, you know, a plate of potato salad that raised 40,000, I’ve got that meaning a person says, if that one potato salad raised $40,000 This can definitely, like that kind of logic, I’m afraid doesn’t work.
Boris Kievsky 23:46
We won’t have to get into all of those details. Obviously, I will say a little bit of a shameless plug for your course that you did for us last September, when you’d only helped around 800 nonprofits. So it’s, of course, constantly growing, but it is available. We’re gonna drop it into the show notes. If anybody wants to check it out. It’s pretty affordable. Yeah. Where you do go through a lot more of the process and how to get it all done. But I think the point that there’s no quick lever and lottery ticket that you could just subscribe to.
Amir Giveon 24:18
and as I mentioned the other side is also very important to hold on to it also means that you have a lot of room for mistakes. Like it’s not like you. I’ve had campaign organizers that spent weeks on figuring out what’s the right tagline for. It’s like, that’s not what’s important. It’s not one thing that makes it or breaks it. So it’s a whole process and is a whole I would say the formula is yes. Build I mean create a campaign that just like you said, has Integrity, Authenticity. Transparency is a very important one. I get many that sometimes they just tell us what they need money for. And then the amount they raise goes like, Wait, hold on. So he’s like, Oh, yeah, it’s because we also need money for this, this and that, but I didn’t want to put it there. I’m like, people will figure out that if you want to raise money for a music album, and you’re asking for 50,000 and others next to you are asking for 10 or 12,000. Something here is missing. And that’s totally fine. Be honest and transparent with the people and they will connect with you. So first is like figuring out that part then it’s the actual how to tell the story and that has to do with like, the campaign page in the video pitch and the pictures. A lot that I’ve learned from you over the years of storytelling and in really what I find that I end up giving his advice a lot And I by no means an expert in storytelling specifically, is the story need. It’s like telling the same story in different ways, through the images through the text through the video pitch. And it all has to not just make sense, but they all live together. Like you can’t have a video pitch just because you had some video that you created three years ago, and all of a sudden, you’re raising money for something completely different and you mesh them together. It it doesn’t connect. So then when you create all those, all that content that makes sense and everything, then comes the actual strategy of how, what to do at the beginning. Over the years, we developed something we called the launch list method, which again, just touching on it is we’re looking at everything in a way of circles. So you start with your inner circles of people that are would support you no matter what almost like it doesn’t really matter what’s on your page, they support you because it’s you, whether you’re an entrepreneur,
Boris Kievsky 27:09
and they believe in it already,
Amir Giveon 27:10
exactly. In vendors, the other circles that are a little bit less connected to you in less and less until you get to complete strangers. A big, I would say a big mistake that a lot of causes make is that they kind of like push the trigger a little bit too soon. By hoping that you know, influencers will share them magazines and everything right at the beginning. You need to build it up. So I would say like the formula is about creating the story and really using a strategy that works first.
Boris Kievsky 27:52
building your own way of getting that foundation in of your core most supporters on top of that, you’re You’re less connected supporters, if you will, or might be your board and your biggest donors, and then the next level of supporters, and then the people who are just interested in what you do and may have supported you one way or another. And then finally, it’s the big push out to the rest of the world. So that you look like you have a groundswell.
Amir Giveon 28:17
Exactly. And every circle kind of like comes there and sees that the previous one supported so it’s kind of like it becomes
Boris Kievsky 28:24
And then you are on the winning end of a campaign or a challenge, right? Nobody wants to go in thinking, Oh, this is gonna fail exact already believe it’s gonna win. That’s a big one that I know, we’ve taught over the years a lot. So we’re we’re almost out of time. And I do want to cover a couple of things, the stuff that we’re talking about in terms of campaigns, most of that can be applied to nearly any kind of campaign that you’re thinking about launching out there. Why should someone decide to use a crowdfunding platform and oftentimes platforms have fees, versus just running it on your own website on your own donate page? How is it different
Amir Giveon 29:00
So I get that a lot. And people sometimes also like, really dive into that fees issue. And yes, I we have a platform so we take fees and that’s what supports our organization. They often don’t understand what goes into in this is back to tools and all sorts of things like that a crowdfunding platform gives you like, it gives it more like legitimacy, like the page is on a platform with other causes. The second thing, which platforms often give you is this kind of like what I call this cross pollination. People come to a campaign, they start browsing around, they see others, you’re kind of getting a little bit of traffic of eyeballs for free. That’s why I recommend and of course, our platform is one use a niche platform because then the traffic that people Come to that platform is already targeted for what it is that you’re raising money for. So already prime
Boris Kievsky 30:07
are interested in similar subjects.
Amir Giveon 30:09
Yeah, so I would say it’s a combination and in the fees are so nominal we’re talking about around 5%. Give or take the the end result and I’ve proven it over and over to organizations, the amount of money that you will end up raising from this extra you’re getting by being on a platform far exceeds those 5%.
Boris Kievsky 30:36
Storytelling wise, I also feel like and I talked about this a bunch when you’re on a crowdfunding platform, it seems more newsworthy. It seems more like this is something going on now that we need help with right now. versus when it’s something on your website. Even if you’re driving people with a message of this is something new and different. It’s it doesn’t feel like others should necessarily pay attention to it. doesn’t feel like it’s something that is important in this very moment. Whereas you could people often do get press coverage for a crowdfunding campaign. Because it’s on a crowdfunding site. There’s some sort of newsworthiness or buzz-iness to it hopefully,
Amir Giveon 31:15
right, and if you get featured inside internally in the platform or on their social media, their newsletter, all those kind of things, give it to more than you would get by you talking about yourself about your own website.
Boris Kievsky 31:29
So we are already over time, but I do want to touch on. I always ask everybody if they have a tool or a resource or a book that they recommend that nonprofit leaders check out. What do you what do you recommend to people?
Amir Giveon 31:40
So I mentioned to you the lean startup, and there’s so much there’s so much stuff in there. But the takeaway that I usually apply from there to crowdfunding campaigns and when people come to us is there’s no argument that there’s no discussion even though they can To spend the most amount of time at the beginning talking about their need. I again, as part of that, remember, we have those two hats, like I put on the hat of a consultant, and I try to get them to, and I push them trying to figure out, is there kind of like a smaller version of what it is that you’re one that you want to make that you can start with? yes, your think of it is a is a is a marathon, you’re starting a marathon like, let’s start with like a small campaign, you can start another campaign in six months, for the same or related Cause if you’re building it correctly, but if you’re going to go immediately for that million dollar campaign, and raise only $5,000 nobody would come back to and support it.
Boris Kievsky 32:53
You can lose trust, people are gonna think you don’t know what your doing, Surely you’re not going to succeed.
Amir Giveon 32:58
So I recommend to them let’s try and find The $5,000 that you can and it’s a very important point about crowdfunding, close the loop around meaning raise the money, show them that you’re making the impact that you said, you’re going to do with that $5,000. Go back to them and say, See, this is what $5,000 can do in the world. Let’s raise more. And now you’re going to have instead of donors, you have literally a community around it, that can push you towards your next kind of like, a stage.
Boris Kievsky 33:33
Yeah, I mean, I advise Lean Startup that’s on my recommended reading list for all nonprofits, whether it’s about crowdfunding or anything else. And people often think that a Lean Startup it’s about startups is about for profits. Eric Reese actually devotes a good amount of time to nonprofits and intrapreneurship within nonprofits, of how they can use that same his basic model is build, measure, learn, feedback cycle, yeah, to iterate and to create things that people care about. To find ways to connect with people who care about it. It’s absolutely critical. And I hadn’t really thought about it as much in terms of crowdfunding. But you’re absolutely right in the in the way that you’re phrasing it here.
Amir Giveon 34:10
Yeah yeah. And many come to me like think like, and I try to tell them, let’s break it into like three, four campaigns that we’re going to do together in the next two years. And I wish I had better success at convincing more people because they’re very excited and think they can do it. And I jump in fully into it, and I help them whatever they decide. But really like that my takeaway from that is always like, let’s try to have a success story first.
Boris Kievsky 34:42
Yep. And then those people that are part of your success story The first time you reinforced that success, and they become that groundswell for your next campaign so that you have a bigger base to launch off of and you could grow
Amir Giveon 34:53
And it’s much easier the second time around when you already have this base of people that are not just talking Around, not walking around saying I donated to this, but they’re walking around really feeling this ownership of making a change in the world. . And that’s really stop looking for donors and look for people that would feel like they made the change with you.
Boris Kievsky 35:15
And that Heroes for your cause. Talking about right. Feel like a hero. You want them to feel like they’re on the journey and that you’re going to help them get there. Much like we’re talking about today. Yeah, Amir, thank you. We’re well over time. I appreciate everybody who’s who’s still hanging on and listening and watching because this is all awesome information. For anyone who wants to follow up with you, Amir, what should they do? How should they get in touch?
Amir Giveon 35:39
Get on our website jewcer.org Yeah, and everywhere, Facebook, LinkedIn, all that happy to help even and I tell it to people, even if you have a crowdfunding campaign that has nothing to do with Jewish or you know or Israel causes, we’re always happy to help because our, one of our core values is making a better world to kuno lamb. So really just reach out to me I’d happy to I’m happy to help and even like direct you to the right platform if you’re trying to figure out the right one for you, but we know
Boris Kievsky 36:19
you’ve even partnered with other religious organizational or religious based. Yeah, definitely.
Amir Giveon 36:25
Yeah, we’re in touch with there’s a Christian one, there’s a Muslim one and there’s a Sikh one. All like always like, yeah, and and yeah, always happy to help in any way we can.
Boris Kievsky 36:36
Thanks so much, man. We’re gonna make sure we link to all of these things, the resources, the lean startup, the course that if people want to just take to go on their own and learn a lot of what you’re talking about now for themselves. We’re all going to have that in the show notes. I’m sure I’ll have you back on sometime in the not too distant future to talk about more stuff. But really appreciate your time today and everybody who’s tuning in. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for everything you’re doing to make this world a better place, and we’ll catch you next time on the nonprofit Hero Factory.
Amir Giveon 37:05
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:
- Emergent situations (like COVID-19) can be the best or the worst times to launch a campaign.
- The best time to launch a campaign is when you’re ready. I.e., when you and your team have the capacity, and can capture the attention and participation of your strongest supporters.
- No specific time or date will make or break a campaign. That said, when thinking of timing more generally, try to ride the waves (zeitgeist) of social or political events/patterns/movements to launch the most relevant and relatable campaign you can.
- If responding to a crisis, have your own unique campaign to stand out amongst the masses that stays true to your mission and brand. (Don’t force a connection.)
- There’s no one thing that makes or breaks a campaign, it’s the combination of strategy and execution as a whole.
- Things don’t magically go viral—there are no shortcuts. The formula is about creating the story with integrity, authenticity, and transparency, then doing the foundational and ongoing work to make it successful.
- Don’t be overly wary of platform fees. Most of the time, the amount of money that you’ll end up raising from a crowdfunding platform far exceeds a 5% platform fee.
- Whenever possible, use a niche platform for your crowdfunding campaigns, because the traffic coming to that platform is already targeted and primed for your cause.
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Dr. Amir Give'onCEO, Jewcer Community Funding
Engineer by training and entrepreneur by nature, Dr. Amir Give’on connects his eight years of experience at NASA-JPL as a mechanical and aerospace engineer with his passion for Israel advocacy and Jewish innovation.
Amir is the CEO of Jewcer Community Funding, and served as an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Nonprofit Management at American Jewish University.
Amir holds a Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University and spent a year at the California Institute of Technology. Happily married, Amir is the proud aba to a son and daughter.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 8
Is Your Nonprofit Making the Most of Messaging? with Michael Sabat
In this Episode:
Michale Sabat, founder of @Mssg joins us to talk about the power and the potential of messaging for nonprofits.
Mobile messaging is the fastest-growing communications channel, with click-through rates far above email. How are nonprofits using it successfully today and how can you incorporate it into your successful engagement and fundraising strategies?
Read the Transcript
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.
Boris Kievsky 0:19
Hi, everybody. Welcome to episode eight of the nonprofit Hero Factory. Today we’re going to be talking to my friend Michael Sabet, about mobile messaging for nonprofits, and how to maximize and how to even get started with using mobile messaging. Thank you all once again for joining us. Last week was a special episode where I did a solo show, talking about the power of digital advocacy and the tools that nonprofits can and should be using for whatever their cause is. And this week, we’re going to kind of build on that because one of the main tools that is being used really right now is mobile technology, right? messaging is just a small part of that, or Well, it’s a very important part of that. But most nonprofits don’t necessarily know where to begin when it comes to those things. So I’m really excited to have Michael on the show today. He is an expert that’s been working in nonprofit technology for over 12 years, he’s helped hundreds of organizations launch thousands of digital campaigns. His expertise is on messaging, including SMS and Facebook Messenger, and advocacy. Currently, he also works with online donations, email and PDP as part of a bigger role that he now holds. But I’ll let him tell you guys all about that as we bring him on. Mike, come on. Hi, Mike.
Mike Sabat 1:47
Thanks for having me.
Boris Kievsky 1:48
Awesome to have you here, my friend. So yeah, I gave a little brief intro. But as I like to start off, can you share your story with us and how you got to this point today?
Mike Sabat 1:57
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks. I started Working in the space in 2008, for a company called mobile Commons, which was a very small company at the time, I think there were five, maybe six of us and about 20 customers. And we did text messaging campaigns for nonprofits. So we were a platform that powered SMS campaigns for organizations, including, you know, driving advocacy actions, and I was with mobile Commons till 2016. Through an acquisition, where the company was acquired. I left there and started my own company that powered automated conversations on Facebook Messenger. So similar model but new channel instead of SMS. It was Facebook Messenger. That didn’t work out great learning experience, great product, not a good business. And since then, I had a quick stop at a company called hustle which does peer to peer messaging. But about a year ago, I started working for this company called engaging networks. And we are a digital platform for nonprofits. So we power SMS campaign. But also all other digital channels meaning email campaigns, online donation forums, online advocacy events, peer to peer, really anything that an organization does digitally engaging networks powers it from one kind of integrated system. So yeah, so that’s where that kind of like SMS background current, all digital fits in.
Boris Kievsky 3:23
Cool. And like I asked everybody ahead of time what your nonprofit superpower is. Do you remember what you told me?
Mike Sabat 3:30
I have no idea.
Boris Kievsky 3:32
He said it’s using messaging chat messaging channels for marketing campaigns. Right? How does that I guess in broad strokes, how does that help nonprofits? The goal of this show and really my career at this point is help them activate More Heroes for their cause. So what I guess, can you give me an example of how it can work and what is currently working out there?
Mike Sabat 3:56
Well, well, real quickly, so. messaging is this weird channel that every single person does personally, right everybody text messages or uses Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, literally everybody, more people use messaging than use a web browser, right? But when you bring messaging into an organization, there’s, it’s, there’s a disconnect. And I’ve been thinking for 12 years, like, why is there disconnected what that disconnect is? Because it’s tricky to kind of everybody knows how to do email in an organization. But for some reason, messaging hasn’t gotten to the ubiquity of email within organizations. And that’s weird. So so that’s like a major problem I think about we’ll talk about it in a second. But you know, results How does messaging help? This goes a long way back, right. But um, in I think 2009 2010, strictly built on their messaging list. So SMS subscribers, I was working with an organization focused on immigration reform, CIR comprehensive immigration reform. And from starting at zero in 2009, they probably had maybe a quarter million SMS opt ins in 2010. And when the bill was on house, the floor, they were driving hundred thousand calls to Congress every day. Right? So when you want to activate your supporters and get them to take action, it’s not a view. SMS is not about eyeballs, it’s about taking action, right? When you want to activate your supporters to do something, there’s just no better channel than SMS. And in this case, it was, you know, call Congress talk about, you know, why kind of why they support comprehensive immigration reform.
Boris Kievsky 5:42
That’s, you know, so onpoint
Mike Sabat 5:45
Real quick, sorry to interrupt, but there’s a modern example. I don’t know how public it is. And I heard it through rumors and I think it’s, I’m 90% sure it’s true. I just don’t know. There’s an organization we’ve all heard of. When Facebook messenger came out, they said, Hey, we should focus on Facebook Messenger. This is an old organization with an extremely large email list. They were raising more money from their Facebook Messenger list after a year of focusing on Facebook Messenger than they were for their email from their email list, which is, you know, probably 20 or 30 years old. So when you do it, right, and there’s just nothing like, you know, the the activation, the results you get from a messaging campaign
Boris Kievsky 6:28
That’s incredible. And I want to talk more about Facebook Messenger in a minute because things have been changing on their fluid platform. But you know, the point about getting so many people to call their Congress people you know, right now where we’re always living through certain times of a right now we’re living in particular times, let’s let’s call it that where advocacy is huge, and we’re talking about all sorts of issues, not just the ones that are most prevalent in the headlines like COVID and the protests going on right now. But also Universal universal pay systems what’s called the one universal payment initiative. I’m sorry, UBI. And universal basic income. Thank you that that’s exactly it. And healthcare and so many other things that are topical right now in terms of elections for this coming election, that to be able to mobilize a base that large and get them to take action that way is just seems like incredible power.
Mike Sabat 7:32
Yeah, and this was one of the discoveries or, you know, probably the smartest one of mobile comments. One of them was, hey, we’re messaging people on this phone, right. But the text message, what, what does that the fact that we’re on a phone directly give us the unique ability to do versus email or versus any other channel? And one of the clear ones was make a phone call, right, obviously. And so then you think like, what phone call do organizations find most important and you know, In a very important action of support can take is to call their congressperson. And so mobile Commons, you know, built that call routing and tracking so that we could connect each individual with their congressperson. And that was a big deal, right? It was the only place you could get it done. still works better today from a text message, then click to call right even though everybody has click to call, fill out a webform get a call. But but that text to call is even a step above that. And that is for some organizations, right? That is the most important thing they can do is get their supporters to take action. Now a struggle and something that’s continuously in my mind, no one solved it yet is okay. Companies have figured out how to get SMS messaging people write SMS opt ins, or Facebook Messenger opt ins for that matter to make a call and take an advocacy action. The trickier part is how do we get the SMS list to make a donation directly from the SMS. And so that’s an interesting problem that hasn’t fully been solved yet.
Boris Kievsky 9:04
Yeah, and I know there are a few platforms out there that will do it in one way or another. Some, I think, work through your mobile carrier. Some work through just a web based platform, essentially, that’s mobile optimized for donations. different ones have different approaches. But yeah, there’s no ubiquitous or even even universally available, system that that is inexpensive enough and open enough to everybody in the nonprofit space to take advantage of. But I do think that that in part if nonprofit’s can’t figure that out, and those that do are at an advantage over others that haven’t gotten there yet, and will take a little time to catch up.
Mike Sabat 9:46
Yeah, I think you know that. What I was getting at here is, there’s no reply with the amount you want to donate and we’ll add it to the credit card we have on file, right, which is sort of the killer app or the the superpower in that in that sense. Linking people to the donation forums. Yes, sure. That’s been around forever. And this might take us into the Facebook Messenger conversation if you want. But I have a theory. I guess it’s a theory. I have a thought that I think mobile web forms are horrible, right? I think the form is not the web form is not the right medium for mobile. I think we basically took what works on the web, on your, you know, 21 inch, 22 inch, you know, Mac display or your 15 inch MacBook. And we said, Hey, since the phone is only five inches, why don’t we smash this webform into five inches, and we’ll call it mobile optimized, which is all good. And you have to do it right. But it’s just not the right form factor for the mobile phone. It’s just not ideal period. conversation. messaging is the ideal form factor for the mobile phone. And so you know, as you start doing messaging campaigns and get a little better at them, and you know, figure out what works What doesn’t the the the killer app or the superpower of messaging is actually response? And if you think about what a message response is, it’s sort of like someone filling out a form. Right? So if I go to your website, and I said, You know, I get a pop up that says, enter your emailed email address to join our mailing list. That’s exactly the same as me texting in and getting a message back that says, respond with your email address to to join our email list. And the response rate for that response, sorry to use the double word but you know, the conversion rate on asking for an email and a conversation is so much better, like four or five, maybe 10 times better in certain situations than sending someone to a mobile form and looking to get the conversion rate in that form.
Boris Kievsky 11:50
I think honestly, my brain is spinning right now with ideas that this is sparking, and I think you’re absolutely right. It would be amazing. If nonprofit CRMs or donor donation platforms would have that credit card on file kind of thing. Once you’ve opted in, we can text you and say, Hey, this is happening right now text back with the amount you want to give. And we’ll just add it to your to your donation for the year or whatever it might be talking about, like powerful emergency response, or, you know, hot topic, issue response, there was a little while back, I think, leading up to the previous election. There were ways where you could do that with Twitter, even if you included a certain hashtag, he would automatically, you know, get you into a donation system. So something like that, that would work with SMS, or with Facebook Messenger would be I think, phenomenal with WhatsApp, of course, even maybe more broadly applicable. So if if anyone’s a developer out there and ready to get to work, Mike’s got great ideas, and this needs to happen.
Mike Sabat 12:59
So I’m really close. You know, Obama did it right. So the presidential campaigns have done it, Obama did it. I believe Hillary did it, although I don’t have any stats. But you know, for the Obama campaign, and again, you know, when a campaign ends, everybody goes their separate ways. And I heard this like from somebody was there was there but might not have been the primary person. So with a grain of salt, it’s also an unfair comparison. But if you were on the email list and never made a donation, and you know, they emailed you and said, please click here to make a donation and you had to click the email and fill out your credit card and everything. So that’s case a, case B is you’re on the messaging list, and you’ve already saved your credit card. Right? When they emailed you, case, a converted at one rate, case B. So reply with the amount you want to donate will charge the credit card we have saved that converted at times better, so 8,000% better than the first case, and obviously very unfair comparison. But that’s sort of the whole point. It’s like so much better if you can get that SMS Often and syncing that credit card. It’s just not it’s just a different world.
Boris Kievsky 14:03
Because we’re reducing so much friction. And I talked about this all the time, just yesterday, I was on a call with a client, and we were getting their storytelling strategy set up. And I’m introducing this idea that it’s not about carrot and stick anymore in terms of rewards. behavioral economics has taught us, you know, thanks to the work of Torski and Conamen and Richard Thaler that the best way to get people to take action, the actions you want him to take is to really just remove the friction between where they are now and where you want them to be, the easier you could make it. So make it an opt out instead of an opt in which of course, in some cases has other concerns around it, and we don’t want to go violating any laws. But if, for example, they talk about the retirement savings plans, you know, they used to all be opt in Now, a lot of companies are making the default. And so people just go with the default and it benefits them in the long run. So the more you can make it easy for your current and potential supporters to take the actions you want them to take the much more likely they’re going to take them. And you know, 8,000% sounds high, but it wouldn’t shock me that that was actually the case. So it’s it’s incredibly powerful.
Mike Sabat 15:17
Yeah, totally. And you know, when talking about friction, when I see hey, you get an SMS and you click this link, and it opens our webpage will drive you to our web page where you can take an action and just okay, we’ve introduced a ton of friction at that point, right.
Boris Kievsky 15:30
So you’re relying on a good internet connection at the time, you’re relying on the mobile browser rendering rendering properly. And someone wanting to take the time because now it’s a different mindset of now I’ve got to go through a process rather than Oh, yeah, here it is. Here.
Mike Sabat 15:44
It is. Just four clicks versus you know, 400 clicks. Yeah. Yeah. Well, that Yeah. And a lot of ways.
Boris Kievsky 15:49
It’s, this is fantastic stuff like, so. What are you know, are there some other ways besides what we’re talking about right now that nonprofits are successful using messaging today.
Mike Sabat 16:00
Yeah, you know, there’s a bunch I guess I’d start with if your nonprofit thinking about messaging, sort of be comforted to know that nonprofits do extremely well in the messaging space, compared to all other types of entities. I say that nonprofits sort of own the messaging space. Meaning, you know, Obama again in 2008, not to use all these super liberal references, but you know, he announced his vice presidential pick in August in 2008. And that was a story in the New York Times Obama is planning to announce his vice presidential pick, I think they got millions of people texting in but it was like the first big, you know, campaign, SMS campaign for nonprofits. Two years later, the Haiti earthquake happened. And as that you probably referenced, you know, at the beginning, I think you were talking about the text to donate, right? And nonprofits just jumped in. A lot of them more successful as texted donate, but but for the past 12 years since then, there’s just you know, hundreds of nonprofits building these very strong, big, large Active SMS lists and where for profit companies just haven’t done that. Why do nonprofits do so? Well with messaging? Well, number one ideas are core to what nonprofits do. Right? And so the message what the story you tell the nonprofit, sorry, the story you tell your supporters is core to that nonprofit. And and the channels by which you tell that story is core, meaning the nonprofit doesn’t have a product they need to sell. They can concentrate on good communications and relaying their message. It’s just at the center where Uber does a lot of SMS or they did a lot of SMS a you know, at one time, but Uber wasn’t about, you know, the message coming in the SMS. It was about the car, right, the A to B so that’s one reason nonprofits are not transactional, right? When they capture somebody they want you know, when somebody is opted into nonprofits, communications, that nonprofit wants the person to leave them $50,000 in their will, right. It’s not like they’re burning through lists, or they shouldn’t be So, you know, getting connecting with a supporter on their strongest channel is important in the nonprofit and they know how to maximize that long term. It’s worth it. Third, last but not least, you know, why do nonprofits own this messaging space is that their supporters actually give a shit about the causes. It’s personal to them. So where I might shop at TJ Maxx, and when TJ Maxx says wants to text you I know they’re just going to send me like coupons to get me back in the store. It’s not personal to me. It’s not something I really want to hear about. But when it says like, Hey, you made a donation. You know, you saved a life you helped with whatever, you support our cause. Do you want to stay up to date on this? Cause it’s something personal and yes, I will connect on the most personal channel there. But yeah, what so it’s like the background. Why is it so important? Why are nonprofits so good at messaging, you know, what’s happening currently is there’s a few different options with messaging, and a few different directions that the space is heading. One is peer to peer messaging versus opt in broadcast messaging. So peer to peer messaging is just a few years old. It’s more like advertising than it is like email, like building an opt in list. Because with peer to peer messaging, you just need the phone number, you can send a message to anybody, but you need volunteers or employees to do it. And the people aren’t opted in, they haven’t chosen to receive your messages. So it’s a little more transactional, a little more like, Hey, we’re going to send an ad to people over text messaging, we’re broadcast messaging is you’re building an asset over time, which is your OPT in list. I’m a little more I’ve done both I lean a little more towards the broadcast opt in messaging.
Boris Kievsky 19:39
That model is that almost like a phone tree, but but in text version, the messenger version,
Mike Sabat 19:44
I guess, but nobody’s doing it? Well, sort of, you know, the peer to peer messaging is, there’s a law that says, in order to send an automated text message to somebody they have to have explicitly opted in. And the idea behind peer to peer is well, what if It’s not an automated message does that mean people don’t have to explicitly opt in. And so peer to peer messaging is an organization can buy or you know, have a list of phone numbers, they upload them to a system. Hustle is a big one, there’s one called get through. And there’s a few more out there. And then the software powers individuals to click Send on the phone every time a message is sent. So they’re like approximating this idea of a broadcast message getting, you know this message to 1000 people quickly, but it’s people actually sending it.
Boris Kievsky 20:36
I’ve been seeing through friends and through even ads on Facebook, for example, that they’re trying to mobilize people for this upcoming election cycle, or this current election cycle, I should say, the upcoming elections. And they’re actually advertising things similar to what you’re talking about now, where, hey, you can make phone calls or you can send text messages on behalf of the candidates
Mike Sabat 20:59
That’s exactly it. Yep. Got it got interesting, effective. A lot of problems long term but interesting and effective, especially for politics. You know, nonprofits are trying. I think it works. It’s just a question of like, hey, are we going to burn out the channel? Number one? Are we going to piss our donors off? If they don’t want to receive texts from us? And then, you know, is it worth it to staff up? Wouldn’t? Would we rather build a list of people that want to hear from us and press one button to reach all of them? Or do we want to just, you know, kind of expedite that process in a way where we’ll never actually like, have this opt in, but we can, you know, do it manually, right. Again, advertising versus building, like, you know, buying ads versus building your email list sort of,
Boris Kievsky 21:50
there ought to be some sort of a crossover in there where it’s almost like when someone makes a donation, hopefully your website says, Hey, now go share this on Facebook with your friends. Or send an email to your friends. Maybe there’s a crossover where the peer to peer leads to an actual opt in so that you’re not burning out and you’re not just blasting people that you don’t have the the explicit permission to do so because I coming back to what you were saying earlier, I think that is a great differentiator where you know, TJ Maxx, as you said, we’re not the single them out whatever the for profit company is that sending me messages, for example, I’ll often say stop, because frankly, I don’t want to know that you have a sale. I’m not interested in trying to come right back to your site to buy more stuff. The nonprofit if I’ve opted in, it’s because I believe in the mission, we are aligned, right? So it’s almost a friend telling me Hey, this thing that you care about is happening now, or we need your help with this thing that’s currently happening so I am much more likely to welcome the message and respond as as requested.
Mike Sabat 22:51
Yeah, so the peer to peer it’s confusing jargon. But yes, peer to peer isn’t like your friends reaching out to other friends. It’s volunteers kind of powering it but I Yeah, you know, obviously the the personal connection make sense. There is a company called I believe they’re called outreach circle that is doing friends texting friends from their app, which is an interesting way to do it. That might be what they’re doing. I think that’s kind of the story.
Boris Kievsky 23:15
We’ll check them out. And I’ll try to add all these to the show notes. as you’re going along. I’m just taking notes like, Oh, this is great. I kind of want to share this with organizations that are eating this. So, um, what then assuming someone a nonprofit gets into the space, what should they be looking for to start? And what are some of the things that should be measuring along the way to see if it’s working for them?
Mike Sabat 23:37
Yeah. So when you start, there’s this little I sort of mentioned it before, but messaging is weird. It hasn’t been as widely distributed in all organizations, because there’s this little learning curve at the beginning. And it’s in a weird space. Like there’s a lot of questions at the beginning, peer to peer versus opt in versus, you know, what’s the legal ease? What does this mean? Can I how do I help people in how do I do it? All of this so there’s this little learning curve at the beginning, which is simpler than everybody thinks to get over. And and so one of the reasons I built @message.com is to help people with that, you know, little learning curve at the beginning, because they need help at the beginning. But you don’t need to hire. Most organizations don’t hire a full agency to run their messaging campaigns, because it’s like, wait, we’re paying you to write, you know, 160 characters, there are some of the very large ones and the very strategic ones that do need to hire agencies, but most kind of dumped. It’s just the messages are so simple. Anyways, you know, at the beginning, you really want to focus on a list growth. Organizations, when they think about text messaging, they either think, one, I want to send this message to people, right? I want to tell them to vote, right. I want to remind them to vote. I want them to get to call my Congressman, or they think you know what our executive director is going on a book tour. I want him to be able to tell people to text in from the book tour, and they want to build that list, organizations need both to make their messaging campaigns work, they need a way to grow that campaign. And then they also need like actions for people to take once they’re on the SMS opt in list. But the Paramount number one concern is how are we going to grow our list? Because if you don’t have people on that list, taking the actions you’re texting them about, nothing else really matters. And so that’s where to start focusing.
Boris Kievsky 25:30
Okay, so the number one metric then is just the size of the list. How do you measure engagement? For example, is it are we talking about measuring response rates to messages, or what is there a point at which you want to like I know with emails, I always advise clients, you know, if anyone doesn’t open your emails for six months or something, you send them a message saying do you still want to hear from us and then you take them off the list? Okay.
Mike Sabat 25:55
That might happen with SMS but uh, yeah, you measure SMS with, you know, the activation Right. So a lot of times the activation is an action. Like I said, it’s not just clicking a link, although so you do want to track you know, are people clicking links, but really the the superpower of messaging is response. And so you want to you want to build campaigns that drive response, and then make something valuable from that response. Right? So for instance, what I would be sending right now if I was a progressive Non-Profit, and it just to give an example is, Hey, are you registered to vote? Please respond yes or no? Right? Because number one, it’s much easier to respond. And that’s going to be the highest like conversion action you can ask for. And when someone responds yes or no, you’re getting valuable data, and then you can take them down a different path, right? versus so so you want to track that response. And then you want that to align, you know, core value. So if someone says no, then obviously the next message is like, Hey, can we help you You register to vote, reply with your address or you know, are you over 18 or whatever it is. So you want to drive response, make response valuable. You want to stay away from, hey, click this link to fill out our voter register for right that is, again, introducing friction. We talked about it before. But that’s something you know a lot of people think about, you want to avoid that. I would also think at the beginning, and this is kind of a bigger part. The industry is being you know, kind of like there’s a tug of war going on between peer to peer and opt in messaging. There’s another little bit of a tug of war between omni channel So hey, we manage your text message, your email, your Twitter, your Facebook versus going deep, right? Hey, we do you know, your donation pages and your advocacy pages. And and now we’re adding email and SMS. And I think that long term, the companies that are going to win and the organizations that are going to win are going to drive connecting SMS to deeper actions, like advocacy, like donations, like volunteering, like voting, right, and so I would be thinking about, once you get over the basics, how does the SMS list drive bigger actions with a simple response versus sending people to a web form?
Boris Kievsky 28:18
Right on right on.
Mike Sabat 28:20
And just to get a quick plug in, it’s a little about it’s where I’m trying to get and where it gives you network. So the company I work for is trying to get a little because it does, the donations, the email, the advocacy events, all of that digitally, like, Okay, how can an SMS trigger donation? How can an SMS conversation in real human peer to peer, peer to peer fundraising campaign? How can I RSVP to an event with a message and then get reminded about it, right, take out that friction of the web form and have the conversation instead is sort of like the holy grail of the channel.
Boris Kievsky 28:52
So I do want to touch and we’re coming up on 30 minutes here and I don’t want to be take too much advantage of Your time, Mike, I really appreciate it. But I do want to touch on a couple of things. So Facebook Messenger, specifically, I know has evolved over the last couple of years. And it’s gotten a lot more powerful. But it’s also become a pay to play platform, essentially, right? Initially, they released it, and oh, it’s free, and anybody can message anybody in any way. And then they started putting more and more restrictions on it, partly due to, you know, concerns from the audience. But partly also, of course, Facebook needs to make money and has implemented gates to make sure that people don’t overuse it without paying for things. Where do you stand on the longevity of Facebook Messenger when it comes to campaigns like this?
Mike Sabat 29:39
I think that Facebook Messenger is very good as a conversion channel from ads. I’ll explain what that means. It’s not a good place to build your list to build an opt in list, um, Facebook, sort of like they did with the apps 10 years ago, like they did with a lot of organizations. You know, building the likes and follows, just basically pulled the rug out from everybody. I think this is the last time they’ll be able to do it. I think the developer community is going to wise up with this. And interesting enough, I heard that snap is now sort of playing on that. So you can sort of build apps in Snapchat. And their their idea is like, Hey, we’re not gonna “F” you over like Facebook did right? When Facebook launched, you could build your list and you can send broadcast messages to anybody that subscribed on that list. It’s kind of obvious, they were always going to pull that back. But organizations that built their list on Facebook Messenger, now have to pay to send messages to that list. Just the playbook again. It’s still valuable, right? If you have a list on Facebook Messenger, it’s probably still valuable to send messages there. The the rate is a penny per open, I think, which you’re not going to beat anywhere, but it’s clearly going in a direction where I wouldn’t build a new asset on Facebook anywhere but especially messenger What is very valuable right now with Facebook Messenger is a little bit what we touched on before, which is web forums versus conversations. You can now for free build into Facebook ads create a conversation after the user clicks your ad. So if if you’re targeting mobile Facebook users 93% of the people clicking ads on Facebook or mobile, if when someone clicks that ad, they go to your landing page, and they fill out their name, email address, address all of that whatever your landing page webform says there’s a huge fall off and conversion rate between the mobile landing page and the desktop. So if you’re getting good results on the desktop, great, the mobile page is going to convert one third to one fifth as well. Right? Again, the webform is just not the right format for the phone. Instead, if you send that user into a conversation, so the user sees your Facebook ad when they click in routes to messenger. And it says, Hey, thanks for supporting our cause, please reply with your email address. User replies with their email address you now have it. Great Now tell us your zip code, user replies in their zip code, you now have it. The response rates are, you know, five times better, maybe more than if you send them to that landing page. So and that’s all free and built into the Facebook ad tool. So you still have to pay for the ad. But the conversation is essentially free. There’s a lot of advantages to doing it. And that’s what I mean when I say Facebook Messenger seems like a really good conversion platform to collect that data. If you’re already buying Facebook ads.
Boris Kievsky 32:37
Yeah, I’ve built a few of these bots for organizations in the past and the I think you’re absolutely right, the usage of it to get people to opt in to convert to actual subscribers in other platforms is key, so that you’re not constantly having to have to pay to do a blast to them for any specific reason. And you also want to maybe have them in the same database just so that you’re not hitting them on too many platforms. At the same time. I know some people wouldn’t enjoy getting a text or Facebook message or an email and a phone call or something all at once about one thing unless it’s critical to their lives. Mike, this has been fantastic. When I asked you if there are any tools that you would like to share with nonprofits that you think they shouldn’t be, or resources that you think they should be considering. We’ve already mentioned a few as we’ve been talking, and I’ll add them to the show notes. But you did talk about a book “The hard thing about hard things”. What do you Why is that something you recommend?
Mike Sabat 33:35
Yeah, so first off, it’s it’s a great book, great story in terms of it’s a business book write about somebody that started a company, but a great story about, you know, the ups and downs in the first half. The second half of the book, is all of these very specific examples where the author talks about how to think through just incredibly hard problems where you know, any move you make is tough. gonna hurt somebody or something. And you know, when you’re locked up, I guess like, there’s nowhere to go, how to think about, you know, getting out of those problems, the hard thing about hard things. And so I’ve read it twice. And just the, the pattern of thinking that kind of comes out in that work is super interesting, especially, you know, in a time where now where there’s just so many like, hard things to think about, I guess.
Boris Kievsky 34:22
Well, I really appreciate that suggestion. I know, I’m gonna go check it out. It’s not a book that I’ve read yet. So it’s now on my audible list, and I’m going to get into my feed. Mike, how should people follow up with you? And we’re going to have it as well in the show notes. But how do you prefer people to follow up with you if they’ve got questions? Or what would you like them to do after they’ve seen or heard this show?
Mike Sabat 34:43
Yeah, so two things. One, I work for a company called engaging networks, the site is
Mike Sabat 34:47
engagingnetworks.net. And if you want to talk about digital tools, how messaging fits into your overall digital tools, or how just you know digital strategy, right how to, you know, connect email to donation pages, And drive advocacy and stuff like that. That’s the best place to with a ton of resources. It’s a 20 year old company, work with huge nonprofits and all over the world. And it’s just like, really strong company product and resource for everything. If you want to just investigate messaging stuff, I have a site at @Mssg.com there’s a newsletter there. So sign up for that. We talked about messaging, specifically. And we’re expanding that to talk about you know, how messaging works with digital strategy and just some other, you know, digital strategy, best practices.
Boris Kievsky 35:36
Awesome stuff. Thank you so much again, Mike. This has been fantastic, better than I could have expected. And I’m sure anybody watching or listening is going to get a whole lot of awesome information just from this, what 35 minutes now that we’ve been on, which is, I think my longest episode so far, thank you everybody at home for joining us for listening wherever you are right now and watching wherever you are right now. This is the power of digital technologies that it can reach you anytime anyplace you want to consume it. And so I appreciate you devoting some of your time to us today. I wish you a great weekend. And as always, thank you for everything you do to make this world a better place
Mike Sabat 36:15
Boris I had a great time. Thank you.
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:
- Nonprofits are much more successful than for-profit organizations in the messaging space.
- The initial hurdle to adopt mobile messaging and incorporate it into your communications strategy is not as high as most nonprofits think it will be.
- Mobile response rates are significantly higher than most other campaign media.
- Mobile messaging is incredibly effective at driving action, especially when that action is achievable on the mobile device (phone).
- Keep your mobile audience mobile as much as possible.
- Conversation-style campaigns work best. As much as possible, try not to drive SMS traffic to web forms.
- Facebook Messenger is now pay-to-play, but still a great tool for driving ad responses into mobile conversations.
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Michael SabatFounder, @Mssg
DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, ENGAGING NETWORKS
Michael has been working in non-profit technology for over 12 years. Over that time he’s helped hundreds of organizations launch thousands of messaging campaigns – SMS, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
Michael is a Director of Business Development at Engaging Networks, a digital platform that powers fundraising, advocacy and communications (including SMS) campaigns for non-profit organizations worldwide.
Michael also runs atmssg.com a site that is dedicated to teaching digital marketers how to be successful with messaging campaigns. Finally, Michael is the host of The Chat Bubble podcast, a long running show about using messaging for marketing.