EP44 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 44: Nonprofit Website Trends for 2022, with Boris Kievsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 44

Nonprofit Website Trends for 2022, with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

What website trends should nonprofits be conscious of in 2022? The last two years have dramatically changed the way that the world connects and does business.

Everything possible went online in 2021, and with it, the noise level has made it harder and harder to capture attention, make a connection and inspire action.

If nonprofit websites don’t keep up with visitors’ expectations, they’re likely to lose more potential heroes than they gain.

In this episode, Boris looks at the 5 biggest trends from 2021 and 5 ways nonprofit websites must respond if they are to achieve their goals.

[00:00:06.350] – 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!

[00:00:23.230] – Boris
Hi everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. My name is Boris Kievsky. I am your host every week. Today, I am also your guest. Well, I guess my own guest. I wanted to do a special episode, if you will, one where I’m going to be talking about the latest trends in the—really the online space and how they affect nonprofit websites.

[00:00:44.310] – Boris
As some of you may know, I am going to be teaching a course at NYU. It’s part of their Digital Certificate in Fundraising program that they now have, which is a really cool program, I recommend everybody check out. And starting February 2nd of this year, 2022, and hopefully then again some other semesters, I will be teaching how to develop high impact websites for nonprofits, really rooted in storytelling, although also of course getting into some of the technology. But what is the strategy of building a website for a nonprofit that’s going to have high conversion rates so that you don’t lose that many visitors when they come to your website. And instead, get them to take the actions you want them to take, the actions we all need them to take to create a better world for all of us.

[00:01:28.090] – Boris
So I wanted to share a presentation that we recently did in promotion of the program. I did it with co-host Liz Ngonzi, who is actually the creator of the program at NYU and a good friend of mine. We did it as a LinkedIn Live. It got some great reception and some really interesting questions. So I thought it would be wonderful to share it with all of you guys, my listeners. I am doing an on-screen presentation. So if you’re watching this on my website or on YouTube, you can see the presentation. If not, you should head on over to NPHF Nonprofit Hero Factory nphf.show… I should know my own website. nphf.show/ep as in episode 44. And you’ll get all of the show notes. You’ll even be able to download this entire presentation as well as some other resources that I’m going to recommend.

[00:02:17.340] – Boris
With that, let me go ahead and share my screen and get started on this presentation. All right, so Nonprofit Websites in 2022, What’s New, and Five Things To Do. Let’s get started. First of all, what’s new, what happened in 2021 and what to expect in 22? And I broke this down into five things as well.

[00:02:41.030] – Boris
The first is MORE NOISE. Everyone shifted everything online in 2021. You guys know that it all started with the pandemic in 2020, people were scrambling, not sure what to put where. Then in 2021 people thought, well, we’re going to go back to normal, whatever that might look like going forward. And it didn’t really work out that way. At best, things went hybrid, but everything shifted online. There was a lot more noise. 80% of business-to-business marketers say that their website is the most widely used channel for driving virtual events registrations. Well, virtual events, as you know, became the most popular thing to do in the last two years.

[00:03:22.990] – Boris
Besides that, though, social media has had a huge explosion. And I don’t just mean TikTok, but everyone went online to meet with their friends, right? Whether they were trying to do chats on Zoom or catch ups on Zoom, or they were doing it on social media to see who’s doing how, whether they were even posting their status updates about COVID and how they felt about it, or if they were actually sick with it.

[00:03:50.530] – Boris
Well, at the same time, over 160,000,000 businesses use Facebook every month to communicate with their audiences, and 93% of social media marketers use paid Facebook ads. What does that mean? That means even though you’re trying to communicate with your friends or you are trying to communicate with your nonprofits’ audience who have said that they like your work and want to hear from you, you’re competing for those eyeballs. Facebook is a complete pay-to-play platform, and as such, it’s incredibly difficult to get your message across.

[00:04:23.220] – Boris
The average Cost Per Action, CPA we call it, for Facebook ads across all industries went up to $18.68. Now, that’s not just to get them to click on something, but to actually get them to go through to your website, for example, to take some sort of action that you want them to take, but not even necessarily a donation. This is just to get them to do something. The average click through rate for Facebook ads less than 1%, 0.9%. So it’s an incredibly noisy and competitive landscape out there.

[00:04:56.340] – Boris
Podcasts. I love podcasting and hopefully you’re enjoying this podcast. Well, there are 850,000 active podcasts at the moment, with over 48 million total episodes. So thank you for those of you that are listening to this as a podcast, for devoting some of your time to listening to this show. I’m very glad that it is helpful to you guys and informative to you that you’re devoting some of your time and spending it with me, even if like me, you listen to it at 1.5x or 1.6x. Luckily, I do talk fast because I’m a New Yorker.

[00:05:26.970] – Boris
And then there are events. As I mentioned before, virtual events increased in popularity by 35% from 2020 to 2021, and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. Video has become increasingly popular. As the barrier to entry for video has lowered, so inversely has the number of hours of YouTube video uploaded every minute. It is now 500 hours. More than 500 hours of video just to YouTube is uploaded every minute. That’s not including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, everywhere that you might be looking. Everywhere that anybody might be looking. Video is getting very saturated. So those are the noise concerns.

[00:06:11.700] – Boris
Well, there are also website concerns, of course. There are MORE WEBSITES and MORE CONTENT up on those sites. There are currently 200 million active websites. That’s not counting all of the websites that are just sitting there that have been semi-abandoned or domain names that are registered and no website is up there. This is actually websites that are currently up and active with 56.5 billion web pages indexed through Google. Now, of course, this includes social media pages that are indexed and other non-corporate or individual websites, but greater conglomerate sites if you will. But consider how much noise there is and how much competition there is for attention, even when somebody is Googling information about something that you guys are experts on and you’re hoping that they find you.

[00:07:02.730] – Boris
WordPress, which is the Content Management System or CMS that is the most popular in the world right now, controls 41% and I don’t mean controls. It really is the platform for 41% of all websites online and nearly 65% of all CMS based sites. Now, WordPress is my favorite platform to build on. I have worked with organizations that use other platforms, even ones that are self-builders like Squarespace. At the same time, WordPress is much more powerful. And because it is more powerful, it is more popular and it’s easy enough to use. It is also one of the biggest targets for attacks because people know a lot of things about WordPress and how it works. And it is a community-built open-source platform, so lots of different people are contributing to it and sometimes vulnerabilities do sneak in.

[00:07:58.770] – Boris
75% of consumers admit to making judgments on a company’s credibility based on that company’s website. This is actually not a new statistics for 2021 or 2022. This has been known science. It’s been studied in individuals, in user testing, and it is still incredibly relevant today. Think about it, your website, if someone is first trying to find out information about you, they might Google you, they might discover you on social media, but ultimately they come to your website to really learn more about you. And if they don’t find a website, it kind of diminishes your credibility. If they do find a website and it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t work well, then again they think, oh, this is not a very professional organization. This is not people who have it together so therefore I’m less likely to support them, to trust them with my time and my money.

[00:08:51.510] – Boris
I’ll add to that that there are studies that show you have less than half a second before the first impression is made. And we all know the importance of a first impression. So as your website loads, the first thing people see within half a second, they make a snap judgment. After that, you have about 8 seconds to actually connect with them in some way so that they don’t hit the back button. Some studies show it’s up to 15 seconds. It really depends on the website, maybe the person and how they did the study. But at most, let’s say you’ve got 15 seconds to make a connection on your website, or people will hit that back button and go to the next thing in the Google feed or their newsfeed or wherever it might be.

[00:09:30.690] – Boris
Next, we have MORE THREATS. This is number three. Well, as I mentioned, we all went online, including people working from home. There is now, therefore, more remote work, which means more online access, more ways to access your company’s resources online, whether that’s your website or other back-end databases or systems that you guys are using, people have to be able to access it more ways from home, which leads to more vulnerabilities.

[00:09:58.770] – Boris
The truth of the matter is that the weakest link in any technology chain is usually not always, but usually human. There is an incredible rise in phishing attacks, which is attacks that are trying to impersonate someone on your team. Maybe they’ve hacked your password. Maybe they have been logged into your email account and tried to impersonate you. I know a lot of organizations that have been attacked in this way with funds being diverted from their work to either restoring their data, if it is a cyber attack where they basically ransom your data, or there are many attacks now where they will simply impersonate someone in your organization and monitor your email thread. See how you’re communicating, see how you authorize payments, and then get in there and intercept something that looks like a regular communication, but actually diverts funds to someone else. And when a nonprofit loses the trust of their supporters because they lost their hard-earned money or their data, it’s really taxing on an organization.

[00:11:14.500] – Boris
2021 saw the highest average cost of a data breach in 17 years, with the cost rising from almost $3.8 almost $3.9 million to $4.24 million on an annual basis. That’s according to an IBM study. So this is a major threat. And if you think that it’s just big-data organizations or some large corporations that get packed and that get ransomed, it’s not the case. More and more cybercriminals really don’t care. All they care about is vulnerability. If they could make 100,000 from you versus a million from someone else, they’ll just target both. It really doesn’t matter to that. So there are definitely a lot more threats to be aware of.

[00:11:57.430] – Boris
We’ve also gone more mobile and more global, right? Mobile now accounts for 54% of web traffic worldwide. Your potential avatar, your potential heroes, are now everywhere around the world. They are global and they are accessible, which means that you need to be aware of where you’re communicating messages to, where people are seeing your messaging, how they’re responding to it. Of course, there’s some language issues, but there’s also issues of inclusivity, which is incredibly important, and I’ll mention that again. It also means that they’re bombarded with more content than ever before, because now everyone has gone online, everyone has tried to make things more mobile-friendly, more phone-friendly, and has tried to send notifications, text messages. WhatsApp messages, right? All of these emails, of course, to people’s phones. So we’re constantly now more than ever. And it’s almost redundant to say that because every year it seems to be more than ever, nobody sees any decline in the number of notifications and distractions that we’re all getting every year. So it’s just something to be aware of. And I’ll talk a little bit about how to mitigate that in a few minutes.

[00:13:13.410] – Boris
Number five, nothing specific to do with websites, although it does tie in, but there is MORE CRYPTO CRAZINESS, right? Crypto donations have skyrocketed. 45% of crypto owners donated $1,000 or more to charity in 2020, compared to one third of all investors. The numbers for 2021 aren’t fully in yet, but every indicator says that it has been an increase. For example, Crypto Giving Tuesday alone, which is done by the Giving Block, which I have a whole episode about. If you’re interested, you could check out on the website or on YouTube, wherever you consume this podcast, on your podcast players, of course, with Alex from the Giving Block, and they sponsor an event called Crypto Giving Tuesday. Obviously not Giving Tuesday itself, and they raised $2.4 million in that one day, which was a 583% increase from the year before. So clearly that is a growing field.

[00:14:13.230] – Boris
NFTs, Non-fungible Tokens are dominating headlines. If you haven’t heard about them, you’ve probably been trying to avoid them on purpose. A lot of people still don’t understand them, but essentially you could think of an NFT as a certificate of ownership or a ticket to something. So it is not an actual physical object, and it does not register a copyright or anything like that. But it identifies you as the rights holder to a particular object, and it could be a work of art, it could be a course, it could be anything that is digital or even physical. Sometimes NFTs really confer rights to something that’s physical out there. They are now a great way for artists to make money, for nonprofits to actually fundraise. And I’m happy to talk to you guys more about that, if anyone is interested. I’m getting heavier and heavier into this world of blockchain technology, because I think it’s going to really impact the social sector as well and it’s already really starting to.

[00:15:15.230] – Boris
All of that, cryptocurrency and NFTs are built on blockchains, and the blockchain is the foundation of what is being called Web 3. So, Web 1.0 was when anybody could put up a website, or most people could put up a website. Web 2.0 was when it wasn’t just a website, but it was bi-directional communication with social media apps and things like that. Now we’re moving to Web 3, which, if it works, will become a much more decentralized internet, a decentralized way of sharing information, of having access to certain things, including finance and including tickets and rights to things like NFTs confer.

[00:15:54.930] – Boris
But we’re really just at the beginning of what Web 3 can offer us based on blockchain technology, which hopefully will also add some security. But honestly, it’s probably going to open up new vulnerabilities as well. That’s just how technology works. But crypto is a new avatar, and I don’t mean Krypto like the dog that is in the Superman cartoons. Of course, I’m talking about cryptocurrency. It has spawned a new avatar. It’s millennials who are expressing elevated interest in both charitable giving, as we now know, and cryptocurrency investing. They are the largest group of cryptocurrency investors at the moment, and they feel a need to give back to social causes. So they are very much interested in organizations that will accept cryptocurrency in order to offset some of their gains in the realm of taxation by first donating to organizations that they care about. So something to very much be aware of.

[00:16:56.190] – Boris
So if those are the five things that you guys need to know about the state of things in 2022, let’s talk about five things that you should do in 2022 to respond to those and other elements of storytelling and technology currently evolving online.

[00:17:13.440] – Boris
The first is to STEP UP YOUR STORYTELLING. And by that, I mean with all the noise, you have to tell better stories and be sure that they’re targeted to the right avatars. Again, avatar is the term that I use for what other marketers will call target persona. But it’s really the hero that you want to activate for your cause. And your storytelling includes, of course, your organizational storytelling and program storytelling.

[00:17:39.530] – Boris
A lot of organizations have a tough time putting together their big-picture story, especially if they do many different things. And I can understand that it feels difficult, but it is absolutely critical again, on your homepage, for example, there has to be some representation of your overall organization in some sort of a storytelling form on your program pages. And whenever you’re communicating information about your programs, again, there needs to be a great story that will hook people in your target heroes. It’ll hook them in and drive them through your story, activate the hero inside of them, get them on that hero’s journey. You can also, in order to help with that, ramp up their individual stories. And that would be things like testimonials, videos, quotes, all of those things from your stakeholders and constituents, from your donors, from your board members.

[00:18:30.450] – Boris
All of these stories that will help people connect to you on a personal level, right? People don’t really connect to abstract organizations. Sure, you might have an affinity towards IBM or Nike or some big brand, but if you really want to connect with someone, that’s what you’re going to do. You’re much more likely to connect with a person than an idea of a company. So individual stories are huge right now and amp up your avatars.

[00:19:02.270] – Boris
So because we’re all being bombarded with messaging all the time, with the attempt to get our focus and our attention right, it’s a competition for eyeballs and time, if you will. You’ve got to be super, super specific about who your avatar is for each and every one of your programs at different stages. And maybe there’s a different avatar for your supporters that are donors versus supporters that are your volunteers. Right? Each of those could be different avatars, and they have entire worksheets on the different types of avatars that you can define. But you’ve got to be as specific as possible. You’ve got to really understand them as clearly as possible so that you could relate to them, and then they will relate to you. You’ve got to speak their language. You’ve got to talk to them about the things that they care about and not just your work. Right? You don’t want to come and talk to them and just preach about the great work that you’re doing. You want them to feel like they are heard and understood as well. And that’s the power of Web 2.0. It’s bi-directional communication. Web 3 is going to be even further, hopefully.

[00:20:14.490] – Boris
And of course, representation matters. I could have also put this as a big trend in 2021, but in 2022, more than ever again, I’m almost tired of using that phrase, but it’s so, so salient. Representation is critical. Diversity, equity, and inclusivity is really a must today. It not only helps people feel included, it also shows that you are someone, an organization that prioritizes inclusivity that wants everyone to feel welcome, not just the stock photo individuals that you might have had before on your website.

[00:20:55.000] – Boris
Oftentimes when I look for stock photography on websites, there’s a lot of great shots that some of them look very stock, if you will, and some of them look more natural. But more often than not, they’re frankly of white people, of blonde women, of white men. And that is really unfortunate because then others who don’t just fit into that one category will feel like you’re not really talking to them.

[00:21:23.820] – Boris
We always resonate best with people that we feel an affinity towards. Now, that doesn’t mean that all we ever see is race or ethnicity or gender. We do see other things, and we relate to people in many different ways. But the more you can vary up the types of imagery that you’re using, the types of stories that you’re sharing, the more you’re going to allow more people to feel included, to feel welcomed into the work that you’re doing. And then they will be much more likely to support you and help create a better world. And hopefully your better world includes a more diverse and accepting world where we’re all not just treated as equals, but feel like we are equals and have the capacity to do anything that we want to do based on our energy, our character. Of course, to use one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s most important words. So Diversity, equity, inclusivity. Take a look at your materials, take a look and see are you doing the best you can to make everyone feel welcome?

[00:22:33.510] – Boris
Number two, we talked earlier about the increase in cybercrime, STRENGTHEN YOUR SECURITY. More so than other types of businesses, nonprofits live and die on trust. As I’ve said, I’ve worked with organizations where that trust has been broken, sometimes through no fault of their own, often through no fault of their own, except that they let something slide and therefore something bad happened. And it takes a lot to regain the trust of supporters. Oftentimes you’re going to lose a lot of them. They’re going to either move on to another organization that’s doing similar work, or even worse, they might lose faith in the nonprofit system as a whole, feeling like they’re wasting their time and money. That’s the worst thing that we could do for the entire do-good community.

[00:23:23.250] – Boris
One of the things you could do, of course, is turn on multi-factor authentication. It’s not expensive. It is a pain in the butt. I agree. I have resisted in some cases from turning it on. I always have super secure passwords, but I have now converted everything to multi-factor authentication, certainly for my clients, but also for my own peace of mind with my own accounts. It’s absolutely vital today, any roadblocks that you can put in the way of a hacker is going to discourage them much more than just a random password or something that they might encounter less security on another account and therefore move on to them because they’re going to also try to take the path of these resistance.

[00:24:09.450] – Boris
Next, train your staff on protocols. As I said earlier, the weakest link in most technology security chains is actually human beings. We are not naturally predisposed to understanding cyber security. We’re not naturally predisposed to understanding security in general, but we can see it in the physical world, we know to lock our doors, at least most of us do in most communities, we know to hit the lock button on our cars as we’re walking away. But when it comes to cybersecurity, we don’t see it. It’s not as tangible and therefore real to us. But believe me, when you get hacked, if your Social Security gets hacked or if your organization’s website gets hacked, it becomes very real, very quick. So train your staff on protocols so that they know the best practices.

[00:25:00.390] – Boris
And as I mentioned earlier, passwords are still one of the weakest entry points. I cringe when I am working with clients and they send me credentials to log into something. And I see that it’s a very simple password, like their organization initials with the year that they’re working. Well, guess what? There are a lot of very smart AI bots that will go in and they will plug in thousands of combinations of keywords and dates and numbers in a second to try to get access. And if you happen to have a password that’s a combination of any of the most common terms that they know to try, you’re going to get hacked and you’re going to get hacked quickly and not even know it.

[00:25:52.730] – Boris
So most people don’t want to use very complex passwords. If you use a password manager and the one I use is KeePass, I’ll link to it in the show notes for this as well. It’s free, it’s open source, it’s very secure. All you have to do is remember one preferably very complicated password, and then it’ll generate for you all kinds of passwords. It’ll even let you keep them associated with specific websites. You can then click and it’ll open up the website for you. It’ll populate the username and password for you so you never have to even remember them. All you have to do is remember your one master password. I love KeePass. I’m not plugging it as this is the best tool out there. It’s the best tool for me. Anything though, is better than a spreadsheet or a piece of paper with your passwords on it. So use a password manager, whatever that might be.

[00:26:43.350] – Boris
Then, MOBILIFY YOUR MESSAGE. This is number three in five things to do. Okay? As I said before, your avatars are everywhere. Your stories reach them on their phones before anywhere else. So a few years ago it was all about mobile-friendly design, where you wanted your website to look good on a mobile device. But you were first using desktop to create the website and it looked best on website. Well, now, 54% I think of all internet traffic is on phones. Not only that, most discovery is on phones. So the first time that they’re going to find out about you or something that you want them to see is going to be scrolling through Facebook or LinkedIn or TikTok or whatever it might be on their phones. They’re going to click through hopefully, if you’re telling a great story and telling them something that they’re talking to them about something they’re interested in peaking their curiosity and they want to learn more. They’re going to click through. If they click through and reach a website that is not great looking on mobile, they’re going to say, oh, maybe I’ll come back when I’m on my computer later, or they’re just going to go back and forget about it. Either way, you’ve lost a potential hero. You’ve lost a potential action of support that you worked hard to get.

[00:28:00.790] – Boris
So today it really should be mobile first. Even if most of your donations still come on desktop and they do. Today, still, most donations come through desktop. That might be because it’s still too difficult to donate on mobile. So think about what you can do to make that mobile experience easier. Design for mobile first.

[00:28:19.870] – Boris
And in line with video and mobile, create vertical video. So I am a recovering actor and filmmaker. I’ve always been taught make landscape 16 by 9 is the standard high definition aspect ratio make landscape video and I still do. This episode right now is being filmed in landscape in 16 by 9 format. However, on social media, I’m then going to reformat some of this video into vertical , into square so that I could put it on Instagram and some other platforms, Facebook, even where people are going to be able to consume it in a more mobile-friendly format. You can, though, go straight to vertical video at this point, if your messaging is more personal and direct, you can just start on TikTok or start on Instagram video and get your message recorded there, and then adapt it for other platforms from there. So really think about vertical video as your—if not primary, then a secondary must for your work.

[00:29:27.690] – Boris
Number four, SIMPLIFY SUPPORT. So I still unfortunately see a lot of organizations limiting the experience, limiting the ways that I can support them. For example, you might not be accepting cryptocurrency still, you might require people to jump through several hoops to fill out a lot of information. Make it as simple as possible. The donor is always right, so let them support you however they want, when they want, from whatever device they want. Right? We’re on mobile first. Make it as easy as possible to click a button, and all the other elements are filled in for you as easily as possible for the donor, so that they could take action quickly, or team up with a platform that will let you do it in a very simple way. Even text-to-give that is still working today.

[00:30:17.750] – Boris
So be as accessible from a supporter perspective as possible. Remove all friction. Take out any additional steps that people have to make that are not absolutely necessary. It’s much better to follow up with somebody afterwards than to ask them too many questions and lose their information beforehand. Lose their donation beforehand.

[00:30:40.620] – Boris
There is a common now known aspect of psychology that comes from behavioral economics and behavioral science as a whole that the best way to get somebody to take action is not actually to reward them for it or to threaten them into doing it, but it’s actually to remove as much friction as possible so that they are defaulted into it. So assuming they don’t object to it, they will just do it. This has been incredibly helpful in all kinds of situations. Governments have adopted this strategy. Employers have adopted this strategy to get people to save more money so it can really be used for good. And I encourage you guys to do as much of that as possible. Look at what are the roadblocks or hurdles that people are facing before they can take the actions that we want them to take and remove as much as possible and reassure with social proof.

[00:31:32.810] – Boris
Again, there’s a lot of noise out there. There’s a lot of scams out there today, right? People are spamming us with all kinds of offers, and they’re attempting to not just get our attention, but also to trick us. So one way to help reassure people is with social proof, which is in the forms of testimonials, which is in the forms of accreditations that you might have awards that you may have won. Make sure that those are, if not front and center, at least just off to the side, so that if you’ve got my attention, I’m reading the story. I’m following along. I can then see, oh, there’s someone who has done this before me, meaning another supporter or another client perhaps, who has gone through this process and become a hero with the help of the work that this organization, your organization is doing. So reassure me with as much social proof as you can.

[00:32:21.610] – Boris
And as I said earlier, accommodate cryptocurrency. It’s not that difficult today. As I mentioned before, The Giving Block is a great company that’s making this as easy as possible. You don’t need to use them. There are plenty of other ways that you could do it, including just setting up your own wallets. It requires a little more technical knowledge, but honestly, it’s not that difficult. You can do it and then start accepting donations directly and addressing them like you would any other donation of stock or similar assets. It’s not considered a financial donation at this point, because cryptocurrency is considered an investment vehicle right now.

[00:33:01.590] – Boris
And then CREATE MORE CALLS TO ACTION. Give your audience more opportunities to become heroes for your cause. This is the fifth and final thing that I have to say you need to be doing on your website and really everywhere but on your website in 2022. The number one place where you’re going to convert your avatars into heroes is your website. Because there’s fewest distractions, there are fewer things tugging at them in different directions. You have the best chance of telling your best narrative and giving them value before they even think about donating, before you even ask them to donate or take some kind of action.

[00:33:37.830] – Boris
So you’ve done all the work to drive them to your website. Now give them as many opportunities as possible to become heroes for your cause. And by that, I don’t mean overwhelming them. Don’t give them a million different options. Give them one, two, three at most options, but do it frequently on all kinds of pages. Every piece of content you put out, every website page or blog post should have a call to action. That is the next logical step for a potential or even an existing supporter to take once they’ve consumed that content, resonated with that story in one way or another, felt indebted to you for giving them that opportunity and sharing that story with them. Now invite them to action and do it everywhere. As I said, on every single post that you have, on every single piece of content you put out, on social media, there should be some sort of a next step they should take. Now, that doesn’t mean that every photo you share should say now donate. But it should offer a way for people to learn more to dive deeper into the story if possible.

[00:34:39.790] – Boris
And then, of course, make it easy. Remove that friction. Remove all kinds of psychological friction where people have to think about, oh, do I want to do this or not? Is it too much work right now? Should I come back to it later? Make it easy psychologically, make it easy physically and chronologically timewise, as streamlined as possible. Those are the five things that you really need to do for your nonprofit website in 2022. I hope you enjoyed that part of it, the presentation.

[00:35:14.570] – Boris
There is one last thing that I do want to talk about, which is the NYU course that I’m starting in just a couple of weeks now, February 2nd through March 9th. We’re going to meet once a week. There will be some homework. It’s not going to be too crazy. But by the end, you’re going to learn how to create a complete website strategy, including formulating your goals, your calls to action, and your key performance indicators, your KPI, how you’re going to measure your success. That’s one of the aspects that we’re going to focus on.

[00:35:42.980] – Boris
Another is going to be creating your target hero avatars and user journeys. We’re going to really dig into how to identify your ideal heroes and in a way that’s going to resonate with them, that they’re going to want to take action, that they’re going to raise their hands, and then we’re going to guide them down their hero’s journey, which is a user journey in technology, we all call it that on apps and websites.

[00:36:08.150] – Boris
So how we’re going to guide them through that process, that journey to becoming a hero in their own world and of course, in the mission of your organization, we’re going to talk about the hero page framework for all kinds of landing pages. This is a framework that I developed adapting storytelling structure specifically to nonprofit website landing pages, how to get that attention quickly so that they’re not going to jump off within 15 seconds, how to then get them engaged and working down that page and taking the actions that you need them to take.

[00:36:42.770] – Boris
We’re going to talk about and formulate your organizational storytelling Hollywood story framework. And by that I mean, how do we figure out that big picture from your mission to your work, including all of the different things that you do if you do more than one thing or if you’re planning on expanding or if you’re just doing the one thing, what’s the big picture story and how do we tell it in a way that still resonates with our individual avatars? Right? You can’t talk company to person. You’ve got to speak somehow on a direct storytelling, personal level narrative.

[00:37:20.310] – Boris
We’re going to create home page storytelling wireframes and donate page storytelling wireframes. So you don’t have to be a designer. You don’t have to be a web developer to take this course and to learn a lot from it. In fact, this is really targeted for people who are in development, in communications, in marketing that don’t necessarily have those IT skills. If you do have them, great. It’s going to take you to a whole other level. But regardless of where you are right now in your journey as a communications or fundraising professional, we’re going to raise you to that next level of storyteller across digital media and websites specifically.

[00:37:59.140] – Boris
So we’re going to create wireframes. I’m going to teach you guys how to do that. And those wireframes will basically lay out what’s going to be on the page without worrying too much of a design. And then you’re going to be able to handle those wireframes to whomever is building your website or implement them on website builders like WordPress or Squarespace or whatever it is that you’re using.

[00:38:20.130] – Boris
And then we’re going to finally create a website sitemap. And this is not necessarily in order how we’re going to do it in the class, but we’re going to figure out what the entire site structure looks like, what the point of each page is going to be, and how that works with SEO, how we’re going to describe each of the pages. All of that is going to be in at least one of the projects that you’re going to be doing.

[00:38:43.690] – Boris
By the end of the course, by March 9th, you’re going to have a strategic plan for a nonprofit website. Whether you’re currently working with an organization and want to work on their site, or you are considering working with an organization, or you just want to go out on your own and start doing some of this kind of work, you’re going to have a finished presentation that you can take to an organizational leadership, which could be, again, yours or another organization, or you could even make up an organization that you want to be doing this for. And by the end, have a clear roadmap to how to tell your story on your website that you could hand off, like I said, to a professional website development shop or agency, or do it on your own with the skills and tools that you have. That’s it. That’s the entire pitch for the course.

[00:39:34.100] – Boris
If you’re interested, you can go to dotorgstrategy.com/nyu, New York University, and that will redirect you actually directly to NYU’s page, where you can learn more about the program and enroll, if you wish.

[00:39:49.650] – Boris
On the screen right now, for those of you watching, is the QR code to take you to that page. If you are not watching right now, and are listening on your podcast, thank you again for spending your time with me today. You can head over to NPHF standing Nonprofit Hero Factory nphf.com/ep44 to get all of these show notes and all of these links right on the screen and make it easy for you to, of course, take action on all the things that we’re talking about today. Let me stop sharing my screen and thank you again for joining me today for this special episode.

[00:40:28.630] – Boris
I hope you learned some things, some practical tips and advice on what you can do with your organization’s website this coming year to take advantage of the trends and what’s happening out there in the world so that you can better tell your stories, communicate with your ideal avatars and of course, get them to take the actions you need to become heroes for your cause and create a better world for all of us. We’ll be back next week with another guest that’s going to share their knowledge on how to do better.

[00:40:59.350] – Boris
I believe next week we’re going to be talking about email onboarding sequences actually, that’s what we’ve got planned. So be sure to tune in for that one. It’s a very important topic. Until then, thank you again for joining me. If you like this show, please, please, please this is my call to action for you. Leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform or wherever you’re consuming this content so that more nonprofit professionals can discover this show and learn from experts not just me, of course on how they can do more and have a greater impact on the world. Bye bye, everybody.

[00:41:36.690] – 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:

Top trends to consider from 2021

  • More noise when everyone shifted everything online (2:41)
    • Social Media
      • Over 160 million businesses use Facebook
      • 93% marketers use Facebook Ads
      • Cost per Action (CPA)’s average is $18.68
      • Average click-through rate is 0.9%
    • Podcasts – 850,00 active podcasters and over 48 million episodes
    • Events – Virtual events increased by 35%
    • Video – YouTube has over 500 hours of video uploads every minute
  • More Websites, more content (6:11)
    • 200 million active websites
    • 56.5 billion web pages indexed through Google
    • WordPress – market share continues to grow. Now 41% of all websites.
    • 75% consumers judges company credibility based on their website
  • More threats – as more things have gone online, security efforts haven’t kept up. And nonprofits are in a particularly vulnerable spot. (9:30)
    • More remote work > More online access > More vulnerabilities
    • The biggest weakness in most technology systems is people.
    • Phishing attacks are on the rise, as is the cost of a data breach
    • Highest cost of data breach in 17 years
  • More Mobile + More Global (11:57)
    • 54% of web traffic is from mobile devices
    • Your potential hero is global and easily accessible on their devices
    • More distractions and more competition for attention
  • More Crypto Craziness (13:13)
    • Crypto donations have skyrocketed
    • NFTs are dominating headlines
    • Web3 is coming
    • Crypto donors are a new avatar who wants to give back

5 Things To Do in 2022

  • Step up your storytelling. With all the noise out there, it’s increasingly critical to be able to communicate your message quickly and effectively. This includes your big-picture storytelling and your individual storytelling, and it all starts with really clearly defining or updating your avatars. (17:13)
    • People don’t connect to abstract organizations, they connect with other people.
  • Strengthen security. Nonprofits live and die on trust. Once lost, the trust of your supporters can be impossible to regain. And if you lose their money to a cyber criminal, it’s twice as challenging. (22:33)
    • Turn multi-factor authentication
    • Train your staff
    • Use password managers
  • Mobilify your message. Your avatar is everywhere and they’re on their phones. So think mobile first. Design for mobile and tell your stories in mobile-native formats, like vertical video. (26:41)
  • Simplify Support. Make it as easy as possible to support you in the donor’s preferred method—including cryptocurrency. And bring in social proof to reassure people that they’re making the right choice. (29:27)
  • Create more calls to action. Don’t make people guess what you want them to do. Give them every opportunity to become a hero, and make it clear how. (33:01)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy

Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP43 - Joshua Peskay - Featured

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

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 43

Navigating Nonprofit Cybersecurity to Reduce Risk, with Joshua Peskay

In this Episode:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[00:20:36.540] – Joshua Peskay
Another thing, if we find out that you’re not training your staff on social engineering, on phishing, on using multi-factor authentication, on using strong passwords. Like a lot of the stuff you talked about, Boris, that’s an extremely low cost thing.

[00:20:50.850] – Joshua Peskay
Again, we’ll have a resource for you where you can get that done for your whole organization for free in 1 hour. Right? So all you gotta do is get your staff to sign up and attend for that 1 hour and you can get your staff the training for free. These are really basic free or low-cost things that just take a bit of time to set up that dramatically, I mean, profoundly reduce the likelihood of your organization being victimized by these kinds of attacks.

[00:21:19.950] – Joshua Peskay
So it’s really kind of the basics of making sure—I often say there’s three things I would start with just to give people really actionable stuff, right? Multi-factor authentication on everything but you possibly can start with email, then go to file sharing, then go to your CRM like Salesforce, but get MFA enabled, by the way, on your WordPress admin accounts, too. Boris, I know you’re a WordPress guy, so I’m sure you’ll appreciate that. Next thing is train your staff. And then third thing is backups.

[00:21:48.330] – Joshua Peskay
And going back to WordPress, something I see in assessments all the time is that organizations either don’t have a backup of their website or the only backup they have their website is with the host who’s hosting it. And that can be a real problem if the host itself suffers a ransomware attack and their backups are destroyed or encrypted as part of that. Now you not only is your web host down, but the backup that you would use to go and try to get your website up somewhere else is also down in the same attack.

[00:22:20.790] – Joshua Peskay
So getting some offline backup of your website that is separate from where it’s currently hosted and having some plan of what kind of hosting plan do we need? What would be the process for taking that backup and actually getting it live? That’s a really good thing to have in place, especially if it happens like a week before your annual gala, right? Boris, what do you do to back up the websites for the organizations you work with?

[00:22:47.700] – Boris
So it depends on how the organization is set up and where they’re hosted. I always recommend host. I recommend SiteGround, and I could link to that as well in the show notes, along with every single tool that you’re talking about because they’re all so important. SiteGround does daily backups with the plans that I have organizations sign up with or host them on. But then, yeah, I will do at least once a month. There’s a tool, it’s free, called Duplicator. And with Duplicator, you could create an entire backup of the entire site, plus a PHP script, basically a file that you could run that will restore it anywhere you want to go.

[00:23:24.150] – Boris
So if a host goes down or if something gets hacked, I can, within 15 minutes, have the site back up on the same server, on a different server. It really doesn’t matter. We point it to the new address, and for the rest of the world, it looks like nothing has happened while we can resolve… okay, what happened? How did that hack even come into place, and break things down and keep things running.

[00:23:45.900] – Boris
Besides that, of course, I could talk ad nauseum about WordPress security, but there’s a few different functions that I think everybody just to quickly list off should be doing, like changing your default login URL, because all WordPress comes with the same one. And that’s the easiest point for hackers to try to guess passwords

[00:24:05.712] – Joshua Peskay

[00:24:05.260] – Boris
slash wp dash admin, uh-huh!

[00:24:07.670] – Boris
Second is, and Josh, you and I were talking about this and you mentioned it as well. People leave admin accounts up, someone came in and did a little bit of work or someone was working, and then they left and that admin account stays open. And you don’t know what the password was. You don’t know if their password keeper gets hacked, and then they could come in, whoever gets it and hijack everything you’re doing. So checking and making sure that only the right users have the right levels of access, and you could get really fancy with that.

[00:24:40.050] – Boris
But I think more than anything. And this is what you were talking about before, Joshua. It’s a matter of education, because the most frustrating thing to me, and I try not to reveal how frustrating it is when I’m talking to clients is passwords, and knowing how important it is to actually have a secure password, every organization thinks, oh, we’re not going to get hacked.

[00:25:00.790] – Boris
What are the odds that somebody’s going to guess my dog’s name? Well, guess what? If it’s a simple password, they don’t have to guess it. They’ve got a dictionary of millions of common names and words that they’re going to barrage into your server at a rate of couple thousand a second until they break open. Number one is that education piece.

[00:25:22.510] – Joshua Peskay
Yeah. And listen, I know folks that are listening to this may be feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like we’re giving all this work to do. And I want to kind of say, hey, first of all, take a breath, calm down. And you want to approach this like you would, let’s say, like a fitness program, where if I’m not in shape and I’d like to get fit, physically fit, I have some upfront work to do to kind of start doing some exercise, eating a little healthier and doing stuff. And maybe in three to six months, I can reach a sort of level of fitness, and I feel a little bit healthier and less at risk of having a heart attack or other bad things happening to me.

[00:25:59.820] – Joshua Peskay
But if I don’t continue doing some level of maintenance and exercise and diet, then I will fall out of shape again. So it requires—to do cybersecurity, you’re not going to run a marathon tomorrow, and you also don’t need to run a marathon. You just need to do a nice, easy 5K and be able to do that on an ongoing basis. That’s the level of fitness you’re looking to get to as a nonprofit, right?

[00:26:28.460] – Joshua Peskay
Unfortunately, most of the nonprofits right now, if I asked you to go do a nice easy 5K. You’d be puffing by the first kilometer. So the idea is to get started, identify where your most vulnerable points are, go after those, do it in a reasonable and sustainable timeline and fashion, and then continuously be looking at. Okay, now that we’ve got MFA enabled, what’s our next week point? Let’s review our WordPress admin account. So next month we’re going to make sure we clean up those WordPress admin accounts and enforce multi-factor on everything.

[00:27:07.930] – Joshua Peskay
And then the next month we’re going to make sure we’re backing up. We’re going to set up that Duplicator process and make sure we’ve got a backup of our website and a plan to restore it. Next month after that, we’re going to make sure we train our staff and set up something so that we’re training them every month or every quarter. After that, we’re going to maybe deploy password managers to our staff and get them to use that. After that, we’re going to go look to cyber-liability insurance.

[00:27:30.060] – Joshua Peskay
So you’ve got a one-year plan, where all you need to do is one thing each month. And it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. But a year from now, you’re in a totally different place than you were now, and you have this practice that you’re doing. So that’s what I want people to kind of think about. You can do it. It is sustainable and manageable. Just don’t try to do it all tomorrow.

[00:27:52.550] – Boris
I love the comparison of a fitness plan. I know that it’s January when this episode is playing for those of you who may be watching or listening to it later on. And January is the month that gyms love because they get so many sign ups. It’s a New Year’s resolution, and I think that this could also be a New Year’s resolution for organizations is to create a cybersecurity fitness plan with these commitments as you’re going along throughout the year.

[00:28:25.130] – Boris
What you’re advising, I think, is absolutely brilliant, which is make a plan that is simple and easy enough to follow along rather than trying to fix everything at once and feeling overwhelmed triaging, essentially, what are your biggest risk factors? I still think that training is the number one thing. So maybe in January you commit to having your entire staff watch a one-hour video on cybersecurity practices. Right? That’s going to really take you to a huge new plateau from which you could then climb further and further.

[00:28:58.610] – Joshua Peskay
Absolutely. I love that. So, we at RoundTable offer an annual training, so we call it very modestly “The Best Free 1-Hour Cybersecurity Awareness Training Ever.” This year will be our 6th annual, Best Free 1-Hour Cyber Security Awareness Training Ever. It’s going to be on January 27th. Me and my longtime colleague Destiny Bowers do it together as a two-person show. We try to make it really fun, really entertaining, really funny.

[00:29:29.400] – Joshua Peskay
We actually—not only is it free for your entire organization to attend, but we offer cash prizes. We do a quiz at the end. It’s a competitive quiz, so the hundreds of people that attend the webinar, all can compete with each other, and you can win up to $100 by simply attending the webinar and getting first place in that quiz. And in other years, we’ve given little $25 prizes for people during the webinar for whoever’s first in the chat with the answer to a question or something like that. So be on the lookout for that. We’ll have a link in the show notes, and it really is a really fun time and a hugely important thing you can do for your organization.

[00:30:10.890] – Boris
Sounds like a holiday party to start off the New Year with prizes and quizzes, all those kinds of things. I think that’s awesome. And I’m glad that you are making it free to everybody, including everybody at the entire organization. Is there anybody who you don’t think needs to take that kind of a training within the organization, or should it just be everybody from top to bottom?

[00:30:32.770] – Joshua Peskay
I think it’s a lot of the regulatory compliance guidelines that we talked about before or laws actually require that everybody in your organization complete a cybersecurity awareness training. So many of you, if you’re in New York and you’re subject to New York SHIELD, you are required to be training your staff at least once a year. So you can satisfy that requirement by having every single staff person your organization register for a webinar with your organizational email. And if you ask us, we’ll send you the list of everybody that registered with your organization’s email who attended the webinar. And you can have that as proof that you’ve met this requirement of these various compliance laws. So everybody in your organization should take this training.

[00:31:19.830] – Boris
Awesome. I think I’m going to sign up to take it myself to see if there’s anything that I should be aware of that I’m not already that’s not already on my radar. I know you guys are doing great work in this field, so why not learn from you as well? Joshua, thank you so much. I know, actually, as we’re recording this, I know that there’s some severe cyber threats that are currently going on that I’m probably distracting you from, so I’m going to let you get going.

[00:31:45.420] – Boris
But thank you so much for joining us today and talking to us about all of these critical areas that nonprofits may not be devoting enough of their time and brain power to address.

[00:31:59.070] – Joshua Peskay
Yeah, well, Boris, thank you so much for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure to talk with someone who understands these issues really deeply and cares about them and is doing so much good for the nonprofit space. And for all the nonprofits out there, I get it. It’s hard. You’ve got your missions to pursue. I’m not asking you to do a ton, but just do a little bit on an ongoing basis I promise it’s enough and it will get you better. But you got to do it.

[00:32:24.190] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. I hope Joshua and I didn’t scare you too badly in terms of cybersecurity, but it is really an important topic, and there are practical steps that you can take, and we’re going to have links to all of those resources in the show notes, as well as a summary of everything that we talked about to make it as easy as possible for you guys to really secure your online presence so that you can maintain your trust so that you don’t have to worry about giving up hard-earned resources to cyber criminals and so that ultimately you can then create more heroes for your cause.

[00:32:56.920] – Boris
Thank you for joining us, everybody. We’ll see you again soon.

[00:33:00.570] – Intro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform. And let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Cybersecurity is especially challenging for nonprofits that aren’t technology companies and don’t have the resources to attract trained cybersecurity professionals.(7:14)
  • Nonprofits are feeling pressure from multiple angles, including data privacy regulations and laws, HIPAA compliance, and others. (7:56)
  • A lot of nonprofits are uninsurable when it comes to cyber-liability insurance; which is a major threat to the organization’s survival should something go wrong. (8:56)
  • There’s also pressures from the threat of cybercriminal activity like hacks, viruses, denial-of-service attacks and social-engineering attacks (phishing). (10:08)
    • “Unfortunately, nonprofits who aren’t training their staff on a regular basis and putting good practices in place are really vulnerable to these very simple but very effective tactics that criminals are using.”
  • Due to resource constraints, the person responsible for the technology and data at a nonprofit is often an “accidental techie” — someone who is tech-savvy, but not trained for the position and its responsibilities—and it’s often in addition to their primary role that they were hired for. (13:01)
    • It seems difficult to justify to supporters the expenses of cybersecurity… until a breach happens that costs a lot more.
  • Nonprofits, even more than for-profit businesses, can’t afford the cost of ransom demands or losing the trust of their supporter base. (16:10)
  • There are basic, inexpensive measures that nonprofits can take to dramatically decrease the risks. (17:30)
    • 1. Identify who in your org will take on the cybersec role
    • 2. Take an assessment of your current vulnerabilities and opportunities
    • 3. Start doing the work to mitigate the threats, triaging in terms of priorities
  • Three low-cost, simple things you can do: (20:28)
    • Enforcing multi-factor authentication on your coor tools is one of the most important and inexpensive things you can do.
    • The second thing is training your staff on social engineering, phishing and other vulnerabilities.
    • Create regular backups – and keep some off line, separate from where it’s currently hosted.
  • When it comes to nonprofit websites on WordPress, securing them starts with: (22:47)
    • Creating regular, off-site backups
    • Changing the default login URL
    • Making sure that the right users have the right access
    • Creating strong, unique passwords
  • It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but you can approach this like a fitness program. Set it up in stages by order of priority to get yourself to your desired level. Then set up a maintenance routine to keep yourself there. (25:23)
  • RoundTable offers a free annual 1-hour cybersecurity training in January (it’s happening next week) (29:00)
  • A lot of regulations and laws require that everyone within an organization complete cybersecurity training. (30:32)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Joshua Peskay

Joshua Peskay

vCIO / Cybersecurity, RoundTable

Joshua (he/his) has spent nearly three decades leading technology change for over a thousand nonprofit organizations. Joshua is especially dedicated to improving cybersecurity in the nonprofit sector and works regularly with at-risk organizations to address digital security challenges. Joshua regularly presents and teaches on topics such as Technology Strategy, Cybersecurity, Project and Change Management.

Connect with Joshua Peskay

EP 40 - Greg Harell-Edge - Featured

Episode 40: How CoachArt Is Using Tech and 10x Thinking to Scale Impact, with Greg Harrell-Edge

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 40

How CoachArt Is Using Tech and 10x Thinking to Scale Impact, with Greg Harrell-Edge

In this Episode:

When Greg Harrell-Edge first joined CoachArt, they were doing great work in the Los Angeles area. They knew that there were so many more kids who could benefit from their services, but with their current systems, it was taking 7 hours to match one child to a volunteer.

In the last 5 years since Greg joined, CoachArt has quadrupled impact, doubled revenue, quintupled cash reserves and have now gone nationwide.

The journey began with questions about what was holding them back, and what it would look like if they could grow. That led them to exploring and adopting technology and dramatically changing their story.

Greg joins us to talk through the challenges they faced, successes they’ve realized and how other organizations can adopt innovation into their own strategy.

[00:00:04.070] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:20.550] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today’s episode is, I guess you could say, the new normal for us. We are talking to another nonprofit leader who is doing some really interesting things in the space of, well, impact and technology. He prides himself on innovation, and he’s here today to talk to us about how he has transformed his organization and hopefully ways that we can all incorporate into our own nonprofits to help increase our own impact.

[00:00:51.000] – Boris
Let me tell you a little bit about Greg Harrell-Edge. He is a second-generation nonprofit executive and now the CEO or Executive Director, I should say of CoachArt, which is a nonprofit founded in 2001 that matches kids affected by serious illness who want to learn an arts or athletic skill with volunteers who can teach them that skill online or in person.

[00:01:12.780] – Boris
Since taking over in 2016, Greg has overseen CoachArt more than doubling its revenue, quadrupling its lesson hours, and quintupling its cash reserves by building the CoachArt Connect app to make Coachart’s model more scalable and expanding the program from two cities to now serving kids affected by serious illness nationwide.

[00:01:31.980] – Boris
Pretty impressive feat. And that might be attributed to his superpower, which Greg describes as a genetically inherited mutation of a traditional nonprofit mindset with a more entrepreneurial perspective. I love and respect that. And now let’s bring him on to the show to talk about all of those things and more. Hey, Greg, how are you?

[00:01:52.730] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Boris, I’ve been great. How are you?

[00:01:55.230] – Boris
I am great. I’m really happy and excited to have you on the show. We’ve been trying to get you on for a while now. I’m so glad we could finally coordinate and learn from you today all of the amazing things that you are doing with CoachArt. Before we dive in, you heard me read your bio. It’s awesome what you’ve been able to achieve. But first, let’s start with what’s your story? How did you get to this point?

[00:02:15.210] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Sure. So I credited my superpower with you all as being a genetic mutation, because I do think that that’s the case. In a lot of ways, my story in nonprofit starts with my dad. My dad spent his entire career in the nonprofit sector. And when I was growing up, I didn’t have any sense that that was what I was going to go on to do myself. But I always heard him at the dinner table sort of talking about his experiences, which, frankly, he found equal parts inspiring but also frustrating.

[00:02:48.130] – Greg Harrell-Edge
He’s somebody who was really about social change and social justice and making the world a better place. But he also was this huge vision guy who loved the idea of sort of a big picture of what are we going to do and how are we going to get there and found a lot of limitations and nonprofit, especially at the time in the 80s and 90s. But a lot of those limitations still exist today. And so, like a lot of folks are nonprofit, I sort of zigged and zagged and wound up in it myself and realized it was in my blood. And that both sides of that were. That I loved the idea of making the world a better place, but I also shared—well, my dad had the idea of, let’s take a more entrepreneurial approach and how can we really do something to scale?

[00:03:28.950] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so when I came across CoachArt, CoachArt had been founded in 2001 by now tech CEO Zander Lurie of SurveyMonkey now Momentive. And it was a perfect match from what they did and what their kind of culture and mindset was with what my approach to nonprofit had been.

[00:03:49.640] – Boris
Awesome. So you come in in 2016. Is that right?

[00:03:54.170] – Greg Harrell-Edge

[00:03:54.920] – Boris
The organization had been going along for 15 years. They must have been doing something right. Tell me, what was the situation like in terms of what you were able to do and what kind of impact you were having when you first come in to CoachArt?

[00:04:10.350] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yeah. They were doing a lot of things really right. The thing that I always said when I joined CoachArt was the magic that happened when a volunteer knocked on a kid’s door. Everything after that point was so impressive and the impact of it you could see so much. But when I came in, what I said was I wanted to get a lot more volunteers knocking on a lot more doors of kids impacted by chronic illness.

[00:04:36.700] – Greg Harrell-Edge
So the organization started in 2001. As you alluded to, kids impacted by chronic illness would sign up and say what arts or athletics activities they wanted to learn. And these are kids who often were—it was after they had been discharged from the hospital where with medical advances, kids are actually spending more time outside of the hospital, even with really serious illnesses than living in the children’s hospital anymore.

[00:04:58.480] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so the idea was these kids would sign up, say what they wanted to learn, and then CoachArt would recruit volunteers. And those volunteers would say what they could teach. And it was our team’s job to match them together, to get that volunteer to knock on that student’s door and teach them something.

[00:05:13.750] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so just to give you an example of what it would have looked like from 2001 up until 2015, Boris, I know you lived in LA at one point, right? Whereabouts in LA did you live?

[00:05:24.520] – Boris
I lived in Hollywood and Hollywood Hills in that area for almost ten years, no more than that.

[00:05:30.170] – Greg Harrell-Edge
So we were founded in LA. So you could have been one of our volunteers during that time. If you had said, “Hey, I’m interested in volunteering with CoachArt.” We would have said, “Okay, what activities can you teach?” Do you have any arts or athletics that you’re passionate about?

[00:05:44.550] – Boris
Well, the whole reason I was there is I was involved in a Hollywood scene. So I’m a trained actor and writer, director, all that kind of fun stuff. So yeah, I’d love teaching.

[00:05:56.970] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And we have so many kids impacted by chronic illness in LA who—they’re so close to that scene. They would love a coach who has a background in acting or in theater or in any of those things. So our job is matchmaking, right? And we were just really inefficient at making that match. So if you had come on anytime from 2001 to 2015, we would have said, “Okay, where do you live? What can you teach?” And then we’d say, “Okay, the next step is you need to come to our office in Koreatown.” And folks who are listening outside of LA don’t have any idea. But, you know from LA traffic, this would take forever for you to do. And we would say once a month we have a training. So sometime over the next few months, drive to our office in Koreatown on a Saturday. We’ll give you a training.

[00:06:36.580] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Then after that is when the really tough part is going to start. We’re going to go into our database, start calling the kids who live near you and saying, “Can you do Tuesday afternoon?” Nope. Well, Boris can only do Saturdays. Then, “Hey, Boris, would you be willing to drive to the Valley?” And that process used to take 7 hours of staff time. And this is not what our staff signed up to do, right? These are people who want to be having a direct impact on kids, not calling back and forth and trying to schedule something. But it’s an information problem, the information problem that our staff was trying to solve. What’s the activity, when is it going to take place and where is it going to take place?

[00:07:14.140] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so we built a piece of technology. And so that was—for us, the whole idea, it didn’t start with technology. It started with, what do we have to do to rapidly grow? And that was one of the biggest barriers. So then we tried to use technology to solve that. But really coming from a starting point of, how do we grow as quickly as possible?

[00:07:32.730] – Boris
First, I love the concept of the organization. And had I heard of you guys when I was in LA, because I was involved with several nonprofits at the time, I would have loved to be a part of it. I got goosebumps just thinking about it as you’re walking me through, like what it could have been like teaching kids, helping kids who want to express themselves, who are facing these insurmountable, perhaps challenges, with the things that I’m passionate about and helping them express themselves in writing and acting and performance. I think it would have been an amazing experience. So kudos to you guys for offering that opportunity to people like myself who want to make a difference in those lives. So amazing.

[00:08:16.290] – Boris
But I do see how it could be incredibly frustrating, especially with LA traffic to get to K-Town and to sit through whatever the training needed to be, then to wait for a match and to try to do all that. I definitely see how technology could drastically improve that process. But how did you guys get to that conclusion?

[00:08:39.570] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Sure. So it seemed obvious basically looking at technologies that existed at the time. Right. And so you have a lot of apps. By the time I joined the organization, the technology had advanced since 2001 when they founded the organization. And so basically we said, what is the Lyft or Airbnb? So two-sided marketplace platform is the sort of technical term. And I’m not a super technical person, but was the sort of layman’s term for understanding the grouping of the technology that we were looking at.

[00:09:13.260] – Greg Harrell-Edge
So we said, let’s solve this with a two-sided marketplace platform. Let’s look around and try to figure out, are there any other nonprofits that have done this? What are the for-profit versions that look like? Who are the providers that provide things like this and ultimately we’re able to find a development shop in San Francisco that had built a version for a totally different use case of something that was close enough to what we wanted, where we could at least start to map out…

[00:09:45.290] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And I remember taking a piece of paper and sort of wire framing out. Now we need to go to a screen where you see the kids. They need to be ranked by how close they live to you. You need to be able to click on them that it basically was just taking something that existed and figuring out how are we going to create the version of this that works for us?

[00:10:05.910] – Boris
I could easily see how that would be helpful. I love that you compare to an Airbnb or an Uber. I think Uber is probably the better example. As you were talking, I was even thinking of dating apps. In 2001, dating websites were kind of slow and kludgy, and it was a whole big process. By the time you’re coming into CoachArt, they’ve evolved to basically swipe left, swipe right. It made it so much faster, more accessible, more immediate that I could see how people would also want that kind of innovation and similar user experience really for a nonprofit. Because just because you guys are a nonprofit doesn’t mean people expect or are willing to go that much further and have a worse experience to be able to contribute. Right? You’re still competing for the same amount of time, the same money they could be spending in other places if they’re donating. It totally makes sense.

[00:10:56.800] – Greg Harrell-Edge
It’s fundamentally the same technology. One of our core beliefs is, the same technology that makes anything more efficient or faster or more convenient for any user or company probably has use cases in nonprofit to be able to make it more efficient or easier to scale and have a bigger impact.

[00:11:16.990] – Boris
And that’s one of the things I love about what you’re doing and that I love in general to do is take, what are the technologies out there? What are the new platforms and methodologies and use cases that are going on? And how do we adapt them for nonprofits to do, frankly, more good in the world, not just to create more wealth and income, which I’m all for, but nonprofits are necessary in our system and therefore need to compete really well. So I love all of that. And I want to break down how you guys went about it and what the results were. Before we dive too deep into that, I just want to know, was it a successful endeavor? What change did you see after you guys implemented this platform?

[00:11:58.770] – Greg Harrell-Edge
So one of the most interesting things is that immediately it was unsuccessful that we were—and dig into what the actual technical solution looked like to the degree that’s it’s helpful. But basically, we launched something that went from taking 7 hours of staff time to match an individual volunteer with a student to now something that took seven minutes of staff time.

[00:12:22.400] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so the day after we launched it, we said, starting today, we can serve about ten times as many kids and volunteers as we could yesterday. What actually happened was the first month we saw an enormous decrease, about a 75% reduction in the total number of matches that we made between kids and volunteers.

[00:12:43.080] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And we said, oh, no, have we totally messed this up? And slowly but surely—we stayed committed to it. And slowly but surely it took three, four, maybe five months before we got to the point where we were making as many matches between kids and volunteers as we were the manual way. But it was taking a lot less staff time. And so what happened was that line just kept going up and what had been a fairly static line for a long time, we now have shot past.

[00:13:10.510] – Greg Harrell-Edge
So now, fast forward three and a half years later, we’re doing four times—those numbers that you rattled off. We’re doing four times as many lesson hours per month as we were before we launched the app. We expanded from just being in two cities to first nine cities last year. And now a few weeks ago, we actually flipped the switch where we’re accepting kids and volunteers nationwide. And the growth we hope that we’re still just at the sort of middle of the hockey stick curve of hockey stick growth because there’s still 20 million kids that could benefit from the program.

[00:13:42.770] – Boris
Yeah, it sounds like you’re not even at the middle of the hockey stick growth curve because you just went nationwide and your reach is now exponentially larger. So that’s a really exciting time. And thank you for painting for us the picture of the success, but also telling us that it wasn’t an instantly out-of-the-ballpark home run, that there was some kind of struggle earlier on. What do you think that was about? Why did this matching rate suddenly drop off?

[00:14:15.210] – Greg Harrell-Edge
I think adoption rates for any new technology. I think we underrated the education that needed to happen of telling people this is the old way that you’ve been doing it. And this is the new way that’s going to be better in these ways and why. And starting to be able to recruit volunteers that were excited by that and families that were excited by that. And, for that matter, supporters that were excited by that and continuing to have board members that were excited by that, that it was sort of not only shifting the culture of our staff but shifting the entire culture of all of the stakeholders and community of the organization to something that values scale.

[00:14:57.810] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And by the way, one quick thing that I wanted to go back to, that idea that you were talking about, about how do we use these tools that are out there? I think if anything, one of the mistakes that nonprofits can make is start with the tool and figure out how you can use it, that we see all these shiny objects that are out there that are doing these cool and interesting things and thinking, okay, well, how can we use that? Well, really… I think the most effective way to start is sitting down with your team and saying, what would it look like if we were to really effectively and quickly grow? And identifying the hurdles that exist to growth and then saying, what technology exists that solve these exact same hurdles for other sectors and in other situations?

[00:15:48.150] – Boris
Right. So I just want to focus for a half-second longer on that early issue that you guys had, which it sounds like your existing volunteers were not that quick to pick up the new technology. It was a bit of a struggle. There was some friction there to turn them into this new direction. And a lot of people don’t like change. A lot of people feel like, well, this is the way I’ve always done it. This is the way I’ve been doing it. Why do I have to do something different? I’ve got to learn something new. I’ve got to do something that I’m not as comfortable doing, perhaps.

[00:16:23.820] – Boris
And that could be a scary proposition. And I know, I’ve got plenty of clients who have been worried about that same exact thing of, well, this is what our board expects. This is what our constituents expect. And if we suddenly upset the applecart, if you will, we’re in danger of losing our board, our main supporters, our volunteers. And at the same time as you’re talking, I’m thinking this is exactly what the smart businesses out there do, the for-profit companies do. They disrupt themselves. Because if you are not thinking and working on what’s going to make you obsolete, you better believe somebody else is.

[00:17:00.450] – Greg Harrell-Edge

[00:17:01.890] – Boris
It’s just like Steve Jobs cannibalized Apple computers by creating the Macintosh. He created the Skunkworks program, right? And he knew it was going to completely destroy the existing model for Apple computers. But if he didn’t do it, someone else would, in fact, others were working on it at the same time.

[00:17:20.450] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yeah. And one of the things that we point to in that same vein, and the tech disruptors Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has that quote, “Every company needs to be a software company.” And we say, every nonprofit needs to be a software company on some level. That there’s nothing—other than the tax status—there’s nothing different about the way that we run a business that that quote wouldn’t apply to us. And we even used the term Software as a Service, SaaS, has grown so much in the for-profit sector the last few years. We said, well, what does it look like for software as a community service? And the idea of the app that we built being the basis of what that looks like for us. And what does that look like for other organizations to have software to be the sort of centerpiece of their community service?

[00:18:08.390] – Boris
Yes. For those that don’t know that might be watching or listening, SaaS is Software as a Service, SaaS. I like this concept of software as a community service. And you’re absolutely right. I recently said a little while ago, actually, on another show that some nonprofits are born digital, some achieve digital, and some have digital thrust upon them, and the rest die. They just disappear because they’re not evolving and keeping up. So I’m excited that you guys were at the forefront of this. And I don’t mean that you were one of the first organizations to adopt digital strategy, but you didn’t wait for something to come along and knock you guys off. You looked for ways to innovate and to grow your own services with the latest expectations and technological advances.

[00:19:00.990] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yeah. Absolutely. And to that exact same point about not being the only ones that we’re always really interested in the sort of tribe. And you and I have talked about this—of how do you build the tribe of organizations that are trying to do similar things, individuals that are trying to do similar things? And there are subsets of that. Right? What does this look like for digital marketing? What does it look like for actual programmatic, for technology? What does it look like for the programs that we do? But, yeah, trying to build a community of people who are…

[00:19:30.700] – Greg Harrell-Edge
I often think about a kind of next wave of nonprofits that feels like it is coming. And I don’t know the degree. You would probably know better. We’re so much isolated in our own work here, but we’re definitely trying to sort of build a tribe of folks who are trying to be part of that wave. By no means do we feel like we’re leaders, we more are trying to be part of that wave and trying to figure out who else is part of that wave.

[00:19:59.790] – Boris
Yeah. And I think about how many of the organizations that I’ve worked with or that I know that even have someone who is thinking about technology in that way, much less perhaps having a CTO whose job it is to be on top of technology and to be infusing it and integrating it to the mission and to what the organization is doing. It’s really low right now. But I agree with you. It’s coming. It’s growing quickly because, frankly, technology is a giant lever. And in my analogy, story is the fulcrum, and technology is the lever that can really move the world. And technology is the most efficient lever there is right now. So absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about…

[00:20:47.070] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Sorry. One more thing that reminded me, even then, I think technology is probably too limited of a scope that—you all at Nonprofit Hero Factory, and in your intro, talk a lot about innovation more broadly. And technology is certainly right in the middle of the Venn diagram of innovation. But I think innovation extends to culture and extends to your marketing approaches, extends to your storytelling. Basically, what does it look like to constantly be trying to iterate and trying to advance what you’re doing across all parts of your organization, technologically or otherwise, just continuing, if anything, I think it’s that culture of innovation.

[00:21:33.270] – Boris
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I’m glad you said that. I do want to break down for everyone watching and listening, how they could basically take on the same types of projects in their own organization. So I want to ask you just a few questions specifically about what you guys did. How did you, first of all, decide what you’re going to do? And second of all, what was the process like to get there?

[00:22:03.430] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yeah. Two big questions. I think the best answer that I can give is that there was no one, “here’s our one-week planning process; here’s our one strategic plan.” That it really was starting with that question of what would it look like if we grew… And again, that question of what does it take to have a lot more volunteers knocking on a lot more kids doors? And now in the pandemic, we’ve pivoted to video lessons. And so really, it’s virtually or physically knocking on the door of a kid impacted by chronic illness and always starting… first and foremost, it’s a mindset thing.

[00:22:48.850] – Greg Harrell-Edge
We talk a lot about scarcity mindset in nonprofit, but there’s also a certain scarcity of limited thinking. Limited thinking accompanies scarcity, and one begets the other. And what happens if you do start telling people we want to 10x. And one thing that I’ve always said is, just saying that you want to 10x your organization is not going to get you there. Even having a great plan for how you could 10x your organization doesn’t mean somebody’s going to hand you a check to do it. But I think it’s impossible that somebody is going to come up and hand you a plan and a check to 10x your organization if you’re not out there telling other people how it’s going to happen. That you need to be—and your leadership team needs to be the chief evangelists of, this is what we’re trying to do. This is the North Star of where we’re trying to go. This is a path of how we can get there. Who wants to come on board? And that… one thing…

[00:23:42.540] – Greg Harrell-Edge
One last point on that is that I think if you were to talk to any for-profit business leader and ask them, what’s your plan to 10x your company? They would instantly be able to rattle off a bunch of bullet points for you of how they’re going to get there. And they might even say, 10x is just the first step. We’re thinking about 100x. We’re thinking about 1000x. But in nonprofit, I think we frequently say, 10x? Talking about what we’re doing right now and doing ten times more of that and that we just don’t—we limit ourselves in how we think and how we talk about our organizations and our potential impact.

[00:24:16.530] – Greg Harrell-Edge
So I think culturally, it was that as much as anything infusing that into every leadership team meeting that we had, every board meeting that we had, every stand-up that we had. And then starting to pick at it piece by piece and say, like we talked about, what is the biggest hurdle to that right now? It’s the time that it takes for our volunteers to match with our students. What technology is out there that could do that? And just sort of on an iterative process, right now today we say, what are the biggest hurdles—we’re approaching the 2022 planning. And we say, what are the biggest hurdles for us to have the highest possible growth next year? Identifying those and then looking in the for-profit or nonprofit sector and saying, how are other people solving for these and would those solutions work for us? And that mindset is everything, I think.

[00:25:06.850] – Boris
All absolutely on track and spot on. In order to get somewhere, you have to have a vision of where did you want to go. But you don’t always know what the best road is going to be to take you there. If you don’t set that destination though, you’re never even going to know that that’s someplace you could go. And sometimes you just really do have to shoot for the moon. I think of Peter Diamandis and the XPRIZE and Moonshots that so many of the big tech companies are involved in. Without the XPRIZE, we wouldn’t have had SpaceX and Virgin Galactic and these companies that are now, whether you love them or not, are doing really incredible things that were unimaginable just 20 years ago.

[00:25:51.370] – Boris
So having that same kind of mentality for nonprofits, and actually there might be something similar in for-good space, whether it’s for nonprofits or just in general. But having that mentality within every organization I think is amazing and invaluable to actually succeeding in your mission, because if your mission is just to help a few people, then that’s fine. But if your mission is to change the world, then you’ve got to be thinking on a scale or something or how to scale, I should say, to a level where you can be changing the world, right?

[00:26:23.240] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:26:25.150] – Boris
So to a lot of organizations, building an app is this cool idea, at least it was a few years ago. It’s kind of died down a little bit, I think, at least in my conversations. But most of the time an organization comes to me and says, oh, we want to build an app. And I’ve had several clients come and ask for that. And I’m going to be honest with you. I tell them, 99% of the time you don’t need an app. You just need a website and you can do all this stuff on a website. Or even I’ve honestly built apps or the same experience as an app on existing platforms like Facebook Messenger, which are already on most people’s mobile devices.

[00:27:02.170] – Boris
What did you guys do? How did you approach this? Did you just go straight out and say, okay, I’m going to build an app for the app store and have people download it, or was there some sort of iterative process for you guys as well?

[00:27:15.550] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Definitely an iterative process. But again, that idea of what is the perspective that you’re starting from? Well, we didn’t start from the perspective of, we want to build an app. We started from the perspective of, if we’re going to grow, we need to reduce the time that it takes for the volunteers to match with—the staff time that it takes for the volunteers to match with the students. How can we do that? And what are other companies that are doing that, and really is what led to somebody saying, like you said, off the top of your head. Well, dating apps do that. But they don’t do the scheduling part of it. But Lyft and Uber, that’s really—you’re talking about a one-to-one match with a scheduling component or Airbnb. So then what is their technology even called? Let’s Google it. Who else… when you Googled it…when you find two-sided marketplace, what does it look like if you put in two-sided marketplace nonprofit, what comes up? Two-sided marketplace developers. So it really is just that process as much as anything else, which again carries through to this day.

[00:28:14.490] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so for us, that was what led to finding a single developer that had built something that was as close as we could find to what we wanted and getting a quote from them and what would it take to build this. But it’s that same process that I think we go through all the time as let’s not start with… I would say, for any of those organizations that approached you and said, we want an app. I think the question is, what are the five biggest pain points that you’re trying to solve for? And who else solves for them and how?

[00:28:47.350] – Boris
I love that you’re starting with the pain points and that you’re looking at existing technology because what you described to me, I’ve built similar things on websites at this point. There’s off-the-shelf technology and components that you could put together onto a website and first try it out. I’m a big fan of Lean methodology and the Build-Measure-Learn cycle. Right. So what can you build to measure whether or not people are interested whether or not it can work? What do you learn from that test? And then iterate upon that and keep going with that cycle.

[00:29:19.580] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And that reminds me of a key point where I’ve used the term app this entire time. And that is not the term that we used when we first launched it and not actually what we first built. A similar thing… I thought of it when you said MVP. I was really a believer in that quote, gosh, I can’t remember his name now, but the idea that if you’re not embarrassed by the MVP version of what you put out and you waited too long. And so what we put out was browser-based. At the time we called it our platform or two-sided platform. It had a login that was connected from our website.

[00:29:52.150] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Fortunately, what we had found that product that I was alluding to that was most similar to what we’re trying to solve was built in Salesforce, and we were already a Salesforce customer. And so we were able to build this in Salesforce. It could link. It was browser-based. You could link to it from our website. And when we looked back, we are embarrassed by what we put out.

[00:30:14.990] – Greg Harrell-Edge
So part of the answer when you said, why do you think the matches went down immediately the first month? Is also because it was ugly, and it was—if you’re not embarrassed by what you put out, part of being embarrassed by it is that it’s not working all that well, right? But you need something to start being able to test and make changes and iterate on. And so we’ve been doing that literally every month since then, with a roadmap that constantly is adding new features and constantly iterating to it with something that now I am not embarrassed by what CoachArt has that now is an app that’s in the app store and available for Android on phone or browser.

[00:30:52.990] – Boris
So there’s definitely an investment of talent and time and certainly brain power in order to get this kind of system in place to conceptualize it, to build it. What’s the monetary investment? And I’m sure every app is different. Every platform is different. But I don’t know if you could talk to us a little bit about, what did it cost you guys? And then how do you decide whether or not or at what point it was worth it and paid for itself?

[00:31:24.550] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yeah, it’s a great question. For the second question, I don’t know that we have a very sophisticated way to do it other than to say— so the original build cost us, I believe, $60,000. I would have to check. Which, of course, is a big investment for an organization. We were a $1.2 million organization that would be lucky if we had a $20,000 surplus every year. So this was a huge investment for us, right? One of the things that we found right away was that it helped our fundraising before we even built the app at the time was the platform. And we didn’t do what a lot of organizations do, which is sort of a specific campaign around—help us fund this piece of technology.

[00:32:09.250] – Greg Harrell-Edge
What we really started to do, was all of our fundraising started to become more infused with this idea of a big vision and where we wanted to go. And that was in every email that we sent, every conversation that we had at the board level, at our events. A lot of our fundraising is event based. We actually saw an increase in fundraising before we ever even had to write a check for the app, just from the way that we started to talk about what was possible and painting a picture for folks of what was possible and what we were trying to do had a magnetism to it I think that benefited us before we even made the first build and still does today.

[00:32:54.970] – Boris
That totally makes sense because your story changed. You now had a different story with a different goal, something that people can envision and get on board to. And maybe people who wouldn’t necessarily be interested in supporting a very worthwhile CoachArt that was doing great work on a local level, but might be interested in supporting a CoachArt that is going to be able to do ten times that amount of work and maybe scale to who knows how far and help every child in need. Every child who is in a similar situation. Right?

[00:33:28.330] – Boris
It’s a completely different vision, and I think attracts a certain type of investor. And by that, I don’t mean the traditional venture capitalist. I mean, someone who wants to invest in the ROI being impact and the change that they want to see in the world.

[00:33:47.350] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And I would actually argue, I think my assumption beforehand would have been that it attracted a certain type. And I think what we found is it attracts almost all types. Because again, that idea when people are making a donation, it’s not a gift. One thing we talk about a lot. At CoachArt, we don’t consider donations gifts. We consider them investments and impact. Investments in making the world a better place.

[00:34:11.290] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Now, they might be motivated—more motivated by the story of an individual child with an individual student. But the button on that story of—and we’ve already grown by four times over the last three years, and we’re trying to grow four times more—that there’s no one who at least as a part of the story that that’s not something that’s appealing to them or very few people, I think.

[00:34:33.070] – Boris
Right on. And I certainly get the way that you guys did it and it makes sense. I do think and I’m actually thinking about another episode that we recorded. I think it was episode 17 with Sarah Lee of New Story, where they actually have a pool of donors, of investors who are interested in funding these new technological innovations, these new solutions that are very much tech-enabled in their case or tech first, that they’re excited by the change that they can make on the entire world.

[00:35:05.810] – Boris
So there are definitely people who their connection—and this is proven psychology. Their connection to one individual is going to motivate them to donate. But then there are people who are thinking along the lines of vision and of long-term, high-impact, high-yielding investment, if you will, that they particularly… I know at New Story, as Sarah said they wouldn’t have necessarily been able to attract on an individual level.

[00:35:38.050] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yep. Yep. Absolutely. Then ultimately, it’s two stories. Here’s the story of one child with one volunteer, and here’s the story of the organization. And we still wrestle with that all the time when we talk about the CoachArt story at events is, what’s the mix? How much of each story do we want to tell? And that mix, I think, is different for each person, but I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t enjoy both parts of the story on some level.

[00:36:07.310] – Boris
So, Greg, I keep talking to you about this for hours, and I’m sure we’re going to continue this conversation. We already talked before we went live, and I look forward to talking to you more about it again. But in the interest of being respectful of your time and our viewers’ time today, I’d love to ask you, if nonprofits haven’t started down this road yet, are there any tools or resources, or maybe they are thinking about it right now. Are there any tools or resources that you recommend that they take a look at?

[00:36:36.730] – Boris
And I ask this question of all our guests ahead of time. And I was excited because you sent us a really long list and comprehensive in so many different facets that I’m going to link to every single one of them in the show notes so that people can check them out by going to the website, but are there any that you want to spotlight for those people that are driving right now or watching somewhere where they don’t have access to the website? What should they go check out?

[00:37:04.640] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Sure. And part of the reason why the list was so long is I feel like 90% of the content that I seek out is from the start-up community and from entrepreneurs. And I think it’s too uncommon in nonprofit for that to be what we’re reading and looking through, because that has so many answers people trying to scale their startup. It’s the exact same applicable stuff. And then of the 10% of things that are in nonprofit, I love people who are trying to take that mindset and figuring out what works and what doesn’t and what jargon can we shed? What concepts can we keep?

[00:37:40.470] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so of those folks that I think I had particularly listed Dana Snyder in Positive Equation, her company Positive Equation, are ones that were a huge fan of Spencer Brooks and Brooks Digital, a person and individual entity that we’re a big fan of. Rod Arnold from Leading Good, Caroline Fothergill from Marketer on a Mission that these are all folks that I think are right in that sweet spot for me that really speak to—how are we taking some of these ideas and best translating them to the work that we do that’s mission focused. So those are the folks I would really particularly spotlight.

[00:38:17.390] – Boris
I’m going to go connect with them and check out their work as well, because this is definitely my sweet spot of where I like to live in terms of taking—what’s going on there in the startup world and technology in general and combining with storytelling and nonprofits to create a better world.

[00:38:33.130] – Boris
So I really appreciate that list and the longer one that we’re going to link to, as well as anything else that we’ve mentioned on our website, we’ll try to link directly to your site and your app so that people can maybe go check that out, even if they don’t want to volunteer, which hopefully they do. Maybe they’ll at least want to check out the app and see how it works and what they could do similar for their organization.

[00:38:56.750] – Boris
What’s your, at this point, call to action for the folks that have been watching or listening to this that are interested in learning more about you and what you are up to? What do you want our heroes to do at the end of this interview?

[00:39:10.460] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Yeah, absolutely. To your point, if anybody is interested in volunteering and joining our monthly donor program and becoming a tech ambassador, which is a program that we have, they can visit www.coachart.org, but also just the idea of—when you had mentioned Sarah Lee with New Story, she’s definitely been on the list. I know that you’ve chatted with her of somebody that I’ve wanted to talk to for a long time where I’ve been trying to without much structure, build the sort of tribe of people who are trying to—whether it’s technology or marketing, just broadly be more innovative about how to scale their mission.

[00:39:47.180] – Greg Harrell-Edge
And so if anybody knows of a community like that or is interested in sort of formally or informally starting to build more of that community, they can just email me at greg@coachart.org. G-R-E-G at C-O-A-C-H, art A-R-T, dot org and I would love to hear about the content or communities that other people look to and are a part of and just sort of build those relationships and start to build that tribe of other folks and nonprofits that are trying to scale.

[00:40:17.090] – Boris
I’m really excited about that idea. As you and I were talking earlier, I want to be a part of it so you can already count me in. And I’m excited to find out from you what you hear on the topic of—are there any communities out there? Who are the people that are active? And I’m happy to bring in anyone and everyone I know that’s already doing this type of work to help contribute to that conversation so that we could really lift everybody up and empower and enable every nonprofit out there to 10x their mission and their vision.

[00:40:52.070] – Greg Harrell-Edge
Here, here. We’re still on that path, and I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves that we’re hoping to achieve 10x here, but it’s opportunities like this to be able to tell our story and chat with you and have your audience hear more about us that make that possible. So I’m really grateful to you for having us and for everything that you put out there that’s helping to carve that path for folks like me that are trying to get there. So thank you for everything that you do.

[00:41:19.130] – Boris
It’s absolutely my pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us today, for talking about your story, about what your organization has been able to do, what the challenges were and really what the successes were, how you guys got there. I think it’s going to be invaluable to a lot of organizations, it’s going to be at least inspiring, but hopefully even a lot of the steps that you outlined, we’re going to break them down in our show notes so that hopefully it’s actionable, not just inspiring.

[00:41:43.770] – Boris
So if you guys are watching at home or listening at home or in your cars or wherever you are, do head over to the show notes, check it out and take action. Email Greg, check out CoachArt. Get in touch with me and let’s see where we can go with your organization and how we can create more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Because ultimately, that’s why I show up every week and every day into this office.

[00:42:09.650] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of Nonprofit Hero Factory. If you like this episode are inspired and want more people to find content like this, please, please give us a like, give us a review and a rating on iTunes. Follow us on Spotify or whatever your favorite platform is so that we can reach you and others like you and inspire more people to do more good. Have a great week.

[00:42:33.950] – 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:

  • CoachArt matches kids affected by serious illness who want to learn an arts or athletic skill with volunteers who can teach them that skill online or in person. (00:51)
  • When Greg joined CoachArt, it was a 15-year-old organization, and great work was being done, but not a lot of matches were being made between kids and volunteers. (04:10)
  • The match process took 7 hours of staff time to coordinate interests and schedules and onboard volunteers. (06:18)
  • To scale and rapidly grow the organization’s impact, the process had to be reconsidered and they turned to a technological solution. They looked around the tech scene to see what technologies were available and being used to match people to services, like Lyft and Airbnb, and settled on the idea of a two-sided marketplace. (07:15)
  • People’s expectations are shaped by the technology they use in their everyday lives. Nonprofits need to be able to match that experience. (10:05)
    • “One of our core beliefs is, the same technology that makes anything more efficient or faster or more convenient for any user or company probably has use cases in nonprofit to be able to make it more efficient or easier to scale and have a bigger impact.” (11:02)
  • When the new platform launched, the match time went down from 7 hours to 7 minutes. BUT… the product seemed to be a failure, with a 75% reduction in the total number of matches made between kids and volunteers. (11:58)
    • It took 3-5 months to get back to the same number of matches that they were previously doing manually.
    • From there, the growth just kept going up and up. They are now doing 4 times as many lesson hours as they were before, in a fraction of the time and cost.
    • They’ve since grown from two cities to nine, and now launched nationwide.
  • Adopting any new technology will be met with some challenges and friction. But if done well, the culture of the organization can change, exciting stakeholders and attracting new supporters who value scale. (14:15)
  • A mistake that nonprofits make is starting with tools and seeing how they can apply them, rather than starting with identifying the hurdles to growth and then finding tools that solve those same problems in other sectors. (14:57)
    • “I think the most effective way to start is sitting down with your team and saying, what would it look like if we were to really effectively and quickly grow? And identifying the hurdles that exist to growth and then saying, what technology exists that solve these exact same hurdles for other sectors and in other situations?”
  • Change can be a scary proposition but it’s inevitable. If you’re not working on the next iteration of the work that you do, someone else likely will, possibly making your organization obsolete. (16:23)
    • Nonprofits should be thinking of themselves the same way as for-profits, who rely on “Software as a Service” (SaaS) products to improve and scale their operations.
    • Greg proposes a “Software as a Community Service” model for nonprofits.
  • The next wave of nonprofits will be the tech-enabled, innovative problem solvers who are applying technology as part of their solution to problems. (19:30)
    • Innovation extends beyond technology, to story and to culture.
  • Adopting new technology starts with the question, “What would it look like if we grew? What would it take to 10x our mission?” (22:03)
  • Nonprofits have limiting beliefs that are holding them back. No one is going to hand you a check to 10x your work if you’re not out there telling people how it’s going to happen. This is a cultural and storytelling shift that begins with your leadership. (23:17)
  • You can’t get somewhere if you don’t know where you want to go. Even if you don’t know the best road yet, it starts with setting a destination. (25:11)
  • The process of tech development for a nonprofit, like other businesses, should be iterative. Don’t try to jump straight to the (expensive) final product. (26:25)
    • Start with your goal of removing the biggest obstacles to your growth.
    • Find what technologies already exist that are solving your challenges.
    • Look for developers that are experienced with that technology.
    • Build the first version and iterate from there (Build-Measure-Learn)
  • The first version of CoachArt’s platform was actually web-based, built on Salesforce, not an app store app. There are likely off-the-shelf components that you can put together to test your hypothesis in a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). (28:47)
    • LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman famously said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
  • The platform development cost was not insignificant for CoachArt, but it helped their fundraising before they even built it. (31:24)
    • They didn’t fundraise specifically for the app. Instead, they fundraised around the idea of their big vision and where they wanted to go. Painting a picture of what was possible helped them raise more money before they ever had to pay for the development.
  • The story of a bigger vision and greater impact appeals to current donors and new potential donors who see the ROI in their investment going much further. (32:54)
  • Some organizations, like New Story (NPHF episode 17), attract a group of donors who specifically want to invest in nonprofit technology that will scale the mission. (34:33)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Greg is a fan of Substack newsletters both free and paid, some nonprofit but mostly for-profit marketing and growth ones such as….
    • For non-profit resources, Greg’s favorites are folks that are actively assessing the latest trends in for-profit and deciding whether and how they apply to nonprofit:
    • Check out CoachArt’s app on Android and Apple app stores
  • Start implementing!

    • If you’re interested in getting involved with CoachArt as a volunteer, Impact Investment Club member or Tech Ambassador, visit: www.coachart.org
    • Greg is curious what online or offline groups that people in nonprofit are part of around nonprofit innovation. If you have a great group to recommend – or you’re interested in forming one, email Greg at greg@coachart.org

About this week’s guest

Greg Harrell-Edge

Greg Harrell-Edge

Executive Director, CoachArt

A second-generation nonprofit executive, Greg is the Executive Director of CoachArt—a nonprofit founded in 2001 that matches kids affected by serious illness who want to learn an arts or athletics skill with volunteers who can them teach that skill, online or in-person. Since taking over in 2016, Greg has overseen CoachArt more than doubling its revenue, quadrupling its lesson hours, and quintupling its cash reserves, by building the CoachArt Connect app to make CoachArt’s model more scalable and expanding the program from two cities to now serving kids affected by serious illness nationwide.

Connect with Greg Harrell-Edge

EP 38 - Constanza Roeder - Featured

Episode 38: Adapting and Scaling In-Person Programs Online, with Constanza Roeder

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 38

Adapting and Scaling In-Person Programs Online, with Constanza Roeder

In this Episode:

When Covid shut down non-essential access to hospitals, it effectively shut down all of Hearts Need Art’s programming, as it did for so many other service-based nonprofits. Artists were no longer able to perform for patients, patients were no longer able to get much-needed emotional support, and they couldn’t deliver on their promise to donors.

This easily could have been the end of the line for the arts in health nonprofit that Constanza Roeder created just a few years prior, based on her first-hand experience of being a cancer patient and the support that got her through it.

Instead, the young non-technical, resource-strapped organization took on the challenge with their greatest asset: creativity. They developed new programs to meet the new constraints and, in the process, created a significantly more scalable system for delivering their programming that creates stronger connections between their work and their donors, provides a greater continuity of care for their clients, and allows them to reach exponentially more people in need… without over-taxing their resources.

Hearts Need Art founder Constanza Roeder joins the show to share her story and break down how any organization can do the same.

[00:00:06.050] – Intro
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding.

[00:00:22.890] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. Thank you for joining us. As the intro says, we are here to share advice from nonprofit leaders on how you can activate more heroes for your cause, primarily through technology, storytelling… but it really cuts across all topics.

[00:00:40.650] – Boris
And today we’ve got a slightly different topic than usual, which is, we’re profiling a specific nonprofit leader. Her name is Constanza Roeder and trying to work out what it is that she was able to do during the pivot that many of us had to take during the pandemic in order to not only retain her donor base and her volunteer base, but also to expand it and see how her organization was able to make some pivots and what have been the implications of those pivots.

[00:01:11.100] – Boris
Let me tell you a little bit about her. Constanza is the founder and CEO of Hearts Need Art: Creative Support for Patients and Caregivers and the host of a podcast of her own, which is Arts for the Health of It. Ms. Roeder was selected as one of the top 100 Healthcare Visionaries by the International Forum on Advancements in HealthCare for 2021. As a singer, adolescent leukemia survivor, speaker, and thought leader in the field of arts and health, Constanza is on a mission to humanize healthcare through the arts.

[00:01:40.680] – Boris
When I asked Constanza her superpower, she said it’s using technology and automation to help our donors serve clients so they feel more connected to the cause. Obviously, those are all things that I am very passionate about myself, so I was excited to have her on the show. Let’s bring her on.

[00:01:59.070] – Constanza Roeder

[00:01:59.440] – Boris
Hi, Constanza.

[00:02:00.990] – Constanza Roeder
Hey. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:02.380] – Boris
Thank you for joining me today. I’m really happy to have you. I’m excited to learn from you and what you guys have been doing at Hearts Need Art. First, I’ve read your impressive bio. Congratulations on the impressive achievements. And now I’d love to just hear a little bit. What’s your story? How did you get to this point?

[00:02:20.310] – Constanza Roeder
Sure, I will try to keep it short. So in my bio, you mentioned that I’m an adolescent leukemia survivor, which was really an inciting incident in my story. I’ve had several, but that was one of the big ones. I had 130 weeks of chemotherapy when I was going through that ordeal. So most of my high school experience, I was in and out of hospitals and experienced a lot of isolation and frustration and grief and all of the things that you might imagine anyone dealing with cancer might experience, but especially as a young person, there’s a lot of added, like just add being a teenager on top of that. Becomes very complicated.

[00:03:03.090] – Constanza Roeder
But I was really fortunate to still be classified as a pediatric cancer patient because I had access to pediatric services, which included the arts. The arts were really essential piece of how I was able to cope with not just my treatments, but really kind of rebuild my life after I finished that whole process. And I went on to study music and psychology in college. And I moved from my hometown in California to San Antonio, Texas, where I live now. And I started volunteering on an adult oncology unit.

[00:03:42.030] – Constanza Roeder
And I’ve never been in an adult hospital before. So I was in the unit, I was like, “Whoa, this is really different from what I’m used to.” Where are the activities and where is the arts? And where are all the visitors who want to come and make the patients feel better? And there was like none of that. And so many of the patients I worked with were much older than I was when I finished treatment. It’s not like we magically become a completely different species when we turn 18. We still need connection and love and beauty and expression. These are all things that we need throughout our lifetime.

[00:04:17.260] – Constanza Roeder
And so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I just started going room to room and singing for patients. I would bring music to the bedside, and that grew into starting my nonprofit in 2016, where we could bring in other musicians and visual artists and writers to come and bring… to help really… to help keep people from languishing. I guess I’ll use that word because there’s this languishing that can happen when people are left isolated and in their anxiety and depression just because they’re in this healthcare environment, which is kind of an artificial environment we’ve created.

[00:05:01.350] – Constanza Roeder
And so we use the arts to like I said in my bio, to humanize that healthcare experience, to restore some of that. So we’re about to hit our five year mark and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. We have an amazing team and they do awesome work.

[00:05:16.270] – Boris
That sounds great. And I can picture everything that you’re talking about. I’m fortunate that I did not go through quite similar experiences as yours. And I commend you on how you came through it and were able to turn it into a lifelong passion. When we talk about storytelling and you the term inciting incident. And I was actually really interested to hear that you say you’ve had several. I think we all do. And it’s part of how we choose to tell our story, which ones we tend to focus on, which ones we take action on and allow it to lead us down the path of the life that we want to live.

[00:05:52.090] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah, totally.

[00:05:53.420] – Boris
So kudos to you for acting upon it. And now turning it into something…

[00:05:58.490] – Constanza Roeder
I responded to the call.

[00:06:00.790] – Boris
You did. You took up the call to action. I talk about those all the time. And oftentimes it’s not the first call to action someone responds to. It might be the second or third or sometimes fifth. In marketing, they say you have to have at least seven touch points. So you had a long end and harrowing, it sounds, unfortunate experience. But you let that become the call to action and motivation as often we do. We turn our greatest weaknesses and suffering into our greatest strengths and prosperity.

[00:06:34.160] – Boris
So personally, I commend you for doing all that and creating an important organization, I think, because I love arts as most people who have ever listened to the show know. I’m a recovering actor and filmmaker. I did a lot of theater and there’s nothing like that artistic collaboration, that artistic communication. And I say collaboration, I don’t mean between two different artists, I mean between an artist and an audience. To transport them, to get them into a different time and place, which honestly, if you’re suffering from cancer and going through treatment, wow. How valuable…

[00:07:12.320] – Constanza Roeder
You get it!

[00:07:13.630] – Boris
Absolutely. I can easily understand how your work has been impactful and important. And then we had a little something happen around two years ago now, a little less than two years ago in the healthcare space that I would imagine made your work a little bit difficult.

[00:07:34.200] – Constanza Roeder
What? No. That? No. Yes, it did. Yeah, the pandemic— So, all of our programming is in person or was in person. Clue there. And then March of 2020, all of our programs were suspended in the hospital. And so we had to figure out, “Okay, what are we going to do?” Because our patient population, our stakeholders are even more isolated. They’re experiencing even more of the reasons that we’re there in the first place, because now they can’t have any family visitors and they couldn’t leave their rooms like so bad, so bad. Like we have to find a way and we have to find a way to support during this time.

[00:08:21.510] – Constanza Roeder
And so we spent two weeks and we completely overhauled our whole program and put it online so that people could access that. We started live streaming a lot of content, which is a really cool way, because really cool thing is a lot of our donors follow our social media and a lot of our clients follow social media. So we did these live interactive art sessions on social media and they could interact with each other, which is really kind of a special thing that we can’t usually bring a lot of donors into the hospital to kind of see our work. So they got to kind of interact with each other on this virtual platform. And we’ve kept some of those elements that we built in our programming because we found it’s helped us provide a better continuum of care for our patients now as well. So that’s it. Yeah. Interesting time.

[00:09:13.170] – Boris
No doubt, stressful two weeks there that you guys spent overhauling everything. But I hear the outcomes were pretty good. So can you tell us what did you guys come up with and how did it change what you’re doing?

[00:09:26.850] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. So it was kind of on all fronts. Right? So there’s the programming front, but also the fundraising front, which, of course, is common to all nonprofits. So on the programming front, we put together a platform where our clients could schedule sessions directly with their favorite artist or musician or writer, someone on our team, and then they would meet through Zoom. We also did, like I said, the live streaming, we did some group sessions as well. We also kind of put the word out in some of the communication channels that we were connected with in the healthcare community on the national level.

[00:10:08.150] – Constanza Roeder
And so we were able to support groups from around the country. And we still are actually because there’s a lot of groups that have had to shift completely online. We serve a lot of high-risk people that face isolation because they’re immunocompromised. So they’re living pandemic times all the time. So a lot of the social workers we partnered with were having trouble keeping people engaged virtually… the Zoom fatigue is a real thing. So they’ve been bringing us in as like little special fun event things to help keep people engaged so they’re continuing to connect with each other and not just retreating into isolation. Because, yes, virtual is not ideal, but when it’s the only way we can connect, we’ve got to find fun ways—ways to make it fun so people continue to engage. So that’s kind of on the program side of things.

[00:11:05.490] – Constanza Roeder
And then we also built a new program that specifically is supporting healthcare workers. And it’s called… we call it our Gratitude Grams program because the burnout rates are just ridiculous right now. And there’s kind of this mass exodus from the healthcare field because people are tired and they’re burned out. But the data also shows that there’s a 40% decrease in the incidence of burnout when healthcare providers feel valued and when they feel appreciated.

[00:11:40.310] – Constanza Roeder
So we built this program around showing gratitude through the arts. So we put up a platform where people could submit letters of thanks in gratitude to healthcare workers, and they just fill out a simple form on our website. And then we combine those messages with a video from one of our artist, musicians or writers that has an uplifting song or a poem or a prompt or some sort of simple art activity people could do, like on a pad of paper, to shift—take a moment to shift their mindset and help them feel seen and really feel that someone else is holding them in their heart and is really thinking of them and has put some energy into making them feel appreciated.

[00:12:27.550] – Constanza Roeder
And that’s been a really cool program. We have healthcare providers from 30 different healthcare institutions around the country that are enrolled in that program. And we’ve received letters from people all around the country expressing thanks to healthcare workers.

[00:12:41.450] – Constanza Roeder
And that’s been a really cool intersection of the fundraising—like engaging supporters directly in a program that we didn’t really have a mechanism for before. And now it’s been this really beautiful partnership. And people in our community really do genuinely feel grateful for healthcare workers. And now they have kind of an outlet to express that gratitude, even really on a regular basis.

[00:13:12.690] – Constanza Roeder
And we’ve had groups reach out to us and wanting to do something to help. And it’s been a really easy thing that we’ve been able to say, hey, you guys can do this X, Y or Z, and it has this impact, and then they can run with it. It doesn’t require any extra time on our staff, which I know in nonprofit, like when people offer to help, it takes time. There’s an internal cost of that of like, okay, now we have to figure out what they can do and we have to help them do the thing and all that. So this was a repeatable system that helped people feel engaged and supported our clients.

[00:13:51.510] – Boris
There are so many things that I love about that. One, the first, is that you found a way within your mission to create a new program that was entirely… well at this end of it, anyway, entirely digital. That doesn’t require a lot of ongoing cost, a lot of ongoing resources like people power, man hours, woman hours, people hours, and that at the same time, helps achieve your mission by connecting people to the healthcare providers by creating a better atmosphere for everyone involved in that system.

[00:14:30.080] – Constanza Roeder

[00:14:33.310] – Boris
What did it take for you to get that program up? If I’m a nonprofit or a nonprofit program leader and I’m thinking about doing something like this, it may sound resource intensive just to get that going. Can you talk a little bit about what it took for you guys to get that going? What some of the tools that you’re using to make it happen?

[00:14:57.240] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. It’s very simple. It just takes a little bit on the front end to kind of think through what outputs you need, what data does our team need access to in order to make this happen? But we’re using a Google Sheet, and we’re using a mail merge, and that’s it. We also use a Google form that’s connected to the spreadsheet. That’s where kind of the automation comes in. There’s a lot of ways to integrate, especially Google products, which is great, and they’re really accessible. And Zapier has been really useful. We haven’t used Zapier…No, we do use Zapier to send automatic emails when people sign up for the program. So that automates that whole “welcome to the program” part of the program. We built it and then it runs. And as a name shows up and our program coordinator assigns them to an artist, and then they go from there. And the great thing about the format… each person gets assigned a particular artist, but we can scale up as much as we want with very minimal additional costs. So it was a very scalable initiative, which was great.

[00:16:23.960] – Boris
Yeah. I love how simple that is. I mean, I use all of those things all the time. When someone signs up to be on The Nonprofit Hero Factory, for example, they fill out a form, it then get Zapped to an email, to a spreadsheet, all those things. And they’re fairly simple, like plug and play things to set up Zap being Zapier or Zapier implementation. And then what happens once that note is delivered? Do you collect any sort of a feedback? Is that the end of the journey when the note is delivered? Or is that the beginning of the next step? How does it work with you guys?

[00:16:59.260] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. So when a healthcare provider enrolls in the program, they’re enrolled until they say they don’t want to receive messages anymore. So they get regular messages from us, mostly weekly, sometimes every other week. So they get—it’s ongoing. And then we have a survey because, of course, data is really important. Right? We have a survey after they watch their video, they watch their Gratitude Gram. We have a quick survey they can fill out just giving a little bit of feedback how it impacted them in certain areas.

[00:17:33.950] – Constanza Roeder
We’re specifically looking for how it impacted some of the symptoms of burnout, since that’s the real issue right now, and it’s really cool. The data shows that it does. And we’ve actually recently won an award for this program from the National Organization for Arts in Health, a national award in the category of caregiver resilience for the specific purpose. And so they’re reporting that they feel more hopeful, that they feel appreciated, that they feel more energized, that they just appreciate…

[00:18:06.860] – Constanza Roeder
And then we get qualitative data as well, stories about why they signed up, which are so like, Boris, they’re so heartbreaking. Some of them are like, I signed up because I’m looking for a reason to stay in this job. Like I need to remember why I’m doing this or I’ve been in this pandemic for two years and I just want to give up and I need something to lift my spirits. Like just the most heartbreaking stories and we’re not getting all the way to… getting them all the way there. But if we can at least move the needle a little bit and help them feel that their sacrifice that they make every day is seen and it’s important and we value them. That’s the one.

[00:18:55.310] – Boris
Absolutely. It’s that human connectivity, especially at a time when human connectivity is so difficult. And for healthcare workers specifically, the overwhelm that a lot of them have gone through in the past year and a half, two years now is exhausting, so human touch.

[00:19:18.420] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. And we felt it was really important to have some sort of interactive element as well, because, like, okay, I’m on a mailing list where I get an email, that feels kind of impersonal. So regularly we ask, like, “Hey, if you have any requests like special song requests or types of activities you might want to do, let us know.” And then we make them and give them a call out and all these things. So we do try to have touch points.

[00:19:48.160] – Constanza Roeder
The first iteration of the program, which my team like, they nixed—we were creating personalized videos for each person. We would say their name. We would do the song, we would do this whole thing and it was so beautiful. But then we had too many people enrolling, and we’re like, we can’t scale this. So we had to kind of go back to the drawing board. Like how can we keep some of the touch points but also make it scalable? So that’s what we came to.

[00:20:14.820] – Boris
Until you guys get access to the AI and deep-fake technology where you could just mail merge somebody name into a video and you get them to actually say it. It’s already available. I’m not saying you need to jump on it. But it’s doable now.

[00:20:29.130] – Constanza Roeder
Next iteration of the program.

[00:20:31.600] – Boris
Absolutely. And I want to talk about how you guys iterated and how you were able to come up with this stuff. But before we even get there, you talk about the impact that it’s had on the healthcare workers, which, of course, is key to your mission. Have you seen any impact on your donors and your donor base as a whole as well?

[00:20:48.630] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. It’s a really good question. When we were in 2020 going into 2021, we kind of had to rack our brains of, like how do we communicate to our donors that we’re still making an impact, but also we can’t do the work that, like the original work that we said that we were doing? We had to communicate all this new stuff. And so getting people involved in the process of actually engaging with the program, they got to see on the inside, like what the program was. And they got a touch point of actually engaging with it.

[00:21:33.270] – Constanza Roeder
And we expected a lot of… a much higher loss last year from donor support. And we… we may, let’s see… Last year, we were on par, if not a little bit more from individual donors last year. And I think that’s like a huge one because we didn’t have any in-person programs. We couldn’t have any in-person fundraising events. And that meant we were able to keep all of our staff employed, that we were able to keep all of our artists employed at a time when musicians, artists, all of those people that rely on the gig economy had no… we were their only paycheck for months and months at a time until things started opening up.

[00:22:22.920] – Constanza Roeder
And so at a time when our organizations around the country were having to lay people off, we were able to keep everyone employed. And that was our goal. As soon as we were shut down and everything was not looking good, we’re like, “We’re going to do whatever we need to do to find work for you all to do to keep everyone employed.” So that’s a huge win in my book.

[00:22:44.450] – Boris
Congratulations. That is a huge win. And the fact that you were able to keep everybody connected didn’t have a large drop off rate. Which, look, donor retention, regardless of your efforts, is never 100%. But if you could keep on that even scale when everything’s in turmoil or maybe even grow it, then that’s an incredible win. And hopefully it’ll only put you in a place where you could grow a lot more.

[00:23:11.300] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. And we’ve seen, like the digital stuff that we’ve created and the digital platform that we’ve created has created a lot of momentum for us going into 2021, creating our podcast, all like the virtual offerings that we have now. It makes the work that we’re doing more visible, which is imperative for getting people to be like, “Oh, wow. This is cool. I want to support this.” So we’ve seen even more growth this year than… we kind of held steady last year, and we’ve seen a lot of growth and especially those individual donors this year.

[00:23:50.100] – Boris
I think that’s common where when you make a pivot, you first kind of plateau or even dip down a little bit before you can hit that hockey curve that everybody likes to aim for. Once the pandemic is over, which, let’s say in a couple of months, we’re going to be fairly back to normal. Let’s hope.

[00:24:11.910] – Constanza Roeder
Yes. Please.

[00:24:14.130] – Boris
I’m assuming you guys are going to start… if you haven’t already. Actually, maybe I should ask you that first. Have you restarted in-person programming with artists?

[00:24:23.630] – Constanza Roeder
Yes. We were out of the hospitals from March 2020 through April 2021. We were able to go back into the hospitals. And whereas before we were only serving one oncology floor in one hospital, which is still a lot, it was still like 60 beds that we were serving on a daily basis. But because we kept shifting to meet the needs that we were seeing in our healthcare space, the hospitals really took notice. And by the end of the year, we’re going to be in eight facilities. So we went from like one floor before the pandemic to now being in eight different hospitals, serving healthcare workers, playing concerts for them at the nurses stations and serving high-needs patients and stuff like that. So hold on. I got off on a tangent. What was the original question?

[00:25:23.860] – Boris
No, it’s a good tangent.

[00:25:27.020] – Constanza Roeder
Oh, we’re back in person.

[00:25:27.960] – Boris
Yeah. You’re back in person. Are you still continuing the digital programming as well?

[00:25:30.430] – Constanza Roeder
Okay. Yes. So the pieces that we’re keeping are those that are helping us provide that continuum of care. Like I mentioned earlier. So before, especially when we were working with oncology patients, they often have several admissions that they have throughout their course of treatment. So they might be in for a month, and then they’re home for a couple of weeks, and they’re in for another month and home for a couple of weeks. And during those times when they were home, they didn’t have access to the arts because they can’t go to an art class or go to a concert.

[00:26:04.530] – Constanza Roeder
And for a lot of the adults that we’re working with, they’re engaging with us in the arts for the first time. The last time they may have picked up a paintbrush was elementary school. And we kind of reawakened this expressive, creative spirit in them, and they want to keep doing it. And even before the pandemic we’re like, “How do we connect these dots?” Because we want to help them continue to create when they go home.

[00:26:32.860] – Constanza Roeder
So now, they can meet our artist Hannah in the hospital and build a great rapport with her and then schedule Zoom sessions to continue to work with her while they’re at home. And then pick right back up with Hannah when they come back into the hospital with us. So it’s allowing us to provide not just a continuum of care, but a level of accessibility to arts and health that we didn’t have before.

[00:27:00.630] – Boris
That’s wonderful. And this trend, this movement to digital—pandemic or not—it’s inevitable. It will only grow. I don’t think it’ll ever replace live theater. Hopefully not live performance.

[00:27:12.810] – Constanza Roeder
Please, no.

[00:27:14.970] – Boris
But it is a way for you guys specifically, but for all organizations to reach more people to be able to have an impact that’s more scalable than the one-to-one that you are offering or the in person real time, if you will, synchronous time that most organizations have relied on especially in the arts, but in all kinds of services.

[00:27:40.050] – Constanza Roeder
And one of the great things because we do surveys with our patients as well, and we were using kind of the same survey. We adjusted a little bit for the specific—some specific questions about the tech side of things that were… anyway, that wouldn’t be applicable in the hospital, but all of the measures held pretty strongly. So still, they were rating really highly that the activity helped reduce their pain levels, that their anxiety went down, that their depressive symptoms went down. The only one that was significantly different was isolation, that it was still beneficial, but not as beneficial. The numbers weren’t as good as when we were in the hospital. We expected that, but it was great to be able to see that it still was having good impact even though it was digital.

[00:28:30.420] – Boris
And that totally makes sense. We don’t want technology to replace humanity. We wanted to amplify it. We want it to be able to reach more people. And it sounds like the way that you’ve got things set up, it’s scalable. And as you were talking, I was thinking, I hope that you keep improving on the scalability factor, on the systemization and technology of it, because eight facilities is great. But what if another organization wants to or another group wants to start this up in California where you’re from, or on the East Coast or in the middle of the country somewhere in Chicago or someplace else? Can you start now basically almost franchising this model so that more organizations can start up doing it or your organization can grow out and reach just a whole lot more people that really need the service?

[00:29:18.090] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. And that’s a question we ask ourselves all the time. We’re in this real emerging field. Well, it’s kind of beyond emerging. It’s really popping up all over Arts in Health. And the National Organization for Arts in Health has done a great job of helping to get organizations like ours together so we can see different program models and collaborate. And there are organizations around the country that are doing similar work. But there’s such a huge need.

[00:29:47.970] – Constanza Roeder
We’re always asking ourselves that question: what is our role here with the people in front of us? And then what is our role in the larger mission of arts in health? This should be standard of care. The arts have always been a part of our healing practices and rituals throughout human history. It’s what we instinctively go to when we’re feeling dysregulated and it’s because it is the ultimate regulator. We express those hard emotions. We stay grounded in our bodies while we’re doing that, when we’re moving, when we’re speaking all these things that we do in the arts, these actions that we do in the arts are the trauma research that’s happening around the power of arts engagement is really pretty amazing. And it’s kind of like, duh, like duh, this is why we have the arts, right?

[00:30:43.350] – Constanza Roeder
Anyway, like I said, we’re always asking ourselves, what kind of role can we play? And so that’s where we went into. Okay, we want to elevate these stories. We wanted to start our podcast. I’m interested in learning more about this field of arts and health and how different people apply the arts to tackle different problems in the world.

[00:31:07.390] – Constanza Roeder
You might be interested in our podcast. It’s called Arts for the Health of It. We talk to people all over the world that are doing just the most amazing work with all kinds of different populations. So that’s one way that we saw that we could elevate the work that’s happening throughout the field. But, yes, that’s kind of our next thought is, okay, how do we continue to activate and equip people to do this work, too?

[00:31:33.510] – Boris
Very cool. I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with. I wanted to ask you, though, a lot of organizations are facing similar issues, have been facing them for a couple of years, have found their own solutions. Yours, we could certainly say, considering everything that you’ve told us about it has been successful. To what do you attribute your success, your ability to come up with programs like this and implement things like this? What might other organizations look at and try to mimic in your processes or in your infrastructure so that they can do more of this as well.

[00:32:06.680] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah, that’s a good question. So there’s been a lot of emphasis over the past several decades on STEM and technical skills, but because technology is so accessible now and is also changing so quickly, creativity is a much more important skill in the emerging economy. So none of the people on our team, we’re all millennials Gen Zers. So we’re a fairly young group which hugely work to our benefit, but we’re also creative and so we could learn different pieces of technology and come up with creative applications for that technology.

[00:32:49.450] – Constanza Roeder
So you don’t necessarily need special skills, but you need people who can think creatively and problem solve creatively with the tools that are accessible and you can do it for much lower cost than you might think. There are so many resources out there for free techs for nonprofits, for discounted tech for nonprofits that are really easy to use. Whenever there’s like a new tech thing that I want, like a new software I want to use, I always email them and say, “Hey, we’re a nonprofit, we do blah, blah, blah.” And not once have I gotten someone that’s like, “No, we don’t have a nonprofit discount or no.” They’ve always been like, “Oh, yeah, we can do something special for you.”

[00:33:28.990] – Constanza Roeder
So that’s what I’d say is get creative. If you don’t have young people on your team, we got to lean into our young people right now. Find some interns back in because they have a good pulse on where things are going and we need to pay attention to that.

[00:33:49.870] – Boris
Absolutely. Are there any tools that you recommend to organizations that you guys like that have been working for you at this time? I always like to ask for tools or resources.

[00:34:01.060] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. I’ll give a shout out to Qgiv, which is our donation platform. We’ve had it the whole time we’ve been an organization and they’re amazing. They’re constantly taking feedback from their clients and adjusting to their offerings to support changes in the economy, in the pandemic. One of the great things that they started doing is their peer to peer campaigns now connects with Facebook fundraisers. So we had Readathon at the beginning of this year. It was an all online peer to peer campaign. Seven days. People could create stuff and post it with the hashtag and raise money for our cause.

[00:34:46.920] – Constanza Roeder
And we made more than we expected to make, which is great. But that connection between the Qgiv platform and Facebook fundraisers was really helpful, but on top of that, they provide great and really relevant training around their tools and ways. They had all kinds of support to help their clients shift from in-person fundraisers to virtual fundraisers. And they’ve just been really great partners along the journey.

[00:35:19.100] – Boris
Wonderful. There are a lot of great giving platforms out there. Glad to hear that Qgiv is doing such great work. I’m actually going to be working with them a little bit next year. So I’m excited that people are supporting or appreciating the work that they’re putting out there.

[00:35:32.771] – Constanza Roeder

[00:35:33.230] – Boris
So I really appreciate your times and I want to be respectful of yours and our audience, but I don’t want to let you go before I ask you, what’s your call to action for anyone who’s been listening to this episode or watching us or even reading it online? Now that we’re primed and ready to dig further, what’s your call to action to learn more about you and the work that you guys are doing?

[00:35:57.230] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. Go to our website, heartsneedart.org. There’s not a person listening to this that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic, that hasn’t been helped by people in healthcare. And if you want to get involved in helping us show appreciation for people in healthcare, you can go to our website and click on the Gratitude Grams tab, and you can write a note to healthcare providers, and that will go out in this week’s group of emails that we send to them and messages that we give to them when we’re in the hospital.

[00:36:26.750] – Constanza Roeder
And then, like I said earlier, you can follow us on our podcast Arts for the Health of It to learn more about this type of work and how you can use the arts to tackle important problems in the world. And you might be surprised. There might be people that you relate to that are doing work with the population you’re working with and maybe are using the arts in a way you haven’t thought of. So I’d encourage you to check out the resource too.

[00:36:51.860] – Boris
Wonderful. We’re going to of course link to those, to Qgiv, to your podcast and to the Gratitude Grams. I do recommend that anybody listening. If you’re not sure how this works or how easy or difficult it is to set up, go check out their page. They did a great job of laying it out, of telling a story, and then making it super easy for someone to jump in and get involved. So do it. Send a message to a healthcare worker that will only be a good thing, and at the same time steal from their playbook, see how they’re doing it so that you can also incorporate some sort of process similar to this, a new program or an adaptation to your current program that will help you reach more people regardless of pandemics or no pandemics by using technology to leverage and amplify your work.

[00:37:36.170] – Constanza Roeder
The best artists riff off of other artists. So you have my permission.

[00:37:40.610] – Boris
Yeah. Is it Picasso or somebody said that good artists borrow great artists steal or something like that?

[00:37:48.690] – Constanza Roeder
Yes, I think that is the Picasso quote.

[00:37:51.890] – Boris
I apologize if I misquoted Picasso. No disrespect to him and all of his admirers myself being one of them. Anyway, Constanza, thank you so much for joining us today and telling us all about this program and what you guys have been up to over at Hearts Need Art.

[00:38:07.430] – Constanza Roeder
Thank you for having me. This was great.

[00:38:09.710] – Boris
And thank you everybody for joining us and listening in today or watching. However you subscribe or consume this content, I hope you’re enjoying it. I hope you’re learning, getting lessons from people like Constanza that you can implement in your own organization to create more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us.

[00:38:27.010] – Boris
And if you do like this show, please, please, give us a rating. Leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform so that more nonprofit professionals like yourself can discover it and get advice to improve their own programming as well. Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you next week.

[00:38:44.630] – Outro
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:

  • Constanza’s story began with her own health struggles as an adolescent leukemia patient. But it wasn’t until she volunteered in a hospital as an adult that she realized that there was something lacking in the system. This was the call to action in her hero’s journey, which led to the formation of Hearts Need Art. (2:20)
  • We don’t always respond to the first call to action in life. Sometimes it takes many calls before we answer the call. Often, when that call relates to our greatest weaknesses, we find our greatest strengths. (5:53)
  • Hearts Need Art was serving patients in hospitals, in person. The pandemic upended their ability to provide their services and they had to get creative. (7:21)
    • In response, they took two weeks to overhaul their programming and create new, digital-first programs that served their community and had additional benefits.
  • They designed an online system for clients to schedule sessions with their favorite artists through Zoom. They also invited supporters in on the livestreams, allowing them unprecedented access to the work being done. (9:26)
    • Using the online tools, they’re now able to scale that program on a national level even as they’re returning to in-person work at hospitals.
  • They created “Gratitude Grams” — an entirely new online program supporting healthcare workers, who needed moral and emotional support as they were dealing with the crisis on the frontlines. (11:05)
    • The program allows anyone to submit a thank you note to healthcare workers that would get delivered digitally by Hearts Need Art, along with creative content from musicians, writers or artists.
    • Healthcare workers from over 30 institutions have signed up to receive these messages.
  • Without any geographical constraints, Gratitude Grams has allowed people all over the country to participate, and for the program to scale at practically no additional resource cost to Hearts Need Art. (13:12)
  • Creating online programs like these doesn’t have to be an extensive or expensive endeavor. In their case, Hearts Need Art used off-the-shelf, free and nearly free tools like Google Forms, Google Sheets and Zapier to automate most of the processes. (14:33)
  • Opting to participate in the program is just the beginning. Hearts Need Art includes data collection tools in the process to continually get feedback that they can take right back to their program managers for adjustments, and their supporters for validation. (16:45)
    • They determine ahead of time what areas of impact they want to measure, and then include a quick survey with every message that allows them to collect the data and stories they need.
    • The program has won an award from the National Organization for Arts in Health
  • With the feedback they collect, they’re able to keep the experience personal while also iterating for scalability. (19:18)
  • The inability to deliver on their original promise to donors (of in-person programming), they were naturally worried that most donors would drop off. Through careful communication and setting new expectations, Hearts Need Art was actually able to retain and grow their overall donor base in 2020 and has grown even more in 2021. (20:48)
    • They were also, therefore, keep their artists employed at a time when artists were struggling.
  • Even though they are now able to provide their programming in person, they are keeping a lot of the digital programs in place because it has helped them reach more patients with a greater continuum of care, and more supporters at the same time. (25:27)
  • While it doesn’t replicate the in-person benefits completely, the scalability has allowed Hearts Need Art to reach more people and has put them on a path to potentially expanding well beyond what they were able to do prior to the pandemic. (29:22)
  • Constanza attributes much of their success to a few factors, including having a young, creative team around her that is always looking for new, creative ways to do things. Technology is available and can be outsourced, and can often be found for free or at a discount for nonprofits. (31:37)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Constanza Roeder

Constanza Roeder

Founder and CEO, Hearts Need Art

Constanza Roeder is the founder and CEO of Hearts Need Art: Creative Support for Patients and Caregivers and host of the podcast “Arts for the Health of It.” Ms. Roeder was selected as one of the Top 100 Healthcare Visionaries by the International Forum on Advancements in Healthcare for 2021. As a singer, adolescent leukemia survivor, speaker, and thought leader in the field of Arts in Health, Constanza is on a mission to humanize healthcare through the arts.

Connect with Constanza Roeder

EP37 - Alex Wilson - Featured

Episode 37: Decrypting Crypto for Nonprofits—Bitcoin Donations and Beyond, with Alex Wilson

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 37

Decrypting Crypto for Nonprofits—Bitcoin Donations and Beyond, with Alex Wilson

In this Episode:

What happens when socially conscious millennials and others profit billions of dollars from cryptocurrency investments? They look for ways that their windfall can help those less fortunate.

This year, one platform alone will handle over $100 million in cryptocurrency donations to nonprofits. And they expect it to 10x next year.

What started out as a novelty in the tech and finance space has now turned into a three trillion dollar movement that impacts most aspects of life today. Yet, it still seems complex (cryptic?) for nonprofits to get involved. Between the technical aspects and the legal implications, most nonprofits have been hesitant to dive in.

Alex Wilson co-founded The Giving Block when he saw that nonprofits had a hard time overcoming the hurdles necessary to accept and process Bitcoin donations. He joined us this episode to demystify cryptocurrency donations for nonprofits and why it’s important to join the movement sooner rather than later.

[00:00:04.370] – 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.

[00:00:20.970] – Boris
Hi everybody and welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today is one of my favorite topics of late. I’ve been studying it a bunch lately. I think it’s got so much possibility for good and for humanity as a whole, whether it’s going to nonprofits or ways that it can revolutionize the way that we do so many things, including finances. It is the subject of cryptocurrency and on a broader level, the blockchain technology and I was very excited to get the co-founder and I believe CEO, he could correct me if I’m wrong of The Giving Block, Alex Wilson to come on the show.

[00:00:56.910] – Boris
Alex was formerly a management consultant where he worked with Fortune 500 companies to develop strategies around emerging tech like AI, IoT, Blockchain and cryptocurrency. As he went down the cryptocurrency rabbit hole as I’m doing right now, he began investing in and advising early stage cryptocurrency startups. Now he’s turned his attention to the nonprofit world, where he equips nonprofits to accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency donations with The Giving Block.

[00:01:25.110] – Boris
Founded in 2018, The Giving Block is the leading crypto philanthropy platform, making cryptocurrency fundraising easy for nonprofits while empowering donors to give Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to their favorite causes.

[00:01:38.730] – Boris
When I asked Alex what his superpower is, he quite simply said, it’s helping nonprofits fundraise crypto. Let’s bring him on to the show to talk to us about that and why it’s so important. Hey, Alex.

[00:01:49.230] – Alex Wilson
Hey, Boris. Thanks for having me on today.

[00:01:51.330] – Boris
It’s awesome to have you. As I said in the intro, I’m really excited about this because I want to learn more about it and about the way that you guys work and definitely share this opportunity with organizations that may or may not already be considering it, but definitely should as I think will make the case today. Before we get into that though, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, Alex? What’s your story? Why are you doing this?

[00:02:13.050] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So the back story, it’s pretty interesting, actually. Like you said, before starting this, I was a management consultant. Back then it was kind of the first time crypto and blockchain sort of went mainstream for the first time. You might have seen headlines about Bitcoin hitting 20,000 for the first time in end of 2017, basically.

[00:02:32.970] – Alex Wilson
Around that time a bit earlier, I got really, really into just trading and investing in cryptocurrency and was basically obsessed. I was like, I want to do nothing but think about crypto all the time and was thinking through basically different applications for it. And by the end of 2017, started to notice people, of course, making a lot of money as the market grew and also looking for ways to donate some of that Bitcoin or other crypto back to nonprofits. And we found that there were very few nonprofits accepting crypto at that time and there wasn’t a very easy way to accept crypto.

[00:03:09.570] – Alex Wilson
My co-founder, who was a good college friend of mine, Pat Duffy, he happened to be working at a nonprofit at the time and I dragged him into trading crypto, kind of kicking and screaming at first. He was a bit of a skeptic, but we started talking more and more about crypto and different applications. And in December of 2017, we saw something on Reddit called The Pineapple Fund. The quick story on that is this was an anonymous donor who posted on Reddit saying, “I’ve made a lot of money investing in Bitcoin and now I want to give a lot of that money away.” And essentially said, “Hey, nonprofits apply for some of this money, in this case Bitcoin, below in the comments.”

[00:03:48.210] – Alex Wilson
And they stayed totally anonymous and ended up donating about $56 million worth of Bitcoin to about 60 different nonprofits. And for many of those nonprofits, that was their first time accepting a Bitcoin donation or any type of crypto donation. And we saw that there essentially wasn’t a very good way of accepting crypto. There was a lot more we could be doing. So in 2018, Pat and I essentially decided to start The Giving Block and now we’re here.

[00:04:20.130] – Boris
And now you’re here. Clearly, there is opportunity. Clearly, there is need. I mean, talk about the market driving the need. We’re talking the donors want it. So it definitely behooves organizations to be able to accept it and to work with it, assuming that it’s a good idea for them specifically, which I want to dive into when it is and when it isn’t. But first, there’s a lot of terms out there. Hopefully most of our listeners already know what cryptocurrency is, what blockchain is, what Bitcoin is. But can you give us just a 30-second primer on the subject so that we’re all up to speed?

[00:04:56.430] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. 30-second primer and I guess first to start with a couple of terms to clarify. So there’s Bitcoin, which is the first cryptocurrency. Now, there is thousands of cryptocurrencies out there and the underlying technology that most of these are using are called blockchain. So Bitcoin is still the largest and most well known. Cryptocurrency, for the sake of explaining it, we’ll pretend we’re just talking about Bitcoin.

[00:05:21.690] – Alex Wilson
So with Bitcoin, one thing that’s made it so popular and so unique is it’s essentially a way of democratizing access to financial services. It’s not backed by or controlled by any one company, country, or anything like that. It’s essentially governed and managed by the community and the users, so anyone can use it at any time. It never closes, it never goes down. You can send money around the world 24/7 and it’s incredibly transformative for a lot of use cases.

[00:05:55.770] – Alex Wilson
And one of them is actually… one of the reasons it’s been in the headlines so much is because there’s only ever going to be 21 million Bitcoin. So there’s built in scarcity of it. And the reason that’s particularly relevant right now is because people are more worried than ever about things like inflation, where the cost of things are going up and the value of the US dollar is worth a lot less than it used to be. So people are looking at Bitcoin as sort of this digital gold or this alternative store of value. And that’s one of the reasons it’s really picked up in recent years.

[00:06:27.870] – Boris
Very cool. That’s a great explanation. There’s a lot of other applications that are happening on the blockchain that I’m excited about also that I’m hoping nonprofits are going to be able to start capitalizing on soon, but definitely cryptocurrency and Bitcoin as the biggest one is the most important thing that they need to be thinking about right now. So what are you seeing out there in the nonprofit sector since you guys started three years ago? What’s been going on in terms of cryptocurrency and donations for nonprofits?

[00:06:57.990] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. I mean, it’s probably not surprising to hear that it’s really picked up especially in the last year and a half, two years. The first year was pretty tough, convincing nonprofits to be accepting crypto and not that many others are doing it. But Interestingly, most of our early clients were actually nonprofits who were already accepting crypto because of those Pineapple Fund donations, but they weren’t happy with how they were accepting crypto. So we set out with a mission of creating a better way for them to accept crypto.

[00:07:26.070] – Alex Wilson
So for the first year or two, we didn’t have a ton of clients. Now it’s taken off dramatically and we have over 700 nonprofits working with us and we expect to be working with over a thousand nonprofits before the year is over. And I think nonprofits are starting to realize what a huge, untapped market this is. And it’s important that nonprofits really think about this as a totally new donor demographic and not just a donation method. And nonprofits, I think, are often surprised to hear how big this market is, too.

[00:07:57.870] – Alex Wilson
I mean, the cryptocurrency market as a whole, the market cap is more than $3 trillion now. People are usually surprised to hear that number. And there’s over 200 million users around the world using crypto and that number is about doubling every year. So it’s a huge market and there’s a lot of opportunity and donation volume and the number of nonprofits accepting crypto is increasing dramatically. But there’s still a lot of opportunity to be an early mover and a relatively first mover as a nonprofit since not everyone is accepting crypto yet.

[00:08:31.710] – Boris
Those are some great numbers and stats there. Do you know—or maybe you know at least through your platform about how much has been donated with cryptocurrency over the last, let’s say, year?

[00:08:43.290] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So this year alone we’ll process over 100 million in donations…

[00:08:47.570] – Boris
That’s amazing!

[00:08:49.290] – Alex Wilson
which is pretty amazing. And we’re expecting to do about a billion next year based on our projections of new clients coming online and partners.

[00:08:57.750] – Boris
Wow. Okay. Okay. That definitely should alert everyone out there that’s listening that this is not something that’s just a fad, which I know a lot of people think Bitcoin is pure speculation, which there is a lot of speculation involved in that, but it’s real and it’s being used and you’re either taking advantage of it or you’re missing out at this point.

[00:09:19.950] – Alex Wilson

[00:09:20.310] – Boris
So why would… let’s talk about this donor demographic that you’re talking about. I talk about avatars all the time and I think it’s the same thing. What is the donor avatar that is going to be donating? How are they different whether they’re donating in USD or in stock or in cryptocurrency? What sets them apart?

[00:09:42.690] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So the interesting thing about this demographic is and maybe it’s not surprising, but they tend to be younger. Right? A lot of millennials and Gen Z’s were the early adopters of crypto. And over time, as this goes a bit more mainstream and big companies getting involved that will normalize in terms of the ages of people involved. But right now, still pretty heavily millennial-Gen Z. They are, of course, very, very tech savvy. And often they have pretty much all of their investments in crypto. Right? They prefer investing in crypto and holding crypto than stocks or other traditional asset types.

[00:10:17.130] – Alex Wilson
So we’re finding with these donors that they tend to be relatively wealthy. I mean, the average crypto user has an income over $100,000 a year. And because of that, we’re also seeing high average donation sizes. So average donation size over $10,000. So more than ten times the industry average for a credit card donation. And beyond that, they continue to have a lot of interest in supporting crypto adoption. Right? Like crypto made them a lot of money and they have an interest in seeing crypto continue to succeed. So they get really excited when nonprofits start accepting crypto, they start talking about crypto. It’s in some ways also very validating for them.

[00:11:02.370] – Boris
Yeah. So by donating, they’re kind of evangelizing—at the same time—cryptocurrency?

[00:11:07.890] – Alex Wilson
Exactly. Yep. And we push that messaging, right? Like, the more you donate crypto, the good thing for the entire industry.

[00:11:13.710] – Boris
So I understand that for sure in terms of evangelism. But are there any other reasons why don’t they first convert? For example, if they believe in a nonprofit, why not convert their Bitcoin or their Ethereum, whatever it might be into US dollars and then donate?

[00:11:30.690] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So great point. And the simple answer is for tax reasons. And if you’re familiar with how it works for donating stocks to a 501(c)(3), with crypto it’s very, very similar. And the reason for that is because the IRS has classified crypto as property. So as a donor, when you donate your Bitcoin or other crypto to a nonprofit, the donor does not have to pay capital gains tax on the appreciated crypto, and they get a fair market value on the donation at the time of donation.

[00:12:00.270] – Alex Wilson
So as an example, let’s say someone has $100,000 in Bitcoin. If they donate that one Bitcoin directly to the charity, they get a write off for the full value of that Bitcoin, and the charity receives the full value of the Bitcoin. Versus, if they sell the Bitcoin first for us dollars, they’re then going to have to pay, let’s say, 20% to 30% tax on it and then donate the remaining 70% to 80% of what the full value would have been. So it’s really a win-win for both sides. And of course, the nonprofits aren’t having to pay tax on either because they’re tax exempt.

[00:12:37.530] – Boris
That is a great explanation, which really clarifies why accepting Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies is smart for organizations due—for lack of a better word and a smart way for savvy crypto investors to also be donating instead of converting it back and forth. But we know that although it’s volatile overall, Bitcoin specifically has shot up. I think most of the cryptocurrencies, except maybe for what was the one based on the Netflix series that just went to zero?

[00:13:15.310] – Alex Wilson
Squid Game.

[00:13:15.550] – Boris
Yeah. Squid Game had the Squid coin. That one went to zero. So that was clearly not a good idea. But everything else Bitcoin is now at what? Over $60,000?

[00:13:24.130] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. It’s actually more like $68,000 even today. And that’s a really good point that I just remembered something I wanted to bring up, too. A lot of these donors are going to their financial advisors and saying like, I need to donate some to offset my taxes, what should I donate? And the short answer they’re usually getting is whatever asset has appreciated the most for you, donate that first. And for most people, that tends to be crypto because in both the last five year and ten year period, it’s the best depreciating asset class in the world. So for most people, it’s the most tax efficient way for them to give.

[00:14:00.970] – Boris
Awesome. Alright. So, assuming that our listeners are still with us and fascinated by this subject and are already sold let’s say to some degree on the idea of accepting cryptocurrency, what does it take for them to do it? What does it take for them to get set up to accept crypto with or without your services?

[00:14:19.090] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So we can do a kind of in parallel of what it looks like with us versus kind of trying to do it on your own. The first thing is, you need a cryptocurrency wallet to be able to accept these donations. Getting that wallet set up could be compared to, from a process perspective, like opening let’s say a bank account. Because the cryptocurrency exchanges where crypto is traded are regulated in a very similar way to banks, so they have to collect information about your organization. They have to know who’s going to be using the account and what the purpose is, things like that.

[00:14:54.010] – Alex Wilson
So whether you work with us or someone else, that’s always going to be part of it. There’s a pretty stringent compliance process to this, which is part of the onboarding. If you’re working with us, we also have a donation widget and a fundraising platform where we’d help you get donations. We’ve really worked hard to develop the full ecosystem of what it takes to fundraise crypto beyond just accepting crypto.

[00:15:21.010] – Alex Wilson
If you want to take crypto on your own, it’s certainly possible. It’s a bit technical and confusing, but you certainly can do it. But you’re going to be pretty limited in finding nonprofit-specific solutions, even ways of collecting donor info. You won’t be able to automatically convert the donations necessarily, or automatically tax receipt them. So it’ll be essentially much more manual and time consuming if you do it on your own. But you certainly can do it on your own. And we’ve seen plenty of nonprofits start that way and then kind of graduate to working with us when they found it’s taken too long or been too confusing.

[00:15:52.450] – Alex Wilson
And for us, we’re really trying to help nonprofits fundraise crypto, not just accept it. So we’re doing campaigns. We’re having one on one meetings with our client success team to help you market this. We always joke that we’re trying to keep the nonprofits from writing Bitcoin as two words on Twitter, because if you do, you might scare them away. There’s a lot of nuance to the marketing and the fundraising even with how you talk about it and when you talk about it, all that kind of stuff.

[00:16:18.070] – Boris
So you mentioned that you help them learn about the donors. Is that right? Because I know there are some laws about know your customer, that people need to collect certain information. Right? Everybody knows—that’s heard of Bitcoin—everybody knows that hackers like to ransom in Bitcoin and that it’s a great vehicle for money laundering. And obviously nonprofits don’t want any sort of connection with that whatsoever. So how does it work in terms of when you get a donation? How much do you need to know about your donor in this case? And how do you track that and report that?

[00:16:52.510] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, definitely. So that’s a really common sort of misconception that comes up as they’re like, “Oh, wait. I thought only criminals use crypto, right?” Or something like that. And it’s actually kind of the opposite. I mean, Bitcoin and crypto is the most transparent form of money ever created. And there’s even some interesting stories where the FBI and DEA have publicly said they wished everyone used crypto because it would be so much easier to follow the money.

[00:17:17.410] – Alex Wilson
If you remember that big Twitter incident where a lot of celebrity accounts were taken over and hacked and people were trying to basically get money from people, they only caught the person who did that because they used Bitcoin and were able to follow the money. If they dropped a duffel bag full of cash off somewhere much, much harder to trace than Bitcoin since every transaction is permanent and public.

[00:17:39.370] – Alex Wilson
But anyway, on the donor side of this, most nonprofits are applying whatever their existing gift acceptance policy is. So you have the option of taking anonymous gifts if your gift acceptance policy allows for that, or you can require every donor leaves their name, email address, or other information you might want to collect. What we’re finding is, though, even for the nonprofits that allow anonymous donations, the smaller gifts will often be anonymous because they don’t want to fill anything out for $50 donation, but the larger ones, let’s say $10,000 and up tend to not be anonymous because people want credit for them and often recognition.

[00:18:19.270] – Alex Wilson
So you won’t see too many anonymous million dollar gifts even if you’re willing to accept them. In the background too we’re also running scans using blockchain analytics to monitor all the incoming transactions, make sure they aren’t coming from any illicit sources and things like that.

[00:18:35.830] – Boris
Are there like repositories of, or databases of wallets that are known to be associated with fraudulent activity that you guys scan for or how does that work?

[00:18:45.010] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, exactly. So there is lists from OFAC and FinCEN they call it like the blocked list that can be compared against to make sure you’re not taking any donations from those.

[00:18:55.810] – Boris
Cool. So when it comes to the donations, let’s say we’ve decided to accept crypto donations whether we’re working with Giving Block or we’re doing it on our own. How do we then need to report these donations in our annual filings? Is it money? Is it property? Is it some other asset class? What is it?

[00:19:14.890] – Alex Wilson
Yes, it is property. So you’ll record it very similar to stock donations if you’re already taking stock, so it’s going to be reported as a non-cash contribution, and you fill out the same forms as you normally would for that.

[00:19:27.070] – Boris
But then are you actually receiving… but you are actually receiving cash, aren’t you? If you’re converting it back out. Or is it only… when do you—I guess I’m trying to figure out, if you’re accepting Bitcoin and holding it, is that one kind of filing versus if you’re accepting Bitcoin and then instantly flipping it back to USD or whatever denomination your organization operates in, does that work differently?

[00:19:50.590] – Alex Wilson
There’s a little bit of nuance with that difference, but in general, in both cases, even if it’s automatically being converted, you’re still technically getting crypto for a split second before it converts. So you’re technically still getting the non-cash asset before it’s converted to cash. The place where the nuance comes in if you’re holding crypto, is I believe there’s different filing requirements if you hold an investment for more than three years. I’m not an accountant or an attorney myself, but just from talking to clients, I’ve heard of that nuance once it becomes three years.

[00:20:26.170] – Boris
All right. Cool. So it’s coming up on end of year really fast. I know GivingTuesday… I get their newsletters and they’re talking every single week, “hey, counting down, counting down, counting down.” Most organizations have been planning their year end fundraising campaigns for over a month now, at least. I’m just checking my calendar. We’re almost midway into November. There’s not a lot of time left before they’re doing their full blast. Is it too late to get involved this year? Should they already be thinking for next year instead?

[00:20:56.710] – Alex Wilson
They can certainly still get involved in this year, but definitely going to have to move pretty quickly. So our end-of-year plan, we run Crypto GivingTuesday, and that starts on GivingTuesday the same day on the 30th. And we run that in parallel. And then we do a month-long campaign in December, which we call Bag Season. We’ve got different initiatives throughout that month-long campaign. For example, this year, for the first time, we’re doing NFTuesday, which is basically GivingTuesday but for NFT-related philanthropy, which has been amazing, seen a huge boom in that. Many multimillion dollar donations coming out of that.

[00:21:31.870] – Alex Wilson
And another new thing we have this year, too, is our Crypto Giving Pledge, which is our spin on the traditional giving pledge that Gates and Buffett started but for high net worth individuals in the crypto community. We’ve got charity concerts. We’ve got all sorts of stuff going on throughout December. So even if you aren’t set up for the 30th of November, there’s plenty to catch for the whole month of December and we expect to raise more in December than the rest of the year combined. So even if you only catch a week or two in December, it’s still definitely worth your time because this isn’t going away and then you’ll be set up for all of next year, too.

[00:22:05.830] – Boris
How long does it take to get fully set up and started with you guys?

[00:22:09.130] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. Usually about a week on average.

[00:22:11.590] – Boris
Okay. So definitely still some time there. And then you mentioned GivingTuesday and your own spin on GivingTuesday. They’re an amazing organization. I love them. And they provide all kinds of marketing collateral, if you will. Copy for your newsletters or social media. Do you guys do all that kind of fun stuff too?

[00:22:28.030] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, we do. We send all of our clients what we call a marketing toolkit, which is going to be this long document of like when and how to talk about this and post on social media, put stuff in your newsletter. It’s going to say, all right, on the 30th you post this, on the 5 December, we recommend posting something along the lines of this, and a lot of it can be copy-and-pasted or slightly tweaked to incorporate your mission. Things like that.

[00:22:53.230] – Boris
Cool. You mentioned NFTs too. So obviously those are hot right now in terms of buzz if nothing else. A lot of art is going in the direction of NFT as well as other products and projects as well. So how does it work to… are you accepting NFTS on someone’s behalf, or what is it that you guys are doing with NFTuesday?

[00:23:16.450] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So with NFTuesday, what we’re generally encouraging creators or artists or NFT platforms to do is to donate a portion of their NFT sale proceeds to charities that they care about. Because one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is when you sell an NFT, you’re actually getting cryptocurrency. So now those creators get a lot of cryptocurrency and they want to be able to donate some of that crypto for the same tax benefits that we talked about earlier. Because when they’re selling their NFTs, they’re creating huge taxable gains when they sell the NFT and donating some of that crypto directly afterwards is a great way for them to reduce some of that tax burden. So we’re seeing huge, huge demand for that. And I mean, millions of dollars a month being donated from NFT creators.

[00:24:05.830] – Boris
So you guys are doing a lot of the work in terms of marketing this. You’re already out there talking to them and trying to create these campaigns, really on behalf of nonprofits and the nonprofit world as a whole, which is pretty cool. I’m sure you’re not just doing this out of the goodness of your heart. How does it work? Although obviously you are to some degree because you wouldn’t be working with nonprofits. How does it work in terms of your donation platform and fees? I know most CRMs and donation management systems take either a percentage or have set up fees and annual fees. How do you guys work?

[00:24:42.970] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. So we are very intentional in keeping this a familiar model. So, very standardized in the sense of it’s just like any other fundraising platform. We have a handful of different packages you can choose from. They start at $2,500 a year, and they go up from there basically, depending on how much hands on support you want from us and how much customization you want in building a crypto fundraising program.

[00:25:08.050] – Alex Wilson
So 2,500 will get you set up. You’ll still get support. You’ll still get help from our client success team fundraising crypto. But some, like American Cancer Society, some of the larger groups, they want to create a crypto research fund and really go all out on this and market it a ton. So some of it also depends on how much the nonprofit wants to do more passively or proactively when it comes to talking about and fundraising crypto. And then there’s also a transaction fee component to it as well, which is very similar to what you’d be paying on other fundraising platforms.

[00:25:40.870] – Boris
So like a Stripe or PayPal kind of fee.

[00:25:42.910] – Alex Wilson

[00:25:44.950] – Boris
Interesting. All right. Very cool. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you think organizations should know if they’re considering starting up with crypto donations.

[00:25:54.130] – Alex Wilson
I mean, the main thing is the sooner you get started, the more you’re going to benefit. Don’t put this off for too long because I can guarantee you crypto is not going away. The rate of growth is unbelievable and this isn’t going to become maybe 20% of your budget every year right away. But over time, it’s going to be a bigger and bigger part of donations in general. And there certainly is a big advantage of being one of the early movers, because these donors are going to remember who these early adopters were. Right now is the time to start building the relationships with these donors for their entire life. And right now you’re only competing with about 700 other nonprofits instead of 1.5 million nonprofits that take credit card donations. So huge opportunity to kind of get some market share in a sense.

[00:26:41.830] – Boris
I love that you said it’s about building relationships early on and it is absolutely critical. And I’m glad that earlier you also said that most donors do choose to give their information even if it’s not required by nonprofit because they want that recognition. But you also want to develop a relationship with them once you have the information. You want to obviously engage with them over time, whether it’s just thanking them or showing what the impact of their work is, which hopefully you’re doing as well, their donations. I should say.

[00:27:10.090] – Boris
Building that relationship is critical and getting a reputation for an organization that accepts cryptocurrency that is going to then engage with the donors around that maybe is forward thinking in general, because like you said, very small percentage of the entire nonprofit landscape is accepting cryptocurrency. Obviously the ones that are appear to be more tech savvy, more forward thinking. And so they’ll attract that kind of avatar as well. I think that’s absolutely critical. I love that you said that. So if nonprofits want to get started, are there any tools to look into?

[00:27:47.770] – Alex Wilson
Yeah. The easiest way is just to start learning a bit about cryptocurrency. You can even sign up for our newsletter on our website. We do a weekly newsletter that talks about all things you should know kind of at the intersection of nonprofits and crypto. Relevant news, blogs, events, all sorts of stuff. Otherwise, if you look up like CoinDesk, for example, is a more general crypto media outlet, you could read about crypto. They’ve got a daily newsletter, too.

[00:28:16.450] – Alex Wilson
I would just start thinking about crypto. Start thinking about how you can involve it for your organization. And ultimately, you know, longer term, this just becomes another tool for you to fundraise. Right? And this is something you want to weave in to your existing fundraising strategies and plans. This is by no means meant to be like a takeover and change everything. Right? This is in parallel to what you’re already doing. It’s just another tool of part of your greater plan.

[00:28:41.590] – Boris
And who knows, maybe one day it’ll take over everything and then you definitely want to be on board when that happens.

[00:28:46.750] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, exactly.

[00:28:48.430] – Boris
So if people are interested in The Giving Block specifically, what should they do? What’s your call to action for our heroes at home?

[00:28:56.530] – Alex Wilson
Yeah, you can go to our website at thegivingblock.com. Sign up for our newsletter. Follow us across the different social media accounts. And if you really want to learn more and get started pretty quickly, you can also book a demo on our website. And someone from our team will reach out, spend 30 minutes with you, run you through all the details of how it works and how you can get started. And if you move pretty quickly, you can probably still make Crypto GivingTuesday or at least a couple of weeks of December campaign.

[00:29:24.670] – Boris
Awesome. So as always, we’re going to include all of these links and all of these resources that Alex just mentioned in our show notes. We are going to link back to The Giving Block, of course, as well directly to the “book a demo.” And we are happy to answer any questions here at our strategy. But Alex is the man when it comes to cryptocurrency donations and accepting those for your organization.

[00:29:52.930] – Boris
Actually, I meant to ask because you and I talked about it earlier before we jump off. I am, of course, big on websites and interactive websites in general and things working as smoothly and frictionless as possible. Is there a way to incorporate The Giving Block essentially on a website?

[00:30:11.770] – Alex Wilson
Yes, there is. And when you sign up with us, there’s kind of two different points of entry. You’ll have a profile and a donation widget on our website, but then we also give you a donation widget, which can be really easily embedded onto your own fundraising pages.

[00:30:26.590] – Boris
Cool. All right, everybody. Well, I hope you enjoyed learning about cryptocurrency and about accepting it what the ramifications and advantages are for nonprofits. Alex, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. And everybody at home thank you for tuning in. If you enjoyed this episode, please give us a like and a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform so that we can reach more nonprofit professionals like you, help them create more heroes for their cause. See you next week.

[00:30:55.690] – Alex Wilson

[00:30:56.770] – 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 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:

  • The story of how and why Alex and his co-founder, Pat Duffy created The Giving Block, starting with the Pineapple Fund’s $56M in donations. (2:13)
  • A primer on what is Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. (4:56)
  • This year alone, The Giving Block will process over $100M in donations, expecting to do $1 billion next year. (8:43)
  • The crypto-donor avatar – what makes them different and why they want to donate in cryptocurrency specifically. (9:20)
    • They’re younger, wealthier early adopters of the technology, who have made a lot of money with it
    • Their average donation size is over $10,000 (more than 10x the average credit card donation)
    • They have a vested interest in donating in crypto because they want to see greater crypto adoption
  • Why cryptocurrency investors prefer to donate directly in crypto, rather than converting to U.S. dollars or other fiat currencies: The tax implications are enormous for them. (11:13)
  • What it takes to get started with accepting cryptocurrency donations. (14:19)
  • Bitcoin anonymity versus knowing your donors: With the transparency of crypto, you can apply whatever your nonprofit’s standard donation policies are. (16:18)
  • Tax implications of accepting crypto donations for nonprofits. These currencies are considered assets, so the nonprofit receives and processes them as non-cash contributions, similar to stocks. (18:55)
  • When you receive the donation, you can either hold the cryptocurrency like an asset, or instantly convert it to your local currency. (19:50)
  • The Giving Block is organizing several marketing pushes for year-end giving. They even create marketing toolkits for nonprofits taking part. (20:56)
    • Crypto GivingTuesday
    • NFTuesday – encouraging artists and others making money from NFTs to donate a percentage of their windfalls
    • Crypto Giving Pledge – replicating what the Giving Pledge is doing, but for cryptocurrency philanthropists
  • It’s not too late to get involved with accepting crypto for this end-of-year season. It takes around a week to get set up and running. (21:43)
  • How The Giving Block works with organizations and fees to get started with their platform. (24:05)
  • Cryptocurrency adoption and donations are growing rapidly. The sooner you can get started working with and accepting the donations, the sooner you can start building relationships with donors who prefer cryptocurrency donations. (25:54)
  • With The Giving Block’s tools, you can either use their website or embed your crypto donation widget on your site/donation page for a more seamless experience. (29:52)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Alex Wilson

Alex Wilson

Co-Founder, The Giving Block

Founded in 2018, The Giving Block is the leading crypto philanthropy platform, making cryptocurrency fundraising easy for nonprofits while empowering donors to give Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to their favorite causes. The company currently enables more than 700 mission-driven organizations, charities, universities, and faith-based organizations of all sizes to accept cryptocurrency donations and supports them to maximize their fundraising outcomes. Learn more and discover why cryptocurrency is the fastest growing donation method for Millennial and Gen-Z donors, at TheGivingBlock.com.

Connect with Alex Wilson

EP17 - Sarah Lee - Featured

Episode 17: How a Nonprofit Increases Impact Through Innovation with Sarah Lee

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 17

How a Nonprofit Increases Impact Through Innovation with Sarah Lee

In this Episode:

What role should innovation play in fulfilling your nonprofit’s mission? How do you justify allocating precious resources to technology and moonshots versus on-the-ground work?

Sarah Lee, COO of New Story, joins Boris to talk about how nonprofits can leverage technology and innovation to create a great impact on the world.

Whether you’re a small community-based organization or a Silicon-Valley-based Y-Combinator graduate like New Story, this episode is guaranteed to inspire some conversations at your organization.

[00:00:18.580] – 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!

[00:00:20.450] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We’ve got a fascinating guest today who is part of an amazing nonprofit that I only recently discovered and came across. But I love what they’re doing and I love how they’re doing it. Her name is Sarah Lee. She is the New Story COO and Sarah’s bio is kind of impressive. She is the Chief Operating Officer at New Story, the organization pioneer solutions to end global homelessness. Since joining the team five years ago, New Story has built more than 2500 homes, raised more than 50 million dollars, 3D printed a community for families in Mexico and has been recognized by Fast Company as a “Most Innovative Company” in the nonprofit space three years in a row.

[00:01:06.080] – Boris
Sarah is a curious, creative who finds joy in improving, building and shaping ideas. She strives to find the unlikely solution, celebrates unique concepts and brings diverse ideas to a number of brands. Sarah describes her superpower as connecting dots through the organizations— I’m sorry, connecting dots through the organization and our networks for maximum impact.

[00:01:27.830] – Boris
So let me bring Sarah onto the show to tell us a little bit more about her and her story.

[00:01:32.750] – Boris
Sarah, Hi.

[00:01:35.420] – Sarah Lee
Hi Boris, excited to be here.

[00:01:35.420] – Boris
Welcome to the show.

[00:01:36.410] – Boris
Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us today. As we were talking earlier, I told you, I’m a huge fan of what you guys have been doing and how you’re doing it. I’m excited to break it down and get as much for our audience that they can incorporate into their own work as possible. But before we even do that, tell me a little bit about you. What’s your story besides what I read in your bio?

[00:01:58.400] – Sarah Lee
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been on the New Story team for almost five years now. And prior to joining New Story, I worked in digital marketing. So I had been in digital marketing for about seven years and was a partner at a digital marketing agency here in Atlanta, where I am based. And really got to the point in my career where I was looking for what was the next challenge. Right? I spent seven years really trying to understand how to influence different brands through branding and digital marketing practices, and wanted to devote more time to one singular brand instead of touching so many.

[00:02:34.670] – Sarah Lee
But I didn’t necessarily think I want to go to nonprofit space. Right? I did know that I was working a lot of hours and really burnt out. And I knew that ultimately I didn’t care if the shipping logistics company that I was doing digital marketing for succeeded or not. I wanted something that I felt more connected to and felt like I really would care if it existed or didn’t exist. And I had followed along New Story since the beginning. I had known one of our co-founders and our CEO, Brett.

[00:03:09.440] – Sarah Lee
We had gotten to work together just a little bit while I was at that digital marketing agency and really respected his leadership and his thought process and so, I had seen New Story when it was just an idea. I saw New Story when they were accepted into Y Combinator. And so at about a year and a half, two years into the organization, I was at that same point in my career where I was looking for what was next. And I reached out to Brett, the CEO and said, “Hey, would you ever hire someone in Atlanta?” They were based in San Francisco at the time and we started the conversations. And so, I joined to really kind of oversee and rethink the donor experience.

[00:03:44.840] – Sarah Lee
Until that point, there were only five people on the team and they were all thinking more about our on-the-ground work or how we were using technology. And so I came in and was really able to think about how are our donors experiencing what we were doing and the impact that we were able to have by them partnering with us? And since then, I have bounced around to quite a few different roles from donor experience, then I started overseeing the brand as a whole.

[00:04:12.920] – Sarah Lee
So think events, press, marketing, design, video, growing our team and our brand team, which has been a really important part of our growth and really our ethos as an organization. And then I stepped into overseeing what we call growth as a whole. Right? Which is everything I just talked about, as well as our fundraising. And then just in January, like you mentioned, I stepped into the COO role. So really, as the organization has grown, I have been super fortunate in being able to help grow the team, grow our systems and processes and programs.

[00:04:48.230] – Sarah Lee
And I focus really mostly on kind of everything stateside. Right? So all of the kind of fundraising and programmatic and how we’re building our brand and how people engage with us has really been my sweet spot and is what I know and love.

[00:05:04.460] – Boris
And that’s all of the things that we love to talk about on this show.

[00:05:08.840] – Sarah Lee

[00:05:08.840] – Boris
I love that you have a marketing background, but you were looking for something that had some deeper meaning, some deeper fulfillment, rather than just going to any company. Recently, I had Matthew Quint, who is the director of the center, the Center for Global Brand Strategy at Columbia University, and one of the things that we talked about was, nonprofits kind of have this advantage where they’re able to recruit talent based on the fact that there is an affinity for the work. There’s a feeling that I’m doing something more than just getting a paycheck.

[00:05:44.640] – Boris
These days, though, a lot of companies are aligning themselves more and more with social causes in one way or another. And that competition is kind of increasing. What I love, one of the things that I love about New Story, is that it seems like you guys are not just competing with nonprofits. You’re out there actively competing with any other type of company to do great work, to get donations, to make an impact.

[00:06:09.420] – Boris
Is that part of your vision of how nonprofits should work, that you should be competing for talent, for money, for everything else with for profit corporations as well?

[00:06:21.120] – Sarah Lee
It really is. And a lot of it comes down to frustrations that I think all of us have experienced with the nonprofit space. Right? And I think that a lot of those frustrations boil down to the fact that often nonprofits are held to totally different standards. Right? It’s “The oh, well, I didn’t get what I expected or the website looks terrible or, or…” Right? There’s all of these different things and we think, “Oh, well, it’s OK because they’re nonprofit.”

[00:06:48.390] – Sarah Lee
And so from day one and it’s true still today, New Story really does try to think, “what would anyone expect from an excellent brand and how can we do that same thing even though we’re a nonprofit?” Right? And so you’re absolutely right.

[00:07:08.970] – Sarah Lee
We try to compete with startups for the team and the people on our team. We try to compete with events that our donors would go to, whether they are nonprofit events or not, and really having that lens of excellence through everything we do. And then, of course, pairing that with the impact that we have is the ultimate combination and is what gets people really excited and keeps them around for a long time.

[00:07:30.050] – Boris
That’s so awesome. So you guys started out—I watched the video on your website and it’s a great story, by the way, your origin story, as we call it. And in there, it talks about how the founders got accepted into Y Combinator, which is very unusual for a nonprofit. First of all, very few nonprofits have ever even attempted to enter Y Combinator, or much less be accepted. But very few nonprofits would even think, “oh, you know what, let’s go to a tech startup accelerator.”

[00:08:01.520] – Boris
What’s behind that? And how has that been baked into your DNA?

[00:08:08.240] – Sarah Lee
Yeah, you’re absolutely right, there are not a lot of nonprofits that are thinking that way, and a lot of it does come down to the kind of standards or how you’re thinking about the types of people that your organization is attracting, whether those types are donors, the people that you’re serving, team, any of the above. And so, New Story from day one very much was how are we setting ourselves apart? And so as the co-founders got accepted into Y Combinator, I think one of the things that really cemented our ethos as an organization that has benefited us greatly even to today, is this idea of the same or higher standards.

[00:08:46.940] – Sarah Lee
And so at Y Combinator, for example, you have insane goals that you have to hit during this really short period of time. Right? And so the goals that Airbnb had during their cohort of Y Combinator, it was the same thought process for the goals that our team had. It wasn’t, “Oh, they’re a nonprofit, so they can have half the goals. They don’t have to think about these things.” It was the exact same standards that the team had to rise to and figure out how to make it work.

[00:09:14.720] – Sarah Lee
And so you’re absolutely right. I think a lot of how our team thinks about the problems we’re solving thinks about how we’re growing the organization is from this lens of just like anybody else, just like any other company. It just so happens that our profit, revenue, whatever you want to call it, is our impact that we’re able to have around the globe.

[00:09:35.210] – Sarah Lee
And we think that ultimately we’re able to have more of an impact by having this ethos to the organization and having this value for how we think about our brand and our impact and how our solving problems and making sure that that is aligned with best-in-class business principles and practices, not just best in class, nonprofit principles and practices.

[00:09:58.190] – Boris
And just be totally clear, you guys are not, like, a software company. You’re not, because I’m sure there are nonprofit organizations that are not just tech-enabled or tech-empowered, but they they’re focused on building software or providing online services. That’s not you guys. You guys do actual physical, you know, dirty, hands dirty on the ground, work, building homes. And yet you are starting with or a lot of times focused on the technology that’s going to help you get there. Is that right?

[00:10:32.000] – Sarah Lee
I will say that is true, but it is actually both. So we do have a software team that is building software, right? They are building software for our impact on the ground. Right? So let me let me give you an example. So in the homes that we built—we build—early on, we realized, “How are we measuring this impact more than just a number of homes built on a wall?” Right? We really wanted to understand what was the impact of a home.

[00:10:59.810] – Sarah Lee
But the communities and locations where we work are very remote, right? There’s rarely cell service, definitely not Wi-Fi on our phones that we can easily collect that information. And so our local partners, were taking a stack of paper. They were walking home to home, collecting all the information, and then they were getting back to the office. Hopefully it didn’t rain or a big gust of wind come in between because if, so those papers were done for. Getting back to their office, taking that information, converting it to be digital. But all of the information is in a different language, which then is being translated into English, and then we’re getting it to be able to analyze it.

[00:11:39.500] – Sarah Lee
And so our team saw, there’s a huge problem. It’s taking a ton of time, but it’s super important that we understand what is the impact, good or bad, so we can improve. And so our tech team was able to build a data collection tool that worked online and offline, and it was reducing the time it took to collect that information and get it into the correct hands by like, a hundred plus percent.

[00:12:03.740] – Sarah Lee
Right? Like, it was just cutting everything into fractions of time. And so we look at that go, “OK, great.” What can what can our on the ground teams, what can our teams be doing when they’re not having to spend time on that? So you’re correct. There is the like very manual taking a cinder block, moving it, paying the people on the ground, everything that happens with actually constructing homes. And we’re consistently looking at that process going how can we improve this process with technology, hardware, software, processes for how it’s being done?

[00:12:39.950] – Sarah Lee
And that is really what gets our team excited, is how are we figuring out a wide variety of tools that we can put against this problem that we’re solving to try to improve it at every step?

[00:12:52.250] – Boris
That’s amazing that you guys think of it that way and look at the ROI on investing into technology to help you do even more of the actual on the ground kind of work. When you create these kinds of tools, is it, do you consider it your secret sauce or is it something that you try to disseminate out to as many other organizations or government agencies or whatever it might be.

[00:13:14.980] – Sarah Lee
It’s a really great question. So for the first four years of New Story—let me actually say something before that…

[00:13:25.030] – Sarah Lee
It is never a “keep it for ourselves.” Like we very much believe that nonprofits should not have intellectual property. If you have intellectual property as a nonprofit, you actually don’t care about the problem as much as you say you do because you should be trying to help anyone you can who’s also working on this problem. I say that because that really is our lens that we’re looking at this issue that we’re working to solve homelessness. Right? And we believe anyone who’s working towards that… we’re all going to have to come together and share every best practice and every secret sauce we have, because otherwise we’re never going to come close to impacting this one point six billion people.

So with that lens, our first four years, we thought that was going to be the answer. We thought the answer was going to be, “we’ll figure it out by being practitioners, by building these communities. We’ll see what the biggest problems are, we’ll create solutions for them, and then we’ll share them with every nonprofit, every government, anyone who wants to use it so that their work can be improved as well.”

[00:14:28.900] – Sarah Lee
What we found was that the adoption just wasn’t as simple as that. Right? Everyone has their own things they’re already using processes for. And so for for somebody to come from the outside and say, “hey, use this. Here’s why!” It’s pushing a boulder up a hill. Right? It’s really, really hard to engage in that way, especially when it’s like “We’re another nonprofit and we do this.” So that does add credibility, but it can also be really challenging.

[00:14:53.590] – Sarah Lee
And so it’s still very much something that we believe in and something that we’re consistently looking for.… What solutions are we using that others can use and utilize with as little friction as possible? But it’s not the number one goal like it, transparently has been previously with the organization. So I would say it’s like it’s a mindset, but it’s not the driving force and the leading force for us. Does that make sense?

[00:15:22.330] – Boris
Yeah, no, it absolutely makes sense. And I think that’s a great way of looking at it. To be totally honest. I think that sometimes nonprofits can use IP, for example, if that becomes a great way for them to not have to constantly be soliciting donations. If they put up an online course, for example, I think it’s OK to charge for that if they have certain tools that they develop that can actually save another organization a lot of cost and time to develop, and they do have some sort of licensing agreement so that they could keep innovating and keep iterating on those tools. Personally, I think that’s OK, but I see your perspective as well.

[00:16:02.230] – Sarah Lee
I’m actually totally with you. I don’t have an issue with them charging for it. I have an issue with them closing the doors to it. Right? So I’m totally with you. If they have figured that out, definitely charge other people for it. Right? If it’s still impacting the problem. The concern is when people start saying, “Oh, gosh, we figured out this tool allows us to build way more homes faster, allows us to do this thing with our donors that is just so amazing.” And then they’re saying, like, “I have to hide this from everybody else, because if they find out, they’ll be able to do more than us or steal our donors or whatever that looks like.” So that’s a great clarification, because you’re absolutely right.

[00:16:38.860] – Sarah Lee
People can and should be able to charge for it and get the revenue right and really grow the organization in that way, because that can be more sustainable for them as an organization to have that earned revenue component.

[00:16:50.890] – Boris
Absolutely. And I’m glad we could still be friends now. So, as I mentioned in your bio, you guys have been on Fast Company’s 10 Most Innovative Nonprofit Organizations. Actually, I guess one time even before you, because four out of the six years that you guys have been around, including 2021. And I’m wondering how much is innovation a necessity? How much is it a tool for you guys? How do you approach innovation and how do you constantly keep innovating as an organization?

[00:17:23.980] – Sarah Lee
Yeah, it’s a good question and it’s a challenging one right now because I think that everyone loves the word innovation. Right? Everyone from the most boring company you can think about to the sexiest one alive. They’re all wanting to take the word innovation, stamp it on their website and say, “We’re doing this.” And we’ve had to ask ourselves questions around, like, why does it matter? Right? And how does it fit within our organization? And what we consistently come back to is, for people trying to solve the world’s biggest problems, you have to consistently be thinking about it in different ways. Right?

[00:17:58.840] – Sarah Lee
And that’s ultimately what innovation is. Sometimes it’s really, really sexy. You said at the beginning, 3D printing homes, that’s really sexy and sure, everyone can look at it and say “Yeah, innovation.” And sometimes it’s small changes to processes or programs or systems that do not nearly have the same sex appeal, but they actually maybe have more impact in how those innovations are used. And so it is definitely an ethos of the organization and something that we are continually looking at.

[00:18:30.230] – Sarah Lee
Where can we inject more innovation and what does that actually look like? But the reason for that is because we know ultimately it’s going to drive more impact. It’s going to allow us to impact more families because the problem is so complex and it’s so, so hard. Right? And so it kind of goes back to that quote that I’m sure you heard around. What is it? “Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity or stupid?”

[00:18:58.900] – Boris
Yeah, it’s often attributed to Einstein.

[00:19:01.100] – Sarah Lee
Yes. And so it’s how are we continually looking at what we’re doing and thinking, how can this get better and how can we ensure that there’s nothing sacred? Right? I’m sure you know, many nonprofits and businesses as a whole where there are things that are sacred, “We’ll change everything, but we won’t change this.” And we’ve really said, outside of our mission and what we’re trying to do, nothing else is sacred and we’re willing to reinvent and rethink about anything else that’s getting us closer to that mission.

[00:19:31.040] – Boris
I’m so glad you said that outside of your mission. Right? There’s this core. There’s this is, at the heart of your mission is your heart, essentially, and that doesn’t waver. But the way that it gets expressed, the way that it develops and is affecting the world can change from year to year. For example, this last year, you guys who have been innovating ways to build homes better, cheaper, faster, suddenly got recognized for doing something completely different, which was figuring out what was it, collecting data on rent?

[00:20:06.740] – Sarah Lee

[00:20:07.610] – Boris
What was that pivoted up and how did that come out?

[00:20:10.370] – Sarah Lee
I know you’re looking at it going, Sarah, explain this to me because you just said mission, but where does it fit in and how? So, you know, March of 2020. We, like everyone else in the world, were looking around going, “suddenly, everything is different.” Right? All of our on the ground construction and community builds were completely paused, couldn’t be constructing in any of the countries where we were working. We were pausing, soliciting our donors during this time that was very volatile for everyone.

[00:20:40.280] – Sarah Lee
And so pretty much our whole organization had about a week and a half, two weeks where we’re all looking at each other going like, where do we point this? Right? What are we doing during the season? And we asked ourselves the question. Whenever we get out of this season, whether the season is three weeks, like we all thought it would be in the beginning or three months or three years, what are we going to look back on and be really proud that we use this time for something that was meaningful and went within our mission and our team skill set?

[00:21:14.180] – Sarah Lee
Right? And so really quickly, we started seeing and hearing reports of and making sense that we were going to be having a major issue in the States of people falling into homelessness. Right? People were losing their income. Families who were already very vulnerable, now were in a whole different category. And so we said, what if we collectively could shift our focus and we can’t focus internationally right now and keep families in their homes? Right?

[00:21:44.850] – Sarah Lee
Pioneering solutions to end global homelessness, part of ending global homelessness is making sure that number does not grow.

[00:21:51.360] – Sarah Lee
And so we really quickly focused on a rent relief program. We spun it up and about 10 days from the initial concept to it being public. And we were able to fund rent for, gosh, it’s been a long time since I have thought about this, number. I think about two hundred and thirty families. We covered the rent for them for three months, which really was that tension point of losing their income and being able to figure out how they were going to take care of their family from there.

[00:22:19.800] – Sarah Lee
And so during that, to qualify those families, we used our impact data tool that we were already using internationally to measure impact. And it allowed—that’s part of why we’re able to spin this up and deploy it so quickly is because we really quickly could validate families. We could validate their income pre-covid. We could validate that they had lost that income. We could validate the size of their family and some of these other criteria that we had for the support that we were providing.

[00:22:47.880] – Sarah Lee
And I don’t know how the last year has been for you, but I think it’s been challenging for a lot of people. And it really gave our team an opportunity to rally around something that was really beautiful and really, really did impact so many families during one of the hardest seasons of many of their lives.

[00:23:08.670] – Boris
I think that’s incredible that you guys were able to do that. It’s what in nonprofits and not in nonprofits and startups is often called a pivot, right. Where you can’t keep going the direction that you’re going for one reason or another. Hopefully, you guys are going to be pivoting back as we hope covid dies down around the world. And so one of the technologies that you are famous for is 3D printing. Now, my nephew has a 3D printer and he’s great with it. He’s amazing with CAD and everything else technological. But what made you guys think you could 3D print an entire house?

[00:23:46.010] – Sarah Lee
Right? How does anyone think such a thing? So we try to get our whole team together at least once or twice a year for an all-team-summit. We have offices in Atlanta, San Francisco and Mexico City. And so it’s really important that we’re together once a year to really be able to collaborate and grow together. I promise that’s relevant for the question that I’m answering here. And so at those, often we do moonshot sessions. That, essentially, we think about what are our greatest obstacles in the problem that we’re trying to solve and what are just the most outlandish ideas for solving those?

[00:24:20.860] – Sarah Lee
Right? And one of the biggest issues we face is, cost and the speed of building at home. Homes are really, really expensive intervention. Right? I’m often very jealous of water and food and these things that they’re ongoing, but they are much cheaper cost for intervention. Right? And so as we were looking at that challenge, one of the ideas that somebody threw out was what if we could 3D print homes, right?

[00:24:47.120] – Sarah Lee
We would cut down on waste. We would cut down on the amount of labor that’s taken for the homes, would cut down on all of these different things. And it should be a whole lot faster. Right? Because you don’t have the same issues. You don’t have the same complexities. And so we really liked that idea and we were all really drawn to it. And so we’re like, let’s just explore what it could possibly look like.

[00:25:08.990] – Sarah Lee
And about that time, our CEO got connected with a company out of Austin, Texas, who was just an idea at that point. But they really had reason to believe that they could pull off 3D printing homes. Right? The technology behind it. And so we met with them and said, what would it look like to try to do this together? Right? To try to take this technology, this innovation, that could shape the world and every socioeconomic status and type of person—like homes impact everyone. And what if we could take that technology instead of it benefiting the lower socioeconomic last, we were impacting them first. Right?

[00:25:51.650] – Sarah Lee
And so we partnered with ICON out of Austin and we did the first home in Austin, Texas, to prove it was possible. And that was the first permitted 3D printed home in the world. And then we took the machine and the teams down to Tabasco, Mexico, where we completed a community. And it is… It’s really, really something that I think both the teams are so proud of because it was so hard, because it is so outlandish to think that that could actually become a reality.

[00:26:25.590] – Sarah Lee
Right? And it’s something that so often we get at New Story. People are like, oh, yeah, you’re the 3D printing company. And it’s hard to not fall into that because it is a fraction of what we do. Right? It’s a it’s a piece of the puzzle, but it’s definitely not the whole thing. But ultimately, this technology now has greatly impacted families’ lives and in a way that it never would have otherwise. The last thing I’ll say there, Boris, have you actually, I don’t think I sent you a link for it. Have you haven’t seen the Apple TV docu series on it yet, right?

[00:26:57.720] – Boris

[00:26:58.590] – Sarah Lee
So Apple TV actually has a series called “Home” and each episode they follow an interesting home. Right? So it is the most beautiful, lavish homes you could ever imagine. And they also followed the journey in this 3D printed community. And so they followed it for about two years through many obstacles and many learnings. And they followed some of the families who are actually going to be moving into those homes.

[00:27:26.370] – Sarah Lee
And so if anyone is interested, if they’re having a hard time wrapping their head around, what the heck is 3-D printing a home even look like? How does that happen? The series is called “Home” and it’s the season finale of that series is New Story and ICON in this 3D printing community.

[00:27:42.330] – Boris
So that actually dovetails perfectly into what I wanted to ask you about next, which is it almost feels like this, or does it feel like this innovation strategy is actually leading to press coverage? It’s certainly getting your attention in plenty of online publications. I didn’t realize that you were also featured in that series, the docu series. Is that part of your strategy? Is that something that you guys rely on and shoot for?

[00:28:12.390] – Sarah Lee
Boris, I wish I had a better answer for you that was like, yeah, when we started we were like, “Oh, and imagine the exposure we could get and we’re going to get all these donors and all of these things.” That was, I think, something we knew people would care about, but we definitely did not expect, just how much people would care about it and how much attention it would garner for us. Right? And it is something that has been massive for our organization.

[00:28:38.100] – Sarah Lee
We often say now if we were to look back and say it was a complete failure. Right? And “We could never do it again, it wasn’t going to work,” like anything. That’s not the case but even if that was true, it still would have been worth it because of the connections we were able to make from it, from just the inbound amazing new donors who are partnering with us in this journey. And so it absolutely has been an incredible benefit and is how so many people—I’m consistently surprised on people like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of you.” “Really?” They’re like, “Yeah, the 3D printing.” I’m like, “Oh yes.”

[00:29:12.930] – Sarah Lee
And so, yeah, it’s been hugely, hugely beneficial, but was not the ultimate driver. But I will say now we have seen how much people care about nonprofits thinking about issues differently, and it has really proven how hungry the world is for impact and innovation really coming together. Right? And so I think that’s a great encouragement for anyone who’s watching or listening to know that it’s often easy to think like, will anybody care and will it be worth it?

[00:29:47.640] – Sarah Lee
And so, you know, I’m sure you have experiences in different organizations that you work with. That, yeah, people are hungry, hungry for how to utilize innovation to drive a greater impact. And ultimately, that’s what they care about and that’s what they want to get behind.

[00:30:04.230] – Boris
So, yeah, absolutely. There’s a constant struggle with nonprofits who are, look, I don’t think it’s a secret that most people consider nonprofits behind on technology, not leading the way in technology, not leading the way of innovation. And there’s also this concern about, you know, if we’re spending money on that, then we’re not spending money effectively on our programs right now, today. And there’s you know, there’s a scarcity mentality which is largely historically justified.

[00:30:36.180] – Boris
If a nonprofit doesn’t get all the donations that it needs, then it can’t do the work on the ground. And if it doesn’t allocate enough of its resources, then it looks bad on them. And so they get fewer donations and it’s this scary potential cycle that they are worried about falling into.

[00:30:52.170] – Sarah Lee
Boris, I want to say I think you’re absolutely spot on. It’s like such a fear as an organization. And I want to share two things that have been really helpful for New Story as we have wrestled with those same questions. Right? The first one is as we were vetting this 3D printing project. Right? And we were looking at a scope of work and what it was going to take to do this. And we’re going, “Can we spend this money on this?” Right?

And ultimately the question or philosophy that we used in making that decision is that it felt irresponsible not to try. And that sometimes these big risks that nonprofits are faced with, there is definitely risk. But if it works. You have a responsibility to try it, right? And of course, there’s balancing how risky it is and all of that kind of stuff, but ultimately that that philosophy of it feeling irresponsible not to try is what helped get us over the hump to, like, we have to try this now.

[00:31:54.230] – Sarah Lee
And part of the reason we were able to do that is how our organization is set up. And it is a benefit that we’ve had thus far in being able to invest in or in innovation that not all organizations have, and that is that we have a hundred percent promise. Which means when anyone donates with New Story, a hundred percent of that either goes to homes or to our overhead and operational expenses, which includes our innovation. And a lot of people ask me about that hundred percent model. Right?

[00:32:25.790] – Sarah Lee
And is it harder to fundraise? Is it easier to fundraise? How in the world do you get people to care about covering the cost of your operations? Is that a question you get often?

[00:32:34.820] – Boris
All the time. All the time.

[00:32:36.560] – Sarah Lee
Exactly. So and one of the ways we’ve been able to make it sexy and get people excited about covering the operations is that “That’s where the innovation lives.” Right? We can’t have our donors who, hundred percent of their donation is going to build a home, pay for the R&D on a 3D printer.

[00:32:57.290] – Sarah Lee
Right? And so it has allowed us to attract a type of donor who is excited about those risks. And they understand that they’re not all going to work. But if you invest in the correct ones, you are going to find ones that do have an outsized impact. And that’s been really important because it allows us to attract a type of donor that is excited about that and not a type of donor that’s going to say, no, you can’t spend that money on that.

[00:33:23.990] – Sarah Lee
It has to, you know… Ninety eight cents have to go to the home. And it is just a different thought process. Right? I think I’m curious where you land on it, because I think a lot of people are kind of like one path or the other. Right? Hundred percent model. Or you should keep it all together. And donors should just start to expect that nonprofits need to invest more in marketing and all of these other things. But it has been hugely beneficial for us.

[00:33:49.700] – Sarah Lee
Where do you stand on it?

[00:33:51.260] – Boris
I don’t know that there’s one right way or the other. I know that personally. I don’t think nonprofits should be embarrassed by their overhead or apologetic about it, as long as enough of the funds do go towards actual services. So if you’re spending a lot of money on talent and marketing to get the best folks in, but that is producing a certain return that you wouldn’t get otherwise, I think it’s totally justified and fantastic. On the other hand, what you’re talking about is a slightly different model that I also love, which is, you’ve got different donor avatars.

[00:34:26.150] – Boris
There are different people who will support you for different things, and both in your case, especially both are true to the mission. So if you can sell them on—and it doesn’t need to be salesy, of course, but if you could give them a vision of—a better future by investing in your team and your development of technology, I think that’s fantastic. And there are a lot of people who are excited by that about really not just helping one person, which is, we know, super effective when it comes to marketing and driving donations, putting a face, but actually creating something that’s going to outlast generations, perhaps because it’s an investment in technology or a vision.

[00:35:09.920] – Boris
It’s similar to a capital campaign that a lot of organizations will run to get a new space. Right? You sell people on the vision of what that’s going to look like. And that is often separate. So I think an innovation campaign and an innovation fund within an organization—and maybe that starts with your board, maybe there’s one or two people on your board who are specifically innovation oriented that can bring others in as well. I think that’s super powerful and a great recipe for success.

[00:35:37.640] – Sarah Lee
I’m with you and I think you’re spot on in that there is no right or wrong. Right? It’s what works best for your organization and how can you take that path and really utilize it for your mission the best.

[00:35:50.360] – Boris
So I wonder, I have so many things that I want to ask you about Sarah, but you mentioned these moonshots, which I love Peter Diamandis’ book “Bold”, which talks a lot about moonshots and X Prizes and all those kinds of things. A lot of times moonshots, well, they missed the moon. And unlike that expression, what is it? “If you aim for the moon and you still wind up among the stars,” no, you actually wind up drifting endlessly in space and die.”

[00:36:18.500] – Boris
So how do you guys handle that? Have you had projects that failed? Do you have an MVP process that you take them through? What’s your thinking behind that?

[00:36:29.150] – Sarah Lee
Yeah, for sure. I would say the biggest driver for thinking behind that is we know. Everything is not going to work, so nobody coming into it has the expectation that everything is going to work. Now, that said, we really try to drive our team in the thought process of act as if this has to work right. I do think it’s easy for people to hear not everything is going to work, which then makes them think it’s OK if it doesn’t work. Right?

[00:37:00.820] – Sarah Lee
And so it is an interesting balance between knowing that not all of the experiments you try are going to work and making sure you are doing everything possible as if it had to work. So that is somewhat of the lens for how we think about that, how we invest in different things, how we try to set our team up for some of those things. And we definitely have had things not work. Right? So one great example is a little bit of what we started out in the conversation, this idea that we were going to be able to take our software and tools and get adoption from governments and other non-profits.

[00:37:36.130] – Sarah Lee
And we were like, of course, this is going to work. Right? And so we had a team. You could think of them as a sales team. Right? Who was just focused on adoption, government, nonprofits and where all these people were. And ultimately, it didn’t work. Right? And we had to look at it and say this is no longer worth the organizational effort that it’s taking. It is not in alignment with the results that we’re getting.

[00:38:00.270] – Sarah Lee
Right? And so maybe two principles or philosophies that have been helpful for us in making some of those decisions is, number one, have in mind, “What are you trying to get out of this idea?” Right? You have an experiment that you’re running. What is the goal, of course, to help everyone starting with a goal, with any experiment. But step one, make sure you have the goal and step two, have a lot of clarity around when you will stop working on it.

[00:38:29.920] – Sarah Lee
When I think about some of the mistakes New Story has made, I think a lot of them have been centered around trying to force things for too long, when if we have had more clarity in the beginning—when will we stop? Right? Or if we can’t reach this by this time, we’re going to know that it’s not worth it or that we shouldn’t keep investing time, money, energy into it—has been something that we have learned the hard way in spending too much time, energy on things, and I think is something we’ve gotten a lot better at now as we think about what does experimentation look like as we move forward.

[00:39:08.830] – Boris
So essentially you’re setting expectations and you’re setting milestones perhaps with clear targets of you’d like to reach this by this time. And then if you’re not reaching them, then you have a basically an easy out rather than. Oh, well, maybe if you just try a little further, a little harder and getting into the whole sunk cost fallacy where it’s essentially good bandwidth after bad or good, good resource after bad.

[00:39:33.070] – Sarah Lee
And it’s so hard to know. Right? We often talk about, everyone says “You’re just right on the brink of having a breakthrough and you just got to keep going no matter what.” And so especially as a nonprofit, when you taking longer to decide about something is directly impacting the families that you work with, right, or whatever your intervention is. So for us, those decisions are really hard, right? Are we right on the brink of something? And we just need to have more patience and keep pushing? Or do we need to totally stop it? And what is at risk or what is the opportunity with that decision? It can be really hard, right.

[00:40:10.370] – Sarah Lee
And so I think that knowing that it’s really hard and being comfortable and OK with knowing there is no perfect answer can be really free for people, because I think a lot of times we look at it and think there is a perfect answer. I just have to find it when a lot of times there’s not. You just have to make a decision

[00:40:29.050] – Boris
Right on. So speaking of bandwidth and resources, not a lot of nonprofits are in your fortunate position to in this case, of course, be centered in Silicon Valley and to have the tech and the resources around you to incorporate into your everyday lives as an organization. For those nonprofits that don’t have that at their core or from their founding moments. What? Would you advise if you were to tomorrow go to another organization, that is doing amazing work and very important that you would still feel equally fulfilled by but doesn’t have that technology background?

[00:41:15.120] – Boris
How would you start? You’re a COO… How would you start them on the path towards innovation? What could they be thinking about and looking at today in terms of that and adopting new technology?

[00:41:26.910] – Sarah Lee
So there’s two things I think I would primarily advise people to think about or really use for how they are getting themselves on that path to utilizing more technology, innovation, whatever you want to call it. The first one is that you don’t have to overcomplicate it. I think a lot of times as a nonprofit, it’s hard to think about technology, new innovation, any of those things, because it feels like a total uphill battle. It feels like we’re going to have to stop everything we’re currently doing and do things that are totally new and different.

[00:42:01.470] – Sarah Lee
Let me give you an example of that to make it really practical. So Bitcoin and cryptocurrency is obviously something that tech space in the world as a whole is very interested in and talking more and more about increasingly over the years. And so in the beginning, what it looked like as a nonprofit to think about cryptocurrency was like accepting it as a donation. And that was like, all right, we’re having innovation because we’re accepting cryptocurrency donations. Right? OK, that’s something that is relatively simple to set up. Doesn’t require anything crazy.

[00:42:33.390] – Sarah Lee
But taking that to the next level, Charity Water does a great job of this. In the last week, they unveiled this what are they calling it, like a Bitcoin trust where they thought about how can we really adopt Bitcoin in drawing a new audiences in our work and think about this in a really innovative way. And so I think most of our brains, my brain goes to, OK, innovation, bitcoin, cryptocurrency, you’re going to accept the donations and then you’re going to pay your vendors and then you’re going to track via the block chain every single step of building, whatever it is you’re building.

[00:43:06.750] – Sarah Lee
And of course, anyone is paralyzed by that because it feels like a ton of work. And so what Charity Water did is they said, “OK, how we’re going to be innovative with cryptocurrency is that we are going to take and ask for / solicit Bitcoin donations and we’re going to hold them for five years.” Because what is the cryptocurrency community care about? They care about that currency staying in the market. Right? And so just immediately selling it is not interesting to them.

[00:43:33.120] – Sarah Lee
And so to me, that’s a great example of that. Didn’t require a whole new team or 10 months of vetting it on the ground. They were able to quickly adopt an innovative solution for how to use cryptocurrency in their organization in a way that was simple but very unique in the market.

[00:43:56.280] – Sarah Lee
And so one thing I would encourage people that—the too long didn’t listen summary, there—would be to think about things simply. Don’t overcomplicate it and feel like you have to take it to the furthest element from step one.

[00:44:09.840] – Sarah Lee
The second thing I would really encourage people to do, and I think is something that has been one of, if not the greatest asset New Story had and that is asking other people for help. We are the very first people to cold email somebody who should never be talking to us and saying, “Hey, we’re a nonprofit, we’re trying to do X, Y and Z. Will you give us advice?” Right? And that has opened the doors to some of the top CEOs, venture capitalists, private equity people that we never would have had access to otherwise and wouldn’t have been on our team.

[00:44:47.070] – Sarah Lee
Right? And so utilizing other people’s knowledge, I think also it both de-risks that and it takes some of the pressure off your team having to be the ones to do everything and figure everything out. I’m sure you can think of times in your career that other people’s advice has actually been what’s really turned a corner for you and changed things.

[00:45:08.050] – Boris
Oh, absolutely. And also asking someone for their advice, which I think you may have even talked about earlier in this very conversation, actually makes them feel like they’re involved, makes them feel invested in it, in whatever it is that you’re doing. Hopefully they already have an affinity for your mission. And may result in a whole lot more than just advice. It may result in investment, of course, connections and everything else. So I think that’s a great strategy.

[00:45:34.020] – Sarah Lee
Boris, I want to add something there. You’re spot on. And what we often say is people love what they helped create. So if I can cold email somebody and get them to give me advice and then I can follow up a month later and say, hey, look, we did what you said, they are much more likely to be lifelong fans and want to continue to help you.

[00:45:52.690] – Boris
Absolutely. So I want to be respectful of time and this is—every single second of this episode has been so helpful and so amazing, I think we could do another five. And maybe we can have you back on, that would be great. But for today, are there any tools or resources? And we’ll share all these in the show notes that you would recommend organizations check out to get started on their own journeys.

[00:46:17.960] – Sarah Lee
Gosh, I’m sure there are, I will say, a plug for something we did that I think will also help other people as we created a podcast last year called Founder’s Lab. And it really goes through the ins and outs of a lot of our founding journey in our first five years. And I point out that not because New Story is the exemplar that everybody should be looking at and doing exactly what we do. We made plenty of mistakes, but in that we talk about a lot of kind of the specific resources and really practical things that have been helpful for us.

[00:46:49.030] – Sarah Lee
So that’s probably the best one-stop-shop for people to get some of that advice and learnings and roadblocks and obstacles we’ve had along our journey.

[00:46:57.550] – Boris
You also mentioned a few books that I personally love, actually all of them. So I want to be sure that they get plugged as well and we will have them again in the show notes. “The One Thing”…

[00:47:07.090] – Sarah Lee

[00:47:08.170] – Boris
“Atomic Habits” and those two are not that common in the nonprofit space that I think it’ll be great for people to open up and look what those are about. But one that is popular and deserves to be even more popular is “Start with Why”, Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”.

[00:47:24.578] – Sarah Lee

[00:47:25.100] – Boris
So I want to I want to give clear plugs for those. So I always like to wrap up with as every story should every chapter break anyway, have a call to action. What call to action do you have for folks that may be watching or listening to this episode? What should they do besides go listen to your podcast and check out New Story? How can they connect with you? What next steps should they take?

[00:47:51.880] – Sarah Lee
I’m going to answer that in two ways. The first next step I think people should take is really personal, and that is really challenging themselves for what is the bold idea that they need to push forward with their organization. Right? Bold ideas attract bold people, and I think we need more bold nonprofits trying to solve these really hard problems. So that’s more of the billboard I would put out there for everybody watching or listening. And then if anyone is interested in connecting newstorycharity.org is our website at @NewStoryCharity on all social handles.

[00:48:24.210] – Sarah Lee
And I love to chat with people. So if there’s any places that somebody listening feels like they want to hear a little bit more or chat a little bit more about, I would love for people to reach out as well.

[00:48:34.560] – Boris
That’s awesome. And we’ll have some of your contact info and definitely your website on our show notes page. Sarah, thank you so much for all your time today. I’m so glad we could do this. And I love the work that you’re doing and the way that you’re approaching it. So thank you for making the world a better place for all of us.

[00:48:50.790] – Sarah Lee
Listen, thank you for letting me join. Hopefully people got some valuable information here and yeah, keep up the good work.

[00:48:56.820] – Boris
Thank you. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. We’ll see you again really soon. So please subscribe so you get notified when there is a new episode out. And if you love this kind of content from amazing people like Sarah, please do give us a rating, give us a review, because that will help more people discover us online. Have a great day.

[00:49:17.550] – Sarah Lee

[00:49:38.010] – 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:

  • 7:08 — Nonprofits should have higher standards, not lower. Having a lens of excellence in everything you do and pairing it with impact helps nonprofits compete and have an advantage when it comes to recruiting.
  • 11:39 — Necessity is often the mother of invention. Investing in a technological solution can have great effects on your ability to deliver services more efficiently, saving resources.
  • 13:25 — What is your responsibility when it comes to your intellectual property versus your mission? Should you keep it as your unfair advantage or share it with others?
  • 17:30 — Innovation doesn’t have to be as sexy as 3D printing homes. It’s all about what will drive greater impact.
  • 19:31 — Sometimes nonprofits face unforeseen circumstances that prevent them from continuing with business as usual. These “pivot” points are opportunities to reevaluate your mission in the lens of the current situation and come up with new initiatives.
  • 27:42 — Innovation can fuel publicity, which can fuel donations. Although exposure is not the ultimate driver, it is highly beneficial.
  • 33:51 — Nonprofits should not be embarrassed by their overhead or be apologetic about it as long as enough of the funds do go towards actual services.
  • 36:29 — Everything is not going to work, so nobody coming into it has the expectation that everything is going to work. But when starting a project, the New Story team acts as if this has to work.
  • 37:59 — Two principles for helping decide which ideas to pursue and when to abandon them: First, think of what are you trying to get out of this idea? Make sure that you have a goal. Second, have a lot of clarity about when you will stop working on that idea, such as a performance target or milestone that needs to be hit by a specific date.
  • 43:56 — Don’t overcomplicate things and feel like you have to take it to the furthest element from step one. Start small and test.
  • 44:46  — People love what they help create. Utilizing other people’s knowledge can de-risk your processes or ideas and take some pressure off your team having to be the ones to figure everything out. It can also create long-term advisors and supporters.

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Start implementing!

    Challenge Yourself

    We need more bold nonprofits trying to solve all sizes of problems in the world today. Challenge yourself and your organization to consider which bold idea(s) you need to push forward within your organization. Bold ideas attract bold people.

    Connect with New Story

    To connect with New Story and chat with them, you can visit New Story’s Website or connect with them on their Social Media Channels, @NewStoryCharity.

About this week’s guest

Sarah Lee

Sarah Lee

COO of New Story

Sarah is the Chief Operating Officer at New Story. The organization pioneers solutions to end global homelessness. Since joining the team five years ago, New Story has built more than 2500 homes, raised more than $50M, 3D printed a community for families in Mexico, and has been recognized by Fast Company as a Most Innovative Company (nonprofit) three years in a row.

Sarah is a curious creative who finds joy in improving, building, and shaping ideas. She strives to find the unlikely solution, celebrates unique concepts, and brings diverse ideas to a number of brands.

Connect with Sarah Lee

Ep 12 - Michael Panas - Featured

Episode 12: How a CRM Can Work for Your Nonprofit (and Not Vice-Versa) with Michael Panas

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 12

How a CRM Can Work for Your Nonprofit (and Not Vice-Versa) with Michael Panas

In this Episode:

From donor acquisition to management and reporting, how you manage your data can make all the difference. How do you choose a Constituent Relationship Management system and when should you build your own? And how do you make the most out of the new tools?

Introduction 0:03
Welcome to the nonprofit Hero Factory, our weekly live video, broadcast, and Podcast, where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes and a better world for all.

Boris Kievsky 0:20
Morning, everybody, and thank you so much for joining us for Episode 12 of the nonprofit Hero Factory. We’re going to be talking about how a CRM can work for your nonprofit and not vice versa with Michael Panas. I’ve known Mike for several years now, we first worked together at a national nonprofit about seven years ago, he can correct me and for a couple of years starting seven years ago. So now Mike serves on the feed the children executive team as their chief information officer, their CIO. Talk to him a little bit about what that means and why some organizations need one and whether you do or not. He recently managed the organization’s conversion to a new CRM solution. And as a technology professional, he’s worked for NCR Corp, US West bank holding companies, large health organizations. For the past 12 years, he’s provided technology social change leadership to several national cause initiatives established and chaired his own nonprofits and served on several nonprofit boards. Mike describes his superpower as guiding strategic initiatives to success, anxious to ask him what that means and to get more of his story and talk to him about CRMs and making them work for you. So without any further ado, let’s bring Mike onto the show.

Mike Panas 1:43
Hi, Boris.

Boris Kievsky 1:44
Hi, Mike. Thanks, my friend.

Mike Panas 1:51
Yeah, I’m happy to join. Appreciate the opportunity.

Boris Kievsky 1:55
So tell me a little bit. I mean, I know a lot but tell. Tell our viewers a little bit about yourself. Story, how you got to where you are today?

Mike Panas 2:04
Sure, sure. Well, I started off as an IT person, a technology person. That’s what I was trained in college for and worked for large organizations. And I guess it was about 12 years ago, 12 or 13 years ago, a friend of mine who is a mayor of a city asked me to work on some social change programs. And during that time, as you can imagine, when an organization like a mayor’s office as community leaders to become involved in a change, you know, you pretty much want to support the mayor. And as I did that, I learned a lot more about nonprofits and social change and the importance of certain things out there. So, I kind of set me on a path to migrate my career from a for-profit environment to a nonprofit. And that’s where we met. I came on board to work with an organization founded that started out national All International, I guess, nonprofit and met you and then I’ve moved on, I actually went from there to this position to Feed the Children.

Boris Kievsky 3:11
Cool. So you described your superpowers guiding strategic initiatives to success. What does that mean, Mike?

Mike Panas 3:18
Yeah, so, you know, I guess you can tell I’m not that young necessarily. I’m only 39. But, but in any event, you know, over years of experience of major projects and limitation projects, owning my own company, you know, I think my superpower for nonprofits is literally taking corporate initiatives, whatever that might be, mostly, obviously technology-oriented, and guiding those through a process, to success. You know, a lot of times I teach people and project managers will tend to view a project as a project and you know, I’m a PMP, or I’m this and we have to follow these guidelines and rules. Well, a lot of times, it’s just it’s the guiding leads to success. I mean, you still use, milestones and you still set dates and you still set timelines. But I think if a lot of us and it would look to view things as we’re a guidepost, or we’re helping guide things, it kind of gives you a little different perspective. So that’s kind of why I use the word guiding.

Boris Kievsky 4:29
Gotcha. So tell me, what are you seeing these days? What’s happening in the nonprofit sector? And certainly, from your perspective of Feed the Children, which is a pretty large, national organization, in terms of data storage, and data usage, what are you seeing out there?

Mike Panas 4:48
Yeah, so there are a few things that are significantly impacting, says the industry, the nonprofit industry, of course, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. So there are issues there. A lot of nonprofits are dealing with. And it seems like there’s, almost a situation where some nonprofits who provide services to the needy, have almost been forgotten in the pandemic, and that there are other organizations that had kind of stepped up, and their services are more needed. But what all that means is change. It means a change to the donor profiles, which means a change to your services, which means a change to your partnerships that you have out there. And successful CRM implementation, or if you have one in place, really can help you manage and navigate those waters. So I think in today’s world, I think some nonprofits that maybe haven’t implemented a CRM strategy, or an application or service or cloud product, wherever the case may be, are could potentially find themselves in today’s world wishing they had that now to kind of manage the Change that they’re going through, communicate better with donors, and especially volunteers in today’s nonprofit world, given the pandemic, um, how do you volunteer? And what does that changing? Like? How does that in electronic communications and working from home and just really key? So that’s one thing about the CRM world The other thing that impacts the nonprofit’s not that it doesn’t impact profit for-profit organizations, but, you know, we have new challenges related to especially internationally related to you know, purchase personally identifiable information, how we report breaches, rules, regulations, potential fines, you know, internationally if we don’t do something, right. So, having full control or management or access or understanding of how you’re doing managing data. It could be very powerful if you had a CRM system. So I think some organizations are looking to CRM systems to solve some law or regulatory, or data protection type issues that they might be dealing with or that they, their executive team knows I have to manage it’s kind of it’s very tough out there. And then the last thing I’d say is that many of us in the nonprofit world, have common partners. We have common people we serve. Sometimes our business models are our CRM is full of names of those we serve. Some nonprofits have no names of the people that are served by their, by their caught by what they do. So it just varies. But what we find is, CRM can allow you to serve who you serve better and to communicate with your potential donors or the people that want to help you better. So I think the reality is setting in that no matter how big or large your nonprofit, that people are out there serving, maybe the same communities might have an advantage in their success. So that’s another key thing. That is kind of real now. And of course, that means that our products, you know, SAS cloud-based solutions and that sort of thing, that maybe weren’t there a few years ago are there now.

Boris Kievsky 8:31
So that’s all awesome stuff to share and to understand. And I want to dive into a few of those things. It occurs to me though, that so far, you and I’ve been talking, we’ve been talking about CRMs. But we haven’t actually defined or explained for anyone who doesn’t necessarily know because I’m sure some younger nonprofits, people who are kind of doing grassroots work, haven’t even thought about it yet, or they have didn’t realize. So a CRM is in nonprofit terms a Constituent Relationship Management application, right? In the for-profit world, it’s customer relationship management. But nonprofits have a different need. Because as you said, we’re also working with volunteers with partners. And so those are all our constituents, our stakeholders in the CRM becomes the central digital hub for that information, both incoming and outgoing. So if you collect information about people that you’re serving, or that you’re working with, and then you use that information, and usually again, through the CRM, if you’re able to optimize it well, to then communicate back out to them depending on their interests, their interactions, and keep the cycle, the loop closed and repeating. Right.

Mike Panas 9:47
Yeah, you summed that up really good. Yes, that’s correct.

Boris Kievsky 9:52
So you obviously work for a large and well well funded Not that every no nonprofit is ever not worried about funding organization. Do smaller organizations need to be looking to adopting a CRM? When is it time for nonprofit to look for one?

Mike Panas 10:14
Well, I think even startup nonprofits should consider the utilization of technology. I think your size there, there are good solutions out there that would fit into the small nonprofit in a small foundation into a small school Foundation if you will. So I think it’s very important to consider that no matter how large you are, where you’re at in your lifecycle, we’re 41 years old, but the organization that’s two years old, and expect to grow, should really consider that. So if you were to consider there are two reasons for that. One is that there’s potential for a solution to help you grow right? To help you do what you want to do better, serve the good or do the good if you will. But the other thing is if the founders, even a small organization or the executive team on a larger organization, follow kind of a systematic approach of considering a CRM, you will uncover things just by that process that could help your business. So the the the the ethical, analytical side strategic conversations about really constituent management, which is all the things you explain, these are all of our different types of constituents. That’s the first thing an organization should look at, you know, whether you’re considering a CRM or not, you need to identify your constituent profiles. And then you need to identify so that’s number one, and have a strategy for all of those constituents. What are we expecting to do with volunteers? What are we expecting to do with people that come to events? What are we expecting to do? And in today’s world, not like I mean, technology is everywhere, but then you take the next step and say, What data elements do I need to manage those? Those constituents? I’ll call them profiles are different types of constituents in the world because they will vary just like you said, you know, what is the path for those constituents? A lot of times we think about donors, but sometimes an event participant, sometimes a volunteer, sometimes a board member, is also potentially a great donor. And having that data and communicating with them easily, whether your smaller largest, I think, just critical. So and that’s the power of the CRM, where you could potentially harness that power for your organization.

Boris Kievsky 12:48
And in terms of the types of CRM that are out there, like you said, there are ones that are accessible to organizations of just about any size, the only limitation really being your resource of man-hours or woman hours to actually be able to manage it and look into it, but at least collecting data in the first place so that hopefully, at some point someone comes along and can help you with that, I think is key. There’s a lot of people use, for example, MailChimp for their email communications. In a way, MailChimp is a very kind of low key CRM, actually, they’re doing a lot on the E-Commerce site to become a more full-fledged system for them. But even for nonprofits, a lot of my clients will categorize them, right. So you have one list, hopefully. And then you have categories for people that are your board members, or people who have attended a certain event, or people who have done specific things donated in maybe even in certain brackets, and then you could customize communications to them. So at a very low, low adoption threshold, low friction level, you’re already collecting data just by using something like that rather than say, emailing directly out of your Gmail or something like that.

Mike Panas 14:03
Oh, yeah, definitely. And that’s it in this in the nonprofit world, that’s called basically list management. So you know how to effectively market if you will, or build your relationship and move your relationship along with that, that path if you will to, maximize your relationship. And I think, you know, the leap of faith sometimes is, a lot of times donors or people you have relationships with are looking for more opportunities to work with you. It’s just we don’t get the message to them. But it was like MailChimp, which I call an ancillary package, if you will, that would bolt on nicely. And we actually use MailChimp in one instance here for that exact same reason. We have a child sponsorship program, but we like to use MailChimp to work with people that sponsor children around the world for us, and we do, we’ve had that it’s kind of a legacy application. But when we looked at our CRM implementation, we view that as an ancillary product that would work with our package.

Boris Kievsky 15:15
I’m agreeing with you completely. And it’s interesting you view it as an ancillary product, but for a lot of organizations might be their, their initially, their primary. Good news is that as long as you have the data, whether you stick with MailChimp once you have a more robust CRM, or you move to something else, some CRMs will have a list management built-in MailChimp being one of the biggest ones and we’re saying it so often I feel like they should be sponsoring us. But being one of the biggest players in the field, they’ll work with a lot of different third party or standalone CRMs like the sales forces and all the others out there.

Mike Panas 15:53
And they have to, to survive. Yeah, no, that’s their business strategy. And, and really, we’re kind of talking about buy versus business. A little bit. I mean, at least it comes to mind. Right?

Boris Kievsky 16:03
Yeah, definitely want to get to that. So great transition. Let’s talk about when is it time to build your own CRM versus just buying one off the shelf? What do you need to look at and decide to do that?

Mike Panas 16:18
Yeah. So I mean, looking at the hundred thousand foot level, generally speaking, if we look at buy versus build, I think for nonprofits, and again, this doesn’t apply to all but maybe the 80/20 rule, you want to you really want to look at a buy for a CRM versus a build, generally speaking, and what a CRM can do for you and the enhancements that are made in the management of that. We talked about laws and regulations. And if you have a SaaS product, the cloud product, you know, you put the responsibility on them to protect your data, whether they’re a processor or a controller whatever the case may be, there’s going to be some fundamental things that are a byproduct of them, selling you a subscription cloud subscription that you put on them. You know, we can’t afford to hire seven PhDs and know all about protecting data. I mean, it’s just not feasible. So there’s a trade-off there. But generally speaking, I think a CRM, a core CRM platform, is probably I would focus more on a buy decision versus a build. Building has, if you look at laws, regulations, the changing landscape out there, and the fact that many, many, many organizations are saying I’m going to offer SAS cloud services to nonprofits based upon their size and their industry. In a per-user basis, it could be a very cost-effective way to do things versus building in today’s market, but that’s for the core solution that’s for the base core CRM, then you have the option to look at building or using other products, we have a two-core system. Well, two ancillary systems that work with CRM that we built internally because we just couldn’t find those out there and our CRM system, we could never pay enough money to modify it to do what we want it to. So I think the strategy when you’re looking at buying versus build is not to ignore the ancillary systems, whether that’s MailChimp something you’ve developed your own website, not using the website that may be provided by your CRM, because CRM solutions, try and grow also the vendors trying and have these other bolt-on packages. And you know, especially in the nonprofit industry, you’ll hear about, this CRM vendor purchase this package to bolt on to theirs, and you know, and it’s littered with failures and successes, right? So, you know, don’t necessarily look at throwing away what you’re doing with what I call ancillary systems. Those may be a very good long term solution for you, and then you’re just then you can evaluate the core CRM, and their ability to provide a good SDK or API model for you. And that includes business analytics and warehousing type stuff. So, to me, that’s where the build versus buy where it lands, I would be my recommendation of people called me I wouldn’t necessarily volunteer to be the project manager, if you will, for a large build direction for a large nonprofit. I mean, that has, I mean, you can talk to nonprofits, or midsize to larger and the end and the landscapes littered with CRM failures are trying to build your own application.

Boris Kievsky 19:47
Yeah, it’s very similar in so many different aspects of digital life in general, but in just about anything, there are professionals out there experts out there who already do it and they devote all their time and their staff to maintaining it, making sure that it’s running up to legal codes up to, you know, standards, web standards and information standards that are out there, to do something and build it yourself. You have to have a full time dedicated team to just keep up. On the other hand, when it’s actually I think when you’re a small enough nonprofit, something simple that you could build together, literally, with Google applications. If you only need a certain amount of data, and there are certain interactions, you could build on pretty quickly, and it’ll work just fine for you. But as soon as you can, it’s easier to offload that responsibility to a third party, assuming that they can do the things you want them to do. And going back to you’re talking about CRMs that are now also doing ancillary services and products. My experience has been, that rarely works well, if they try to become all things to all people, and that just makes them not the best at any one thing. So I personally look for, whether it’s the website platform that you’re building on, or the CRM that you’re using, I want the ones that are going to be most interoperable and most flexible and be the best at the thing they do, rather than the one that will do just everything for me, because as soon as you hit any limitation, you’re now stuck. And I’m working with a client right now who was using a CRM, which shall not be named right now. And the CRM had promised certain ancillary features that would interact with their website, and a few years ago, just stopped, stopped developing those so they’re no longer even supported. And now they’re stuck. Now they’re looking at actually going to a whole new CRM, just to get the features that they need.

Mike Panas 21:56
Yeah. And I think everything you’re saying is right, and then if you take that mindset, and then you apply it to the org, whether you’re smaller, large organizations, you know, constituent profile strategy, if you will, that tells you, you know, if your focus is, maybe you’re a nonprofit, and you’re small and your focus is and I’m a found person, you know, a private foundation and you have specific people you want to serve in your, in your data for the first two years is only going to be made up those people you serve, and that’s easily managed through lists and MailChimp. for that period of time, that’s great. But if you look at strategically, where you’re going to go, where you might, you know, is your strategy too, to maybe moving from a foundational approach to a nonprofit approach, maybe you have to do that for tax reasons, who knows, but if he at least is talking about the potential constituents in your world long term, that kind of also allows you to develop strategies and start tracking data and use data, right? So if you ever do convert to a CRM package or things like that, you know, you understand how your data is being used and what you’re collecting and how you’re managing it. A lot of times, you know, people get into trouble and they go, man, if we would have just done these things for the last two years, this is us embracing the CRM package, it gives us all these other things would have been much easier. And so I think that’s an important strategy. It all goes back to me for our CRM is, like you said, it’s a constituent relationship management system. To define your constituents to find the profiles of them and where you’re going short term and long term. And if it’s all about donations, and it’s all about donations, and you may want a CRM to help you properly take credit card transactions and report certain information about that and protect their personal information and make sure you have tokens versus, you know, encrypted credit card numbers and things like that, because you can I think one of the things you let you didn’t say, but I heard you say is you’re forced to if you have a problem, you’re forced to operationally fix it, which means your own internal manpower. So if these two pieces of the solution don’t work together, there’s a gap. And that gap is usually filled with manpower. It’s reentry. It’s checking, it’s balancing and see sort of thing. So, yes. describing all that and having an architecture for that with ancillary products is just very, very important. Because you will plug those holes and unfortunately, it’s with manpower.Unless then you want to do is that staff when you go to a CRM system,

Boris Kievsky 24:46
So in terms of the types of information that you want to be tracking in your CRM and things that you want to be considered, considering as you’re setting this up, certain things obviously, lend themselves more easily to integrating with a CRM, like digital acquisition versus other what I call legacy media, but they’re still very effective certainly for nonprofits. Can you talk to me a little bit about donor acquisition models and which ones are going to work easiest and what you have to look forward to depending on in a CRM, depending on what you’re currently doing?

Mike Panas 25:25
yeah. So, so I think when people, you know, mentioned, you know, what’s our donor acquisition strategies, or, you know, how are we gonna, you know, what’s our plan, if you will, and, you know, usually led by, a chief marketing officer or chief development officer in the nonprofit world. It’s really donor acquisition and then retention. So I think he has, you know, the word to the wise is, you know, we sometimes we focus more on the acquisition strategies if that makes sense than we do on the retention of who we already have. So I think that’s kind of the first thing is to create a donor acquisition strategy that includes not only the acquisition but the strategy, the nurturing

Boris Kievsky 26:18
Yeah, to get them to keep being a donor and hopefully leading them up the chain to become greater and greater supporters. Right.

Mike Panas 26:26
Yeah. And you know, sometimes we say supporters, right of the organization or things like that But I think that’s just an important thing to look at now. Each nonprofit, has different strategies for donor acquisition, right. And it depends on who you’re serving. And then what your, donor what do you need donations for? Is it cash, is it gifting kind Things like that. So, to me, it’s kind of a, I live in Oklahoma in Oklahoma, although I’ve never worked for a gas company. You know, the talk here is when you’re talking to oil and gas professionals, you know, you hear this word upstream and downstream right. And the movement of oil and all this was very similar in the nonprofit world, I think and we refer to upstream individual donors, upstream corporate cash donors, individual support and then also corporate GIK Gift in Kind in our world we receive a large volume of food from our upstream gift-in-kind partners. Those are all you know, those are donors I mean, those are people we have relationships with. So, I think if an organization from a donor acquisition model can the employee one thing is to look at your entire process, if you will, your upstream or downstream who you’re serving, we actually have zero people in our database, who are in need of food, children who are needing food. From a domestic perspective, we have that internationally. Because we have a program we execute programs internationally for children across 10 countries. But domestically, our database has zero information about that, because we have downstream partners who execute that. So what’s important is understanding from a donor acquisition perspective is understanding what you’re doing, who you’re serving, and then turn that into strategies to allow you to acquire relationships with donors out there supporters out there and grow that from a communication. So sometimes it’s information that comes back to a pure pipeline if you will. And that has to be part of your strategy for acquiring doctors and retention of those doctors. And if you don’t, if you don’t, and that’s one of our ancillary packages, by the way, where we have the corporate part I’m sorry, we have. We have partners, sometimes or corporations, but we have partners downstream regional food banks, pantries, churches, Meals on Wheels programs, and those sorts of things where we provide donations to them. And they execute on that. Well, that collaboration communication for us is a strategic initiative to increase our capabilities in that area, which we’ve elected to have that as an ancillary solution to our CRM, our CRM package. So donor acquisition looks have to look at your entire pipeline if you will use an oil and gas term of how you do business as well.

Boris Kievsky 29:53
So depending on your donor acquisition and constituent acquisition strategies, I guess you’re going to need to consider different elements of what a CRM can and cannot do for you. And sometimes I’m thinking on a smaller nonprofit scale, it might be some data entry, right? Some manual labor to get people who are, for example, donating still by mail by check, that’s not automatically going to go into a digital platform. Although, if you start out with the digital platform for the mailings in the first place, then they already have account records. But you got to go back in and you got to, you know, add in some data, in order to keep that relationship going and tracking the performance over time that way

Mike Panas 30:41
And we have a large, you know, direct mail effort in our company, and we had a and of course, that’s a donor acquisition model. We have that and we’re 41 years old, so you can imagine that’s where it started, along with, you know, television and that sort of thing, but we had a very long conversation about the analytics and the data flow between our new CRM system and providing those analytics to do the best job we can. Not only donor retention, but new donor acquisition, and lapsed donors. Of course, those people who haven’t heard from us we lost contact with them. And like you mentioned earlier, sometimes your CRM solution provider can also provide other analytic tools, but they also have access to other data analytic tools. I shouldn’t say data analytic tools, where they mined and gather and provide you with data about your donors that you don’t know about. Because that’s that’s a value add right from them. And then that goes downstream into our mailing or donor acquisition and then the success or maybe not success of a particular mail income back upstream. And then so that’s a critical component of your, of your CRM integration.

Boris Kievsky 32:07
Yeah, as long as those, uh, those ancillary sources of information about your donors is still up to code, because those codes are changing very quickly too. And a lot of organizations are scrambling a lot of information providers are scrambling to figure out, oh, all of a sudden, we can’t work in California anymore. Sorry, we can’t get you that information. Or in Europe, certain aspects can no longer be gathered and collected without explicit permission and management of privacy rights management, all of those different layers of personal protection that’s not put in which is another reason why it’s great to have something that SAS product outsource versus building something yourself and tracking it all yourself.

Mike Panas 32:50
Yeah, well, I think you bring up a good point. You know, not knowing where all this is going to go we typically in the nonprofit world, we work and assist and share information with organizations of like mine with us. at no cost to them, you know, we’re not trying, we don’t sell a data list. We don’t market something, you know, we don’t do what Amazon does, necessarily. We don’t, we don’t work like that. And typically in the nonprofit world, that’s what you see, hopefully, knock on with us, which see all the time. But having said that, it doesn’t matter. If the California laws say this, just because you’re doing good, it doesn’t mean you know, you’re not burdened with the same thing. So yes, we typically work together with other nonprofit organizations to share how we can do good better if you will, but that doesn’t matter to, you know, to the European laws and regulations and we still have to manage the data. So which all boils down to, you know, what are your ancillary packages doing a What’s your relationship? What’s your agreement, who has the risk of if we’re giving our data to a third party to help us do something with their systems, we get data back. If you take California, for example, we have to know what you’ve been doing with that data. We have to know where you’re storing now, right now, nonprofits are excluded from some of those things from the California laws. And we’re trying to keep it that way. But it’s going to happen. I think, the moral of the story and what you bring up, which I think is a great point, is that we need to be managing that now and having a good understanding if you have an outsourced or a SaaS product, or even if it’s in house, but it’s a software vendor. You need to be in tune with what they’re doing, and where your data stored and you know, is on a boat in the sea somewhere in a data center or is it in you know, Sweden somewhere or whatever, because even where the data is located now is something we have to know. And it’s just it’s a burden that, nonprofits like most people have to deal are going to have to deal with.

Boris Kievsky 35:17
Like, this is all really important stuff to know and to discuss. We’re past our half-hour that I asked you to promise me today. So I really appreciate all your time. I asked you for a couple of resources to spotlight you’d suggested people check out and 10 and nonprofit quarterly. Why are those organizations?

Mike Panas 35:41
Well, I like their approach to communications. I mean, it’s very MPR like, if you will, I think, which is great. The other thing is, you know, ask vendors. I mean, vendors are a free resource, whether it’s, you know, pick any CRM system or whatever and They like to talk about what they do. They like to talk about their solutions or product, their approach. And they can help educate especially a new organization, looking for a CRM system, invite those vendors, now it’s, it’s all going to be over zoom or whatever. So it’s easy to have those meetings. it’s cost-effective for them, it’s cost-effective for you and just hear what they have to say, let them present their solution, how it can value your company. And there, they’re an endless resource for you.

Boris Kievsky 36:28
Yeah, I’m sure they’ll talk to you as long as you want is fantastic. We’ll put that in the show notes today, along with that antenne nonprofit quarterly as an action step that nonprofits can take is reach out to vendors of CRMs to see what they offer, actually realized earlier today that there’s an article I have from a couple of years ago on the site, about how to pick a CRM, what things to be looking for and looking out for. So we’ll link to that as well. Before we wrap up, Mike, what should nonprofits do? If someone listening to this show wants to follow up with you, or keep up with the work that you’re doing, what do you advise?

Mike Panas 37:07
Yeah. You connect me on LinkedIn is probably the easiest way. If not search for, you know feedthechildren.org. It’s easy Mike.panas, but I’m on the leadership team on the website, but just, you know, find our number you can call our 800 number, they’ll connect you to me. But LinkedIn is always a good connection point. Just search for me I’m under Michael Panas on Linkedin. So, yeah, I’m happy to talk. I talk with a lot of nonprofits who’ve been looking at CRM, and, you know, we want to help people out there that are in the nonprofit world doing good. I mean, you know, and if I can help them save money or reduce risk or whatever, it just helps them do what they do better, and use those monies for what they do downstream to the people that serve so just give me a ring connect on LinkedIn. I appreciate it.

Boris Kievsky 37:55
We’ll have your LinkedIn profile already linked on the episode show notes as well. listening to the show, it is NP Hero Factory.com/EP12 as in episode 12. We will redirect you to the show notes for this entire episode. Everything that Mike had to say with the transcript with the audio of the video, we package it all to make it as easy as possible. Mike, thank you again so much for your time and all the valuable information and for offering to talk to more people out there that are facing these types of questions and challenges.

Mike Panas 38:40
Well, glad to help and appreciate the time. Thanks, Boris.

Boris Kievsky 38:43
Thank you. Bye Bye, everybody. Take care.

Exit 38:48
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 war heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show and YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • A CRM, in nonprofits terms, refers to a Constituent Relationship Management system. They are used by nonprofits to manage relationships with any and all stakeholders involved in furthering your mission—including donors, volunteers and partners.
  • Collecting and tracking information about your constituents improves your ability to communicate with them as unique individuals, rather than anonymous groups. A successful CRM implementation helps store and manage details that routinely get forgotten.
  • Even nonprofits that don’t have a CRM are likely already using software that either acts like a CRM or interacts with one, including email platforms like MailChimp or donation systems.
  • Nonprofits of any size can make good use of a CRM, and there are options to fit nearly any budget. Although they may add to your operating costs, the value generally outweighs the price as they help you retain donors, attract new ones, and grow your outreach.
  • When deciding if you should “build or buy,” consider the amount of resources your organization would need to keep up with the latest regulations and best practices. This is why an external platform is often the best option, because they have entire teams devoted to all of the legal and practical nuances.
  • Many CRMs offer the ability to expand functionality through ancillary products through integrations, APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and SDKs (Software Development Kits).

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Michael Panas

Michael Panas

Chief Information Officer, Feed the Children

Mike serves on the Feed the Children executive team as the corporation’s Chief Information Officer and recently managed the organization’s conversion to a new CRM solution. As a technology professional, he has worked for NCR Corporation, US West, bank holding companies, and large health organizations. For the past 12 years he has provided technology social change leadership to several national cause initiatives, established and chaired non-profits, and served on several non-profit boards.

Connect with Michael Panas

Ep 7 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 7: Digital Tools and Strategies for Affecting Change with Boris Kievsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 7

Digital Tools and Strategies for Affecting Change with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

Boris hosts a special episode devoted to how nonprofits can and should use storytelling and technology to enact change in the world.

Introduction 0:02
Welcome to the nonprofit Hero Factory, our 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.

Boris Kievsky 0:19
Hi, everybody. Welcome to a special episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory. This is going to be a solo episode. Normally I do have guests on and I will have guests next week again. But today I wanted to take a few minutes and give you a short episode talking about something that’s really important to me. And I think to millions of other people in the world right now. And that is the injustice is going on and what nonprofits can and I believe should be doing to help address them. So this episode seven is titled digital tools and strategies for effecting change. And I want to focus on social advocacy and change making tools for non profits

Boris Kievsky 1:01
I just published a new blog post on the dotorgstrategy blog outlining a lot of the tools and strategies and there will be links to that in the show notes. But today, I just want to talk about the need for us to stand up and take action.

Boris Kievsky 1:18
There are people in this country who are both literally and figuratively taking to the streets right now to demand justice, to demand a better America and a better world for all of us. And I know that that is at the heart of what a lot of nonprofits are doing. If you’re not out to make the world a better place, then I’m not sure what you’re doing as a nonprofit, what else your mission might possibly have to say. And I think these causes, whether it’s what’s happening right now with Black Lives Matter and demanding justice for George Floyd and to many other African Americans in this country that are unjustly being murdered in the streets and in their homes, or it’s fighting pandemics.

Boris Kievsky 1:59
Like COVID-19 and misinformation around the issues that are going on out thereare literally dozens, if not hundreds of other issues that may not be at the forefront right now, but are critical to our nation’s future and our world’s future, you must be fighting for one of those, you must be looking to make a difference in one of those areas. And while I believe that most are doing their best and have great programming, that they’re trying to get out to as many people as possible, I think we can be doing more and I think we have to be doing more in terms of social activism, driving change through political and other activist measures. So with that, I wanted to talk about why this time is different, and what we can actually do. We’ve been here before, right? We’ve had protests, we’ve had riots for all manner of issues, whether it’s race, whether it’s other rights, basic human rights, women’s rights.

Boris Kievsky 3:00
Whether it’s just the way that our government interacts with other countries and people in other places in the world, or the economy, whatever it might be, we’ve had these types of protests before. So why is to borrow a question from Passover? Why is this night different from every other night? Why is today and this particular moment in time different from all the others? I believe it is because of technology, and the ability of technology to deliver more powerful stories to everyone out there today. Everyone is a broadcaster, every single person on on the street who has a smartphone is capable of starting a broadcast of sharing a video and of sparking a movement, like the one on the streets of the United States and around the world today. story is, as I always say, the most powerful agent for change and for inspiring action.

Boris Kievsky 4:03
Many of us watched the video of what happened to George Floyd. Someone happened to shoot that video, someone happened to be nearby, and was able to capture what was happening there and share it with the world based on that people were emotionally connected to what was happening regardless, hopefully, regardless of your, your race, your your beliefs, seeing another human being suffer like that needlessly unjustly has to spark some sort of emotion within you. It could be rage, it could be empathy, it’s likely both. But it has to actually affect you. That is part of the human condition that is part of our DNA. We evolved with storytelling we evolved with the ability to connect to others through story. And now technology exists, whether it’s video recording technology, or social media that allows those video recordings to spread like wildfire throughout our society, the technology exists today where we can actually do more than just witness and document. But we can actually push and inspire action that will that must lead to change. I’m sorry, if I’m sounding so boxy today, I obviously feel strongly about this. And I hope most of you out there do too. I want to take a few minutes and mention some of the different some of the different tools that are out there. And I have highlighted a lot of these on the blog that you can find on my website. But just quickly to mention them. There are apps that have been specifically designed for this purpose, like the UCLA mobile justice apps that I believe are state specific and can be downloaded for your state to document and report the activities of law enforcement or other injustice is going on. And also to help you know your rights. Should you be in a situation where you think your civil rights might be violated. Then there are private and secure messaging apps like WhatsApp and signal that encrypt your communications so that you don’t have to worry about government reprisal, or anyone’s reprisal in terms of what you are talking to your fellow citizens, your communities about.

Boris Kievsky 6:18
There is the app citizen, which is used for listening into 911 official alerts and reports, but also to contribute to those feeds to be able to document and say, hey, there’s a fire going on, or there’s an injustice going on. And the police need to pay attention to this and others in our community need to pay attention to this maybe come out and help and support and and help us fix the issue if it’s something that can be fixed in the moment, or just get enough attention that more people actually care and do something about it. Tik tok, you know, is a very powerful social media tool that can be completely frivolous. It can be all about, you know, the latest jokes or getting videos, but it is also a great way to share content with a younger generation. And one of the advantages of tik tok is unlike the algorithms on Facebook and Instagram, on Tik tok, you can discover new videos much more readily, not just ones that your friends have shared. So it’s a great way to help new people discover things that you want them to see. Because it was all video based. With that Facebook and Facebook Messenger are still incredibly powerful whether you want to go live on Facebook with a with a interview with one of your volunteers who has seen something or someone who is a victim of something or just your organization, how you’re going to step up or are stepping up and making change. Or if it’s Facebook Messenger where you can message a whole lot of your supporters or person to person peer to peer messaging. I know I’ve received dozens of videos over the last few days and weeks. About the Black Lives Matter protests and the COVID-19 situation, right? People are using these tools to spread information quickly, hopefully, accurate information. And that’s another issue that we have to always consider. But if you seed this content out there and it resonates, it will spread quickly.

Boris Kievsky 8:24
Then there are platforms for more social activism in terms of government change. usa.gov, where you could find your representatives, you could find ways to communicate with them. There are several websites that I also mentioned, where you can actually see how people voted on how your Representatives voted on certain issues and what they support and what they don’t even where they’re funded. There is do something.org this is an election year, do something.org is very, very focused on making sure that there is a great voter turnout that people can easily registered to vote there promises anyone can register to vote, assuming you have the right to vote within a few minutes. They also have a whole lot of different campaigns that are on there and you could start your own, you can partner with them to create a campaign to get younger, younger people, but really any generation these days to stand up and take action of some sort or other whether it’s in community on a national or even a global level. change.org is probably the most popular and famous petition site. There are several others where you can start a petition, you can find petitions to sign and when there are enough petitions signed, it gets forwarded to the appropriate representative in government, whether it be on a local or national level. We the people is the White House’s a site for petitions, I think the URL might even be petitions.whitehouse.gov. But you could just go to the people and it’ll take you there and that is a direct form of communication where if you have over 100,000 signatures within a certain amount of time, I think it’s 30 or 60 days, 30 days, I think the government promises to respond in one way or another to your petition. How far that will take you. Your mileage may vary, but at least people will see that these petitions are out there that the government is forced to acknowledge the desires of the population. Then, of course, there are crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and many other Indiegogo, many other sites where a nonprofit charity can go on and start a movement in terms of attention and fundraising. The difference between a crowdfunding campaign and a regular donation page is that when you’re launching a campaign, you’re activating an entire community, and you’re trying to get them to also spread peer to peer, the importance of the mission that you’re trying to achieve in that particular moment. So it’s much easier in my opinion, to get attention to that cause beyond the community that you already supports you. It can reach a wider audience through not just search engines, but really through social media, people can easily say, hey, support this campaign. This is important. This is relevant to what’s happening right now. And that’s one of the key differentiators between a specific crowdfunding campaign versus a donate page that’s always up.

Boris Kievsky 11:20
Even sites like YouTube are currently being used for activism, whether it’s just posting videos, or what a lot of videos are now doing what a lot of video makers and channels are now doing is donating any advertising revenue from their YouTube streams to a specific charity to a specific organization like blacklivesmatter, or other organizations that are supporting social justice. What’s fantastic about that is it’s appealing to the Netflix binge culture, where if you just want to sit and watch on your couch, including of course the advertisements that sit and watch on your couch for hours at a time, you’re going to be watching hopefully interesting and relevant videos. Of course, but with those ads every time you watch an ad, the cause that that organization that that video channel is supporting is going to get a donation. And it’s a fantastic way to use tools and common culture that are out there for other reasons to help promote social change, whether it’s through awareness or actually driving donations.

Boris Kievsky 12:24
I said this was going to be a short episode, and I’m going to keep it that way. I’m just going to say that a couple final things. I’m sure most of you have most of your organization’s already have either released the statement or have instituted some begun some conversations within your organization, about blacklivesmatter about how we as a society continue to function, through the pandemic and post pandemic, about how we can make sure that there’s justice for everyone and that the information that’s being consumed by the world is accurate and hopefully positive in respect to where it’s trying to get our country and our society. That’s great statements are of solidarity are fantastic, but they’re not enough. Let’s start asking ourselves, how we can be more active, be a greater force for change, and then activating our supporters and new ones to join us on our mission on our hero’s journey, where we can all be heroes. We are citizens, a nonprofit organization, in many ways is a citizen of this country or whatever country that you are based in. And you have a tribe you have that’s a sensitive word these days, but you have a community that supports you, that will rally behind you. Of course, you want to keep it integral to your mission. You don’t want to suddenly completely shift because you will lose your base but I’m betting that some part of your mission also relates to something that the world needs to take action on and you can use these tools to do that all of the tools, again, are going to be referenced in the show notes. But with that, I’d really like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for all that you are doing to make the world a better place. It’s not always easy, and it’s definitely not always fun, but it’s absolutely vital. And the fact that you’re out there doing it every single day counts. I hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies to bring up with your organization, hopefully implement all of the links and everything is going to be in the show notes along with this video, the audio and transcripts of the episode. And if I or dotorgstrategy as a whole can be of help doing these things, getting you moving and getting you in a position where you can actually activate change agents in your community, please let me know please reach out. I’m happy to do whatever I can. I offer consultations to any organization, especially one that is active and trying to pursue social change and justice in this world.

Boris Kievsky 15:04
With that, thank you all for watching and listening to this special and important I believe episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory. Please be sure to subscribe to the show on YouTube. Watch us on Facebook, join us there, follow us on your favorite social media platforms and subscribe and follow us on your favorite podcast platforms. We’re on just about all of them now. And that’ll be the best way to make sure you keep getting these strategies sent to you in one way or another, delivered in your favorite medium, and helping us all make the world a better place. And if you’d love what you see, by the way, please do leave us a review. Thank you Have a great weekend.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • While statements of solidarity are great starting points, we have the power and responsibility to do more.
  • Storytelling—and video in particular—is the most powerful instrument for inspiring and inciting action.
  • Technology has the ability to amplify story and make it go viral through peer-to-peer sharing. It also has the power to organize and activate people in new ways.
  • Mobile tech has democratized media. Everyone is a broadcaster.

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief Storyteller and Nerd at dotOrgStrategy

Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

Ep 6 - Isaac Shalev - Featured

Episode 6: Making Your Nonprofit’s Data Work for You with Isaac Shalev

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 6

Making Your Nonprofit's Data Work for You with Isaac Shalev

In this Episode:

When it comes to stretching resources, most nonprofits focus on minimizing their spending and maximizing donations. But many are not taking advantage of everything their data and technology have to offer.

From donor engagement to setting and measuring ROI, to scaling your impact, Isaac shares his insights on how your data can take your work to the next level.

Introduction 0:03
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.

Boris Kievsky 0:20
Hi, everybody. Good morning. Welcome to Episode Six of the nonprofit Hero Factory. We’re talking today about making your nonprofits data work for you with our guests, my friend, Isaac Shalev. Before I get into that, though, the goal of the show is to empower nonprofit leaders with ideas, strategies and tools to activate More Heroes for their cause and create a better world for all of us. So today, I just need to acknowledge and say a special word of thanks to all the nonprofit organizations and individuals working tirelessly in the face of tremendous obstacles and entrenched in justice to make this country in this world a safer and more equitable one for all of us.

Boris Kievsky 1:01
If I can personally be of any help to your nonprofit, your cause and the work you’re doing, please reach out to me and let me know. So with that, let’s get to the subject of this episode and how you can create more heroes, with Isaac, who is going to talk to us about how to maximize your nonprofits data to activate More Heroes for your cause and increase your impact. Were excited to bring him on to the show. My friend, data therapist Isaac Shalev, who is the president of Sage 70, Inc., is a nonprofit strategist and CRM expert who helps make data work for nonprofits by focusing on people policies and systems in that order. So good morning, Isaac, and welcome to the show.

Isaac Shalev 1:41
Good morning Boris. Thanks for having me this morning. Great to be here.

Boris Kievsky 1:44
Always happy to collaborate with you in any way. As we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your story and tell us about your nonprofit superpower?

Isaac Shalev 1:54
Yes, thank you. I started in nonprofit really at the very start of my career. I’ve been working kind of at the intersection of technology and nonprofits for the last 20 years or so. And I was lucky enough to have been raised in a computer savvy house and my dad was a database guy. And so I absorbed a lot of these things in the same way that you know, Millennials are really good with technologies like the phone and social media that some of us older folks are struggling to catch up with. I kind of was born into databases. So I use that superpower. And about 10 years ago, I founded Sage, 70, Inc., which is a boutique consultancy devoted, as you said to making data work for nonprofits. And so my superpower is X ray vision. I can see right through your data I can see right through your policies and I can get to the source of your trouble. I know what kinds of problems are blocking you are the obstacles for non-profits to use data more effectively, and to tell stories that activate people using data.

Boris Kievsky 3:06
That’s pretty awesome. As soon as you say that I have a visual of it the original I think Superman movie where he x rays with his vision of the kid’s leg and sees exactly where it’s broken so he says, it’s okay, Billy, you’re going to be fine. So, how quick are you with nonprofit data?

Isaac Shalev 3:23
Well, look, I’m not faster than a speeding bullets. But I can leap tall data silos in a single bound.

Boris Kievsky 3:30
Well, we could go with superhero puns all day. I love it. So tell me then in terms of your expertise and nonprofit data, what are you seeing is going on in the world today in the nonprofit sector,

Isaac Shalev 3:46
So the nonprofit sector is I think, starting to shake itself from the shock that we initially experienced with COVID-19 there’s still a lot shocking that’s going on in the world. And, you know, we were at a protest last night and over the weekend, and so there’s still a lot happening in the world. But nonprofits are starting to come around to taking control of their destiny. And to bouncing back from a really, really stunning kind of right cross that we all took. What I’m seeing is that there’s quite a lot of focus right now from nonprofits about how to be more scalable in the work that they do. And I want to distinguish this from efficiency. People are not talking about how do we do more with less, and I’m so happy about that. We’re not coming from that, that culture of scarcity. What people are really saying is we have all these incredible tools that we’ve been under using, how do we use them? What barriers lying in the way just as a small example, a client of mine was, they called me up they had a chat panel that they had implemented for their memberships and sort of a private place to chat. And this is all, you know, funders who wanted to chat with one another collaborative funding opportunities. And they called me and they said, Hey, you know, it seems to have gone down, can you help us put it back up? And and then they said, but before you do that, can you tell us why nobody’s really using it? And that was a magical question. Right? Because it wasn’t about what tools they had. It was about why wasn’t it being used in the why had nothing to do with the technology? It had everything to do with people and with community building? And is there a use case, right? Can we actually use this? So we looked at the data in the data set, no, nobody’s using it and we rethought. So that’s an example of how nonprofits are not coming from a position of scarcity but really thinking about effectiveness.

Boris Kievsky 5:49
I love that. You’re trying to get away from the focus on scarcity and doing more with less although at the same time using technology well, doesn’t in fact help them do more with less, it doesn’t take as much in terms of finance, financial resources, and hopefully even manpower once it’s set up or human power, once it’s set up and running, to be able to reach more people more effectively, right, more directly more focused and specialized in the ways that you’re reaching to them. And to your point that you were just saying now in the media that they want to use it in ways that they want to use that media, right. So it’s not a one size fits all. But we can actually customize the experience for our stakeholders.

Isaac Shalev 6:35
I think that I want to encourage nonprofits to think about how to do more with more. And what I mean by that is, there are so many opportunities to actually do better than we’re already doing. And the costs for that aren’t necessarily greater. They’re different though. So a lot of organizations have been thinking about their gift acknowledgement process, and some of that is a real struggle of who goes into the office to pick up checks, open them, they’re all paper Do we need to disinfect, right? There’s this whole health concern and an access problem. By the way, we normally do this with two people, because you’re not supposed to open mail with only one person, somebody’s got a login, you know, all of those processes are being challenged. And so a lot of folks are suddenly saying, hang on, why don’t we shift to email acknowledgement for gifts under some number, right. And this is something that we could have done 10 years ago, or even 20 years ago. It’s true that even in the year 2000, we use email. And we could have done this. And by the way, we could have done more with more in the sense that emails can carry multimedia, they can carry links and calls to action that can be measured more effectively. They’re in some ways, much better for building grassroots relationships than a paper envelope is. So we can do more with more and the more here is thinking through, why is email a great tool and taking advantage of what it has to offer instead of saying, oh, let’s attach our acknowledgement as a PDF to the email, right? We’ve all seen nonprofits make that kind of mistake, right? Here’s the new technology and you’re like, I love this car, I’m going to carry it around on my bike.

Boris Kievsky 8:24
Or drawn by a horse. Right? That actually reminds me there’s a there’s a Facebook group that you and I are both a part of where somebody recently asked, What is the best magazine like tool to publish their annual report online that they’re finally moving from print to digital, but they’re looking and there are tools like issue I know. I think that’s how you pronounce it is su u where it basically gives you a magazine layout online. And I was very happy that some people chimed in and said yeah, there are those tools but why not make it a true online experience? You know, build it out in an interactive format that is designed for the web rather than something to retrofit, you know, and get your printed version up online.

Isaac Shalev 9:11
Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I do think that you need to consider your audience and how they want to consume your content and why there was a strategy for a while fundraising Gala’s to produce what are called journal books. So these are essentially ads that donors can purchase to send a congratulatory note to essentially express their support in a visible way. And you write a yearbook of sorts, and there wasn’t there were quite a few attempts to digitize this in some fashion. And it didn’t work. Because the only time that you look at that journal book, is when you’re at the gala. And when you’re at the gala, you don’t want to pull out an iPad from your You know, your suit pocket or your non existent dress pockets? Because oh my goodness, why are we not making pockets on dresses. But you’re going to pull that out now and write and start connecting to service to download a thing to flip there? No, you’re going to take a piece of paper and look through it. Papers, also a technology, you need to deploy it where it makes sense. On the other hand, if you’re going to project messages of thanks, if you’re going to do a video tribute, you know, there are there are great opportunities. So we need to think about doing more with more, because there’s so much that these tools can offer us that we can do more with.

Boris Kievsky 10:38
Right on. Absolutely. So what are what are nonprofits doing right right now? What are what are what are you advising some of your clients to be doing at this time? Well, let me take it from kind of a data and CRM angle. I think that’s even though I love talking about some of this other stuff. That’s that’s really the core of my expertise. And what we’re seeing is a couple of things. First off, there is a an acceleration on access projects. And what I mean by that is, a lot of folks have a CRM database, maybe they have some reporting tools connected to it, that were built to serve a an audience of employees who are working on site. And so there’s just a tremendous acceleration of remote access. And it’s a great opportunity because once you’re starting to rethink how you’re serving that data, you’re also starting to rethink what that data is, and in what format it should be served. So reporting projects, Business Intelligence projects, we’re seeing them become prioritized. We’re also seeing that organizations that realize that they’re kind of behind the curve with databases and that they have allowed you know, too many non web based or non web powered database technologies to proliferate they’re suddenly starting to see some of the challenges they and are looking to sort that out. So those those are at the system level what we’re seeing, but we’re also seeing a really powerful change and how people are communicating. You know, if you’d have asked me, you know, two years ago, what would happen to communications, if something like COVID hit, I would have said, Oh, my goodness, this is going to be great. We’re finally going to kill meetings, right? We’re finally going to get out of this. We’re going to realize we don’t need them. We’re going to, you know, all work in Trello and Basecamp. And whatever it is Slack, just the opposite. We’re seeing more meetings. They’re shorter, for sure. They’re all video. And I think that that’s actually the real magic here. We’ve finally gotten over the video adoption hump, to the point where your default meeting is now a face to face video meeting instead of a phone call. We finally realize that the phone is just this really bad app on our phone?

Boris Kievsky 13:06
Totally fair, totally fair. I do think at the moment there are I personally, I think we’re overusing zoom videos. And I think it’s a sort of knee jerk response to, oh, I can’t walk into someone’s office now. So I’m gonna, you know, pull them up instead of actually using some other technologies like Microsoft Teams or slack or something like that to keep smaller threads of communication going consistently. Because I, I think there are too many meetings going on in general, in every kind of organization right now. A lot of it is also based on the fact that people are struggling to figure out what to do and they want to collaborate and the most collaborative form usually feels like a all hands on deck meeting or a one on one meeting with with video conferencing, but I’m hoping that it’s going to tail off a little bit and we’re going to find other more effective ways to communicate, in addition to video,

Isaac Shalev 14:06
It’s exactly right. We need to learn how to use the tools better. And we are learning we’re learning how to share our screens more effectively, we’re learning, you know, we’re learning that if you talk and you’re muted, you’re not heard, right. And so, we’re getting better at this. And we’re gonna, we’re gonna pick up on on that more and more, what I, what I think we’re also learning is that it’s not just about showing up to the meeting, the real question is, how do we communicate? How does everyone look at the same data and see it the same way or at least have the opportunity to reflect on and understand it and you know, and kind of get everyone on the same page about it? What is what was never especially effective was sitting in a room with somebody trying to explain the data. You need analysis, you need to be able to show things visually so that people who understand things visually can see them, you need to then be able to talk to the data and tell a story from it so that people who understand things, you know, through their ears will understand the exciting opportunity right now is to recognize that with video as our primary means that we have so much more bandwidth to fill our communication channel with, right that we have so much more opportunity to express our data in a meaningful way. That’s where we’re seeing a huge uptick is folks sitting, you know, we’ve always talked about metrics and so on. But we really have a need now to name a couple of KPIs of key performance indicators, and managed to that we really have a need to understand processes that we didn’t understand before. And we have also suddenly more data because we’re encouraging our participants to engage with us through systems through the internet because they can’t do it in person. And all of those interactions are easy to count and they’re easy measure. So folks are saying, what can we measure today that we couldn’t measure before? And what should we measure? What counts?

Boris Kievsky 16:09
So then how are they presenting this data in the new visual formats in video? Are you talking about, you know, charts that get converted into animation? Are you talking about monitoring user flows and diagramming that, what is it that people are doing or should be doing?

Isaac Shalev 16:28
Well, I’ll say this, the first thing that people should be doing is connecting their logic model to their metrics. In other words, what are you trying to do? Why do you think what you’re doing is going to accomplish that goal? And what are you going to count to make sure, right, so if you don’t have that, right, if you haven’t done that, essentially strategic planning work, where you lay out your goals, you define your activities, and then you identify indicators. You’ve got to start there. And that’s, you know, technology can help and support you but nothing can replace human beings thinking deeply and caring deeply, and then trying to act. So you’ve got to be doing that. If you’re doing that, you need to be really, really specific about those indicators. What are you measuring and take the leap of faith. One of the greatest challenges that we have in this work is that it’s hard to measure directly the things that we’re trying to achieve. Even something straightforward, right? Let’s say you are running a soup kitchen. So you think that’s fairly straightforward. There’s a need people are hungry, you’re going to cook food and serve it to them. And that’s how you’re going to meet at least this immediate need. And then I asked you, Boris, what should you count to know if you’re succeeding?

Boris Kievsky 17:47
Number of people served the number of meals served, the number of people who still haven’t been served who still need your services, whether they know it or not, I don’t know. There’s a lot of different factors.

Isaac Shalev 18:00
There’s a lot of different factors. And so really what we have done not so well is defined what success is for our operation. So you might say, and this is sort of a process oriented approach is you might say, our operation is intended to serve as many people as possible. And so then you’re measuring things like cost per meal, right? Because you want to make sure that you’re serving as many people as possible. And you’re measuring things like how many people are you able to serve? And how many meals are you able to serve? But you have to take the leap of faith that says that if those metrics look right, you’re also solving this larger problem. And that’s not always true. But you have to at some point, take the leap and say, what we’ve chosen to measure we have to believe is actually helping us achieve our goals. Because day to day, that’s what you have to be focused on. Your strategic process should take a step back from that on an annual or two year or three year basis and say, did we choose the right actions? Have we impacted the way that we thought? don’t measure impact quarterly? It’s a meaningless timespan over which to shift, major challenges that nonprofits are engaged with. But do you measure your efficiency quarterly? Right? Do you measure your operational quality at a much closer interval?

Boris Kievsky 19:25
But I also think that it’s not just believing that the goal that you’ve set for yourself are the right ones, I think periodically, you should evaluate and reassess them because Sure, maybe you’re serving twice as many people this year as last year. But are they still the people that are most in need? Are you finding that you’re serving the right audience, right, because maybe you’ve expanded too far or maybe people are taking advantage of the system? Or maybe there are other programs that are in place that might help some of those people more effectively, whether they’re within your organization or someone else’s?

Isaac Shalev 19:58
Yeah, one of the things we struggle with is measuring our success. So I’ll give you an example. Just the other day I was talking with a director of technology, who was trying to understand whether the trainings that they were delivering to their staff were effective. And, you know, initially they were thinking about a survey and I said, Look, you know, staff as of under 50 people a survey is just not a meaningful method to learn very much like you might learn some very extreme trends, but it’s just not reliable to few people. But let’s try and predict some other outcomes or some other things that might happen if our training is successful. So for example, one thing that you know, tech folks like to do is measure how many tickets come in on support requests. Okay, so if you are going to train people to use some new process, what do you think will happen to support requests following the training

Boris Kievsky 20:58
There going to go up at first

Isaac Shalev 21:00
Right. And that’s the key point, they’re going to go up at first. In other words, you’re you can you can, you can picture this in your head, right? The the director of IT walks into the senior staff meeting and says, I have such great news. We did this training, we taught everyone how to use our CRM, and we have just experienced a 70% drop in support tickets. Isn’t that great? Everyone’s learned how to use it. Right? And, you know, what’s really happening is that everyone is now terrified, because they’re supposed to know. And so they’re not asking support, they’re asking each other, if you’re lucky, or more likely, they found like the three people who really know how to use the system, and they’ve shifted all the work on to them and those folks don’t need as much support. They know how to use the system. Right? So we need to recognize and anticipate what is the shape of our indicator going to be in the beginning. More support tickets over time, less and that’s really tricky. That’s a hard thing to do. And organizations do struggle with it. And that’s why a lot of them throw their hands up in frustration and say, I’m not getting real value out of measuring. So why am I wasting all my time here? Let’s go back to relying on the instincts and the professional acumen of our staff. And you know, the measurements, we can always find a statistic to put in the annual report. I really want to encourage organizations to recognize that that approach guarantees that you’re not going to make progress. It guarantees because you’re always going to find a reason why what is expedient, or what is easy, is also good. That’s our nature as humans, right? If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we don’t do the stuff that we do, and we do hold ourselves accountable.

Boris Kievsky 22:54
Yeah, and this happens in all levels of society, not even to talk about politics. But you know, there’s a type of thinking, which is magical executive thinking that I know best that I know this market. I know this audience, I know this process, right? And I can predict what they’re going to need. I know how to respond, rather than actually testing, generating data oftentimes, but at least looking at the data that you already have, and validating in terms of a systemized process, these assumptions, the approaches to them. A lot of organizations I feel are tied to the way that they’ve always done it, because it’s worked. And so there’s that fear of why break something that that’s working, why fix something that that’s not broken? Right? But they don’t know what the possibilities actually are, what the potential possibly is, and if they go back to their mission instead of the way that they enact a particular program. They might see that if they test the data that the programs generated if they generate more data, they might see that it’s not as efficient and as maximal as it could be.

Isaac Shalev 24:07
Yeah, what I find is that the journey into exploring your data is a strategic journey. In other words, a lot of times we think about it in terms of operational efficiency, because there’s so much data around operations. And so it’s easier to sort of understand it there. But for most organizations, that’s not really where the the obstacle is to becoming more data driven. And it’s not where most of the rewards lie. I mean, there are certainly some rewards there. But it’s not really where the the rewards lie. When I talk to folks about why data is important. I say data is a hippo repellent. Hippo is the highest paid person’s opinion, right? That’s how we often make decisions. Whoever’s got the authority, whoever’s got the money, whoever’s got the biggest mouth sometimes, right? That drives too much of our decision making. Data gives you is the ability to overcome some of those entrenched, folks who are driving the bus because that’s how they like to do it. It gives you the opportunity to reframe the work that you’re doing. And that is incredibly valuable. I don’t know. I mean, look there, there are enterprise organizations that invest in greater data capabilities and save 4% of their data processing costs. And that represents millions of dollars. And that’s fantastic. And they should keep doing that. But for most nonprofits, that’s not why you want to look into data. Right? That’s not a sufficient reason. What you want is to look at your data, because you want to know that you are doing the mission work that you’re committed to, not just in the best possible way from an efficiency perspective, but that you’re pointed in the right direction, that the kinds of activities that you’re engaged in, help solve the problems. We live in a world of unintended consequences. There’s so many times where with good intentions, you launch something, and you end up stoking the opposite behavior, bad behavior. If you’re not looking at your data, you miss it. And then you entrench it. And then it’s really hard to get out of it.

Boris Kievsky 26:21
I’d love to keep digging into some specific, some more specific ways that people should be looking at it and maximizing their use of data. We’re gonna run out of time soon, though. So I want to jump to some resources and recommendations where people get started, what should they look at? tools, books, whatever it might be, that’ll help them go in the right direction.

Isaac Shalev 26:44
I want to give you two different resources. One is about your data. And one is about everyone else’s data. Because really, that’s how you establish a context. So there’s a tool called the fundraising report card fundraisingreportcard.com. The link is in the notes, and this is a 100% free tool it connects with , easily processes data from databases like the razor’s edge, which I’m sure many of the viewers are familiar with and probably using. And it generates a series of KPIs of essentially metrics that you would want to be looking at. And it does it in a visual way. So you can generate charts and graphs really, really easily. Just walk yourself through it, pull, you know, pull your date range, pull your accounts, you know, whatever it is that you want to count, and just create these really easy to use and appealing charts and graphs. They’re specially fantastic for talking with senior leadership and lay leadership about your fundraising operation. And they’ll do things like calculate the lifetime value of your donors based on the data that you’ve got, if you know the lifetime value of a donor. Now you’ve got a number that you can go look at and say, Well, what are my acquisition costs for a donor? And are they in alignment with this lifetime value. So it’s really giving you some terrific top line insights for essentially 15 minutes of work, you go, you sign up, you export, you know, a spreadsheet, you upload it. And suddenly you’ve got these great charts, you can do it for years and years of data and start comparing yourself year over year over year. It’s a great tool for giving you the ability to explore and what’s especially nice about it is you can create dashboards for different people in it. So you can actually create, say, a series of board dashboards. So for your reporting to your board of directors, they can be looking at a specific set, and they can each do it from their own browser on their own time whenever they want. So there’s transparency benefits as well. So that’s a tool I recommend to anyone who doesn’t already have a business intelligence tool isn’t already in a fantastic engine for generating reports. This is a great place. You’re not going to Be able to use it for like, everything this is for high level stuff. So, you know, this is not where you’re going to query give me you know, all donors who donated last year but not the year before that at over $500 but less than 1000. Like that’s not it’s not going to give you that kind of querying capability. But as a as a high level tool, it’s a great place to start the conversation about how to use data effectively.

Boris Kievsky 29:21
Sounds awesome. What’s the other one?

Isaac Shalev 29:22
The other one is m&r benchmarks. So Mrbenchmarks.com it is not mister benchmarks, although I kinda wish it was. But m&r benchmarks has been doing this for a long time, like maybe a decade if not more. They have been benchmarking statistics across nonprofits in different sectors. So if you’ve ever had that conversation where you say, Well, our open rate was 22%. Is that good? What should it be? You need benchmarks. benchmarks are the collected statistics across many similar organizations that tell you oh were Arts and Cultural Organization turns out 16 to 18% should be our open rates. So we’re 22, we must be doing something, right. That’s the power of benchmarks. They create context that allows you to take data and turn it into insight.

Boris Kievsky 30:14
I dove into that website, maybe a little too hard. I got lost in the awesome insights that they have there, including they actually showed some great trends. So it was really interesting to me to see how, for example, mobiles are definitely on the rise. Finally, in the US, it’s been, you know, huge around the world, but I’m on the rise here in the US. And even though some mobile response rates have dropped, overall, mobile usage is up and overall mobile responses is up. That’s just one of the many things that I was fascinated by. And I’m actually going to bring on someone else that I think, you know, Mike sabet, in a couple of weeks to talk about mobile specifically. And I had to send him a screenshot of what they were talking about there. It was really eye opening and in hardening in a lot of ways To see the things that they’re talking about that are trending that are moving forward, and also the things that aren’t working as well, so that nonprofits could spend less of their time and energy focusing on those things, and more into the right directions that’ll help them grow.

Isaac Shalev 31:15
Yeah, it’s really interesting to see also, the impacts of COVID on mobile use have not been as dramatic, I had anticipated that they would decline, because people are home and they’re not out and about as much and so forth. But it seems that that’s not the case. And I speculate it’s because with everyone sharing internet connections with their families, and so forth, the phone suddenly becomes this really reliable internet device, whereas the computer you know, it all depends on how many people are on zoom right now. But, but I think it also just reflects that we’ve incorporated the phone into our lives in a really sort of intrinsic way. And nonprofits have been behind the curve on this. So, you know, this is this is sort of a perpetual call, but If your site is not yet responsive, if your donation cart doesn’t work effectively on mobile, if your emails don’t read well, on mobile, start there, don’t worry about data. We have some data for you. It’s that you should fix these things.

Boris Kievsky 32:15
Absolutely. Yeah. And the phone is becoming an appendage. Right? We In fact, the reason I think behind some greater usage at the moment is because we no longer have to sit at our desks in front of a computer for X amount of hours a day continuously, we can get up and walk around the house and get a snack. We’re constantly checking our phones on our phones, something pops up, we were going to click it. So I think, especially with younger folks, the usage of phones is only going to go up and up, no matter what the pandemic or other circumstances are, Isaac we’ve run over time, because as always, you’ve got tons of value to share. So I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Thank you everyone out there in nonprofit land for watching. And listening to the nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m going to give my little call to action here, which is go to the website and check out the show notes. You can just go to NonProfitHeroFactorycom and see all episodes there or slash EP six. It’s going to be on the timecard in a second here at to see the particular notes from this show. But please, please, please follow us on YouTube, Facebook on your favorite podcast platforms. We’re on all the major ones now. And subscribe, download, listen, and please if you have any thoughts, we would love a review positive negative share your thoughts leave a rating and we could then reach more people help more nonprofits do more good. Thank you, everybody.

Concepts and Takeaways:

A few of the key points and takeaways we discussed:

  • This is a great time to embrace not just how technology can help you do what you’ve been doing, but what technology can do to extend your mission and impact
  • The scarcity mindset of “doing more with less” is not helpful. It’s time to think about what you can do with more, by mining your data and using the right technology.
  • Smart data works like this:
    • Start by understanding the goals you want to achieve (KPIs) — i.e., what does success look like?
    • Decide on the assumptions you can test
    • Determine the data (metrics) that will show whether or not your assumptions were correct and how well you are performing
    • Test against prior data and outside data (see M+R Benchmarks in the Resources section below)
    • Adjust your assumptions


Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Isaac Shalev

Isaac Shalev

President, Sage70, Inc.

Known to his clients as “the Data Therapist,” Isaac helps nonprofit organizations with technical expertise, human sensitivity, and quiet confidence. Isaac is the President of Sage70, Inc. a boutique consultancy devoted to making data work for nonprofits. He has over fifteen years of experience leading non-profit organizations, offering strategic consulting in data, fundraising and organizations development, and guiding nonprofits to greater achievement and greater wisdom.

Connect with Isaac Shalev