Category Archives: motivating staff

January is National Business Intelligence Month…

…didn’t you know that? Of course you didn’t. With the holidays, closing some year-end gifts (not to mention the books), and learning an awful lot about Amazon’s post-holiday online return policy, how could you keep up with all of the information being thrown at you. It’s hard enough to have the right information, much less use it effectively. Plus, it’s not really National Business Intelligence Month. I made that part up.

So, why the subterfuge? We need to draw attention to the critical need in the advancement business for more and better reporting and analysis. Some of you already have what you need. Some stopped looking years ago. Some have that “special” report that some poor person spends hours to prepare. But, most of us want better reporting, the kind that actually helps us make decisions about the business and tells us things we otherwise wouldn’t have known.

Better reporting requires a few things. This flow chart shows the way to better reporting. But, even more important than creating reporting is turning it into business intelligence.

Report Development Cycle

Let’s work to get even better data into even more clear reports that drives even better decisions. Let’s stop with the ad hoc, don’t-really-learn-much urgent reporting and develop a thoughtful suite of reporting that allows you to direct the team. Let’s develop shared definitions and expectations, allowing our reports to mean the same thing no matter the audience. So, know that I think about it, let’s make January National Business Intelligence Month. Make sure to put it on your calendar for next year.

Integrated Advancement Ecosystem idea

Years ago, I created this image and phrase “integrated advancement ecosystem.” It guides my thinking, and I’ll be building on and detailing the concepts in this framework in the months to come. Some of the components are called different things by different (types of) organizations. For example, “constituent programs” for a university are generally “alumni relations” whereas in healthcare, perhaps it’s “community relations.” I welcome your ideas about it.

Cannon's Integrated Advancement Ecosystem

The Purpose of the (Gift) Process

Log jam
Are gifts and data updates piling up?

“Tis the season…for bottlenecks and backlogs in our processes. Fundraising operations requires consistent, efficient processes. But, fundraising is an inconsistent business. We are in the business of the exceptional, as was the focus of my 99-1 blog a few months back.

As we approach year-end with (hopefully!!) piles and piles of gifts to process, let’s remember four essential ideas:

  1. The purpose of gift processing is first and foremost stewardship.
  2. The reason we (should) love fundraising is because our teamwork can generate a sometimes overwhelming volume of gifts.
  3. Our business process should be efficient ( doing “the thing right”) and effective (doing “the right thing”).
  4. We must adopt a front-of-the-line approach to ensure that our most cherished donors receive the level of stewardship they deserve for their role in our 2012 success.

Having your team abide by these four essential ideas will ensure that we don’s lose track of why we’re so busy in the first place. Good luck!

Change is Hard…but Decline is Worse

Development and alumni organizations face obstacles and challenges each day. It seems that pressure comes from all sides and angles. Raise more money, despite a slow economy. Engage more people, despite increasing competition for space in people’s lives. Lately, two core changes have been impacting nonprofits around the country: leadership changes and technology issues. Both of these affect fundraising operations, and finding a way to “handle” these issues is critical. On the leadership front, high functioning presidents and vice presidents are in high demand. Tenures of university presidents and healthcare CEO’s declining. There’s not much most can do to stop this slide, except to be prepared for it to happen. On the technology front, 2012 was full of mergers and other changes that substantially impact development technology suites. Much of this change is aligning with the tail-end of many product life cycles. These changes affect every nonprofit for a donor database, so one of these days these marketplace changes will affect each organization. More change is stemming from social, online, and BI-based innovations occurring at a pace that’s hard to match. The most dangerous aspect of the core changes is the all-too-frequent dip in productivity organizations experience “as a result of” the change. This issue is in quotes because, while leadership and technology change is hard to “manage” (we typically don’t have much control), these changes can be anticipated and protected against. The good news is that both of these changes can be managed through a similar set of solutions which will keep decline at bay in the midst of change:

  1. Plan the work. A plan that aligns with the organization’s mission and vision will help ride out the turbulence from a big leadership or technology change. You might be surprised at how effective a good plan is in keeping the trains running on time.
  2. Work the plan. The plan should have measurable targets for behavior. Great plans will reward and steer attention to the highest value activities we can muster. So, if the plan is in place, working it should generate the results your organization needs, despite a presidential transition or a looming conversion.
  3. Avoid the tyranny of the urgent. In both cases, careful change management (starting with requirements, weighing options, evaluating real and intangible costs) must prevail over short-term thinking and flailing actions. Plus, reminding folks about what’s important in their daily work and the impact their role has on the organization’s constituents can help retain staff despite rough patches.
  4. Get in front of disruptive change. This last issue is the most complicated and I’ve dedicated a separate blog to it. Leadership and technology changes are disruptive, often resulting in entirely new ways of doing business. We have seen in 2012 with Hostess, and over and over again for Kodak, that markets move on, and our offerings must match today’s and tomorrow’s needs. As fundraising tactics shirt around direct response, as phonable and mailable constituents decline, as the nature of our organization’s missions and deliverables change (think MIT’s free open courseware offerings and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on healthcare philanthropy), our fundraising strategies and tactics must keep pace.

And, if we plan the work, work the plan, and remain focused on the important, we can get through change without a dip n productivity. Do you have suggestions for handling change and avoiding declines in the process? Let’s hear about them!

How many engines does this plane have?

Last night was instructive…

My work with groups on the fundraising operations often centers on the delicate balancing act between the countervailing accuracy, speed, and volume. Expectations and perceptions about perfection often play a countervailing role here, too. That is, our efforts may be spinning along nicely, but an anecdotal error or oversight can throw a wrench in things simply because our expectations were too high. What most folks don’t think about often enough is that perfection is typically too expensive to deliver. I’ve written about the front-of-the-line approach to help handle this. I’ve also recommended that organizations set attainable expectations around exceptions, then adjust perceptions to better match reality. So, this is the prologue to my instruction last night…

A few months ago, during a discussion about gift processing accuracy, I heard “Well, I think our letter should be perfect. I mean, you fly a lot, so don’t you expect your flights to be perfect?” My answer: “Nope. I expect them to take off and land safely.”

Last night, I was reminded of this conversation when I found myself on an MD90 with only one operable engine last night. The situation reminded me that I will take great exception management systems over the false promise of perfection any day (lesson #1). After take off, our flight apparently lost an engine. This sounds scarier than it is; the pilots didn’t tell us this until we landed.  Once off the plane, we learned a new one would be procured and, within a few hours, we were back in the air (lesson #2).

Lesson #1 here is straightforward: Systems that help you notice errors are essential and these must be implemented and doggedly maintained. The pilots could have ignored the error; one engine worked and the flight wasn’t that long. But, great operations should identify problems to fix as much as they keep problems from happening.

Less #2 was more subtle: I knew within two minutes of take-off (for about the 88th time this year) that something was off. But, the pilot maintain confidence in the cabin by communicating effectively and not over-sharing information.  Once on the ground, we were given updates and times to expect future updates. As inconvenient as the situation was, communication helped us maintain realistic expectations.

My two hopes for you this summer are a) that you can continue to calibrate your operations through better and better expectation management and b) safe travels!

3 tips to make change happen

Surprise! Development and alumni organizations must change. Frequently. Sometimes, inexplicably. And, typically, with some difficulty.

Board leadership, executive leadership, organizational direction and cases for support, super star researchers/ faculty/ curators/ whatever–changes here often force change. The economy, technology, emergencies, demographic shifts, socio-political–changes in these areas can forever alter the very viability of our work. Change happens constantly and all around us. So, how can we get more comfortable with it?

The best book I’ve read recently offered three ways to channel change. Dan and Chip Heath’s Switch raises the fascinating question of why we sometimes embrace life-altering change yet often eschew simple changes. Getting married and moving to a new country? Awesome! Forcing me to file my expense report a day earlier? How dare you! The Heath brothers suggest three tactics to embrace change: control the emotional elements; confirm the logical elements; and, clear the path of change. It’s a terrific book. So, how might this help advancement folk?

  1. Emotion. Where change is concerned, we want to allow for emotions to run their course. Don’t bottle them up. Listen. Empathize. But, help your comrades realize that this change will make them feel better. And, most importantly, pull the band-aid off. Respectfully remind folks that the team needs to move ahead and get right with the decision being made.
  2. Logic. Have this ready, but it can’t be the lead-in over emotion. So, gauge your audience and figure out who will respond to logic more quickly. Nearly every big change I’ve orchestrated employs the same logical syllogism: A) The current state isn’t cutting it. B) More successful options are available. C) Therefore, the current state must be improved by adopting changes based on what is more successful. Simple. Clean. And, frankly, pretty hard for highly emotive folks to debunk.
  3. Direction. Advancement is complicated. We can and should build road maps, but keep in mind that sometimes our best GPS skills cannot predict what’s along the path. The best way to show direction is to depict what success will look like in the brave new world. Create sample reports that, once change occurs, will project progress. Establish attainable metrics that remind folks why they show up to work every day.

Change happens. Solutions must follow suit. What tips and tricks to embracing change have work for you?