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5 operations trends for 2016 and beyond

At the AHP International Conference this week, Dan Lantz and I have the honor of exploring five key operations trends with a group of innovators. Whereas a few years ago “big data” and “analytics” were the buzz words for operations in our industry, five new innovations will matter most in 2016:

1) CRM. Constituent relations management is everywhere and on everyone’s minds. In practice, many nonprofits have a CRM but they may only be thinking of the heavily marketing online applications that are taking up a lot of head space for nonprofits. The trick is to avoid the hype and realize the promise of CRM–structured, comprehensive data and online engagement resources available to staff and constituents on-demand.

2) Data Integration. The promise of CRM is often stymied by the reality of unstructured data in  many places. That Excel spreadsheet you keep for stewardship keeps you from realizing the benefits of  CRM. The report you hand-create in powerpoint for the Board result in a disconnected set of information. Data integration requires first a commitment to a single source of truth and second an effort to automate and streamline as much of the data gathering and management as possible. Many in healthcare are realizing some benefits here for grateful family programs. Much more is available on the horizon.

3) Outsourcing. The professionalization of the operations side of advancement is moving our team members from mere “entry” to “analysis”, allowing for a growth in caging services. We are also seeing a move in the vendor space to cloud-based, hosted IT services. These outsourcing  The more we can streamline the mundane tasks, the more our gift and data analysts can help us see patterns and better engage donors. Nonprofits are increasingly exploring the potential for outsourcing, which can be viewed as a very favorable thing. However, the organizational ramifications are significant so I expect many will not be too willing to explore this trend for fear of unsettling the work environment. That is a mistake. Our organizations deserve the highest functioning team members and, by removing the mundane from the day-to-day, you can cultivate a more engaged team.

4) Business Intelligence. BI is for many like a mythical unicorn on the hill. We have been talking about it for decades yet few have realized it. The notion–an integrated, complete set of data and reporting services that informs our business strategies while modeling our history–remains elusive but the tools available to support real BI have improved, as have great examples around the globe.

5) Social Data Management. If your organization does not yet have a social data management strategy, stop reading this and get started with one today. Beyond simply a Facebook post and engagement tactic, social data management requires that your organization do something strategic, systematic, and effective with the interactions. Ford pays Facebook $50 million a year for this sort of strategy…which means it may be a bit out of reach. However, you can start today by deciding when and how your team will not simply engage on social media but track and leverage what you learn for prospecting purposes.

All of these innovations must be handled in light of the lack of investment we have as an industry for such strategies. We must use our revenue to support our missions, of course, yet this means that (as indicated in the image above) we have very little to spend on operations.

What other trends are going to affect us all in 2016? What is your organization experiencing? Dan and I would love to hear what you’re thinking so we can share it in Orlando. And, we’ll share the presentation later this week.

Gift Administration Data: from Intake to Finalization

An age-old advancement services challenge is to balance accuracy, speed and volume in gift administration. The “through put” or “turnaround” time for handling gifts can vary wildly for good (and sometimes not so good) reasons.

This survey data suggest some starting points for how much time and energy are typically spent on gift administration tasks. Have a look and consider comparing this to your own environment as you build out your metrics:  Gift Processing Benchmarking

 

 

Don’t Mistake FTEs for Expertise

Headcount, salaries, and FTEs are very much in the news for our industry. Pay levels for executives are being scrutinized. Team sizes are being questioned.

Many hands makes light work
Many hands makes light work

The notion of doing “more with less” is never one I’ve embraced, although most organizations have plenty of opportunity for incremental improvements from their existing team. In my years of consulting, I have found that team members are coach-able, social sector infrastructure is underfunded, and, therefore, organizations need to leverage the team they have.

The caveat, though, is that we shouldn’t mistake FTEs for expertise. That is, “more with more” may not be the case. This message has stuck with me in many ways. I’ve had employees who were more productive and effective in a few hours than some were all week. I’ve seen clients hire firms to “throw bodies at the problem” only to find that inexperienced (even if book-smart) contractors often make easily avoidable mistakes.

Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of an experienced crew. In our industry, where turnover is rampant and investment is too low, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Retain, retain, retain. Where you have a great person in place, reward and retain them. You’ve likely seen someone refer to “one year of experience, ten time” to refer to a professional that hasn’t really learned much year-over-year, generally because of job hopping. If you have a great team member, assume they will be poached and do something about it.
  2. Grow with impact in mind. A careful plan to add team members based on the impact and results that position will drive is essential. I completed a project for a large academic medical center that doubled their team size, but more importantly had a training, retention, and career development plan designed to keep and promote the best people. The reality is that fundraisers, in particular, need a few years to optimize their productivity, so build a plan that accommodates that reality.
  3. Don’t assume more people and hours equal productivity. Hiring a big firm to “do everything” will increase the hours available, yet the impact of those hours may be much less productive than you desire. Before assuming the “bigger equals better”, determine if your optimism will match the reality of the situation.
  4. Be smart with your “B” students. I’m a proponent of top performers and going the extra mile to retain them; my clients too often lose top performers for the cost of a 10% raise. Your next tier of performers needs special attention, too. Because they may be less desirable to executive search professionals, you have a chance to retain them and coach them into high levels of impact. Have a “stay plan” for folks designed to get them to want to be on the team as long as they remain a good performer.

Just adding lots of FTEs is not a great plan. When budget and approval are available, it can seem like a bonanza, requiring immediate plans to load up on people or engage a contractor. Do so cautiously. Put expertise (and retention of expert team members) first in those plans. True up salaries for long-standing employees whose results have been proven. Then, with retention concerns allayed, get yourself the most talented and experienced people possible, one FTE at a time.

 

Focus on Funding Fundraising

During the St. Louis Planned Giving Council meetings, we spent some time discussing the challenges (and, as some call it, strangle hold) that cost-per-dollar-raised measures place on great fundraising. The “overhead myth” approach aligns nicely with the notion that we are under-investing in our fundraising efforts. We emphasize efficiency over effectiveness and often miss out altogether on the notion of impact and net gains.

We can start to change this. Of course, some donors would like us to do more with less. However, donors that are focused on the long-term impact of their giving understand the value of investing in broad gains, much of which requires patience.

Have a look at this Prezi on the topic: Funding Fundraising Ideas from Chris Cannon.  And, let me know what messages, metrics, and strategies are helping your team invest more and more strategically.

 

Do you know a great fundraising tech and management company? If so…

….You should have your talented team move your WordPress site into the 21st century. That’s what I did.

Thanks to my colleague Geof Landgraf for his excellent work in combining my WordPress site with my fundraisingoperations.com site. You can expect some fresh blogging in the next few weeks on: alumni participation; mergers and acquisitions, nonprofit-style; and, triggers to change your ERP.

In the meantime, consider whether you’re doing all you can with your digital real estate and assets. A consolidation like Geof provided or other refreshes might be just the trick to get your onsite profile noticed by more constituents and donors.

4 Steps for a Must-Have, FACTual Reporting Environment

Every team needs great reports. Successful and effective reporting is essential to advancement efforts. Your team’s report framework may be different than others, but you should have some set principles. I’ve written about the critical importance of great reporting for operations efforts.

The look and feel of reports should be similar in font, format, etc. to make users more comfortable.
The look and feel of reports should be similar in font, format, etc. to make users more comfortable.

A simple way to determine if your team’s reporting environment works is to determine if it is FACTual. In this approach, reports should be:

  • Formatted. Users trust data (and experiences overall) that are consistently delivered. Just as a brand promise helps ensure that, say, every Coca-Cola will taste the same as the next (and apparently make the consumer happy), the report consumer should trust the facts and understand the familiar formatting.
  • Accurate. Users must receive accurate reports. In addition to reports relying on tested programming to yield consistent results, “accurate” reporting also requires that all users share common definitions and understanding.
  • Complete. Reports (and the reporting environment) must contain all records and details expected by the user and defined in the parameters of the report. This principle requires that data be reported from a central, comprehensive source.
  • Timely. The ideal reporting environment requires that information be readily available. In the absence of timely reporting, many offices will resort to highly inefficient, hybrid reporting solutions that increase room for error and inconsistent formatting.

Want to see how your reporting environment stacks up? Check out my “confidence calculator” to test whether your reporting environment is FACTual.