007+Q=Awesome Advancement Services

Have you seen Spectre, the newest 007 edition? It’s great fun. As with recent Bond films, Advancement Services and 007technology and data play an increasingly important role in achieving success. Sound familiar? I had an “ah-ha” moment during the film that the great and vital coupling of 007 and Q  (Bond’s resident tech-leveraging geek) is like the best advancement services shops. It might help your team to think the same. Here’s why:

  1. Partnership. The movies show a team that works together for a common cause. Each team member has a role and, if they perform it well, the other is clearly buoyed.
  2. Anticipation. Q is working hard in advance of requests from 007. In our profession, we should be, too. Instead, I see too many of us waiting for specs from folks who frankly may not know (how to ask for) what they want until they see “it”. So, with Q, he has “it” produced so 007 can assess and use what makes his job easier.
  3. Acceptance. Bond will be Bond. He steals a car, oh well. He escapes a government-mandated lock-down…well, what did you expect, he has to go save the world. Does Q stop supporting his colleague? Nope. He realizes that 007’s skill set is such that following the rules may not fly at times. The same goes for our best fundraising colleagues. Instead of chastising, Q enables in order to get the most out of a top performing employee. We should do the same with better service (such as via admin support), better self-service, and more understanding of the rigors of international spy…er, fundraising work.
  4. Quality. At the end of the day, Q produces amazing products that serve 007’s needs, which keeps 007 coming back for more. That sort of quality-based symbiotic is what we all need in our shops. Brand, look-and-feel, ease of access, accuracy–all of these play a role in our colleagues’ perception of the quality we produce.

Am I missing a few key details? Yes. At one point in the film, Q mentions a prototype cost the Queen 3 billion pounds. Most of us don’t have that budget lying around, do we? Our work is sometimes more mundane than saving the planet from evil, so the urgency and intensity of our roles will be different. And, we all know that not everyone in the British intelligence agency gets as much attention as Bond, which is similar to what happens in our own teams. But, as with any good film, we shouldn’t let reality get in the way of a good plot.

Those potential obstacles (and probably dozens of other objections) notwithstanding, think for a minute about your advancement services shop as Q partnering with 007, anticipating needs and accepting “shortcomings” while delivering the level of quality that keeps the user coming back for more. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Get to it, Q.

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.

 

4 Indicators that Caging is Right/Wrong for You

Gift processing is the core of fundraising operations. The steps to carefully and quickly

From Cannon's An Executive Guide to Fundraising Operations
From Cannon’s An Executive Guide to Fundraising Operations

handle our donors’ contributions are at the heart of our business processes, databases, reports, and technology. Some of us in the industry have been seeing an interesting shift in this core business process: the rise of caging. It is an important alternative for you to consider.

As an alternative to in-house gift processing, caging outsources gift intake, batching, entry, and receipting. The approach is not new, particularly among high-volume, low-average gift processing outfits supporting cause and cure organizations. The new shift has been among those universities and healthcare organizations that see an opportunity to streamline operations while improving outcomes. Additionally, the technology available for scanning, remote entry, and data import has improved so rapidly, off-site entry is surprisingly simple to implement.

But, is it right for you? Perhaps. Consider these four indicators:

  1. High-volume, low-average gifts. Caging companies create economies of scale, so some volume is needed to make this approach profitable. Once you’re in the 5-figure transaction range, it may be worth a look. As you approach and fall into the 6-figure transaction range, you owe it to your organization to evaluate these options.
  2. Donor and donation make-up. The business processes designed by caging companies are efficient. However, a majority of your donors need to frequently use reply envelopes and standard devices to make the process scaleable. It’s even more important that you consider what your donors might think if they mail off a gift to a PO Box in another state (imagine a Sooner sending a gift to processed in the Longhorn state!).
  3. Complexity of the front-of-the-line. This issue is counter-intuitive. The more complex your important gifts and pledges are at the front of the line, the more sense it makes to establish a caging approach. Such a practice will remove the tendency to “plow through the pile” of work that can drain a processing team and distract them from the truly important items in the pile. Instead, a caging company can siphon off the small donations and allow the team to focus on what matters most.
  4. Desire to strengthen strategic analysis. Finally, if you want your gift processing team to move form “entry” to “analysis”, you should consider a move to caging. When the mundane, day-to-day entry grind is assuaged by a caging partner, your professionals can start to analysis gifts more thoroughly. The resulting increases in prospecting, analytics, and stewardship will be significant.

Caging isn’t for every institution. However, it is an increasingly viable alternative to the typical, in-house approach. Having helped organizations evaluate and then implement the approach, I can attest to the value of this model and the likelihood its application will increase in the years to come.

N=1 isn’t a compelling case against increased funding for fundraising

Takes money to make moneyDid you happen to read the Washington Post’s article on the demise of the nonprofit Invisible Children, best known for its Kony 2012 campaign? (Check it out here) The authors posit that this single case illustrates the dangers of increasing fundraising expenses.

Not really, of course (for both the article and the facts of the nonprofit world). The article is more nuanced. Social change and policy organizations are complicated, especially those operating in Africa. For this N=1 (Invisible Children), a few significant forces (which had little to do with a surplus-based funding approach) tore the organization apart.

This single case may be an example of how a nonprofit can fail, but there is little evidence presented and no broader applicability of this piece about whether a more market-oriented funding strategy is appropriate. The article, for example, fails to mention that nonprofits tend to spend 65% or so of their budget on staff and–spoiler alert–poorly paid people don’t stick around long and often cost about a year’s salary to replace.

The loosely argued closing of the Post piece suggests that nonprofits have benefactors and not investors (which most major donors I know would challenge). As are result, nonprofits must operate on a shoe string, cow to risks over opportunities, and generally hope that their meager existence can marginally impact those benefiting from their mission. This notion is much more dangerous than better funding nonprofit operations.

It is dangerous to create an argument on an N=1 scenario. Just as the article indicates the IC may not have been quite as impactful as their messaging suggested, this piece relies too much on its own limited perspective to suggest that IC proves the dangers of better funding nonprofits. Instead, this “overhead” myth leads to the “starvation cycle” which leads to lean and under-experienced staffing which leads to more nonprofit failures than fundraising experts would care to count.

Do you have a suggestion to help the nonprofit sector build its case for better investment? I have a few tricks (for a later post) and welcome any other ideas.