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rethinking how nonprofits engage, inspire, & empower supporters in our age of digital philanthropy

4 Steps To Keep From Walking Into Another Bad Workplace

Eventually it happens to all of us when we enter a new organization. Sometimes it takes a few years. Sometimes a few months. For the least fortunate among us, only a few weeks. I’m talking about the waving of a red flag signaling our first WTF experience in our workplace. It’s usually accompanied by a feeling that might appear like this:

WTF is going on around here?

Really? You have got to be kidding me.

We all deal with irritants in our work. The sometimes gnarly commute. The copier that seems to drink ink like a pirate drinks rum. The volunteer who consistently runs late for their shift. You get the picture. But I’m not talking those daily annoyances. They’re just the cost of getting out of bed each morning and going to work in a nonprofit.

I’m talking about those experiences that stoke your sense that something isn’t right about your workplace. You might say those are also a cost of working in a nonprofit (or really any job) and you would be largely correct. Since an organization is made up of people, they’re just as imperfect and flawed as you and I are. Usually, we can choose to look beyond these flaws because we can accept them as we might accept our own flaws.

However, sometimes these flaws turn into something darker and more troubling. They violate a core value. Or perhaps a couple of core values which starts to feel intolerable. Or finally they violate so many of our core values that the environment becomes toxic and affects our wellbeing. It’s time to start looking for a new place to take our skills, talents, and passion ASAP.

But how can you be certain you won’t simply walk out of one insane asylum into another? I did it twice in one year and it was disastrous to my mental and physical health.

The key is to get curious about your current experience and learn to identify exactly what sucks. How? I’d like to suggest an exercise you can begin right now.

The first step is to identify and get cozy with your core values. Everything hinges on this because if something has deeply upset you, it’s likely because it violated one of your core values. If you’re unsure or simply want to do some reconnecting work with yourself, there are several sources that can help. Here’s a brief listing of resources which have helped me:
http://www.mas.org.uk/quest/ivp2.htm
http://www.inc.com/kevin-daum/define-your-personal-core-values-5-steps.html
https://www.zapposinsights.com/blog/item/3-steps-to-identifying-personal-core-values

Now grab a sheet of paper or crack open Word. (Personally, I like using a cloud app like Microsoft OneNote so I always have access to the document on my phone and iPad.) You’re going to create a map with at least four columns:

  1. Current Challenging Experience
  2. Violated Core Value
  3. Intensity of Feeling
  4. Questions to Help Uncover

Step 1. Current Challenging Experience
So what’s pissing you off enough right now that you’re actually taking time to do this exercise? What’s happening that is making you to want to run off and sell coconuts along a beach in Tahiti or start an angora rabbit ranch in West Virginia?

For illustration, let’s say a someone in leadership is constantly abrasive and condescending to you and your staff. They have no problems throwing around insults in public meetings. Your challenging experience might be: A Board Member is consistently rude to me and my staff.

Step 2. Violated Core Value
You know your core values. Now see if you can connect that value that’s been violated to the experience.

In our example, we might feel that our value of Respect has been violated.

Step 3. Intensity
This is highly subjective, but can help prioritize which experiences are irritants, which ones you can deal with, and which ones are true value violations.

Respect (at least for me) is one of those top three values so this isn’t an irritant or something you feel mildly. The intensity is High.

Step 4. Questions
Now comes the difficult part but it is a significant reason why you’re going through this exercise. Ask yourself: If interviewing for my current position today, what questions could I ask that would give me insight into my challenging experience? What we’re trying to do here is reverse engineer the experience and identify the burning red flags from our current workplace to check if they’re present in this next possible workplace.

Some questions to ask in your next interview might be:

  • What’s the current relationship between the Board and staff?
  • Are there any Board members who I should work with differently?
  • In terms of how the Board governs, would you say it’s more Advisory, Co-operative, or Managing?

Putting It Together
Your map should look something like this:

Challenging Experience Violated Core Value Intensity Questions to Help Learn
A board member is consistently rude to me and my staff Respect High
  • What’s the current relationship between the Board and staff?
  • Are there any Board members who I should work with differently?
  • In terms of how the Board governs, would you say it’s more Advisory, Co-operative, or Managing?

Keep adding rows of experiences as they arise. And keep adding, reviewing, and refining it. Test drive it when talking to peers inside your organization or friends who work somewhere else.

And when you have an interview and get to put this to work, don’t forget to watch for body language when asking questions. While an interviewer might try to hide what they really think through their words, their nonverbal will likely betray their feelings.

Anything I’ve missed here? Thoughts on improvement? I’m always refining my own map so feel free to share in comments or shoot me a personal message. I’d love to hear how this works for you. Good luck!

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My Vacation To The Lake And Learning To Care Intentionally

Lake TimeThere I floated on my bright yellow raft, not too far away from the dock. It was the first morning of our summer lake vacation and was starting to warm up into one of those typical late July hot southern days. But instead of feeling the peace of being on the water and the relaxation of being on vacation, I unintentionally brought something else along with me. A big, nasty ball of feelings that I had slowly and gradually crunched up in the pit of my stomach: bewilderment, anger, sadness, and more.

Yep, I made the critical error of bringing my job – and the frustrations of the last few weeks – along with me. I wager that every single person who works inside a nonprofit wrestles with an existential crisis at times. I was wrestling with the question of whether anything I was doing in my work really mattered. So there I floated, eventually coming to a point where the constant refrain in my head was, “…I could so care less.” I had gotten to a point where I was starting to find easy solace in apathy. 

Eventually, the slow ebb and flow of the water did its job and I felt my muscles and mind start to relax. The sounds of the birds and the cold beer in my hand led me toward some much needed inner solitude. I questioned how I had arrived at this place where “Screw it all!” was an acceptable landing spot.

I needed to confront head-on the confusion of experiencing this apathy in work that I deeply enjoyed and was exceptionally good at for an organization in which I believed in its mission. What the hell was going on that would make me accept the possibility of caring less?

Then, I recalled something a trusted mentor told me not long ago. I didn’t actually want to care less. My problem was that I was caught in a pernicious trap of caring too much. How is caring too much a bad thing? For me, caring about the outcome of every single experience, every single event, every single opinion in my workplace was exhausting. Further, it only led to disappointment and cynicism when those outcomes failed to match up with my expectations. It was a sure-fire road to burnout and I was on the express bus. 

Fortunately, I was able to pause. I quieted the thoughts about how I should care less or care more. Instead, I started to reflect on how to be more intentional as to what I truly do care about.

Not everything is worth the battle or engaging in the fire drill. We don’t need to actively participate in everyone’s drama. So many things exist far outside our control. However, what we can control is our thoughts and reactions to the daily dramas. When we get clear about our values and goals, we can make better choices about how we want to matter.

Later that evening, I sat on the deck overlooking the lake and spent time with the person I am at my core. I took some time to recall my values and why I returned to the nonprofit world. I sketched out the big picture goals for my work. Anything I could use to reorient me toward giving my best effort to my organization as well as my career. Shortly afterward, I let go a great sigh of relief and settled into enjoying the next few days of special quality time with my family.

By the end of the vacation, I left the lake with what I call my Roadmap for Intentional Caring.

For those of us working in nonprofits (or really any occupation where we know our work matters), the temptation to care too much is always there. And the relative “safety” of trying to not care at all is always there, as well. It’s locating the sweet spot in the middle and being able to get back there to intentional caring when we swing toward either end of the spectrum.

We passionate nonprofiteers tend to be a curious lot who strive to improve ourselves. However, it’s also not always about learning about how to write a better grant or develop a better campaign or host a better event. Sometimes it’s about learning how to look after ourselves so we can continue giving our best and being of use in this world that still clearly needs us to care.

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Take That Donor Survey All The Way Home

Interrogation ChairIn my home, I’ve adopted a phrase that reminds my family to not just leave their empty cracker wrappers, finished Starbucks cups, and used paper towels laying about the house. That phrase is: Take it all the way home. What I’m hoping is that it’ll be just that little nudge to take trash to the trash can (you know…where it belongs). Admittedly, it’s still a work in progress as I currently stare at an empty plastic fruit cup with a spoon still inside that’s sitting on the coffee table in front of me. But we all live in hope.

Now, let me ask a question that has nothing to do with trash and everything to do with your donor surveys. Do you take your surveys all the way home?

Pamela Grow wrote an excellent blogpost talking about keeping supporter surveys simple:

Yet most organizations turn a simple survey into far more than it needs to be. Asking your supporter to spend ten minutes reflecting on their answers in an online survey is…well, about eight or nine minutes too much. Make surveying quick, make it easy, make it fun!

How many times have you been asked to answer a questionnaire with so many questions, it would make an IRS employee blush? And then, how many times have you turned around and done the same thing to your donor thinking you have just one chance to ask questions so you better make it big and make it count? Only to then get a response rate that makes you wonder why you put in all the effort in the first place.

I’ve been guilty of this, as well. Even when we know better, it can be a challenge to convince others in your organization that you don’t need to fully interrogate your donors to get quality insight into their interests, desires, and thinking.

So the very first order when crafting a successful donor survey is to keep it simple. However, launching the survey and collecting data is just the first step. You need to know what you will do with all this amazing information. In other words, you need to take that survey all the way home.

Open admission: while I understand the utility of a comprehensive survey of the full donor file, I’m far more in favor of building simple surveys that can glean donor-specific information using forms of progressive profiling. If you’re unfamiliar with progressive profiling, take a few minutes to get acquainted with this method of information collection. Through a series of surveys and other forms of data capture, information is gradually added to a donor’s online profile in your CRM or marketing automation platform and can be used to segment and customize future experiences.

The key benefit of taking your survey all the way home is that it shows we are not just listening but also acting. One of the worst experiences a donor can have is to tell us something important and ignore it. Like, tell us they are really interested in being an advocate for bears, but then we proceed to ask for donations to save spiders. Not only will that appeal not resonate with them, they’re going to wonder if they’re nothing more than an anonymous piggy bank.

But the more we ask questions, the better we get at capturing data and developing an individual donor profile, the more personalized the communications, the more we’re seen as co-creating the donor’s experience with what will start to feel like their organization. And that just may be the key to a life-long partnership. Who doesn’t want to increase their donor retention around something like that?

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Fifty Shades of Fundraising

50 Shades of FundraisingIt all started innocently enough. I was having a running series of craptastic days where I was constantly fending off internal threats to my integrity, capability, and autonomy as a digital fundraiser. Where departmental politics was bound and determined to win out over what – at least in my mind – was best for our donor relationships.

So I floated a comment to what has become my go-to community of fellow nonprofiteers: the Nonprofit Happy Hour group on Facebook:

Ever feel like you’re being ask to fundraise while blindfolded, having both arms tied behind your back, and shoved in a small box? I’m…uh…asking for a friend.

What came out of this was an outpouring of similar stories of frustration and countless reactions that indicated I wasn’t alone. Which is what we all need sometimes. We need the validation that comes when another person sees us and empathizes with our experience.

What also came out of it was some good ole bawdy humor. I put my comment out there not sensing the delightfully devilish sadomasochism that floats just below the surface of the nonprofit sector. But there it was and it was surfaced by a group member who asked, “Hmm, are you sure someone hasn’t been reading ‘Fifty Shades of Fundraising’?” Well, that’s just gold right there and even though it looks like some folks tried to cash in on the idea around the time the book and movie came out, they didn’t really follow through on the concept.

That’s all the opening I need. So, without further ado, I present some snippets from Fifty Shades of Fundraising:

I’ll start with Elaine’s as she is the muse who has inspired this work:
“Your mission statement,” she panted. “It’s so…biiiig…it will never fit into 50 words!”

My riff off of that:
“OMG, your CTA! It’s so long…I can’t believe how it all fits in your email.”

And some others:
Breathlessly, she told him, “I love the way you use your exclamation point to punctuate my donor appeal.”

With a stern look on her face and a twinkle in her eye, she told him, “I think it’s time to introduce you to my Board.”

They noticed they were alone. It was late at night in the conference room before the annual fundraising drive. He looked longingly into her bloodshot eyes and said, “I love how you stuff that envelope.”

Okay, your turn. If you have a gift for subtle innuendo and a predilection for softcore copywriting, show us what you got. Don’t be shy.

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Got A Little Too Much JQA In Your Organization?

I’m always a little late to the game when it comes to finding good podcasts. However, I have a wife who has a longer commute than me (sorry, honey) and has found podcasts to be a balm to soothe her mind and stoke her intellect while navigating Atlanta’s daily traffic woes. One of the latest podcasts she has introduced to me is Presidential, which is produced by the Washington Post. Each week, Lillian Cunningham devotes an episode to one President – starting with Washington and ending with Obama – and explores their character and the legacy they left as Chief Executive. Well, consider this history nerd fully fascinated and engaged.

Now, even though the podcast started a few months ago, I just started listening and am only caught up to John Quincy Adams (AKA JQA). But already I’ve learned so much about the birth of this nation and how even the Founding Fathers were complex individuals who didn’t always get governance right. And I’ve learned that while we might think our current political climate is completely FUBAR, from the moment of our nation’s founding there was discord among opposing viewpoints, constitutional squabbles, and racial tensions that don’t seem that different from what we are experiencing today. In some ways, it’s rather comforting to know there really has never been a golden age when all Americans – regardless of color, religion, creed, etc. – held hands and sang Kumbaya. Yes, granted there have been better times than others, but this “union” of states has always been in some phase of precarious tension that could tear it apart.

A related and important question raised in the podcast series, and which gets to the title of this post, is what does effective leadership look like? Let’s say you have someone with a bold vision for what they want to see and a strong policy framework in mind to make it happen. That sounds like effective leadership, doesn’t it? It’s supposedly what we want from the person in charge. By that definition, JQA was a visionary leader who wanted to dramatically overhaul the infrastructure of the young U.S.A. The only problem was that Congress wasn’t having any of it. The result: gridlock. No one was willing to budge or compromise for reasons both petty and pragmatic. Sounds familiar, right? Sounds like what’s happening “over there” in Washington right now, yes?

But what if it’s also happening right now in our own organizations? Show of hands where there is no conflict holding up a crucial project or keeping a department from surpassing its goals. Yup, thought so. I’m not suggesting that conflict is inherently bad…quite the opposite. Productive conflict that focuses on mission and a mutually desired objective is what moves organizations into new areas of growth. Yet, on the other hand, unhealthy conflict occurs when leaders believe their own vision is the only vision and their way of getting there is the only way of getting there. (It’s also not too healthy when leaders get too caught up in their own fears of change and paranoia of not being completely in control, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I get it, though. If figuring out how to create win-win scenarios on a daily basis was easy, thinkers like Stephen Covey wouldn’t have sold millions of books. Organizations like yours and mine would be operating with close to zero friction. And JQA’s presidency would be considered a rousing success rather than the one term failure that history has judged it to be.

Here’s the question I invite you to ponder along with me: how can we practice effective leadership which best balances our vision for organizational success so it is also inclusive of the visions held by others? When things stop working well, that seems to me one of the only ways we can dislodge ourselves from the political mire that holds us back from doing world-changing work.

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Screw the Golden Rule: It Doesn’t Work in Digital Philanthropy

We’re taught that in order to be a good person, we should “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Don’t get me wrong – being a good person is a worthy goal. However, following the Golden Rule can make you an ineffective (and eventually unemployed) fundraiser.

Why? Because we are not our donors. We can’t assume that what we like is what a donor wants.

Our donors come in many different flavors, with their own distinct motivations and identities. And they don’t think like professional fundraisers…they think like themselves.

I’ve sat in far too many meetings lately where I’ve heard, “Let’s create a campaign around [X]. That’s what would motivate me.” Stop. Right. There.

First of all, what you like or dislike is not a strategy. It’s a lazy way out of doing the hard work of making decisions based on actual data. Feel free to start with a hunch, but take the time to test and verify it.

This has become a mantra of mine that my colleagues have heard countless times now: I am a data point of one. And in the world of statistical significance, a singular data point is not enough on which to build a successful fundraising campaign.

Perhaps our nonprofits would be better if we adopted the Fundraising Platinum Rule – suggested by Tony Alessandra and then Michael Rosen – which is more donor-centered: Know thy donor through data and treat them how they want to be treated.

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How to Motivate Donors: The Donor Persuasion Model

As I speak with nonprofit leaders, one key question continues to emerge: Why do our donors give? On the surface, the answer may seem obvious, but the question persists because it’s truly difficult to answer. We all give for different reasons and with different motivations. Yet, the question of “Why?” follows the challenge of “How?”: How do we motivate giving of all types: money, time, talent, and energy? As The NonProfit Times wrote in a recent blogpost: “There is no denying that you can’t force someone to give if they don’t want to.”

To help answer both questions of Why and How, I’ve started constructing a model called the Donor Persuasion Model. It’s based on the work of Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, and his Fogg Behavior Model. Fogg’s research shows that “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.”

This model attempts to address motivations for giving, as well as how to encourage our donors to take action on those motivations. At a high level, here are the basic components of the Donor Persuasion Model:

Motivation

There are three core motivators that we all share as part of the human experience:

1. Sensation: Pleasure/Pain
Will our giving lead us to greater pleasure or diminish pain – either for ourselves or for others?

2. Anticipation: Hope/Fear
Will our giving help us provide hope or reduce pain, suffering, or fear in the world?

3. Social Cohesion: Acceptance/Rejection
Will our giving help us to feel more accepted by others or keep us from being rejected from social groups?

Ability

Each ability is focused on the notion of simplicity.
1. Time
2. Money
3. Physical Effort
4. Mental Effort

As nonprofit leaders, we must constantly focus on making actions as easy and simple as possible, particularly when it comes to online fundraising. Fogg advises us to think of the relationship between Ability and Simplicity like this:

Simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment. Think about time as a resource, If you don’t have 10 minutes to spend, and the target behavior requires 10 minutes, then it’s not simple. Money is another resource. If you don’t have $1, and the behavior requires $1, then it’s not simple.

Trigger

Think of Triggers as recipes for spurring action depending on levels of Motivation and Ability.

1. Facilitator: High Motivation/Low Ability
A supporter has just read an amazing story or watched an impactful video about our organization’s work. They’re primed to give, but don’t have the time to complete a lengthy donation form or can’t easily get their credit card. This Trigger is about finding ways to make the donation process simple. Think of Amazon’s One-Click Shopping button as an example.

2. Spark: Low Motivation/High Ability
Another scenario is where we’ve made the donation process easy…now we have to know which message will best motivate and mobilize our donors. This is the most challenging trigger because it demands that we have consistent, current, and deep data on our donors. We don’t just have basic contact data, response rates, and giving history; we also have an understanding of what each of our donors believes is important about our organization’s work. This Trigger urges us to provide an emotional Spark to ignite action and complete the ask.

3. Signal: High Motivation/High Ability
All of our nonprofits have true believers who champion our cause. But life can get busy and they just need a little nudge every once in a while to continue their role as champion.

Here’s where I need your help. This Model is currently in version 1.0 and I welcome your input. I’d love to get your feedback on what works for you as a fundraiser and how the model can be improved. You can download a PDF of the model below. I truly look forward to the conversations to come.

Nonprofit Donor Persuasion Model (660 downloads)
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The Easy Way To Drive Away Online Supporters: Email Flooding

This is a short post, but one that I believe is important. I receive emails from other nonprofits – many of which I support and want to hear from. I also want to see if I can “borrow” good ideas for my own work.

However, there is one thing that I’m seeing that simply is not a good idea…unless you really do want to drive away precious supporters, volunteers, and donors.

Simply put: Yes, it is possible to send too many emails to your constituents. If you’re sending out more than 2-3 emails per week, ask whether your efforts are yielding the desired results.

If you’re unsure of what results you desire, then you’ve definitely identified a problem: you lack a Call-to-Action.

If you’re unsure if other parts of your organization are sending out emails at the same time as you, you’ve also identified another problem: you lack coordination.

Don’t drive away your most vocal advocates by flooding them with your email messages. Before long, those messages will just be like much of the other flotsam and jetsam that floats in their inbox.

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Building Strong Donor Relationships

I recently got a card from my 85 year old grandmother. It was a cute card with a dog hanging in a rather precarious position and looking troubled. The message inside was: “Hang in there.” While things are going well for me, it was just her way of showing concern and also expressing a desire for me to give her a call more often (she’s not subtle when it comes to how much calling her will “make her happy”). How could I not feel compelled to pick up the phone and give her a call to make her happy?

It’s not like we don’t talk…she just doesn’t feel like she hears from me enough. She wants to know how I’m doing. She wants to know how my family is doing as we prepare to move to Atlanta. She wants to know that we’re safe and feeling good about all the great things taking shape in our life. She wants to know if there’s anything she can do to help.

And it’s really not about how many times we talk, it’s how we continue to build on a loving relationship.

Now while the relationship I have with my grandmother is not quite the same as we have with our donors, there is some relevance. It connects to an excellent question raised by Richard and Jeff at the Veritus Group blog: Are you asking too often or not enough? While they’re largely focusing on major gifts, the questions is applicable to individual donors, volunteers, and supporters at all levels.

We often get wrapped up by our own sense of myths and half-truths. In this case, we feel we shouldn’t bombard our donors with constant asks. Well, when stated like that, there’s some validity to the concern. It would be like me hitting my grandmother up for a few bucks every time we talked. Similarly, if those asks come from an organizational “me-centric” perspective which disregards the value and relationship to the donor, then constant asks will not just annoy them, it will drive them away to give their money and support elsewhere.

However, as Richard and Jeff write, if the messages speak from a place of “we” and “us”, if they’re not always about asking for money, if they’re about building stronger relationships, then those communications take on a new level of meaning and power. In their post, they offer an example of a successful nonprofit, which:

“most likely, was continually telling the donor that her past giving was making a difference, was excitedly talking about what “more we can do together,” and was not shy about talking about need at a variety of times and in a variety of forms. In other words, there were a lot of touches and quite a few points at which the donor could engage and give, i.e., a combination of soft and hard asks.”

Think of it this way. It’s less about frequency (too much or too little) of fundraising appeals. Instead, always ask: Will this communication help deepen our personal donor relationship?

If your answer is, “No” then reconsider why you’re possibly jeopardizing your relationship with someone who cares about your organization’s mission and their desire to be a part of it.

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Hit A Speed Bump But Regaining Speed

Ack. It’s happened again. I find myself with about four or five half-written posts in Draft stage but nothing published in over a month. This is not to say I haven’t been busy, but just needed to slow down a bit and handle a couple of neat grant writing and email marketing projects. In the meantime, I’ve still been busy posting interesting secondary content so if you haven’t subscribed to the RSS feed, you can find interesting ideas:
http://www.inspectiv.com/type/aside/

As well as excellent reads from other nonprofit blogs:
http://www.inspectiv.com/type/link/

And call me a tease, but I’m currently working on a donor behavior model, which I hope will provide some helpful insights into why people think about giving and how to create triggers that persuade them to take action.

So if you haven’t subscribed by RSS, find the subscribe via email option in the left navigation. You’ll be the first to know when the Donor Behavior and Action Map is ready for primetime.

photo credit: didbygraham (via flickr)

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