If you’re looking at your technology budget and wondering whether you’re getting your money’s worth, join Digital Strategist & Technology Coach Maureen Wallbeoff and learn exactly how to harness the power of your technology to help your organization grow.
Steven: Yeah. All right. Maureen, I got two o’clock Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?
Maureen: Let’s start this party, Steven.
Steven: I’m so excited. Welcome. Thanks to all of you for tuning in. Good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast. Good morning if you’re on the West Coast. And if you’re watching this recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter when and where you are. We are here to talk about “How to Get a Return on Your Nonprofit Technology Investment.” I love it. I got a vested interest in this topic as you can see, but it’s still a good one despite all that. I’m so happy that all of you are here. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s chat as always.
Just a couple of quick housekeeping items. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session, and we’ll be sending out the slides as well as the recording later on today. You should already have the slides, but if I missed you, don’t worry. I’ll send those out again with the recording later on this afternoon. So if you get interrupted, or you have to bounce early, no problem. You’ll get all those goodies. But most importantly, we’d love for these sessions to be interactive. So send in your chats. There’s a Q&A box and a chat box. Say hi in the chat box. Introduce yourself now if you haven’t already, but ask questions. We love it. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. So we’d love to hear from you. You can also send us a tweet. I’ll keep an eye on Twitter every once in a while, but bottom line, don’t sit on those hands. Don’t be shy.
And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say a special extra welcome to you first-timers. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. We bring on a great guest speaker. We love doing it. It’s our 10th year, it’s hard to believe, of these webinars. But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, Bloomerang is donor management software. If you’ve never heard of us, check us out. You can visit our website. You can watch all kinds of videos, see what we’re all about, especially if maybe you’re shopping for a new database here in the near future. But don’t do that right now because, golly, I’m so excited. I am righting a huge wrong. This guest is someone I wanted on the show for years. It’s my fault. It’s not her fault. But joining us from beautiful Sandwich, Massachusetts near my homeland up there on the Cape, Maureen Wallbeoff. Maureen, how’s it going? Are you doing okay?
Maureen: I am doing great. It’s Thursday, friends. So, you know . . .
Steven: Yeah, almost there.
Maureen: . . . like we have one more day. And, yes, Steven and I think we booked this date like in March or something, right?
Steven: Yeah, been talking about it.
Maureen: Locked it in. As the day got closer, I got more and more excited, and so I’m ready to bring it this afternoon, for sure.
Steven: I’m so excited. You’re awesome. I’ve been reading your LinkedIn posts, catching your Facebook live videos that you do on Fridays, right?
Steven: You’re still doing those, accidental techies. What I really like about Maureen is, you know, I think she’s maybe the only person who truly understands that fundraisers, we love fundraising, and the mission, and the cause, and the technical stuff is hard. And if you are endeavoring to purchase any kind of software or look at something, talk to her first. Go read her blog. She’s got awesome resources. She makes recommendations that are always really, really good. Even if Bloomerang isn’t the one being recommended, that’s okay because we know there’s a lot of good systems out there. But she is awesome, so talk to her, and you’re going to get a lot of that out of this presentation. And I’m going to pipe down. I’ve already taken up too much time away from you, Maureen. So I’m going to stop sharing because they want to hear from you. So here we go.
Maureen: Oh, good. It is all good. Yeah. And so to sort of piggyback on what Steven was just saying before we get to the slides, right? We all deal with a lot of stuff. Every time we turn around, somebody’s bringing another piece of technology, something that generates data into our organizations. It’s not optional anymore. And, you know, I started way back working inside a nonprofit in 1991. So think about that, ’91. Coming up like next month October will be 30 years since I started working inside a nonprofit organization. And I remember when the fax machine came, and it was a big deal, right? Remember faxes. And now it’s complicated. It’s complicated. It’s expensive. And people come to me, and I am like Switzerland as Steven says, right? I’m very platform agnostic. I don’t care what products people use as long as they’re the right ones for your organizational goals and budget and skillsets and all that stuff.
And there’s a lot of talk right now about moving around, and people feel like, “Oh, it’s time for me to move. I’m spending money on this product. We are out of here. I’m looking around.” If you’re not moving for the right reasons, it’s a problem because moving is expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it takes a lot of brainpower. So the thing I want you to remember is you can change a lot about your experience of your systems without moving, without moving. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that today. So let me share my screen, and we will get rolling. All right. Remember getting a return on your investment, there’s a lot of different places you invest. You invest time. You invest people for training. You invest money and budget, data stored in there. There’s a lot of different investments we make, but it’s a little fuzzy how we actually get a return on those things. We’re going to talk about all of that. It’s going to be a lovely, low-tech conversation about high-tech stuff. So, yep, this is me. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve made many mistakes to figure stuff out on the fly just like you. So I can picture your office or your home office. And the end of year, it’s like starting to get over your skis just a little bit in all that planning. So, yep, we’re here on behalf of the fine folks at Bloomerang. So let’s start with a question.
We have all thought this. We’re paying a lot for our nonprofit technology, and a lot can mean different things for different organizations. But I just don’t know if I’m getting my money’s worth. My executive director asks, maybe my board asks, you know, “Are we getting an ROI at budget time? How much are we spending on this stuff? Is it worth it?” And we don’t have answers. There’s no place we could go look and say, “Yup, this is exactly what we should be paying.”
And we want it all to be magical. I’ve actually worked with some clients who have said, “Well, when we get our magical database, don’t say it. They’re not magic. They’re just technology.” We wanted them to be magical, and this is the experience, right? We pick it, we move in, and it should just work. And that takes planning and agreements and sometimes a division of labor. The reality for us is really different. I’ve got all these things. I have no idea whether I’m using them correctly. I’m not formally trained. I get good ideas from webinars like these, and I try to execute on them. But I don’t really know if I’m moving the needle, raising the money, engaging the supporters in a way that I feel comfortable and confident that, yeah, we got it.
Common signs that you’re not getting a return on investment, and I see these in big organizations, little organizations, new well-established all across the board. The list of things you want to do with your technology, nothing changes about that list. You never cross anything off. You add things to it. Wouldn’t it be great if we could tweet through our tool, whatever? But you just hear no all the time, or you tell yourself no. You tell yourself it’s going to be too hard.
The second really big sign that you’re not getting a return on investment, you don’t know whether you can trust your data. You run a report, you run a query, and you’re immediately second-guessing, or you want to start let’s say a new donor welcome series, and you don’t have a lot of confidence that your data is actually going to be able to serve up just new donors. So you don’t send a welcome series because you’re afraid some existing donors will be welcomed inappropriately. Stops you in your tracks, all starts with data.
And thirdly, you’re living with a lot of complicated functionality workarounds. So system does X. We need it to do Y. So we sort of hack around, and we make up some weird way to use address line two inside our database. And before you know it, it’s kind of messy in there because we’ve needed to force a system to do something that it wasn’t designed to do in the first place. So you may have one more or all of these symptoms.
The good news though is there’s stuff that we think we need to get a return on our technology investment that we actually don’t need at all. We don’t need a big technology budget. You don’t need to be spending 5,000, 50,000, 500,000, whatever it is, to fix stuff or to get a return on your investment. You do not also need digital natives. So you probably can tell kind of how old I am based on 30 years working inside and alongside nonprofits. You don’t need a bunch of 20-year-olds. They can be helpful sometimes, but you don’t have to have these volunteers or kids inside your organization, youth who can just elbow you out of the way and make it happen. We can do this. We can drive cars. We can set alarm systems in our houses. We can use, you know, smartphones. We can figure this stuff out. And you also don’t need formal training. You don’t need to be a nerd, or a geek, or a tech wizard, or any of that stuff.
There are some just four things actually that you do need to get tech ROI, and I want to introduce you to these four things right now. Number one. You got to know what you have. You have to understand what’s in your tech stack. Tech ecosystem, tech stack, the systems we use, however you want to bundle them together, someone, preferably more than just one person really has to sort of know what all you have because your marketing team could have added something a year ago, and you sort of knew it was coming, but you don’t really know what it is or how it’s connected or how it’s used. Our systems inside our organizations, our mix is very organic, very organic how things sort of show up and fall away. And so it’s sort of unmanaged, sort of unmanaged because people, we trust our teams, we trust our peers, and we trust that they’re going to figure out what systems, or tools, or apps they need to get their work done. Those things get bolted on, and it can get a little chaotic very, very quickly.
So my advice for you here, low tech. Take an inventory of everything you’re using. You may find, “Wow, we’ve got three tools that could send email.” That doesn’t seem like it’s going to get us a good ROI. Maybe we want to, you know, tighten it down and just use one email tool. Survey tools, another thing that I see folks paying for multiple systems. Event registration is also another culprit where people just have a bunch. Sometimes we use Zoom. Sometimes we use Eventbrite. And all that stuff is okay, but you got to know about it. You have to be able to look at everything, both individually and collectively.
So you’re going to take an inventory of everything you’re using, and then I want you to think about your organization’s strategic goals. So let’s imagine that you are a food scarcity organization, right? You’re a food bank, or in some way, you help with food scarcity and hunger issues. What are your organizational goals for the next couple of years? Do you want to get more donors? Well, yeah, everybody does. Do you want to grow your sustainer program? Yup, we want to do that. Do you want to do some peer-to-peer fundraising? And that’s a goal like we want to start fundraising differently. Maybe you always had a walk, and because of the great disruption, which is a wonderful term that I just read the other day, the great disruption of COVID-19, maybe you can’t do those physical events anymore.
So you’ve got to look at your systems and make sure that they can be used as tools to help you meet and hopefully exceed your organizational goals. Everybody needs a database. Everybody needs an email tool. Everybody needs a couple of things. But are you using them to actually move your organization forward, grow without needing to add staff? All of those promises that technology brings to the table, but as users and owners, we’ve got some serious responsibilities.
If you feel like, “Geez, I don’t really know what all this thing does,” maybe it does one thing, maybe it looks like it does five things, turn to your software partners. Set up a meeting with that person and ask them, “So what exactly would Kindful fundraising forms do for me, for example? Can you orient me to them? Like is there a video that I can watch so that I can evaluate whether I want to use it or not?” So knowing thyself, knowing thy tech stack is actually the first key to getting a return on investment.
And I have a free worksheet. You can get it from my website. I also made a nice little bitly here. Steven, if you want to pop that in the chat, that’s great for folks to just go and download this worksheet. It walks you through listing out all the product names of everything you’ve got. Who owns it? What are the pros and cons to each piece? And then you can give them a grade like a letter grade. It’s an A. We’re not moving. It’s great. We feel like it’s the right thing for us right now. It’s a B. Still pretty good. C, start to get a little worried. Hmm, average, you know, hard to get an ROI when something’s in a C state. And then Ds and Fs, you really want to have some deep conversation inside your organization to think about, “What are we going to do if we have a bunch of things that our team has rated poorly?” They need extra help or some extra loving or something like that.
So make that map and keep it updated so when a new product comes into your environment, somebody . . . and we’ll talk about this in a minute, somebody needs to update your inventory so that it’s accurate. It’s like a staff person, right? Like, let’s imagine that every product you use is a teammate, somebody who your organization is paying to do a job. Your organization is paying technology to do a job. Somebody’s got to know who’s on our team and then who has left. So take it that seriously, the investment of time and money, pretty similar in some cases.
Second thing you have to do to get a return on your technology investment is people because people use technology. Even if you’ve got automation, even if stuff is set up to, like, run reports automatically or send out an acknowledgment letter automatically, people use computers. And way back in the old technology days, there used to be an abbreviation that was PICNIC, and PICNIC stood for problem, not in computer, problem in chair, which meant the person who was using it didn’t really know what they were doing.
Everybody struggles with change. We all have a little bit of resistance or a lot of resistance when new stuff comes along. So if you’ve got a new database, let’s say a new fundraising system, and Mary only wants to do her job the way she did it in the old system, you’re not going to get a return on investment because Mary’s going to enter stuff not correctly. She’s going to fight it. She’s going to say, “It’s stupid. I can’t learn it.” Some of those things are very self-protective. Mary has been doing her job for 10 years in one product, and now Mary’s got to make a big change, which means she can’t do it on autopilot anymore. Maybe she’s even worried that she doesn’t have the skills to actually do her job anymore. It’s going to be slower. She’s going to have to think. It’s going to take longer for her to do things because she does not have that 10 years of experience feeling comfortable and confident using a product. So Mary deals with that by being either overtly or covertly resistant.
Everybody’s going to struggle with change. Your change may have happened three years ago. People are still talking about it. Can’t let it go. So you got to remember that people resist change, and that’s okay. You still have to bring them along. Mary doesn’t get to not make that shift. Your team needs training and support. They don’t need just a login and thoughts and prayers, right? which is what we do, especially if we’re onboarding someone who is let’s say under the age of 45. They figured out how to use Amazon and apps and all kinds of stuff. Here, I’ll give them a key to the door, and they should be able to stab their way around and figure it out. They probably can, but they probably won’t figure out the most efficient and effective way to do a thing because they’re making it up, “This is how I figured out how to do it.” So when you’re thinking about your people and your technology, you might want to think about who needs some training, who needs a refresher, and be okay with them taking a little bit of time to do some self-directed learning or some formal training with your software partner.
The final thing here with user adoption and support, and I see this all the time, is let’s say Mary is your data entry person. She does batch gift entry. She runs those acknowledgment letters. She runs some reports. She makes sure that the data is clean inside the database, all that good stuff. And you decide you’re going to change products, and Mary used to go one, two, three to do things. And now Mary who had no input into how to do this task now is told it’s A, B, C, and it makes no sense, and it’s hard, and it’s going to rile Mary up, and it’s going to get her resistance dial turned way up, “Nobody asked me if this was an easier way to do this.” You’ve probably heard this. Maybe you’ve even said it in change-based situations around technology inside your organization or even at home.
So my piece of advice here is if you’ve got end users who are good at their jobs, get their input. And you don’t have to do that just when you move. You could do that right now. You could say, “Mary, I would love to get your suggestions of how we can improve our batch gift entry process. What do you need from me? Do you need a couple of hours? Do you need some time with our software partner? How can I help you come up with some ideas to do your job more efficiently?” The other thing this does is it can free your team up to do higher-level work. If Mary’s doing a super manual thing, and suddenly, it doesn’t have to be so manual anymore, Mary maybe could actually steward some donors, or maybe Mary will have time to run some super fancy reports that she never has time to run. So this is a big deal. People use technology. They are a huge key to you getting a return on your investment.
The other thing I want to say here about people is the J Curve, and this is a thing, a syndrome, a reality that has been around since the ’50s. Japanese car manufacturer, I believe it was Toyota. The chief operating officer in the ’50s developed this model that is true for all of us, and it’s called the J Curve. And if you look at the blue line on the screen, you can see that sort of looks like a J, right? Like a funny J. Any time we make a change, current state, if we look at that blue line current state, and then we look at the red dotty line above it, if you switch technology, if you change a process or a business practice, we think the payoff is immediate, right? Like, “Oops, I just moved into Bloomerang. Life is going to be grand. Zip, we’re going to go right up to that desired state.”
That’s not what happens. What happens is we have this period of disruption, right? This low point in the J Curve where it takes longer. It’s really hard. You might need to cut your team some slack as they’re learning something new, and it doesn’t have to be as big of something new as a software change. It might just be a slight tweak period of disruption. I’ve heard other people call it the trough of despair where it’s just like, “Oh, I thought we moved, or I thought we started doing it this way because it was going to be better and faster. It’s worse, and it’s terrible.” You have to be patient. You have to model being a coach, and you’re going to wait so you can see over time, eventually, you start to see some tangible benefits. Usually, I see this happen at about week five. Make change. First four weeks, “Uh, slog, hard, terrible,” lots of complaints. Suddenly, people start to get it, it’s not quite as rough. They can do some things without checking with training materials or checking with somebody else. And all of a sudden, you’re back. You’re at the desired state.
Think about the last time you drove a car that wasn’t yours. In your car, because you’re in it every day, you know where radio is, you know where the emergency brake is, you know how to turn on the bright lights, you know how to use the wipers. When you’re in a rental car or driving somebody else’s car, you fumble around. Like you’re parked by the side of the road. Like, “Wait a minute. How do I turn on the brights? How do I get the back window wiper to work?” That is the J Curve.
So if you’re in transition, people are changing responsibilities, or you’re making a big switch in a system, you want to know that this is coming, and calibrate your expectations accordingly. Be nice to your people. They’re learning something new. Adult brains don’t learn new things that easily. We got a lot of stuff up there that we got to make room for the new. So have a nice friendly face and be supportive of your team. Then they’re really going to be into using your technology. Return on investment through the roof.
Third thing, back to your technology inventory, mapping your universe of all the stuff you’ve got. I’m going to encourage you, instead of managing and overseeing each component separately . . . that kind of has some benefits, right? Like the Mailchimp expert going to manage Mailchimp. That’s great. But really, all of these pieces come together, and they need to work together. At least they need to not fight each other or be used at cross purposes, and that can cause friction within our teams or between teams. I’ve seen it. So your technology needs coordinated oversight. You got to look at the whole. This is one of those cases where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Every single one of you watching this webinar, whether live or recorded, has a tech stack. You got a unique mix of stuff. It’s kind of like a thumbprint. Most of us have it. It’s a little different, unique. So your tech stack is going to be different than somebody else’s tech stack, and coordinated oversight helps you use all of it better, all of it together. So if you have a simple tech stack, let’s say you’ve got . . . I’ll use Bloomerang. You’ve got Bloomerang and you’ve got Mailchimp. That’s all I got. It’s super simple here, very simple. You manage them separately, that’s great, but if you manage them together, the return on investment for both products is going to rise because my fundraising database has to work well and be set up in a way that works well with my mail tool. And my mail tool has to be set up in a way where it can share data and use data from my fundraising system. So although they might have separate functions, they’re actually pieces of a whole.
So I’m going to encourage you, unless you’re like a mighty team of one, and that might be true, form some loose affiliated cross-functional technology governance group. Some people call it like tech security group, right? Workgroup, action group. It doesn’t have to be formal, but you want to get enough people who know enough about each of your components that you could come together and kind of talk about your systems holistically.
You probably have a long list of things that you’re trying to get to, right? “Man, we need to set up this. We need to set up that. We’ve got problems here. We’ve got an opportunity there.” Much better to have a team of people look at all of that stuff every couple of months and make some organizationally based decisions, not team-based decisions, although it will affect a team-based decision, and not decisions that are across purposes from each other, “Well, if we do this with our email tool, it’s going to mess up our fundraising tool.” Too bad, you know, if that happens.
So if you can get together every other month and just start talking about your systems, what’s working? What’s not working? What vendor relationship is really solid? What’s feeling a little frictiony or like we’ve got opportunity to improve it? When do we need to set a budget for all of this stuff for next fiscal year? Let’s all talk about it. When do contracts get renewed? All of these things happen now in an unmanaged way in most organizations. Much more powerful, much easier to get a tech return on investment if you are managing things in a collaborative way.
And you might also want to take this last step of formalizing system ownership amongst different members of your team. Let’s think about what that actually is. So there’s tons of different models of governance, and you don’t need anything fancy, trust me. So you’re going to form some kind of a working group or a user’s group. You’re going to make agreements about your priorities, “We actually are redesigning our website, so that means we’ve got to update our email templates, and we got to change the look of our donation forms.” Those are priorities because our new site’s going to go live in two months, and that stuff has to match. Other things can wait.
Monitoring that full ecosystem, meeting regularly, and communicating out to the rest of the organization, “Hey, we had our quarterly meeting. These are the things that we decided. These are the people who are going to own different things.” System owners. Sometimes a system owner is like the person whose budget pays for that product, so director of development, VP of development, philanthropy manager, whatever title you have in your org. If they’re paying for your fundraising system, then they are going to need to be part of this working group.
And because things are complicated, and they change pretty quickly on the technology front, it’s really great to be able to then, you know, email your team and say, “Here’s the notes from our meeting. And, hey, here’s a Google doc parking lot that we set up that we want anybody who’s got issues or ideas about our technology, you can put them in here. And then when we meet every other month or three times a year, we’re going to look at that list, and we’re kind of going to take some action on some things.”
Because your team, if they’ve raised problems for two months, two years, whatever, they stop talking about it. They stop trying to make something in your technology happen or is happening more easily. And your return on investment goes down because people think, “These are unsolvable problems. Why am I bothering? I’m just going to muddle along at a very low level.” So this kind of gives your whole organization the opportunity to say what they think, or what they need, or what they want, and then from a whole organization perspective, your workgroup gets to prioritize or make recommendations. Way easier to do that in a group than if it’s just one person, and you’re sort of making decisions in a vacuum. That’s a little tricky to get right.
This is my favorite section even though I am not a database manager. But data is so important to return on investment. So using your data effectively. And I know, I know, I know, user-entered data is not going to be clean. Sometimes they put two first names in the first name field, one name in the last name field because it’s a joint family gift, or a couple gift, or what have you. It’s going to need cleaning, always, always. So if your data is, you know, a hot mess, you might want to prioritize starting to clean it up. Your data’s pretty good. You want to start using it. So if it’s dirty, clean it. If it’s pretty good, not perfect because it’s never going to be perfect, start using it.
I hear this every day, “We want to be a data data-driven organization.” And I say, “Okay. So what data are you collecting and reviewing regularly?” “It’s just aspirational. We really want to.” We’ve got a ton of data. We collect a lot of information, but then we don’t really know what to do with it. We’re not really sure what we should be looking at, and it feels too complicated, and forget it, “Forget it. I’m just going to go with like number of gifts, number of donors, keep it simple.” Tech ROI means paying attention to the data that’s coming in and taking action based on the information that your technology is serving up to you.
You’ve got to define some starter set of KPIs. Actually, Bloomerang I’m pretty sure even has blog posts or guides about this. Here are the metrics. Start with five that you should be paying attention to regularly. Invest a little time or money, little time or money, in getting dashboards or some data visualization. People love to see like the run charts or, you know, the circle getting filled in. And I know inside a contact record in Bloomerang and even in your dashboard, you’ve got access to a lot of these things. But are you formally reviewing it, talking about it, and making decisions, or does it just feel nice when you log in, and you’re like, “Hey, we’re 87% to our annual fundraising goal”? Now, take it a little step further. Return on investment turns on this data stuff. And importantly, not only like making decisions based on data, but using that information to level up your supporter engagement efforts.
If the messages you’re sending out are for everyone, they’re not really for anyone. If the donation forms that people see are so generic that I don’t know if it’s your end of year campaign or your regular evergreen donation form, it doesn’t look like the piece of direct mail you gave me, so I don’t even know whether I should make a gift because I don’t want to do it wrong. These things are all important. So you can use information about audiences, people’s interests, the things about your mission, and programs they like to fund, and you can use that data to actually make it easier for people to give.
It’s kind of like . . . supporters all want to be seen. They all want and expect that you are paying attention to every single one of your donors every day and what they do and don’t do. It’s an expectation, not super realistic. But you can build using data, and the technology you have I’m quite sure you can build out a high-touch, what feels like a one-to-one experience with your supporters, but it’s really a one-to-many. It’s me and everybody else in your database like me, and each one of us thinks, “Ah, they’re paying attention to me.” I’m a cat person, so I get cat pictures in my donation forms and in my email messages. Steven might be a dog person, and he gets dog stuff.
Simple things make it feel to your supporters like you’re watching. They all know they’re being tracked. They all know you’re collecting all this juicy data about them. If you don’t use it to deepen the relationship and let them know you’re seeing them, and you recognize and appreciate what they’re doing, tech ROI in the tanker down in the tanker because that’s the promise of these tools, right? It’s like, “I’m going to be able to do things in an automated way. I’m going to be able to make sure the right message and the right donation form gets to the right person at the right time through the right channel.” That’s the promise of this stuff. “I won’t have to add staff when my sustainer program grows.” That’s right. That’s right.
So if you were feeling a little stuck like, “I like our systems, they all get pretty high grades, I understand the people thing, we’re going to set up a workgroup,” data would be an awesome thing for you to do. And if you can’t do it between now and the end of the year, make a plan now for January, and book a couple meetings with the right people to have this conversation in January. They’re not going anywhere. Those meetings will stick around on their calendar. So look ahead, make an island of a meeting after the holidays when people are a little calmer and a little less distracted. These have a huge impact on return on investment. If nobody trusts your data, then it’s full stop, why. You might as well have a spreadsheet.
Manual data entry is a productivity killer. If you have staff who enter one thing in QuickBooks over here, then they enter the same information in the database, and then they enter the email address in your email tool, forget it, forget it. As you grow, you’re always going to need more people-power to keep up. So look for opportunities to streamline your data entry so that you can trust your data, and you can make data-driven decisions as you grow without feeling like you’ve got to go to your boss and say, “So good news, bad news, our sustainer program grew by 30% last year. I need a new staff person.” Eventually, you might need a new staff person, but you can probably grow your program by at least 20% if you’re leveraging your systems to do what systems are designed to do, which is deal with the things that people do and the data that they enter.
So before we get into Q&A, I’m just going to do a little time check, oh, we got plenty of time for Q&A, my pep talk for you is manage your systems collectively. Think progress, not perfection, my friends. This happens to me where I feel like if I can’t do it exactly perfectly right, I’m not going to start. It doesn’t help us. It doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help you. So take baby steps. Avoid shiny objects syndrome. We’ve all had this experience where like a board member or executive director comes running in, or they forward an email or something that they got, “Look what they’re doing. I want to do that.” Well, let’s talk about whether that is the right thing for us to be doing based on our strategic goals, based on the thinking and the frame that our technology is like staff person. And it can do anything. It can’t do everything at once, so let’s prioritize.
And you can do this. You are a smart, seasoned adult person. So even if you think like, “Oh, don’t make me learn how to use another system, or I’d really rather not,” you can do this. If you can prioritize things, if you can track budgets, if you can set your team up for success, if you can manage and grow a healthy, trusting relationship with your software partners, that’s all you need. You do not need to understand the how. You don’t need to understand how information is going to get from Bloomerang into Mailchimp. You don’t need to care about that. You just need to know that it can. And if you have any responsibilities to see that that happens and who to call if it stops working, you can do that. You don’t need to take another class, or get a certification, or take a sabbatical and become like a tech guru. You can do this with the skills that brought you to the job that you have today. And doing things as a team in a collaborative, trusting way is always way better than like storming off on your own and expecting people to follow you. Bring them along, have the conversations, and make those good decisions that will help your organization grow and exceed those annual and maybe strategic plan goals. So I am going to, let’s see, open Q&A. So, Steven, do we have questions, or has anything popped into your head as you’ve heard the content this afternoon?
Steven: I have so many questions for you. I won’t monopolize the remaining 10 or 12 minutes or so. So do ask questions because we’ve got a good chunk of time here. So don’t be shy because obviously, we got our expert here. But, Maureen, thank you. You’ve been speaking my language. You’ve been preaching to the choir for almost an hour. I love it.
Maureen: I’ve been feeling you nodding. Oh, yeah.
Steven: Yeah. I was just like, “Oh, yeah, this is so good.” You mentioned . . . one thing that really stood out to me was, you know, this idea of data entry standards. Could you pull on that thread a little bit because I wonder if maybe some folks would really benefit from that? You know, hey, we’re going to . . . you know, we’ve got Raisers Edge, or Bloomerang, or whatever. We got to put data in a certain way. Like why is that valuable? I’m sure you’ve seen some horror stories.
Maureen: I won’t tell the horror stories, but I’ll tell you from experience. Okay. So what usually happens is nothing’s written down in somebody’s head, right, who’s done it for however many years, and they know it. And if that person wins the lottery and runs off to some well-funded lifestyle in Aruba or something, they’re going to take everything with them. Even if you force them to sit down for their two-week notice and spit it all out, you’re going to miss a bunch of stuff. So that’s one of the risks of not having documentation.
Another risk is that you can’t give corrective action. You can’t give feedback to people if there’s no standard. So Mary enters it like this. Bob enters it like this. You prefer the way Mary does it. You can’t go to Bob and say, “So I need you to do it like Mary does it because it’s better.” Because you don’t have a leg to stand on. Bob could be like, “I’m going to keep doing it the way I’m doing it because it works for me.” So having documentation is helpful. And what we try to do is actually we know that many of our business processes, if we wrote them down, we’d be a little embarrassed. Like get a little wacky. You know, like then a carrier pigeon comes in and does this thing. So we don’t document it until we can perfect it. And what I’d say is document what happens now [inaudible 00:43:51].
Steven: No matter what.
Maureen: And you can do that with like have somebody just record on Zoom themselves doing a task. Screen share your desktop and just like start to make some little videos of how to do things. At least it’s there, and you can use it for training purposes. It can be messy and gross, but starting somewhere is really important.
Steven: Well, I love the video idea. It’s like, “Yeah, this is how we do this . . . run this report, or this is how I update the website for this page,” right? That’s a great idea. That’s super easy with Zoom now, right? We’ve all been on Zoom.
Maureen: We’re all doing it.
Steven: Yeah. Speaking of ROI, here’s one from Abby, KPIs, key performance indicators. What do you think is good there? You know, dollars raised I suppose is good too, but, you know, what are some other things you’ve seen like maybe hours saved or lifetime value, or what do you think? What should people be looking at and measuring?
Maureen: I like to think of KPIs in three buckets. First bucket is fundraising, which would include some of the things that you mentioned, Steven, like average gift amount, lifetime donor value, number of sustainers, average amount of sustainer gift, membership renewal, and all that other kind of stuff, how many major donors, grants. So KPIs in fundraising or revenue, we pretty much know which ones we could pull from there. And then the second way I think about KPIs is marketing. So how many people are on our email list? What’s our average click rate? What’s our average unsubscribe rate for a month or for a year so that you’re monitoring who’s coming in and giving you permission to email them and then how long do they stick around? Two things there are really important. One is that your ability to fundraise to grow the number of donors that you’ve got I find is directly related to how big your email list is. So, Steven, I don’t know if you agree or disagree.
Steven: Yeah. That makes sense.
Maureen: It’s your pool, right? So you got to keep your eye on that. It is fundraising-related. And the second is, if you’ve got a lot of people who don’t interact with your messages at all, you’ve got a very low click rate or a very low open rate, that decreases your sender reputation as they call it. And that can mean that your messages actually don’t go into the inbox because not enough people are actually paying attention to what you’re sending. So Outlook and Gmail and those email services providers start to demote your messages because they’re just . . . nobody’s doing anything with them. So if you have a lot of zombies, people who haven’t opened at all for like a year or more in your email list, I might send them a couple messages saying, “Are you still interested?” You know, whatever. And then get rid of the non-responders. Yes, your email list size will go down, but your open rates will go up, and your click rates will go up because you’re just sending your stuff to people who want it. And it can be scary to see that email list size go down.
The third KPI set is operations or programmatic, Steven. So if you have beneficiaries, and you’re tracking program recipients, you might want to see some data there. But operations, you hit it right on the head. It used to take us this long. Now it takes us this long. We needed this many staff to do it in this many days. Now it takes us this many staff and that many days. So, yeah, I think adding the people part into your KPIs is really, really helpful to know how big will our program need to get before we need to hire.
Steven: I love that, especially, yeah, what you said about the hiring because that can be so luminating to kind of guide your efforts there. Along the same lines, Maureen, what about, like, if you want to invest in something that maybe your board or board member or maybe your boss is saying, “Why should we spend the money on that?” You know, kind of pulling on that KPI thread, is that when . . . what have you seen work to kind of . . . to build that case like we would expect to raise this much more money, or, you know, make up the cost of that software after so many months? Like what have you kind of seen work there?
Maureen: All of those are great suggestions. I find that when it comes to like the people who write the checks or board people who are really going to approve a significant financial investment in systems, there’s three roads to their hearts. The first is we can grow without adding staff. We can grow without adding staff, people perk up their ears. Second is efficiency, right? So doing it in, and we do it all manually now. It’s all in Google Sheets, and so if we move into a database, it’s going to make it much easier and faster for us to do our things, so efficiency. And the third thing, which is fairly new, is if we’re working in somewhat of a distributed way or a hybrid, sometimes people come into the office, sometimes they’re working from home way, having a cloud-based system lets everybody use it no matter where they’re sitting.
And I think right now I’m just watching so many organization teams struggle with who goes in, who does what. And do you have the internet bandwidth? Do you have a laptop that will work for you to do heavy technology tasks? So I think that’s the other thing is it could work no matter where somebody is in the world. Does that help?
Steven: Yeah. I love it. What about this . . . maybe something you’ve been . . . you know, you mentioned the turnover when you were talking about the data guide and kind of keeping track of those things. It seems like we’re in sort of this climate where there’s a lot of turnover, right, happening, not just in our industry, but probably everywhere. What do you think folks should do to maybe, you know, mitigate the impact of that besides those, you know, kind of downloading their people’s brains and recording things, you know, before they leave, which I think is really good advice?
Maureen: So people leave for all kinds of reasons, right? Especially right now I think if you are a parent, and you don’t have reliable daycare for your kid right now, or your child is still doing remote school or needs to do remote learning in one way or another, people are leaving for personal reasons and not just professional reasons right now. And I think having good technology that doesn’t feel like it’s held together with tape and gum helps people stay in their jobs.
You know, like part of what we battle is like, “Oh, I just . . . this is the stupidest way to do this ever, and I’ve done it for three years, and I’m sick of it.” I need to work in an organization where they give me the tools so that I can do a good job at my job, and I’m not fighting with those tools all the time. What’s the word I want to use? You can’t tag it to that, but I would start asking like if you’re experiencing people leaving in your organization, ask in the exit interview about systems. It might start to give you some data about, you know, “I’m going to a place where they just have a better X or Y, or I actually feel like they’re invested in giving me the tools to do a better job at my job.”
It’s, you know, we all are scrappy. I don’t care how big your budget is. Every nonprofit is like, “I could do more with less. Show me with one hand tied behind my back.” And eventually, you can’t do that anymore, and your staff gets discouraged because it feels as though you’re still stuck in 2005. And the expectations for them in their job, and your supporter expectations are 2021. And it feels terrible as a fundraiser to feel like, “I have two Dixie Cups and a string to raise money, and I’m [inaudible 00:52:29].”
Steven: Maureen, are you still there? Can you hear me? It looks like you froze up. I’m not sure if anyone else can still see her or hear her. Chat in if you can still hear her, if it’s not just me. We’ll try to get her back if so. Okay. I’ll try to get her back and connected. She’s about to say something really brilliant. We’ll wait for her to log back in. I’m sure she will. Sorry about that, folks. Oh, we’re so close. There she is.
Maureen: I’m back again. It booted me out and started me over again, but at least I’m here. So sorry about that.
Steven: That’s okay. You were just about to make a brilliant point. I was like, “Oh, dang it, she was on to something.”
Maureen: Oh, okay, [inaudible 00:53:39] thank you. You can hear me now. So I . . .
Steven: Oh, I think she froze again. Did she freeze for you all too? I don’t know. Something’s going on with Cape Cod internet today. Let’s see if she comes back again. I know. I agree sure. Maybe they’re trying to censor her. Thanks for being good sports about it. Hopefully, she can get in one last word. Okay. That’s a good sign that she’s coming back soon. Yeah. You read my mind exactly, Jennifer.
Give her one more minute. If not, I’ll tell you all about the next webinar, and then we’ll call it a day.
Maureen: Hi. I’m back.
Maureen: My internet went completely down. So I gave it a second.
Steven: Oh, I’m sorry.
Maureen: Thank you. We are . . . no problem at all. So I got a couple more minutes. I wanted to make sure that I came on back in case there would be more to talk about.
Steven: Well, I love what you said about investing in tech as being kind of an employee retention play. I think that’s awesome. I’ve never actually heard . . . you know, you talk a lot about like pay and benefits and self-care, and all that’s good. But I think you’re right on. Honestly, Maureen, the last question I was going to ask you, and I was kind of saving it for last is, you know, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of all this. Could you get out your crystal ball? What are you kind of seeing in terms of tech and adoption of tools, or what do you think is going to be the next big thing? I’ll put you on the spot, but what’s your crystal ball prediction?
Maureen: Let me dust that crystal ball off and [inaudible 00:56:27].
Steven: I know. I saw in the background.
Maureen: I think there’s like two trends. One is that we’re seeing a lot of consolidation in the market of individual products. So what used to be, you know, six products, now one company has sort of bought all of them or bought many of them. And I’m starting to see that sort of shake us up a little bit. Like I thought I was working with X company, but now it turns out they were acquired by Y company. So that’s one thing. I would tell everybody who’s on, just go to your software partner and ask them like, “Are you making any plans to make a move, or buy anything, or be acquired?” They might not tell you, but it’s worth letting them know that you’re paying attention to that.
And the second thing that I saw start after the pandemic really hit in the summer, so about a year ago, everybody used to want an all-in-one. Everybody just wanted to log into one product, “Let me just go in and do it.” And what I’m seeing now is that’s not a great fit for about 80% of nonprofits, that actually having the right database, the right part of the body, and then the right other products plugged in. That’s sort of the way that I’m seeing organizations of all different sizes kind of move to is, “All right. I got to have the right database, but then maybe it doesn’t do all the stuff that I need. And I’m cool bringing other products in as well.” You seeing that too, Steven? I’m curious.
Steven: That makes sense. Absolutely. Oh, 1,000%. Everything you said is spot on from kind of my cat bird’s feet. And that question should be well received, you know, by your vendor. If it’s not, or if they don’t answer, it’s kind of a red flag, right?
Maureen: That will tell you something. That’s right. That will tell you something.
Steven: Yeah. So we love it. Ask us if you use us. We don’t mind. I love your advice. This is so cool to finally have you. I’m so glad I reached out and made it happen. Actually, I think you reached out. This is really fun to have you. Thanks for doing this. You know, I know it’s a busy time of year for everybody. So it was nice to see a full room as well. Where can folks get a hold of you, Maureen? Where should they go, Facebook live? Tell them about all that.
Maureen: Yep, sure. So two things. One is my website is meetmaureen.com. So you can find me there, meetmaureen.com. And then here we go. We can see it on screen. Every Friday afternoon at 12:30 Eastern, I do a Facebook live where we talk about a topic like this. Often, I bring people on. So, Steven, I got to circle back with you and get you to come on sometime [inaudible 00:59:14] year. And we talk about a topic that is practical and real for nonprofits of all sizes and missions. So [inaudible 00:59:24].
Steven: Okay. You have really good guests. Those are really good conversations. They always pop up in my Friday afternoon. So definitely check those out. If you get like 20 cancellations, I’ll come on, Maureen, if you got to scrape the bottom of the barrel.
Maureen: Oh, Steven, don’t be silly. I will always make it for you because I love to hear you speak and expound just like you’re interested in hearing my two cents. I’m right back at you.
Steven: This is fun.
Maureen: Everybody, it’s so fun. Please don’t be a stranger. And I think this kind of webinar series, Steven, so useful, so helpful. And I’m just grateful on behalf of our industry that you take the time and initiative, and it is a significant amount of time to actually present these things. It could not be more important.
Steven: I love it. It doesn’t feel like work to me. I feel like I hit the lottery convincing them to let me do this. This is fun.
Maureen: That’s great. Good. Good. You know, you and I were [inaudible 01:00:22].
Steven: Good to have a fellow New Englander on too. So thank you.
Maureen: Next time you come over the bridge, I’m the first exit.
Steven: I will.
Maureen: So, you know, we can meet up for coffee or something. That would be fun.
Steven: We’ll do it. Well, hopefully, you all can join us next week when we talk about grants. My buddy Rachel Sacks is going to join us. So next Thursday 1 Eastern, almost exactly one week from now. If you can’t make it, that’s okay. Register anyway because you’ll get the recording just like you’re going to get the recording of this session. So just keep an eye on your email inbox for the slides and the recording from today. So we’ll call it a day there. Thanks to all of you for hanging out. I know it’s a busy time of year, but hopefully, you have a good rest of your day. Have a good weekend, stay safe, and we will see you hopefully next week. Bye now.
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