Conducting A Strategic Portfolio Review
In this webinar, Carol Hamilton will outline a rigorous process that enables you to review your portfolio of programs and initiatives and make strategic decisions.
Steven: All right, Carol. My watch has struck 2:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?
Carol: That sounds awesome.
Steven: All right, cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast. If you’re on the West Coast, good morning, I should say. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Conducting A Strategic Portfolio Review.” And my name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.
And just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going here. I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session, and we’ll be sending out the recording, as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So if you didn’t get the slides, or if you need that recording, if maybe you get interrupted here, hope that doesn’t happen, but I understand how it is. Don’t worry. I’ll get you that recording later on this afternoon, and you’ll be able to share that with anyone you want, friends, colleagues, your boss, whatever you want to do.
But most importantly, please feel free to use that chat right there on your webinar stream. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy, we want to see your questions and comments throughout. We’ll both be keeping an eye on those. I’ll also keep an eye on Twitter if you want to send us a tweet or send us questions there.
And one last thing, if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a lot better than the computer audio just because it doesn’t rely on internet connections, or browsers, or anything like that. So try that. There’s a phone number you can dial into in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour ago today. So just check for that if you have any trouble.
And if this is your first Boomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to all of you folks. We do these webinars just about every week throughout the year. We only miss maybe two or three weeks for vacations, and holidays, and things like that. But in addition to this webinar series, what we are most known for is our donor management software. That’s what Bloomerang is. That’s what we have to offer. And if you’re interested in that, or just kind of want to learn more about us, or just curious about the software, check out our website later on. You can watch a quick video demo and see the software in action.
But don’t do that now, at least wait an hour, because you’re all in for a real great webinar. Making her debut on the Bloomerang webinar series from the beautiful Washington DC, Carol Hamilton is joining us. Hey, Carol, are you doing okay?
Carol: Yeah. I’m doing great.
Steven: Awesome. I’m happy for you to be here. We were planning this as far back as April. And we were sort of celebrating how quickly the summer went perhaps, but it’s finally good to have you on the series. And I just want to brag on you real quick, I don’t want to take up too much your time, but for those of you who don’t know Carol, you got to know her. Follow her on Twitter, check out her website. She is the principal over at Grace Social Sector Consulting, does really good work in strategic planning. She told me she’s helping out a client with some succession planning type things, does lots of good stuff for her clients, been doing this for over 25 years. You may also see her on a conference schedule. She gets to a lot of events, does a lot of speaking and training there as well. She’s got her master’s in organizational development. And she’s also a Standards for Excellence licensed consultant, and also did some training with BoardSource. She’s been on our webinar series before also.
So I’m so excited about this presentation. We’ve been doing this webinar series for over seven years. And this is a topic we have not covered. So, Carol is really filling in an awesome gap for us to talk about all the offerings in your portfolio. So, Carol, I don’t want to take up any more time away from you. The floor is yours. So take it away, my friend.
Carol: All right. Thank you so much. And thank you for the kind welcome, and thank you for everybody who’s dialed in. It’s exciting to see the names keep popping up. As Steve said, my name is Carol Hamilton with Grace Social Sector Consulting. And today, we’re going to be looking at how you can go about conducting a strategic portfolio review of your offerings, the programs that your nonprofit delivers.
And we’ve done introductions through the chat, said hello to a lot of folks from across the country and in Canada, probably some other places since we started that. But take a minute and go ahead and chat in just what drew you to this webinar, what had you decide to take an hour, and what interests you in the topic? So take a minute there. I’m going to go ahead and get started, but I’ll watch that as we go, and weave in what you’re letting me know in terms of what cut your eye about doing a strategic portfolio review.
Steve mentioned that we’ll stop for questions at the end. I also have a couple of points during the presentation where I’ll take a pause. So, as Steve said, definitely go ahead and add your questions or comments in the chat as we go along, and I will take a pause at a couple points to address those.
So we’re going to look at this from three points of view and three topics over the next hour. Take a quick look at what makes your organization sustainable, what are some of the building blocks of organizational sustainability, and then talk about a particular method that helps you look at sustainability from both a mission impact point of view, but then also from a revenue point of view, and how those two things go in together. And then we’ll look at how will gathering all that information can prompt some really good and strategic dialogue, and perhaps even some good decisions, tough decisions with your organization.
So let’s go ahead and get started. So what makes your organization sustainable, what makes that possible? In my point of view, we have there five key elements to organizational sustainability. These are the building blocks that you really need to have kind of. I’m not a juggler, but I can imagine, you know, we’re always trying to juggle all of these things, vision, mission, leadership, communicating value to the engaged stakeholders that we have, and how we generate revenue for our organization.
So, today, and this method is actually going to touch on two of those and really tie in how revenue and your revenue drivers, and your vision and mission tie together. And too often, this is an either or that gets kind of a conflicted conversation between two sides of the house, if you’re that big to have, you know, people primarily looking at finances, and those people who are deep in the program and mission, and oftentimes it seems like they’re at loggerheads over what’s most important. And this method really helps you bring those two together so that they can have a productive conversation seeing both sides of the coin.
So I think we’re going to go ahead, and if you could just take a moment to answer the poll that we have here. How many initiatives does your organization currently have? People have typed in a lot in the chat and told paragraphs, so I haven’t been able to follow all of it. So I’m curious, are you feeling like, you know, you’re just right, you’ve got just the right amount, and you really know why, go ahead and put your chat answer into that poll. Can folks see that? Steve, they can see the poll?
Steven: Yeah, let me slash up the results here. It looks like the answers are coming in pretty fast, and here we go.
Carol: Oh, they are coming in. Okay.
Steven: Yeah. It looks like . . .
Carol: All right.
Steven: Thirty-five percent, 40%, oh, no, it’s evening up now, but too many is barely winning. But just right is pretty close behind, so . . .
Carol: Oh, that’s good. All right. So . . .
Steven: Yeah, not too bad.
Carol: A lot of you feel like that’s great. Oftentimes, organizations are in the too many, but good to see that that’s kind of neck to neck in this one. So in order to . . . do I just hit close poll to show the results?
Steven: Yeah, definitely.
Carol: Okay. All right. So yeah, too many is just out ahead just a tiny bit. And a few of you may have, you know, not enough in terms of what’s really relevant for today.
So this method really helps you answer the question how your current program mix is supporting your organizational mission, as I said, and your business model. And one way to think about that is a small book that Jim Collins did after he wrote his book that probably many of you have either read or read the short version, the cliff notes version of that, of “Good to Great.” But he’s also written a short book focused on the social sector. And he identifies these three elements as really critical for nonprofit organization, so the resource, what’s driving your resource engine, what are your core competencies, what is your organization really best at, and having a mission that people care about and want to get engaged in. So oftentimes, you know, too often, when people think of the nonprofit sector, they only think about the mission. And I’m sure, as all of you know, we need both.
Oftentimes, folks will, you know, talk about no money, no mission. And so this is how we pull the two of these together. And all of this is building on the work of Steve Zimmerman, and Jeanne Bell, and Jan Masaoka, I think I’m getting the name right, who wrote “The Sustainability Mindset,” and then they wrote another book describing this process. And they really define sustainability as encompassing both the financial sustainability, the ability to generate resources to meet the needs of the present without compromising those of the future, as well as programmatic sustainability, the ability to develop, and nurture, and cycle out programs to be responsive to constituencies over time. So there may be things that you’re doing that were really relevant and really awesome 10 years ago that perhaps don’t fit the current reality. And this is a way to think about, you know, what those might be.
So why might you go ahead and do this kind of process? And I think I mentioned before really what it does. And what I really like about it is that it really looks at the interdependence between the impact that you’re trying to have, the mission that you’re pursuing for your organization, and the economic realities that you’re working with. So you’re looking at both of those, rather than either one or the other.
And when’s a good time to kind of dive into this kind of process? Some key points, as Steve said, I was just working with an organization that’s anticipating a leadership change. So, you know, when their new leader comes in, it might be a good time for them to walk through this process and look at their current state in terms of their programs. And oftentimes, people use this process when they’re doing strategic planning. So, it could be an anchor, a first step in terms of starting that strategic conversation.
Sometimes it’s when you’re in a crisis. I saw in the chat that someone said, you know, they’re missing several staff and, you know, kind of, “How do I prioritize?” So doing kind of a quick and dirty version of this might help you with that kind of question. Sometimes it’s not about crisis, but about opportunity. Some big opportunities coming forth, but you’re already kind of strapped, how do you make room for something new and what might you want to dial down in order to be ready to grab that opportunity? It could be that you are experiencing a big change in the external environment. And, generally, it’s really a good process that there’ll be a lot of learning for everyone involved, deeper learning about the organization, some cross pollination across staff and board. So it really can provide a good leadership development for both your board and your staff, as well as helping them, giving them some parameters and framework for doing some good strategic thinking.
So what are the steps that you’re going to take? So there are seven steps. The first one is a simple one. You’re going to take an inventory of all the programs that you have. You’re going to look at who your stakeholders are. You’re going to look at how are you going to evaluate impact, gather that financial data, plot the analysis that sparks and frames up a dialogue in order to be able to make some decisions. And we’ll dig into each of these in just a second.
So the first step is really just to inventory what you’re going to be taking a look at, what are you going to be plotting on that matrix that we’ll look at later in terms of your major business lines, your major programs, initiative, revenue generating activities, this will include your major fundraisers. And so just making a list of those and making sure that you share those with stakeholders to make sure that, you know, it’s a complete list will be your first step.
And in the chat, just what are some examples of things that might go on your list? And I’ll see those as they come up. Stakeholders, take a look at who are the major stakeholders that you’re going to involve in the process and think about how you’re going to involve them. You know, some obvious ones are your senior leadership. They’re going to be key to the process and in making decisions. They’ll bring a strong understanding of the programs and of the interconnections between the money and the programs. As I’ve said, stakeholders may be a little too internally focused, they may not know all programs in depth, but the value of having not just one small group of stakeholders look at this but a variety of stakeholders gives a variety of perspectives.
Certainly your board as part of your strategic decision making and governance would be involved. Oftentimes, this process will be a good education for them. It helps them identify maybe some gaps in their knowledge of the organization as they’re doing the impact assessment, doing that survey. Some may not have the time to be fully engaged, so thinking about how you’re going to toggle them in and out. But they do bring that outside perspective, and it is a learning process for them as well.
And staff often brings a deep knowledge of certain programs. As I said, I talked about before is our leadership opportunity. It gives staff the opportunity to kind of step back, and for everybody involved, to see the bigger picture. They may have some limitations in terms of only knowing their own programs, having some fears around what the implications of going through a process like this might be on their own work, and then certainly, the people who benefit from your programs as well will be useful, especially from the mission point of view to get some feedback from those folks as well.
So we’re going to dive into looking at the core tool that I’m going to share, the sustainability matrix. And a key piece of this is to decide how are you going to evaluate whether something is mission aligned or not? Certainly the question around just mission alignment will be one of them. But there are a number of different factors that you’ll want to consider when you’re putting together your survey, which is usually how this is done. A set of criteria, a set of statements that then folks will rank usually on a quantitative, say, one to five type of scale, greater or lesser than, to look at all the different factors that go into the impact of a particular program.
So some of those criteria might be, in addition to alignment with your core mission, is how well are you doing? How well does the program do? Is it really a core competency of the organization? Are there others who could do the program better? You know, what, feedback are you getting from assessments of programs that you’re doing, and how well is that execution actually happening? Another criteria is volume or scale, how many people are impacted? What capacity is there in the program? Some programs are designed for big numbers, others are designed for more of an in-depth experience, you know, where are those numbers going? Is that increased volume? Is there a drop off over time? And how deeply are people being impacted?
Sometimes it’s not about large numbers, sometimes it’s about who you’re reaching and kind of the depth of that engagement, whether they may be highly influential, or the program may really be about some kind of transformation that takes time to create, and therefore, is much more on an intimate scale. Is the program filling an important gap? So this is not just is there a gap in the market and any gap, but one that’s really important and important for your organization to fill. How does it create connection? How does it contribute to your community building? And what’s the leverage that it brings to your organization? How does it build for future engagement of folks involved? Is there a marquee value in terms of your organizational branding? Does the program . . . it could be you know, in some cases, the program creates tools that can be repurposed or reused in other programs.
And these aren’t the only criteria. You’ll want to have a conversation about, you know, what’s important for us to consider as we think about how the program aligns to our mission, and how do we currently make decisions about whether to move a program forward or not. Sometimes organizations will have strategy screen that they’ve already developed that could be a good jumping off point for building something like this.
Next step is you’ll be gathering the financial data and, for each business line, to look at the profitability of the program, is it contributing to the bottom line, or is it a drag on the bottom line? I was at a conference recently where someone said nonprofit is a tax classification, it’s not a business model, so there certainly can be pockets of profitability within an organization that then can support other important work that you’re doing.
And in pulling together the financial data, you’ll definitely want to include both your direct and your indirect costs. Too often, folks think about whether something’s . . . either they are only thinking about the gross revenue that the program is generating, not looking at the net, and then not considering the staff time that is usually the biggest investment for any nonprofit program. And so you’ll probably need to make some assumptions about how you’re allocating overhead costs.
The key thing for this process is not to be perfect. This isn’t about pulling together financials for an audit. This is really to help your thinking. And so it’s not about, you know, getting it down to the penny, but it’s really more about how are you allocating those and being consistent across programs so that you can compare apples to apples and documenting that logic.
So kind of like back in the day when we were in math class and the teacher said, “Show your work,” this is a case where you’re definitely going to want to document your logic and how you put this financial data together so that you can explain it once you map it out.
So you’ll have quantitative data that gets generated by the survey you create for the mission impact, and then you’ll also have quantitative data, obviously, from a financial point of view. And you’re going to plot that assessment on this matrix. And, ultimately, you’ll end up with . . . you know, you could end up with programs clustered in one of these segments, but the four different segments will show, you know, either the star programs that you really want to invest in, the heart programs, your cash cows, and then things that you probably want to take some thinking time to think about how you want to either stop doing or slow down in terms of the programs that you’re offering. And it won’t be necessarily be an even split across all of the quadrants. But if you’re all in heart, your sustainability is going to be suspect over time. So you’re going to need some other things on the other side of the scale to keep you in the black with some net revenue so that you can keep doing your work.
So those star programs that are really contributing to you pursuing your mission as well as contributing to your bottom line, that’s the place where you’re really going to think about how can we invest more in growing this program? What are some improvements? You know, can we do a deeper dive on some assessment data around this to look at how we can make it even better? Are there ways that you can grow the program, and then thinking about with the growth, how will that impact that profitability? Will it increase it? Will it decrease it? Will it stay the same? What will be the likely impact?
For your heart programs, and this is usually why most of us go into the nonprofit sector, the key is really, the question is . . . you know, they’re key to your mission. Often, they’re the things, kind of the why behind why you even started doing the work. But what are the ways that you might be able to contain costs here? Are there ways that you can slim down direct costs? Are there ways that volunteers . . . although, of course, it always takes resources to manage volunteers, but could they take on more of the work to lower staff costs in terms of that program and have it not be as much of a drag on your bottom line as it is currently? So just some questions to ask and take . . . and also ways of, you know, is it doing everything to pursue your mission that it could be?
The bottom quadrant where you’ve got minuses on both sides in terms of mission and money will seem obvious, but oftentimes, this is the most challenging thing for organizations to do, to let go of programs that they’ve had for a long time. So we’ll talk a little bit more about some of those resistance points and how to deal with them. And sometimes it’s really about not necessarily stopping right away or cutting, but just starting to dial down and think about how to phase it out.
And then your cash cows, oftentimes these will be your fundraising activities. And hopefully, any kind of fundraising event that you’re having is actually generating net revenue so that it is profitable and contributing to all the other work that you do. And the question here is really how can you use any of those fundraising activities that you’re doing to do a better job of educating your donors, partners, and supporters about your mission? So can you kind of increase that mission impact by making sure that the folks who are supporting you really have a good understanding of what you’re doing?
So I’m going to pause for questions at this point and see if anyone . . . go ahead and chat in if you’ve got a question or comment. All right. I’m not seeing any at this point. So I’ll go ahead and give you an example of what this might look like. And I think we had a couple or at least one youth-related organization.
So I’m using a youth serving organization as an example. And in their case, they have five main programs. They have a one-to-one mentoring program. They have a theater camp. They also have managed to codify their mentoring program into a curriculum that they’re able to license to other nonprofits. And they do school partnerships that are grant-funded. And they also have a gala where they’re able to generate revenue.
So I’m seeing a few questions now. So I’m going to take a moment just to look at those, and go back, and we’ll come back to this example. So Carmen says she’s in a point where she’s lost three quarters of their staff. So she’s trying to manage all the portfolios. So how can she do this in an organized, efficient, productive, and personalized way? I would say you can’t do all of those things. So what is the most important right now? With that many staff, it feels like a little bit of a crisis. So I think I’ve done this process pretty informally in workshops, where folks, you know, list their programs and plot this out just kind of on the back of an envelope, or, you know, a piece of paper. And it’ll kind of give you an idea of where you need to focus your energy of what’s bringing you the most in terms of both mission impact and that revenue piece.
So Stephanie says, “Our organization does not have a strategic plan, and we’re trying to take steps to form one.” Oftentimes, this can be a good tool to kind of start those strategic conversations. If you’re not quite ready to do a full blown strategic plan, this can be a steppingstone towards that, especially if the organization has never done strategic planning before then.
And basic needs, social service, “How have you seen agencies like ours generate revenue?” I mean, I’ll have to say that I’m not a fundraising expert. So in that case, it’s going to be a more traditional fundraising approach in terms of generating revenue. There are other folks on the line, museums and some others who might have opportunities to create some fee-for-service types of offerings that might generate revenue in different ways. I’m sure through the webinar series that I see you guys offered, you touched on a lot of fundraising topics. So I’m sure there are lots of resources there.
So let’s dive into our example. So, as I said, we have a youth serving organization. They have these five different major programs. And, again, I’ve done kind of an informal high, medium, low in terms of that mission impact. When you are doing a full blown version of this, you’d have numbers in each of these, of how they rated on a scale let’s say of 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, and actual numbers in terms of your profit and loss, and your breakeven.
So this plots out, and of course, I made an example where I had something in every quadrant. But, as you can see there, that one-to-one mentoring program is really the core of their mission. It’s kind of why the organization started. And so it’s in that heart category. And so the question there is are there ways that they could minimize the expenses that have to do with that program? They’ve just gotten started on this licensing, and they’re having success there, and it is profitable. So the question for them will be, over time, how can they find more partners who might be interested in licensing their curriculum since, you know, once it’s created, there are not extra costs to them providing it as a service to another organization?
So this would be an example of how a service-based organization that, you know, the primary focus is your local youth that they’re working with. But being able to codify their methods, they’re then able to get into other geographies without all the expense of building their own mentoring programs, but rather licensing that curriculum to other related organizations.
So there’s a program that they created. It was, you know, a staff person was really excited about the opportunity to do a different type of work with youth and started a theater camp. But through this process, they were able to see that not only is it costing the organization a lot of money as enrollments have dropped because they did think it was going to be a revenue generator because they could charge for the camp, but really not enough to cover costs. And as enrollments have dropped, it’s become a money loser. And with all the criteria that they apply to it, it could see that it’s not as aligned to their mission as they originally thought. So that’s one where they’d want to start having a conversation about, you know, is this something that we want to continue doing and, you know, are there ways that we could do this differently, or is this something that we want to maybe find . . . you know, is there another organization that’s better positioned to offer something like this?
And then they have a traditional gala that really, you know, is around generating revenue. And I think for those of you who are very much in the fundraising space, sometimes there can be a danger of events that look awesome but don’t actually generating net revenue. So making sure that that does generate net revenue is key. And then the question is how can you use that event to better educate your donors? Are there ways that this organization could highlight the work that they’re doing with others, you know, through the licensing, highlight people, the students who’ve been mentored, highlight the schools that they’re partnering with so that the folks who are donors really get a good sense of what the organization is really about?
So now we’re going to dive into the last piece, and this is where, you know, you’ve done all this work really in order to prompt a good conversation with your organization. So you’ve done that inventory, you’ve looked at who needs to be involved in the process, and you’ve developed a survey with a set of criteria that you’ve come to agreement on on how you’re going to measure impact of the program and how aligned it is to your mission. You’ve gathered that financial data and looked at it from both the indirect and the direct point of view, you know, being consistent and how you’re applying that across all the programs, plot that analysis onto that matrix as I demonstrated with that youth serving organization, and now it’s really about having a conversation with your key stakeholders, with your decision makers about what does this mean for our organization.
So how are you going to create a space for dialogue? Information enough, information alone, you know, won’t ensure that you make decisions. But what I do like about this process is that it marries both that mission and those financial implications so you’re not stuck in that either/or conversation. And I also appreciate that it makes it real visual. If we go back to the difference between this layout of same information, but once you actually put it on here, it really pops in terms of what are the implications of that information that doesn’t when you put it in a simple table. So the fact that it’s a visual representation really helps people have good understanding.
And the whole process is about bringing a reality check. That lack of profitability or how much a program is dragging on the bottom line, or is eating into organizational resources, or requires from an organizational resource point of view may have been hidden, and questions of impact, you may not have had agreement on what that actually means, how you’re evaluating it, what are the criteria that go into that, so it helps bring some alignment about what do we mean, you know, when we’re going to argue for mission? How are we looking at those?
And so you’re going to need to allow some time for conversation about this, help people consider what the implications are, make meaning of it, you know, what surprised them about it? What did they learn by going through this process? What’s important from this analysis that they need to pay attention to? And what implications does it have for your future?
Unfortunately, data just alone is not enough to make decisions. It really is a spark or a platform for what hopefully will be starting a productive conversation. So it’s bringing the group onto the same page in terms of, you know, we’re looking at this all in one point of view, and we’re looking at this in an integrated and consistent way, and so then what does that mean for us?
And at the same time, letting go of programs that are no longer working can be really challenging. It can seem very obvious to some in the organization that we should stop doing X, Y, or Z, or we should sunset this or that program, but it can be really challenging for organizations. And some of the arguments that folks will make, sometimes they’ll say, “Well, it’s a loss leader. Yeah, we’re losing money, but we’re bringing the right people in, and they move into, you know, our more impactful programs.” It’s a [no 00:39:37] entry point. And so, with that kind of argument, you might then want to dig into the data and find out whether that’s actually happening. Like, are folks actually moving from this program to another so that, you know, it’s a place where you engage people and then you’re moving them to something that has more impact?
That may or may not be true. It may be an assumption that staff and board have, looking in to see what’s the evidence show there. Oftentimes, it’ll be a pet project. And I think the key is that to actually dig behind, you know, rather than just dismissing, “Oh, it’s just XYZ person’s pet project,” but what are their reasons for hanging on or wanting to hang on to the program? And how can you really address those motivations? Are there ways that you can sunset a program over time? Can you find a new home for the program? Is there someone else, another organization, that does something similar to yours that might be better suited to delivering this?
Another way to do this in an organization, an example of this is an organization that had a . . . what had been originally and was successfully at the beginning, a fundraising event, founder’s dinner, that over time the staff investment to make it happen never changed but the revenue generated by it and the people involved in it dropped over time. And so it really wasn’t having the impact that it needed to have.
But through a conversation and through doing this process, the organization was able to look at it and say, “Well, why are we . . . you know, what was the original intent if we let go of the fundraising piece? You know, why did the folks who want to keep it want to keep having this program? And it was really about those early folks within the organization, give them a chance to reconnect, tell old war stories, you know, enjoy that history of the organization, think about how far it had come, and they were able to change it to a very simple potluck dinner where folks were able to get together, have those needs met, and not have a drag on staff resources.
Another argument that people make is kind of, “Well, we got to keep our foot in the door, that one day, you know, there’ll be more funding for this kind of thing. And if we’re not doing it, we won’t be ready,” so then you know to really take a look at how likely is the funding going to shift and make that available, and is there some way that you might be able to pause a program rather than maybe coming to a full stop immediately.
So, ultimately, it’s all about making decisions and fostering honest conversations about all of the things that your organization is doing. And it may bring to surface some things that may have previously been undiscussable. It may lead to some hard choices. It can mean some hardship for folks who, you know, will it have impact on people’s jobs? What about the people who are currently using the service? What alternatives will they have? So thinking about it from all those points of view. There are always going to be tradeoffs. There’s no perfect decision, but what are the opportunities for creative solutions once you’re looking at this information?
And you’re always, you know, going to be managing risk of you don’t have complete information. But another question to ask is what’s the price of inaction if you allow those things that are kind of in that stop category to linger on and continuing to divert energy? What does it mean for the longer term of the organization? And so, folks may not like change, but they really will like irrelevance even less.
So we’ll go to questions, and I see that a couple more have popped in since we last paused. So Susan says, “We have to great mission-based programs, but board members keep coming up with programs from other people’s missions because they don’t see the difference in mission or resources.” I think this is where having a conversation about those criteria separate from the conversation about each great idea that a board member comes up with, and to be able to, you know, have essentially a strategy screen that you run it through and definitely want around, you know, who else is doing this, are we the right people to be doing this, is this within our core competency, are there others who are already doing something similar, are we going to be in competition with them can really be helpful and almost do like a mini version of this.
But have that set of criteria and those set of decision points and basically have that be a hurdle because otherwise it’s too easy for the program to move forward because it had a particularly articulate advocate who was particularly persuasive, and, you know, to bring it back to how is this different from what we’re already doing.
Bill says, “We’re mostly funded by donors. They do not tell us which of our programs have moved them to donate. Are there any tricks for staff and board making estimates of which areas people are supporting the most? We respect the need for data which we do not have.” I guess my first instinct, and again, I’m not a fundraising expert, would be to ask them, maybe a simple question in whatever way you’re having them donate, you know, “What motivated you to donate?” and ask for a very short explanation. It may not be the exact name of a program, but you can probably link it back to what you’re doing. So I think rather than trying to guess, I would just ask folks and that can help target your communications.
“How can we do deal with people bringing new initiatives at any time?” Christine, say a little bit more about what the challenges here. I think this kind of goes back to Susan’s issue of people wanting to contribute with, you know, great new ideas, and they’re all excited about it. There are other ways. So there’s that strategy screen that I talked about, so coming up with that set of criteria separate from a conversation about a new idea. So, something, a process that you use to evaluate any new idea that folks bring to the table. So there’s a consistent process, and people know it, they expect it. That’s one way to deal with it.
Another way, and it’s probably not an either/or but an and, is to sketch those. I do a lot of work in what’s called human-centered design and kind of lean startup where before you spend any money or, you know, what’s the . . . let’s say it gets through, that new initiative gets through that strategy screen, and the board, and the staff, leadership say, “Yeah, this seems like a promising idea,” before you spend any money building it, what’s the cheapest way that you could test this with the target audience before you build anything? So this could be . . . I’ve done this with programs where we’ve created essentially a set of storyboards, kind of like a graphic novel or a set of comic strips that explains what the idea is, get a group of stakeholders together, and get them to give you feedback, you know, is this something that they would engage in?
You know, if you have an initiative, what’s the problem it’s solving, and have you clearly defined what that problem is? Are you dealing with a problem that’s important to people that they actually need a solution for? You know, so getting some testing, getting it with people is key.
So go ahead and put other questions in. And if I didn’t fully answer any of the questions that have already been posed, feel free to add a little more detail.
I’m not seeing any additional questions, but I feel like the last time I said that immediately a bunch more came in.
Steven: Yeah, they’ll all pile on right at the last minute. Carol, I did see one comment from Linda that she was considering going after a credential through AFP. Do you recommend any sort of professional credentialing or any more advanced training on this topic? Is there anything that you’ve seen that’s particularly helpful maybe for folks?
Carol: Well, I think you know, always building on your skill set is an important thing to do. Again, I’m not a fundraising person myself, I don’t do development, so others would be able to probably share more about that. But, you know, I think just learning new tools and building out your skill set is always important as long as you have, you know . . . to me any kind of I’m about to go to a training, it’s like, next week, next month, and so how am I going to apply it back in what I’m doing.
So Linda also asked, “How do you handle a leadership that does not delegate if you were brought into do development?” I think it’s a process over time of helping . . . and when you say leadership, I’m guessing that I’m not sure who that might be. But I think it’s probably a process over time of negotiating with that person about roles and responsibilities and getting clear about what they’re responsible for and what you’re responsible for. And maybe, as delicately as you can, digging into [inaudible 00:51:05] that’s keeping them from delegating, what’s motivating that, what’s getting in the way, so that you can have a good conversation about how to make this and how, you know, you can fully contribute and use the skills that you bring.
“New ideas from senior leadership get done without linking to plans.” Yes. This is the classic challenge of, you know . . . it’s called the hippo, you know, all the good ideas are from the highest paid person in the room, and that may not always be the highest paid, but the most influential, could be a very influential board member. And so building in some of these systems and making them a regular practice within your organization can help mitigate that, you know, where you build that set of criteria out that you apply to every new idea that somebody gets excited about or, you know, you have a process where you’re immediately taking it to get feedback so that you can see, like, is this actually going to be something that people will use? If it’s something that you’re trying to do as a fee for service, will they be willing to pay for it? Is it solving a problem that’s important enough to them? Do they have the resources to get involved?
So, the next question, I think it’s for you, Steve, around the Bloomerang software.
Steven: Yeah. I’ll take care of that one for sure. I saw Christina mention that she sometimes gets client feedback on the program. So that seems to make sense for me since, you know, they’re the people receiving those services.
Carol: And, yeah. I think that’s the missing piece that too often organizations trip themselves up in, where they get really excited internally about a program that they want to offer, but they don’t take the time to get client feedback, get the feedback from the target audience that they’re building it for, and so they build something that really doesn’t fit the need. We did a lot of work with this at an organization that I used to work for. And we were trying to figure out how we might serve a key audience of more senior leaders. This was a membership association. And so, you know, if any of you are in that space, you know that creating training that meets the needs of beginners is pretty easy, and it’s always the hardest to meet the needs of more senior members and folks who, you know, their skillset is already pretty sophisticated and how to take them that one step further.
So we were looking for how we might create programs for that audience and came up with a number of different ideas, sketched them out in terms of storyboards, and then took them and did focus groups around them. And we were able to do this pretty easily because we had a big meeting where people were coming to anyway. And so, it was an extra cost to add this to the event.
Steven: That’s cool.
Carol: So we got feedback from folks. And, on one of the programs, we had gotten super excited about one aspect of the program. And, when we got in the room with people, you know, they’re like, “Nope, not going to use that.” And, you know, basically by spending one day and some time with the right people who would have been the ones that we’ve been trying to offer the program to, we were able to save the organization tens of thousands of development costs that, you know, in our old system we would have just gone ahead and done and hope for the best. So getting that early customer, client, you know, audience feedback is so important and really kind of co-creating your programs with them.
Steven: That’s awesome. Love that story. Well, Carol, any more final thoughts before we adjourn here? We’re coming up on the hour. So I’ll give you the last word. Where can people kind of learn more about you?
Carol: Yeah. So I appreciate all the comments. I appreciate everyone’s participation. And, you know, Steve’s going to share the list of folks who participated today, so I’ll send out some resources to you, reach out to you and send you some additional resources if you want to dig in deeper, since I was really only able to give kind of a highlight summary in this kind of session of, you know, if you’re interested in doing this type of process, you know, where you can learn more. Folks can find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting, on Twitter @carolnhamilton, or my website. So, you know, if there any further questions . . .
Steven: Yeah, I would say definitely email . . .
Carol: I can’t move down.
Steven: Oh, there we go. I’ll go back to your contact info. Yeah, definitely follow Carol, check out her website, send her an email. If you think of something later on this afternoon, maybe you’re driving home, and you think of something. But this is great, Carol. This is a great session. Thanks for doing this on a Friday afternoon. This was a good way to end the week if you ask me.
Carol: Well, I really appreciate the opportunity. And it was great to talk to everybody, and wish that we were . . . you know, it makes it easy to do a webinar, but I’d love to have seen everyone’s bright shiny faces as well. But I thank you for the opportunity.