10 / 17 / 2014
For nonprofit organizations to realize their potential for social impact, they need more than a good program and ambitious leaders to expand it. They need good managers who adopt approaches that make the most of opportunities, anticipate threats, develop talent, and produce strong results.
Fortunately, many management tools and tactics exist to help leaders make good, informed decisions to these ends.
The challenge is to understand what tool can help deal with a given problem, how it’s best applied, and, most critical of all, which ones have most often led to positive results.
Twenty years ago, the global management consultancy Bain & Company created a survey titled "Management Tools & Trends." It led to what has become a biannual consumer report offering guidance to corporate leaders on the best approaches for their organizations.
This year, the nonprofit Bridgespan Group, which was incubated at Bain & Company, is collaborating with The Chronicle of Philanthropy to start an analog for the social sector.
This new project will ask a wide range of nonprofit leaders to provide insight on the use and effectiveness of 25 top tools, and to voice their opinions on the importance of 21 major trends affecting the sector.
Bridgespan interviewed more than two dozen nonprofit leaders and other experts to identify the tools that they believed were among the most important currently available to nonprofits.
The tools focus on five major areas, such as clarifying goals (including doing scenario and contingency planning and devising a "theory of change") and managing success (including seeking feedback from beneficiaries and evaluating programs).
To help leaders gain deeper insight about the tools, we are offering an online reference guide that describes each one, its methods, and its application, along with a bibliography of articles and cases that illuminate the use of that tool. Our hope is that this guide will allow nonprofit leaders to learn more about the approaches, even before seeing the survey results in January. Readers will get an early look at what we’ve learned in The Chronicle’s first issue of 2015.
But management advice doesn’t matter unless it has context, and that is why we also are asking questions about the most important trends in the nonprofit world. Among the issues related to those trends: whether nonprofits are betting on technology innovation to increase their impact or whether they might participate in pay-for-success initiatives or social-impact bonds in the next three years.
We anticipate that the survey will reveal both points of pain and instruments of hope, much as the Bain & Company survey has for corporate managers. For example, in the early 2000s, after sales of the much-hyped customer-relationship management systems had dropped and many believed that interest in the tool was waning, Bain discovered a dramatic uptick of interest in such systems among the business leaders who responded to its survey. That insight helped focus attention both on the specific perils of CRM tools and on how companies could avoid pitfalls and use CRM to serve the needs of their businesses most effectively.
The survey report will not only help nonprofit leaders who want to understand what their peers are doing and what tools might be most valuable to their organizations, but it should also aid philanthropists who want to assess the impact of their current or potential donations, as reflected in the performance of charitable organizations.
The first "Nonprofit Management Tools & Trends Survey" will establish a baseline and provide a snapshot of which tools and approaches are being mostly widely used and by whom. However, the greatest value from the survey may become clear as it is re-administered over time—illuminating trends, showing how tools are working or falling short, and helping philanthropists and other nonprofit leaders understand their own impact on nonprofit management practice and performance.
If you are a leader of a nonprofit, we invite you to participate in the survey. And we look forward to sharing, in January, what we’ve learned about how managers are using the tools and driving trends.
10 / 3 / 2014
There are many ways we compromise as nonprofit leaders. Our time, our budgets, our resources…all for the greater good of our organizations and the communities we serve. But when is compromise necessary? And, more importantly, when is it the right thing to do?
It was recently announced that the Lancaster Museum of Art and the Demuth Museum, both located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, will consolidate as one entity while maintaining their separate locations. The reason for the merger is to maximize resources, specifically staff and governance. (For a deeper discussion of the two museums, their histories, and their artistic missions, see Eileen Cunniffe’s newswire here.)
Sometimes the term “merger” has the connotation of failure. Contrary to that, many merger cases symbolize strength and vitality, especially when encouraged and endorsed by invested parties, such as elected officials and foundations. The National Council of Nonprofits refers to these nonprofit mergers as “collaborations,” “strategic alliances,” or even “partnerships” to defer any negative significance a merger could represent. In Lancaster, the museum merger has been approved both by a local foundation and the city’s mayor, furthering the positive impact this action will have on the community as a whole. So in this case, the merger is not due solely to a lack of resources, but to an outpouring of community attention and affirmation.
A strategic alliance allows for growth and sustainability through cost-effective and low-impact measures. The Lancaster-Demuth merger demonstrates the need for shared resources and capacity-building efforts to enhance the mission and continuation of these two major community assets. But who really benefits from this consolidation—the organizations, the community, or both? There are many reasons to merge (such as financial struggles, governing resources, etc.) but the community that is served is essential to any nonprofit’s success. The community is why a nonprofit exists.
In a 2012 article from the Nonprofit Quarterly entitled “Creating Fertile Soil for the Merger Option,” Judith Alnes identifies the realities of major motivations of mergers. Ninety-three percent of organizations merge to increase service delivery and to ensure the long-term financial stability of at least one of the merging groups, while 75 percent do it to save programs and services that might otherwise be lost without the merger. These statistics demonstrate that the community component has a heavy influence on whether or not an organization should merge with another.
Though mergers are often set in place to the community’s benefit, there are some instances when obstacles arise—not all mergers conclude with a happy ending. If mergers are intended to give communities and audiences a more well-rounded and stable experience, then organizations planning to merge should exhaustively examine all data that may affect the merger. One example would be to investigate audience overlap statistics, which can be identified as a cost-saving mechanism, as was the case with the Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera merger in 2010. The merger was meant to address gaps in spending, and the small overlap provided partial justification for the organizations to merge to cover certain costs. The reality demonstrated that this overlap was not enough to sufficiently increase revenues; a merger was not the answer.
There are many lessons to be learned from nonprofit mergers, and a variety of both success and failure cases. Clearly, the good of the community should be the result of any merger, as it is at the crux of any nonprofit organization. Why do we continue to strive and thrive as nonprofits? To give back and serve our communities. Alone, we are a voice; as a collective, we are a force. Whether that force acts for our community of nonprofits or for our supporters and patrons depends upon the ambitions and goals of the unified, merged organizations and their anticipated plans for the future.—Jennifer Swan
What It Means When Nonprofits Merge, September 26, 2014, Nonprofit Quarterly, by Jennifer Swan
10 / 3 / 2014
Imagine this scenario: A supporter clicks the “donate” link in one of your emails and gives to your organization through the website. Afterward, the supporter tweets her support and gets an enthusiastic re-tweet from your organization’s Twitter handle. She also receives an automated gift acknowledgement email from your donation system, as well as a mailed “Thank You” letter from your development department the following month. Through this seemingly simple interaction, the donor has touched your communications, IT, and development departments.
Even though members engage with your organization through multiple channels and interact with different departments, they desire the same level of communication and customer service across the board. If one of the three separate “thank yous” to your donor addresses her by the wrong first name (It’s Katherine not Katie, thank you very much), the donor will not assign blame to the communications coordinator who proofread the text; the whole organization may take a hit in her eyes for this lack of attention to her personal details.
Have you heard these comments before?
“I know I already changed my address in your system!”
“No, I haven’t had that job title for three years.”
“Our company categorization is wrong on your website.”
“Why are you sending me information on conference X—it’s nowhere close to my field?”
While you may view your organization as a collection of distinct, perhaps even siloed, departments, your member sees you as one entity and expects consistency and efficiency. For this reason, the member or supporter experience must be consistent organization-wide.
Understanding how your organization’s member data is collected and stored is the first step to achieving this aim.
For example, if someone updates their mailing address with your membership department and the membership team updates their record in the AMS, does this information ever make its way to the lists run by your marketing team? What about any of the demographic data you collect when people register for your events?
In a perfect world, departments throughout your organization would join forces in kumbaya fashion to provide a consistent member experience that recognizes the member’s entire identity, not just discrete interactions with one department. In reality, this task is often fraught with technical difficulties—how often have you requested a seemingly simple transfer of business intelligence only to be told, “But the systems don’t talk to each other.”
If there is no one-click solution to updating the organization’s marketing lists or sharing demographic information collected elsewhere by the organization, disparate departments should work to find “out of the box” ways to pass this enhanced member intelligence onto other teams. While this may be a laborious process that requires some skill in data manipulation, it’s worth the effort to ensure that you make a consistently good impression with the organization’s members and supporters.
Using this data to tailor member engagement leads to a better member experience.
No matter which team engages with a member, a personalized interaction wins every time. Personalization is achieved when an organization utilizes the available information to make service efficient and to make members feel valued.
Once an organization commits to tearing down its informational siloes, all sorts of member insights emerge. By examining information and patterns of behavior on an organization-wide scale, you will get a fuller picture of your members by connecting the data dots you likely already have on hand. These insights can feed into the delivery of a more customized member experience.
Say that a supporter subscribes to your advocacy-focused digital publication and is a member of several committees focused on areas of legislation that are overseen by different departments in your organization. Combining all of this engagement data yields a clear picture of a member who is very interested in advocacy. Instead of sending him general emails about every organizational webinar and event, you can tailor your offerings and messages to align with his values. Would he appreciate an invitation to your D.C. fly-in day? Absolutely. Does he want to know Five Tips For Landing a Job in Field X? Eh, maybe not.
This tailored messaging and engagement sends positive signals to members and supporters. Not only are you addressing your member by the correct first name and title, you are tailoring the content your member receives to his past behaviors and preferences. Instead of appearing like an unfeeling robot monolith, your organization is sending signals that say, “We remember you,” “You matter.”
Breaking down data siloes results in a staff that is more in touch with member profiles and member needs. By making member data-sharing an organization-wide priority, you will retain satisfied members and supporters. Additionally, as this approach pushes organizational goals to the forefront, you might just discover opportunities for growth and revenue that you never even knew existed!