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Constituent Experience 101: There is a reality called silos. How should we deal with it in the best interest of our constituents?

June 2, 2013 1 comment

We all see it all the time. It is time to put together the annual budget. Or, it is time to update our plans. Each department puts its own plan together and then defends it before the group. At a certain level that makes sense. The question any department leader needs to ask is will this approach serve our constituents best? Is it at odds with the overall constituent experience we are trying to build? To get an enterprise wide constituent investment plan, we may need to do a few things differently. If you have a Chief Constituent Officer, it is their role to make it happen.

The premise here is that constituents are being lost in the hand offs between departments. The constituent walks away thinking do they truly understand my needs? Are they there when I need them? Are they really my partner? If I am a donor and an advocate, how come it doesn’t feel like you know that and treat me differently?

The first thing the Chief Constituent Officer needs to do is make sure they are aligned with the CFO, CIO, CDO and CMO. Investing in a constituent experience plan will take the support of the CFO from the beginning. The CFO will probably welcome an approach that brings together resources for a common goal and eliminates duplicate spending.

If you are the Chief Constituent Officer, you also need to align with the CIO. In this day and age, as a digital nonprofit, nothing happens without the IT department. If you get a jump on aligning with the IT department and their PMO, you will save yourself a lot of time and rework. You will also gain an ally in gaining financial support when the senior team reviews your plans.

Who owns the constituent data in your nonprofit? In some nonprofits that isn’t clear but the CMO will probably be a big stakeholder, along with the Chief Development Officer. If is critical that they both have a seat at the table as you put your plans together. Do they own with your constituent targets, data and plans for improving the experience with you?

One unique role you play as the Chief Constituent Officer is the ability to aggregate intelligence to identify the most important investments. You are the only one who can breathe life into the annual constituent plan. It will take time to bring together the right people to agree on the most pressing constituent challenges and opportunities. Once identified, you can work with senior management to gain agreement to work on solving the issues. Here are a couple of things to look for:

  1. Building relationships with priority constituents. Some of these will be obvious like high level donors but others may not.
  2. Fixing issues that impede the overall constituent experience.  As the Chief Constituent Officer, you are probably the only one that knows what these are.
  3. Points of differentiation and the big bets your nonprofit should make.

Now you are ready to pull an investment budget together. The emphasis here is on investment. It is critical to be able to identify the return these investments will bring to your mission. Now that you have a more integrated view of constituent priorities, you can make your case better. Since you are taking an enterprise wide view, all of the items for investment may actually live in other department budgets. This will drive greater levels of collaboration with your colleagues. As Chief Constituent Officer, you will be providing a great service that is really lacking to your nonprofit. The budgeting process is always where the rubber hits the road. It will help you gain traction and will help you identify roadblocks. It will also help everyone set a few critical priorities since it is highly likely there is a whole lot of extra money sitting around the table.

This type of action on your part as Chief Constituent Officer will help solidify your role as constituent zealot. It will also help everyone see the importance of the overall constituent experience.

What if your nonprofit doesn’t have a Chief Constituent Officer? This is the opportunity for some department (and its leader) to seize the day. It could be the CMO or the CDO. No matter what, someone needs to seize the role.

Do you have an innovators heart for your nonprofit mission?

May 31, 2013 1 comment

There is a gap that is growing in your nonprofit. It is the gap between the connected constituent, their expectations and the programs, products and services you are offering. 80% of the U. S. adult population uses the internet. Most of them have smart phones or will soon. Most of your constituents are constantly connected from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep. As nonprofits, our reality is a digital world. And so do you have a sense of urgency to bridge the gap?

What does it take to compete for the hearts of your connected constituents? Do you have a plan? Is that plan funded?

One thing to think through very carefully is the urgency to create a culture of innovation to be able to compete for the connected constituent. Someone is going to do it. Will it be your nonprofit?

You will be a hero if you take up that mantle. You will lead a journey to a new level of engagement for the connected constituent and their engagement with your mission. Do you have a heart for innovation? If so, then you will be a hero. You will be the champion for the new world. You will create amazing experiences to generate new loyalty to your cause.

So here is a challenge. Primarily for the C-Suite. Think through it carefully. One of the greatest opportunities before you is the evolution of the connected constituent. How your nonprofit is designed and structured today will work against you if nonprofit digital transformation is not on your agenda. As a leader, you know that management structure, goals, strategies, people, processes, systems, and rewards are all constructed to improve “what is” today. Typically we ignore “how it should be” for the new connected constituent. To innovate requires an innovators heart. Do you have one? Who else at your nonprofit does?

Do you have a talented user experience team at your nonprofit?

May 31, 2013 1 comment

There is a revolution going on with constituents. The relationship they may have had with your mission and brand in the past has probably already changed. New technology (from a constituent point of view) promises a new era of engagement, two way conversations, shared experiences and community. The relationship you want to have with your constituents through these new devices and platforms and the true state are not one and the same. In fact, it may be one sided and skewed towards you and not your constituents.

Are you just showing up? Recently I went to my son’s 7th grade awards program. Most of the awards were for some sort of academic accomplishment. One was for “just showing up” (perfect attendance). There didn’t seem to be a correlation between “just showing up” and accomplishments. We must examine the role that new technology can actually play in improving relationships, engagement and experiences. Our strategy can’t be to “just show up” on the trendy channels. We need to invest in outcomes and amazing experiences. We need to properly estimate the extent to which even the briefest of exchanges can improve the relationship.

How we interact with each other and nonprofits is changing through big changes brought on by mobile, geo-location, social, real time, etc. We discover information differently, share it like never before, and connect in ways we never could have imaged even five years ago. Our constituents are driving rapid adoption because of the radically different nature of the experience itself. Yes, it is a device that unlocks that experience but their expectation of the experience they want to have with us is changing as well. Think of how your constituents have discovered self-expression, validation, communication, connections, knowledge and collaboration. Are they having those experiences with you?

All of this is moving away from a luxury to an expectation. As far as you know, that is exactly how constituents are measuring their experience with you today. Those that are “winning” understand that and are actively creating those experiences. That level of community experience is a lure for attention. It takes more than “just showing up” on the right channel and right device. Experience is much more than that. Experience is about being a part of a movement.

Here is a critical question. Do you have a user (constituent) experience team? To a great extent, the user experience (from a digital point of view) is King. This is not just about website design. It is about the art and science of shaping how your constituents feel about your programs, products and services they engage with. Unless the design is intentional, the constituent will have a sub-optimal experience with your mission. User experience is the critical enabler of meaningful and shareable experiences. The team’s role in your future can’t be underestimated. An empowered user experience team offers you a powerful competitive advantage. So I will ask it again, “Do you have a talented user experience team?”

User experience, and the professionals that staff it, go way beyond design and development. Among senior executives and the C-Suite, user experience is probably either misunderstood, undervalued or perhaps not acknowledged at all. The user experience team should be the most invested in and powerful team you have. They should be the most informed and most capable at improving the constituent experiences, relationships, loyalty and overall income.

To the connected constituent, the experience is everything. They don’t just donate. They don’t just surf your sites. They don’t just randomly engage in social networks. They want experiences. They want to connect with a community. They will invest in the experience and embrace your community if you provide it. They will share that experience with others who will want to connect with your mission as well.

Without powerful user experience professionals, you don’t have a competitive advantage. It is how you will gain and retain mission loyalty now and in the future. Without thoughtful and intentional user experiences, connected constituents will meander without direction. Their attention will wane and their loyalty along with it.

Your journey to change and transformation

May 30, 2013 1 comment

You are on a hero’s journey. I am writing for you and your passionate desire to learn how to harness disruption, innovate in completely new ways and most importantly, transform your nonprofit into a constituent focused machine. You are being introduced to new connected constituents. You are seeing how they progress through a dynamic journey. You are discovering how they respond and behave at each moment of truth about your mission. Generation C’ers are different than their traditional counterparts. You can’t reach them through direct mail. Their phone numbers (remember land lines) aren’t published. They may or may not subscribe to your eNewsletter. You can only reach them if they choose to be reached. They are in control of who they do (or don’t) connect with.

We are learning that our constituents are far more informed than we ever imagined. They are very, very sophisticated in their decision making. They are extremely savvy in their digital prowess. They have a capacity to multitask across multiple platforms and devices during the day and pick up right where they left off at night. We have to adapt to this new world.

We all want to improve the experience for our constituents. We know that experience right now it can be very disjointed. We yearn for our leadership to be innovative and visionary. We want it to be meaningful and not fanciful.

We have this sense that innovation starts with something perhaps simpler than transformation. We must go back to the basics of our mission and vision and align them with desirable outcomes and significant experiences. We may need to invest in programs and services that our constituents may not even know they need yet.

Here is a summary of some of the things we know:

  1. The new reality is the connected constituent that is opening up new touch points for our mission.
  2. How connected constituents are influenced and influence isn’t anything like our traditional constituents are.
  3. They expect something different. They are aligning with our missions for different reasons than we think. Think quality of experience. Think about how we treat our employees and constituents. Consider how sustainable the footprint you are leaving is visible. Obsess over engagement. This is what is important to our new constituents.
  4. The channels they use may never cross other channels. They can be fully contained from beginning to end on one device in one network. My children will sit in front of a very nice iMac searching for content on their smartphone.
  5. On the other hand, sometimes constituents will hop channels. They may look something up on the web and call you. What they expect is a seamless experience. It must be integrated. We have to bring these constituents with common goals together and intentionally design a seamless experience.
  6. Connected constituents value highly being valued. How can we find a new way express value and measure it?
  7. What does it take to connect with connected constituents?
    1. An understanding of how they behave and what they prefer.
    2. Some ability to read between the lines and innovate programs and services.
    3. Define the constituent experience and what it will look like across every channel and journey.
    4. A blueprint on how to change the philosophy, culture and technology to lead (champion) a new era of constituent experiences and engagement.

Simply saying we need to change probably isn’t the most helpful statement. We know that. Change takes, at a minimum, at least two things. First, you really have to want to. Desire and aspiration are essential. Second, it takes determination, stamina, fortitude and sheer will. It all however starts with a vision.

Most nonprofits are exploring new media, different technology, and alternative channels for better constituent engagement. To start with vision may sound trivial. Without vision, I would advocate, there probably won’t be any significant transformation. Transformation follows vision. Your next step may be to be the one to press pause. We can easily fall into the trap of chaotically rushing to the next big thing with understanding “Why are we doing this?” Be the leader to stop and ask why?

In the age of communities, how important is our nonprofit brand?

May 29, 2013 2 comments

What does your nonprofit stand for? What (and who) does it represent? Now, more than ever before, our brand is vitally important. More time needs to be spent making sure it is clear. Our constituents are connected when our brand is clear. The values we share, the personal believes that we hold in common, the life experiences that are combined with personal and professional objectives are creating a need for personal engagement with our mission.

Is it about apathy? Is it about empathy? It isn’t either/or. We have to align with constituents in order for them to be passionate about us. We have to go beyond being constituent-centric. Notice I didn’t say our constituents need to align with us. This isn’t about us. It is about what our constituents love and can connect to in terms of our mission.

The best way to think about it is to think of community. That can mean a group of people living in the same place or it can mean having some characteristics in common. As nonprofits, we need to understand communities. We need to know why our constituents align with our community or they don’t. In most nonprofits, there isn’t a single view of the constituent because we are in siloes. And so we slice up the constituent by department and by desired result. Are they a donor? Have they given recently? Did they renew this year?

Or … are they an advocate? Did they respond to our last alert?

The list goes on. We wish it wasn’t true but while nonprofits truly value collaboration we typically aren’t measured by collaboration results. One way to think about it is if you are in the Advocacy department, do you have performance standards for the number of advocates who are also donors?

The traditional opportunity funnel is no longer working with the connected constituent. What is happening with the connected constituent is very dynamic and can feel like it is spinning out of control to you as a leader. We will need to adapt our mission, vision and models to react faster. Speed is paramount to the digital nonprofit.

There really can’t be a “top-down” movement to create a singular experience for the constituent. When you dissect the nature of a transactional relationship, there is never to be found a unified experience. Movements don’t create unity.

We have to change our minds.

In deciding to be intentional and design a better experience, we need to dig deeper and understand more about community. A simple example is Twitter. What are #hashtags if not a simple way to create a community around a topic? And it works.

Now community is much more than that. It is about doing something that matters and being a part of it. Why has the revenue of Habitat for Humanity exploded at a time when other nonprofits are in decline? Formed in 1976, the last revenue totals I saw placed them at $1.491 billion in total revenue. My niece can tell you about her experience. She gives her time and money to make a difference. And she does. That is what she wants to do. Habitat for Humanity simple aligns itself with that passionate desire she has.

So let’s think intentionally and design it from start to finish. To build a community starts with the passion of the constituent and then our nonprofit vision aligns with that passion. That is unified with our mission. It comes to life with our brand commitment. We must then define the experience we want people to have with our brand (the embodiment of their passion and our vision / mission). We then must align that experience with everything we do.  From development to marketing to advocacy to events, it must fill everything we design. It must be on the whiteboards in our conference rooms. It must be aspirational. It has to be something worthy of the communities we are building. Our constituents have to feel at their core that they personally and the entire world can’t live without our nonprofit.

The “old world” of branding has moved on. It isn’t about the jingle or tagline anymore. Today we have to build an identity, a persona, the essence of a feeling, a promise and most important, deliver on all those things. This is the new world of branding. And, thanks to technology and the deeper connections it can facilitate, it can happen.

How we as nonprofits connect with our constituents is directly impacted by technology. If you don’t believe it just look at the controversies that Susan G. Komen, LiveStrong or the Boy Scouts have/are dealing with. These great nonprofits have seen issues escalated as a result of blogging, social media, texting, etc. Look at how fast Blockbuster declined. It really wasn’t about finance. It was all about deep changes in how we all watch video.

Increasingly, in all these cases, the role of technology means that a nonprofit’s brand is very important. It is probably more important than it has ever been before. Brand is all about being intentional and design. Constituents want certainty. They rely heavily on the symbolism our nonprofit brand offers. Do you think nonprofit controversies are linked to a brand promise? Did technology accelerate the firestorm?

Nonprofit brands that fail to instill core confidence in their donors run the risk of failing and failing fast. Nonprofit brands that survive (even during economic downturns) will be the ones that are best able to evolve because they recognize the need to do so before their competitors do.

Is the reason for change about technology or more engagement in your mission?

May 26, 2013 1 comment

We all know it. We all hear it. Leadership loves to talk about change. Employees love to ignore it. Talk is very cheap. If we are honest however, we all know it is true. Change is inevitable. The real question is what we will do about it. Will we lead it or will we be a victim?

The biggest challenge is knowing the right time to change. Often, by the time we realize we need to change, the moment has passed us by. The worst possible scenario is that others’ realize it before us and beat us to the punch. Rather than being strategic, we are impulsive and reactionary. Our perceived nonprofit competitor builds a website that does X and we have to do it to. Why? Maybe they have just wasted a ton of money. Mimicking others is not a strategy.

Are you inspired by technology or overwhelmed? Are you keeping up with technology or are you getting left behind? Have you see what a three-year-old can do with an iPhone? Does that intimidate you? This is all very disruptive. You know it and your constituents know it. The difference is that our constituents are embracing it.

As a nonprofit, is someone else about to displace you in the marketplace? Are you staying up with the pace of change with technology or are you about to get left behind? Do you have strategies, systems, processes, and protocols in place that will recognize that this is disruption? We need to assess opportunity, and we will need to facilitate the testing of Ideas? Is this your job? How much time and resources that you control are you devoting to it quarterly?

These are very serious questions. They need to be answered now. From the point of view of your mission, is this a case of only the strongest surviving? What will happen if the pace of change is so fast that your constituents adapt and change before you can? This is the reality we all need to face. We all know the role that technology plays in our personal lives. Do our digital properties at work match up to our personal experiences?

This might be a time for humility. Is the economy really our problem? If your nonprofit did well before the downturn of 2009 during bad economic times, why didn’t they do well during the downturn turn of 2009?

All nonprofits are facing disruption. Have you been displaced in the marketplace and simply don’t know it yet? There are nonprofits who are thriving and growing.

In the for-profit world, this is clear. Over 40% of the companies that were at the top of the Fortune 500, in 2000 were no longer there in 2010. Who are some of the top nonprofits today that weren’t on the list 10 or 20 years ago? I talked with a nonprofit leader recently that illustrates this perfectly I think. They probably aren’t on anybody’s list of top nonprofits. They are a $5 billion dollar international nonprofit. They are a single corporation with no separately incorporate chapters. They have a laser focus on the digital world. Their marketing is absolutely unified. Why doesn’t anyone know about them as a leader in the nonprofit space?

So as a nonprofit, you have established a presence on Facebook and Twitter. And so? Is the constituent experience and relationship any better than it was before? Perhaps so or perhaps not. Do you know?

This may be about survival. It could take more than a presence in new channels to improve the overall experience and relationship with those who can support us the best. It may take more courage than you think. It will certainly take more persistence to break through the resistance. In the end, it could be about how you work with your leaders and we’re back to you about how you personally lead.

Are you leading a movement towards empowered and constituent – centric culture? Are you setting in motion real business transformation?

You have a special path you can follow. You can set in motion the change that opens the door to an improved experience both inside and outside your nonprofit. You can lead the change you need your nonprofit to experience!

So is it possible that it is time for us as nonprofit leaders to refuse to play nice?

May 25, 2013 2 comments

The reality for most nonprofit executives is that we have fewer resources and more competition for those shrinking resources than ever before. But it’s not going to change anytime soon. So it is up to nonprofit leaders to embrace and adapt to that new reality. Instead of beating our heads against the wall of change, let’s adapt to meet it.

In fact, it is time for a new kind of nonprofit leader, one who has the confidence, ability, foresight, energy, and strength of will to really lead the nonprofit sector forward. That requires skill at having the tough conversations. For example, what are you going to do about the Board leader who will only give their time, rarely gives their talent and refuses to give their treasure (money)?

So is it possible that it is time for us as nonprofit leaders to refuse to play nice? The culture of nonprofits is one of collaboration and diversity. We bend over backwards to make sure everyone has a voice. And that is a very good thing. The new leader, however, may need to overcome the nonprofit norm of politeness at all costs and gets real with funders, board members, or staff who are standing in the way of the mission and impact of the organization.

It is called tough love. It isn’t always easy but it works.

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