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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?

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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.

How can you make your nonprofit press releases social and shareable?

May 19, 2013 1 comment

Social media has forever changed how nonprofits and journalists distribute and consume news stories, yet the format of nonprofit press releases has not evolved at all. Almost every communication medium out there has been impacted by the rise of social and mobile media, but not press releases.

Enterprising nonprofits should be eager to try something new to help your nonprofit stand out from the hundreds of traditional press releases that journalists and media outlets are bombarded with on a weekly or even daily basis. There is no proof these tips will help your nonprofit get more media coverage, but at the very least they will help your nonprofit’s press release get more exposure on the Social Web.

More via 11 Tips for Making Nonprofit Press Releases Social and Shareable | Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blog :: A Social Media Guide for Nonprofits.

Relevance is defined by how relevant the experience is

May 17, 2013 3 comments

The constituent journey is evolving (albeit very, very fast). That shouldn’t surprise you but it is good news. You haven’t been left behind completely. Your constituents are changing though. Their experience of you and your mission may not be what any of us would want. In this case, relevance is defined by how relevant the experience is. Passion for the mission is contingent on amazing experiences.

How you personally decide to react or lead is up to you. It, of course, is not about technology. What is the journey of getting closer to constituents and staying relevant really about? Here are some ideas:

  • Creating a culture built around the constituent and their experience being the focus of all you do.
  • Empowering employees to do what it takes to create amazing experiences.
  • Opening up the floodgates of innovation.

Saying we want to get closer to constituent won’t get senior management on board. While a constituent revolution is at the C-Suite doors, someone (meaning you) needs to convince the top that change is imperative. Without that we will fail.

You know that most executives don’t use social networks personally. While they have smartphones the primarily utilization is for email and looking at the calendar to know where to go to next. The reality is that most won’t read this. Trying to make a case that this is about technology will be a losing battle.

What is the future of nonprofits built on? It isn’t about how Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, tablets or real time-time geolocation check-ins evolve. The future of nonprofits does depend on relevance and the ability to at least understand technology to be able to make decisions about new opportunities. It does require the ability to strategically adapt to the new opportunities to create a competitive advantage.

So much of this is about change. There is a technology revolution occurring. Other nonprofits (and for-profits that you compete with) understand this. But it is also about a whole series of real-world revolutions that are seizing how our constituents live which impacts their experience with us. Expectations are moving fast. We can’t afford to get left behind. The kind of change we are talking about involves three things:

  1. Listening
  2. Learning
  3. Adapting

Our nonprofit constituents are empowered and we can’t control that

May 15, 2013 2 comments

Consumers are absolutely empowered through technology now. That means our constituents are as well. It has happened and it is a fact. We can’t control that. Sorry to point that out but that is our starting reality.

Our constituents are empowered. They know it. Do we?

They know they have influence. Do we?

Our constituents know they have voice that is powerful. They know they have more power than ever before. Do we know that and act that way?

If you a member of the C-Suite or executive team, did you receive a report today alerting you to what your donors (members / volunteers, etc.) said about you on Facebook, your call center, Twitter, YouTube, Tumbler, Blogs, Pinterest, etc. (the list is ever evolving). Do you receive it every day? Do you get weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual summaries? Have you engaged with any of them personally yourself? If not, it is a reasonable why isn’t that important to you?

Even if we aren’t seeing it, other constituents (or potential constituents) are seeing what is going on. They are forming an opinion of us based on those comments. We can’t control what is being said. We can control how we will react in real time about it. We can control changing the experience in the future.

Say a constituent has a bad experience on your web site and they tweet about it. Do we think others have had the same experience and haven’t said anything? You bet they have. Do we think others will find the same thing and either say something or not in the future? Yes they will find it and yes they will say something or not. There is no hiding. If there is one horrible review out there, they will find it and not the 100 positive things others have said about us.

Nonprofits are beginning to listen to what is being said on social media and respond to it if they can. It does require a commitment of resources but it is not going away. More and more constituents (or potential constituents) are going to share the good, the bad and the ugly about their experience with us.

Have you started to shift resources into engaging on social platforms? How does that compare to your investment in your call center? Is your call center and social media center integrated in the approach you want your constituents to have? We have to manage our online reputation.

What are our constituents going to align with if we don’t first define the experience up front? What do we want them to be a part of? Now is the time to invest more in the experience rather than improve how the donation transaction occurs. Our future as nonprofits is in creating programs that scream out in splendor. It is about experiences that kindle meaningful and sincere interactions at every turn. At the center of our evolution (or is it a revolution) is the experience. The experience is everything now.

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