In episode 52 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, David Pisarek discuss:
David is an award-winning web and digital solutions architect, designer and project manager with extensive industry experience focusing on education, not-for-profit, politics, healthcare, and government. An expert in his field, David worked full-time at Durham College for 11 years (seven of those while working at UOIT too). It was in that role where David performed the redesigns and programming and ran training sessions for over 100 staff. As a result of those years, David understands the internal processes and functioning of post-secondary institutions. He also worked as a professor and guest lecturer at Seneca College and Durham College where he taught web design, graphic design, computer science, and web development. And he developed the Web Design curriculum at a private, corporate training facility.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is David Pisarek. David and I talk about nonprofit websites. We explore the common mistakes nonprofits make with their websites, why video is something your organization should consider for storytelling, how to start cultivating a relationship with the people learning about you through your website, and a quick and easy way to create a content calendar.Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome David, welcome to the podcast.
David Pisarek: How are you doing today? Thank you.
Carol: I am doing well. I'd like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
David: That is an awesome question. My why is really baked into my upbringing. I was involved in youth groups as a child and adolescent and teen years, and there was always a component of helping and giving back and volunteering and being part of the community. I started working in nonprofits in 2000, managing the web and all that type of stuff for them. And it just evolved from there. It's just something I love doing. I love figuring things out and thinking strategically about what it is and how to problem solve and, and work around things and find solutions. And part of what I also love doing is educating and teaching people about things. So in terms of my agency, when we're working with our clients, we train them on the system. We teach them about SEO. We teach them about best practices. Like you don't want to put a giant wall of copy up on your site. You need to break it up and have some headlines and bullet points and things like that. But we're about educating in that. And so like I've got a blog and a podcast as well to help empower the people that we work with and other people that are in the nonprofit.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. . just that's, that's what you do. You help people help nonprofits really create better websites. And, and probably more than that you've mentioned a couple of things, but, but what would you say are some of the biggest mistakes that you see organizations making when it comes to their website, which really today is a foundational piece of how you present yourself to the world?
David: One of the biggest things that we find with our prospects that come to us, and we've also conducted an audit of over 400 nonprofit and charity websites. we've got like this broad base of data to pull from, to answer this question. One of the biggest things that we find is that websites look old. There's a client we worked with a couple of years ago. Their site was actually redone in 2016, but it looked like it was from the mid two thousands. And I'm sure you've come across a site. The listeners have come across sites where it's like, Hmm, the site doesn't really quite look like maybe anything has been done. Like, is that organization still in business? Are they still doing things or is this just like up there? And it's just like a ghost town.
Carol: . paying attention to updating information, but also updating the look and feel of a website to make sure that , it doesn't look like a, I dunno, a Victorian mansion or something.
David: You could have a wonderfully, beautifully designed Victorian mansion. Right. But if your website isn't working properly, it's an issue for your organization because Google and their algorithm is giving preferences to sites that are. Working really well and designed for mobile devices. So the easiest way to check if you're not sure is to open up your website in your browser window and then make your browser window really narrow. And if you have to scroll sideways to see any of the content, your site's not mobile optimized or likely isn't mobile optimized, I should say. That would be a good start.
Carol: . Excellent. what are some other couple simple things that organizations can do to really improve their websites?
David: You need to create an emotional connection with the people you're trying to reach out to. that can be done through the wording that you have. But it can also be done through the images that you've got or videos that you have there. And you need to create this impactful story about your organization in terms of what you do, why you do it, who you help, how the donor's funds are being used, the type of volunteers that you need and need to really weave that through all of the messaging that you have. Not just like we need. You need to donate today, right? Why, why do we need to donate? What's the money happening sorry, what's happening with the money and how is it being spent? What's it going towards and making people really care and be empathetic towards your cause? And that's going to really help organizations have ambassadors for your brand.
Carol: And how do you help organizations identify what their story is and, and how they can tell their story in a way that connects with the people that they're trying to reach.
David: That's one question with regards to connecting. If you're going to be looking at imagery, things like that, it's hardwired in our DNA. It's scientifically backed and proven. You want pictures of people looking at the camera. And because. Fight or flight responses from like back in caveman days. Right. So do you need to be here and fight and we're wired to look people in the eyes and being able to do that will help you evoke that response from a visual perspective when you're thinking about the story and the meaning and everything behind it. There's a couple of things that you can do the first thing or one of the first. Would be to connect with the senior leadership, the executive team, the board of directors at your organization and ask them, why do they care? What does this organization mean to them? Most likely people care about an organization because they are helping. In some way, shape or form with something that has impacted their lives, their family, or their friends, there's some direct connection, like first or second level to whatever it is. So if it's, if your organization is about, I don't know, ALS for example, Somebody in their family or, or friend or circle has been affected by that in some way, shape or form. And so they want to help and they want to get involved and be able to do that. So really understanding why people care. And then having that in and talking about, here are the things that we're doing to help this. He, there's a media campaign or there's this awareness week and really pumping up your messaging around those.
Carol: . And that's why I love asking that question at the beginning of my interviews. Right. Why what motivates folks to do the work and, and why, why are they connecting into it? And it usually the story does begin in, in people's growing up and how they were connected either impacted by an issue or connected in service early on lots of different things, but one other thing that you said that really struck me was around thinking about imagery and I've, I've heard so much about, our lizard brain and the amygdala and our fight flight. I'll put them there's fun. And there are four of them. Now I think freeze and Fon have that immediate response. And that, that part of our brain is always checking for. Can I trust you? Are you going to hurt me? I've never thought about it in terms of imagery, in a magazine, on a, on a website, any of that. all we thought about it in terms of either this on, on a. In person, not in person, but it, mediated through some screen event or just more of that interactive. it's so interesting that you bring that in also in the imagery that folks are using. thinking about it from that point of view, what's inviting, what's, what's engaging. What other mistakes do you see organizations making?
David: there's two other ones that I'd like to mention. One is making it really easy for people to connect with you. In our audit that we conducted, we found there were a lot of sites. They didn't even have a phone number on there. Like some really basic things have an email. Your, your mailing address, your physical address, a contact form on your site, a phone number some way that you can reach out to that organization in a way that people can connect with you. The other, sorry. Hold on one sec. I wanna, this is popping up. Okay. The other thing that organizations typically fall short with are having calls to actions on their website. The best way to get somebody to do something is to have a call to action. And typically a call to action is a button that you would have on your site with some wording in it, right? Like “donate now,” for example, right. Or a volunteer with us or subscribe, right. Things like that. And making it really. Comprehensive and short and understandable way for people to take whatever that next action is that you want them to take.
Carol: And what are, what would you prioritize between those different calls to action? In terms of thinking about someone, hearing about you, looking you up, looking up your website and in terms of what that next step might be. The reason I asked you the question was the first one you asked, you mentioned, was “donate now.” And I guess one thing that I'm curious about is. I guess an assumption that I have is it takes a little while for something, to get someone to the point where they want to donate and give money to your organization. That's not always true. it may be that a disaster just happened. They looked for a list of who can I donate to by someone that they trust. They look at that list, your organization's on the list and they're going to, they don't need to know anything more. They're going to donate money to you. But in most cases I would think that you have to nurture that relationship a little bit more before they're ready to jump to that action. what, what are some of those steps that you want to invite people into in terms of what that call to action might be?
David: You're absolutely right. They are getting people to make a donation. Isn't the, isn't typically the first thing that people are going to do when they come to your site, they want to get familiar with your organization. I always talk about in terms of, of three things, there's the know like, and trust factors, right? They need to know you, they need to like you, they need to trust you and then they'll be willing to take action of some kind. you need to really have your messaging put together. Easiest thing to get people to do is to subscribe. if you don't have an email list set one up there's MailChimp, there's constant contact as a campaign monitor. There's a ton of systems out there that you can use. A lot of them have a free tier. I typically recommend MailChimp. It allows up to, I think 2000 email addresses and they're free and they also have nonprofit pricing as well. if you do need to bump up into a, into a paid tier, they do, they do offer a discount there. But , you can embed a form in your website and get people to subscribe. And that's where some of that nurturing can happen. you need to set up the messaging you need to set up. Maybe if you're a little bit more of an established organization, a nurture sequence, maybe two or three emails, just explaining, Hey, thanks for subscribing. We send out emails, every month, this is the type of stuff that you're going to get from us. The second email would be, Hey, here's, what we've done recently, or the impact we've had over the last year? Hoping you might be interested in finding out more from us, the 30 emails could be, here's our most popular articles that we've published or videos that we've put together looking forward to getting you our monthly newsletter, for example, right. And then they get on the regular monthly email that you'll get, or pardon me that you'll publish out there. But in terms of call to actions, Unless they're like, somebody may have passed away and they want to donate to your organization because that's what that family or that individual really cared about or were passionate about. Typically that donation isn't, isn't the piece that they're going to go to right away. So there are some other things that you could do. I have a podcast also called the nonprofit digital success podcast episode 39. So while digital.com/ 0 3 9, that'll take you right there. That episode is all about CTS. So head on over there, you'll get, you'll get a bit more detail there, but in terms of call to actions, it could be contact us. It could be sharing this page or sharing this article. You could have some buttons for social channels, like Facebook, Twitter, that type of thing. But some other CTS that you can think about doing, let's say your organization was around funding cancer research, let's say, and you're trying to raise funds for that. It could be like “end cancer today” or, “end brain cancer today.” Or instead of “subscribe,” it could be, “keep me informed.” Right? There's different languages that you can have. But something you shouldn't be scared of is having to call. On a page in your website. So, maybe when people load up your homepage, you'll probably find only about 40 to 50% of your web traffic actually lands on your homepage. Google wants to send people deep into your site, into the content that they're already looking for. But on the top of the homepage, you can usually have the typical designers you've got like a big image or something like that, and like a headline and a button. So that button up there, that could be. I have two buttons. So you could have one for more info. So if you have a big campaign or something like that happening at your organization, or maybe there's a gala and you're trying to do some fundraising for that, it could be like I don't know, RSVP could be one of the, those buttons and the other button could be subscribed and you can have that right up there and drive them to a subscription page.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. And just you, you did say call to action and then you said CTA multiple times, but , just for clarity, CTA is market speak for call to action. So, awesome. . Another acronym that you may not be familiar with is SEO. Can you explain a little bit about what that is and what are some, what if, how do people need to think about that or why it's important.
David: SEO is again an acronym it's search engine optimization and really what it comes down to is how do the search engines index and list your website in their database. So when somebody goes and does a search, it's looking through their database, it doesn't actually search your website live. Actually, they have a cache of all the content on the internet. So if you think of Google, they've gotten like terabytes petabytes of. Astronomical amounts of data that we can't even comprehend on all the different websites and domains that are out there in the world. So when somebody goes into Google and they search for something, it's looking for relevance as well as geographic proximity. So I'll take a look when I'm in Toronto. And so if I went and looked for, I don't know, my heart and stroke association, let's say it'll, it'll find me results based because I'm in Canada and Toronto that are as close to me as possible. Whereas if I was in Australia or Germany or somewhere else, it would show different results. Based on. So SEO is about being found by search engines and being able to be indexed. So if your organization is, let's just talk about, I don't know, cancer research, because we were just talking about that four months ago. If you're focused on that, you want to make sure that you're using the terminology that other people, the general population might be searching for, because then you're going to end up ranking higher in the search result. People typically don't really go past page two of Google search results. We'll end up going back to the search and typing again. So if you think about the last time you went to Google and you searched for something, that's probably exactly what you did. If you're looking for a new hat or something, right? Like you'll go you'll search and whatever. I don't know. Totally unrelated to nonprofits there, but right.
Carol: But you might need a hat for your next Gala. who knows.
David: It's important to have the terminology that people are looking for. And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that you have some analytics tool in your website. you can gather data about how people are coming to your site. What are the popular pages on your site? And then you can create additional content. Around that so that you can start to become more well-known to search engines around certain topic areas. And one of the best tools that I can recommend is Google analytics. It's free and you can install it on your site. If you need help with that, reach out to me, connect with me. We'll do it for you for free, no strings attached. We'll get you going. Analytics is one of the best ways to be able to improve your web presence. And it's really important. To have regular check-ins on that.
Carol: . Because certainly through mine, I have some analytics through just the service that I use. I use one of them. like Squarespace and others, that make it easy to make it look good. But they're not as robust around analytics, et cetera. And I got Google analytics set up at one point, but I think it's all falling apart, so probably could do with some help in that direction.
David: Happy to help. One little caveat is Google analytics is sunsetting their universal analytics. So if you are going to sign up for new analytics or if you have it on your site, you need to migrate to GA for so Google analytics for,
Carol: Okay, good to know. Good to know. what are some steps that organizations can take to improve their SEO? And I, a lot of organizations, these are the kinds of things that may feel Beyond their sophistication or capacity, but I'm wondering if there's some easy things. You talked about making sure that you're using keywords that aren't just the expert jargon. But really how an average person would look for, for whatever it is that you do. that being an important element, are there other key things that organizations need to think about in terms of SEO?
David: Absolutely. So like I said, right at the beginning, I love educating and getting information out there. I have a webinar, a free webinar that I run, where I talk about how you can leverage your website to get better impact, more donations and more website traffic. And I talk in that webinar about SEO and the importance of things. And one of the best things that you can do is to add content to your web. Over time on a frequent regular basis. So maybe once a week, once every two weeks, once a month, whatever the cadence is that works for you. Write a piece of content about whatever that keyword or the idea that you want people to find you under. Frank. Right content and it doesn't have to be long. There's people out there that are going to be like, no, you need to write at least 2000 words. We've had a lot of success with some of the clients we've done this for where it was just five or 600 words on a weekly basis. And over a period of five months, we were able to increase their organic search traffic by 510 times. So. short content things that are easily digestible, things that are topical, maybe there's something happening in the news around COVID or something like that. And you're related to Curing, whatever disease based on MRNs, for example, right? Maybe there's, there's a tie there, connection there, and you can talk about that in some content and you can try to leverage media in that way because people are already searching for that. In Google analytics, you can actually get some details in terms of what pages are the most popular on your website. Take a look at those pages and. Over time, make some updates to those pages. And Google is going to start to rank that page a little bit higher as well. And just jumping back to CTS, when you're looking at that list of the most popular pages of your website, make sure that the top 10 pages of your site, you've got a clear call to action on that page to drive people, to do something, whatever that happens to be because you're already getting traffic there. Right. Let's leverage that traffic to try to get them to do something else, like subscribe or make a donation of some kind. And you don't affect change that way.
Carol: that makes a lot of sense. I've been in organizations where they haven't had a, a communications person or a marketing person, and they've really struggled with being able to keep that consistent, creating a little bit of content and getting it, getting things updated because there's just this mindset of it. It has to be really important or really meaningful or just perfect. And I think really for me, the way that I've just tried to stay consistent and keep things rolling is, just, it's gotta be good enough. It doesn't have to be perfect. And it doesn't always have to be super profound. I keep being, perhaps I'm boring people, I don't know, but I try to psych myself into just continuing versus getting into that mind space that can be paralyzing. And I've seen parallel organizations in, in, in really. Keeping people appraised about what's going on because they had so many criteria that they felt like their communications had to meet.
David: . And it's really tough. So one of the things I always tell people when I'm meeting with them is you need to take some action for better, or for. Take something, create a bit of content, see how it works. If it doesn't work, modify it a little bit for next time. If it does work, keep following that same path until you meet some resistance or, or something like that. What we find with a lot of our clients is that they're reactive instead of proactive. There's. One of the issues between non-profits, and charities is the size of the team. The time that the team has to get the job done. And then, you might, you might embark on a project with the world's best intentions. But then there's fires that come up and there's wrenches that get thrown in. And then there's red tape and meetings and meetings and meetings. And ultimately at some point you need to say, what, I need to actually just do something and make it happen. And, taking that first step, taking that initiative is really, what's going to help you because you can have committee meetings and you can meet with stakeholders across the organization, all you want, but nothing's actually going to happen until you sit down and spend time in.
Carol: I think people see technology tools, whether it's websites or any other thing. And, and, and they see all the bells and whistles and they want to do the, all the things I was talking with, an organization, a small organization. They only have two staff right now. They will be growing, but there are only two right now. And they're thinking about their metrics and data tracking. And they have a database that, It's infinitely expandable in terms of the things that they could track, could pay attention to. And, I kept trying to bring them back to what are the one or two things that are going to be super important to be able to tell donors, tell funders, tell your story. You don't want your staff caught up in spending all of their time, entering information into a database. What are, what are going to be the things that really give you leverage? So key, back to that keep it simple. what else is important for organizations to keep in mind as they approach their digital marketing strategy?
David: I'm just going to close the door. Hold on, I have no idea why, but my wife just came home. She was at her office today. So okay. So let me ask the question again. Nope, I got it. We're good. Okay. . One of the things that I think is important to do is really be strategic about how you're spending your time. Right. And. On the wall behind me. You can't see it because this is an audio podcast, but I have a board. And on that board is our content calendar for the year. And we do this with our clients. You can do it yourself. Sit down with your team with key stakeholders from your organization, spend an hour together an hour and a half. Give everybody a stack of post-it notes and just say around this idea. So we are focused on cancer, curing cancer, right? In the next minute, how many post-it notes? Can you write down topic ideas for articles, right? And just sit and just pound out as many as you can. And then. Do that three, four times and have another topic idea. Do that three, four times another topic on day three, four times. And you're going to find within probably about 20 minutes, you're going to have 40, 50, 60 different topics. Some of them are going to overlap, right? So you take those, you throw them out who cares, right. But you've, you've spent a really short amount of time and you figured out, all right, here's all the different types of things that we can write about, or we can create videos about, or we can be featured on podcasts and talk about the great work that we do. And it really simplifies that process. So taking those post-it notes and then taking all of those. Magical DS and weeks and months that happened. So for example, like Alzheimer's awareness month, right? If, if there's content, some of those topics that tie into that, you want to put those on, on those months, on those special days that come up through the year, those awareness type of days, and then you can plot out your content for the whole year. So within a short amount of time, we're talking like an hour, hour and a half. You can have your content calendar planned the entire year. And . Things are going to come up through the year. So you take the post-its and you move them. If you want to use tech tools, you can use any Kanban board, like an air table or mural or whatever, there's tons of things out there for that. But , it's a super great process. It was really streamlined. And it makes it easy. And you don't have to think week after week or month after month about what it is. What are we going to write about this time? No, you have it already done. You grab it. Put that together and be done or you bring in people to help support your team. And that's like where we, where we come in, we as an agency, think of our thoughts. Think of ourselves as an extension of your marketing communication, it teams. And it's, it's, there's lots of agencies out there. There's lots of freelancers out there, whether it's copywriting design, web development strategy. Branding, whatever it happens to be that you can bring in to help.
Carol: When I was blogging on a regular basis I just kept a running list of ideas, and sometimes I'd write a bunch down and think about them. And then sometimes they would just pop up. Swimming or walking around the block and I'd add it. And then when it came to the time when I was supposed to be writing I would look at the list and sometimes I wanted to write the thing that was next on the list. And sometimes I didn't, so I just skipped and found another topic, but I did really find that not starting with that blank page was really, really helpful. I love that process that you described of just bringing a group of people and it is amazing how quickly you can generate. More than you could possibly even cover. you feel like you start with, oh my God, what are we going to talk about then having a list of 50 things and you're, you're good to go. And then, then doing that planning. That's awesome.
at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask each guest one random icebreaker question. What is one activity that you enjoy so much that it really makes you lose track of time?
David: Do you love doing so
Carol: much when you get into that state of flow?
David: Low. . The state of flow is super awesome. Right? Once you can focus and you're just sitting there working with it, and then all of a sudden it's two hours later. You're like, where did that time just go for me? With regards to the business side of things, that state of flow happens when I'm sitting down and really working on strategy and in. Problem solving, like trying to figure out all right, here's the, here's the issue. Here's what we need to do. What is it that can be done to work around that, but then going from that to actually doing it and jumping in and going, okay, we want to build out this new thing. So for us, here's a great example. We want to have better communication with our clients. We want to impact more and give them more education and more awareness about the work as we're working through the project. So we created what we call the hub for our. And so every client has a page. They can go in, they can see a Gantt chart of the projects, live project status and whatever. And when I had this idea, I was like, all right, let's just make this happen. And then like three hours later, I had the first template put together. And it was like, where did, where did all that time? Just go.
Carol: what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and your work?
David: It's interesting. We've got a few really great projects on the go right now. We're excited to move forward with them. We had a couple of meetings this morning already with them and we heard that the senior executive leadership loves the work that we've done. So that's super awesome and exciting in terms of our agency and where things are going, we're like dabbling. And taking a look at a metaverse in terms of like, what does this actually really mean? How can nonprofits and charities leverage this? We're also taking a look at crypto. So cryptocurrency and NFTs are non-fungible tokens. You've probably heard about this in the news a bit with artwork and there's like 14 year olds that have made over $10 million selling their like whale artwork, essentially. And what are some ways that nonprofits might be able to leverage that newer technology and get ahead of the curve on it, typically what we see as you've got like big business and then you have the education sector. And then lagging behind education is like the nonprofit world. Let's leapfrog that a bit and help them be current as things are happening in the news.
Carol: That's awesome. I appreciate all the education that you do for folks and I'm helping them. . Not, not always being one step behind, so that's awesome. Appreciate it. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking with you today.
David: Thank you so much, Carol.
Carol: I appreciated what David said about some of the very basic things that can easily be fixed on websites that they audit. The first being look and feel – does your website still look like someone should be looking at it via AOL in the 90s? The DIY website hosting and creation services such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly – all have built in templates that make it easy for you to have an up to date looking website and have it be mobile friendly – all without having to know how to do any of those things. And the very basic – is there information on your website about how people can get in touch with you. And then beyond the basics, I appreciated David’s points about building a relationship with people – so this will likely be beyond the website. Are you asking them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you have it set up that when they sign up they get a series of automatic emails over a period of time to educate them about your work? And then how might you start using video to tell your story. Everyone can do a video now on their smartphone. What if you were to spend 15 minutes at your next board meeting having each board member each record a 1-2 minute video about why they are involved and what excites them about the work you do. It doesn’t need to be perfect and doesn’t need to be super fancy. And if you do want to go the extra mile there are plenty of folks who can help you produce more professional looking videos for your site. Or at your next board or staff meeting take his other tip and spend 15 minutes brainstorming all the topics you could cover to create a content calendar quickly.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with David, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 51 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Thomas Anderson discuss:
Dr. Thomas E. Anderson, II is the founder of Teaiiano Leadership Solutions. He has over 20 years of experience leading high-performance teams in faith-based non-profits. As a coach, consultant, and workshop facilitator, Thomas helps founders, leaders, and managers to navigate the multi-loop (…and often elusive) process of vision development and realization. In fact, he measures results by how much he helps clients to move forward with their vision for the future. Thomas is a recurring presenter at Regent University's Annual Research Roundtables and has published academic articles in the Journal of Practical Consulting and Coaching (JPCC). Above all, Thomas enjoys being a devoted husband to his wife, Jamie, and dedicated father to his daughters, Arianna and Azalia.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Thomas Anderson. Thomas and I talk about how organizations can learn to see and listen, why more and more people are working with founders, and what foresight is and why it is important to organizations.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Thomas. Welcome to mission impact.
Thomas Anderson: Thank you, Carol. It's nice to be here today, talking with you.
Carol: I like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you describe as your why?
Thomas: That's a great question. I started this work just to basically help visionaries to, I used to say, to change the world, but it's really to help visionaries to impact the world or to improve the condition of the world that we live in.
Carol: And. As you just said, you're a coach and consultant that really works with folks too, you focus on vision development. Why would you say that vision is so important for whether it's an organization, a team, an individual.
Thomas: that's a good question. And I have to caveat it by telling you a little bit about the backstory of how I got into this work. So I had every intention of graduating from undergrad and just going right into it. Nine to five corporate jobs staying there retiring, but the more and more I talk to people who are around me and the more opportunities that were coming my way, they were really related to people would come to me with their ideas or they would come to me with some type of creative, something that they wanted to do. Made everyone else who gave them feedback on it say, okay, I don't know about this. You might be crazy. Those kinds of responses kept coming to them. And so when I was just open to just the fact that, okay, you want to do something new at the time? I graduated right after the dot com bust. I was in a sense , either forced to go back to school or to try something new. And I was at the time trying something new. And so I saw, I say all that to say, I saw how it motivated vision has a very motivating it's a very motivating phenomenon within itself.
Carol: I work a lot with folks in the nonprofit sector and it's usually someone. Has a vision of, of how the world might be better or how they could have impact or how they could serve people or a gap that they perceive. They step into that. Sometimes the vision is very clear for the founder and not necessarily for everyone that they pull along with them. So you recently did some research into vision development and then its realization. Can you tell me a little bit about that research and what were the, what were the questions that you were trying to answer?
Thomas: Yes. Yes. I'd be happy to. And you just brought up something that I thought about earlier. There's a trend going on and I can, I can break it down like this. And this is what my research has shown just on a cursory level. More new businesses are popping up and even more so since the pandemic has happened. The number of new business applications doubled between 2007 and 2022, and they actually spiked between 2020 and the end of 2021. They have level back off to that doubling, but when you couple that with the fact that corporate longevity has decreased from 67 years , companies used to last on average on the S and P 67 years in 1920 to 15 years. And in 2012 you had this trend that businesses are getting younger. And the chances of working with a founder are higher. And so I started to think, what does that say? Or a visionary leadership vision and visionary leadership. And so what I started to do was to reconceptualize there was a call in the research from a couple of scholars to reconceptualize visionary leadership. And I started to think about the trend of businesses actually getting younger. And I said, okay I need to jump in here. And so I started to ask two questions. The first one was, can an organization learn. And then the second is if so, how do organizations practice? Seeing together now I've had a couple of discussions around my book topic, or I should call it a manuscript at this point because we're still in the process of the proposals and so forth and so on. But I'm even revising that question to look at a topic that came up in one of the sessions: can an organization learn to hear or learn to use the senses. And so what that looks like, going back to my original question, is how organizations learn how to detect and anticipate the future in such a way that they can choose which future they want to pursue. And also on the same token, be nimble enough to make changes along the way.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by an organization seeing or an organization hearing.
Thomas: Still, when it comes to seeing, basically when we talk about vision, we all know that it's future oriented and so. A term for that is the preferred future. And so which future the organization prefers, but visioning itself, starts with the ability to see. And you mentioned the founder earlier in, and that really comes into play here because founders take a journey through what they can see to be the preferred. But there's a lot of information there. That lies outside of the realm of visioning. It lies in the foresight realm of future-thinking, just picking up on trends that are happening or doing some type of horizon scanning or thinking about scenarios that could play out. And so all of that comes into play when talking about organizations. Learn to see together, not just the founder learning to see, but everyone, at some point being invited into the process through their feedback or through a whole group collaborative session, just in bringing all of that wisdom into one room and saying, okay, based on that, what do we want our company to be in this.
Carol: Yeah. And you talked about foresight also. Can you say a little bit about what you mean by that? Sure.
Thomas: So foresight it's not really pie in the sky. Like sometimes vision enforced that can be treated that way, but foresight is basically seeing or detecting what's coming up in the next. So just to, I guess, make a juxtaposition between foresight and strategic foresight and strategic planning, right? Strategic planning looks, and you're an expert at strategic planning. So I need to get this right. Strategic planning looks in the near future, right up to maybe three or five years of foresight. Beyond that it can, it usually starts at five years, but can look up to 50 to a hundred years not to say that people can predict the future. But, you're just picking up on all of these trends that are going on emerging trends, things that could turn into something later, we just don't know. But there are things that would impact or could possibly derail that perfect picture of the future that many organizations and the founders do hold.
Carol: it's so interesting when you're talking about the near term and the longer term for nonprofits with the, with there being so much oftentimes just. Way more to do than can possibly get done. The visions tend to be huge, even when the resources and the organization are, are really small. And so I find even getting organizations to think about the next three years or the next five years can be challenging for them to just take the time. To step back, what are some ways that smaller organizations can tap into what other people are doing around foresight? So they don't have to start from scratch when thinking about those trends.
Thomas: Hmm, that's a good question. I was talking to the president of a smaller organization. It wasn't a nonprofit, but I think the lesson for me in this was that there are certain organizations that are mission driven or are concerned with their teams as wellbeing. And I think that's good. The point of commonality, but what she told me is that she gets together with our team monthly and each team member gets a chance to be the CEO. And so in that meeting she selects someone or they volunteer. And what the first task that they have is to tell, in their own words, what the vision is. And so that's a good way for the leader to not have to always take center stage in communicating it, but also for someone to come forth through someone else's boys and for the leader to also see where that person is and what they see and see the organization from their vantage point.
Carol: That's a great point. I often, when I'm doing strategic planning with organizations and in that initial phase where I'm talking to everybody, one of the questions I often ask. Why does your organization exist? What's the purpose to get everyone to, to describe that mission? They're probably not going to be able to recite the mission statement, but do they at core, have a common understanding of what the purpose of the organization is and, and have that be a checkpoint in the process so that if there, if it's like really all over the place, then that's something that the organization needs to deal with. Yeah. So in your research you were looking at how organizations can see and now maybe how organizations can hear or, or use the other sentences that we have. What were some of the findings that you, that came out of? The work that you did?
Thomas: Great question. So I, going through the process, came up with 11 operating principles that were the focus for each chapter. Around organizational vision development and realization. And so I talked a little bit about this earlier, but vision is more than what meets the eye it's using your senses. It's really detecting and, and I came up with a lot of synonyms that I placed in, in the book. But one phenomenon really stuck out to me was picking up on weak signals on the horizon. And these are signals. Can often be missed, but they can inform the direction of the vision, the, what I call the iteration of the vision. That brings me to a second concept where I think Brenda Zimmerman, who was a consultant and a futurist, and she worked in chaos and complexity theory. She recommended it. Good enough vision, not necessarily wordsmithing it to the point of beyond recognition. She's had to get a vision to the point where it's good enough and then use it to be tested and, over the course of its life cycle, it'll change.
Carol: I love that idea of a good enough. Again, when I'm working with organizations, I'm also trying to get them to what's a good enough strategic plan and to remind them that, yeah, you're not trying to predict the future and These aren't w once it's done, it's also not a tablet that came from on high, right. It’s something that you all created. And so when you need to, you can also update it. So just reminding people that there's flexibility, even when you want to set some intentions and some direction, but yeah, what's good enough.
Thomas: Yeah. And it changes from a wallflower vision and to a working document.
Carol: Absolutely. What were some of the other findings that came out? Yeah,
Thomas: Sure. So there are two trends that in my opinion are upending the traditional idea of visionary leadership and even vision development. And one of those we talked about just now is good enough vision or emergency. The other is shared vision. And in founder-led companies, I'm finding that shared visioning doesn't happen as much with employees at the start as, and I was surprised. I did one quick survey and the customers. So founders would actually. Go through the process of shared visioning with customers using design thinking. I know you're very familiar with that process more than they would with their employees. Once the company had grown. And I found that to be fascinating.
Carol: Well, yeah, I guess there is the focus there on going to the customer, but then if only a few people are involved in that conversation, then there's a big gap of folks who are in the day-to-day and yeah. For nonprofits. Oftentimes, the founder, the CEO, and the board get involved in those conversations and staff get left out of it. And I really encourage groups to include, as many people as is, really practically possible to get involved in those strategic conversations, because everyone has something to share and a perspective and that frontline, actually, implementing a program, actually making things happen is so important. When you bring it back up to that bigger picture vision,
Thomas: And I think we're at a point and I think we're at a pivotal moment in just organizational life. And considering visionary leadership and what it was contextualized for in the late eighties and nineties and where we were as a country at that time. I think we're at a moment where the call even on a generational level is for more people to be involved and that's, I'm picking up on corporations and nonprofits. I work with faith-based nonprofits and I don't really see a difference. People are lacking time and the budget to do certain things, but there is something that I did come across in the literature. It was a book on visionary leadership by Burton. And he actually when I was reading. And also looking through the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner the leadership challenge. And I had a conversation with Jim Kouzes also. And what I found was there's a backstory, even to leaders coming up with a vision because they spend time talking. To people walking through the halls and Jim Kouzes just put it like this, leaders pick up on the vision. That's latent in the hearts of the people. Those are the visions that really end up working on when you start to generalize them for the entire organization.
Carol: that shared leadership is so important because in a nonprofit organization there isn't just one person making the decision, right. It's always a group effort. Whether it's all volunteer all everyone on the board needing to come together and, and have a common shared, shared vision , between board and staff and I think that's one of the things that always can trip people up if they've come from the for-profit side and especially with smaller organizations where they've been in charge and been able to do things the way they wanted to, whether that was best practice or not, they had that ability.
And so to step into the nonprofit sector, whether it's faith-based or. Where it's much more of a matrix it's much more of a collective so that building that sense of shared leadership and shared vision is, is just so important. What would you say are some of the challenges that leaders face when trying to implement their vision and implement, and then build a shared collective vision?
Thomas: Yeah, there are two challenges that immediately come to mind. One is the adoption, like having the vision to be adopted by a critical mass of stakeholders, whether they be employees managers donors just getting that vision adopted. And what, Carol, there is an example of that. I've been unpacking some of these examples and reading through them several times. And so with the March of dimes, I actually read through their history and included it in the manuscript. And so over a period of more than 80 years, their vision. And their mission has evolved several times. And so on its website, its structures, its history, for instance, around the four areas of an evolving vision. So the first iteration, what I call it, the first iteration was curing polio and the era was 1938 to 1955. When the VI, the vaccine for polio became available in 55, they entered into another iteration and they called it. Eradicating birth defects. You could also call it eradicating congenital disabilities that ran until about the mid seventies. And then they entered another one healthy pregnancies and they were ensuring at this time that babies were strong and that moms were healthy. This is random too. And it overlapped into the current era that they're in, where they're tackling a crisis of premature birds. And, and I think that I, as far as I can tell, that's where their focus has landed. And so we, we see things like that with the division becoming , moving in cycles instead of straight.
Carol: each of those are certainly related and they've stayed in the same realm. But the particular challenges or particular eras have been different. Yeah, I mean, oftentimes we'll ask Organizations for some organizations, their mission is going to be perpetual, like healthcare institutions, a hospital. Others would love to see themselves out of business. , a homeless shelter, a food bank if we didn't have needs for that, we'd be a better society, right? Like folks don't want to have to have. The services available. But they see the need and so they build organizations to fit those needs. But yeah. So, so visions can, can iterate in, in a variety of different fashions.
Thomas: And that's a great point. It reminded me of the challenge that the March of Dimes faced in that first shifting from that first iteration to the second, whether the loss of sponsorship and they had to. Find creative ways to tell their donors who had pretty much devoted themselves to the mission. And that shared mission of eradicating polio. Tell them there are other problems that we need to address here. And to your point about they would have gone out of business. Had they not iterated that.
Carol: Which could, which would have been a in, in some ways a valid choice, right. Except that they were, they looked around and there were other related things that they could, that they had the infrastructure to tackle.
Thomas: Jim Henslin, he wrote a textbook on sociology. He put it this way. He said they could have gone out of business, but the bureaucracy. Made them continue. And so they said, okay, we have to come up with something else because there are jobs that stayed there we built so much Goodwill in this brand. And so they had to continue.
Carol: Yeah. And sometimes I think we'll, we'll actually , caution organizations against that, that, that they're not. Certainly they want to be in the nonprofit sector. You want to have a well-run organization. You want it to be well-managed, be effective, all of those things. But if it becomes only about. Perpetuating the organization versus really staying on mission. That's where there can be a little bit of a gap, but certainly there's a multitude of challenges that they could have tackled and then what they chose to tackle. It made sense in terms of where they were and how they were set up.
Thomas: For sure
Carol: I'm curious, what are the phases of iteration or other examples of that vision iteration that you see?
Thomas: They are pretty much four phases. That first phase deals with foresight. Just really detecting what's going on in, in and around an existing organization. Or if it's a startup around the startup, in the external environment. The second is the one we know just sitting down, writing the vision, creating it or co-creating it. And there's a micro phase in between there where the vision is emerging. It's just organically in different quote-unquote containers. It could be through values. , it could be through culture. It can, it can emerge through several different things. The third phase is where stakeholders have a choice and this choice is often taken for granted for founders. They can accept them, its division or stakeholders can reject it. And we're seeing a lot of rejection of organizational vision right now in the great reshuffling. The great. What is it? What is the other name for it? Great. Resignation resignation. I think I've gravitated to reshuffling more, but yeah, the great shoveling, the great resignation where people are voting with their feet, they're rejecting the vision by leaving. And if organizations don't get to the point of the end of founders, especially in leaders, don't get to the point where they accept, okay. People can accept the vision or they can reject it. Then sometimes it becomes impossible. And if folks reject it, it's always impossible to get to this fourth phase where they, and I didn't come up with this term, but it's called vision integration. Dr. Jeffrey Coles, he came up with the term and he did a lot of the research where people do two things. They use the vision to make decisions in their everyday work life and they use it. The vision to guide their behaviors and their actions during the.
Carol: it's so interesting with the whole great reshuffle or whatnot. I think it comes down to, for certainly in the nonprofit sector. What I've observed is often there's been a real gap between the vision that the organization has for the change that they want to make in the world, but then a real misalignment with how they actually act internally, how they treat each other, the culture that they've built and I think it's especially acute when it is a mission-driven organization and people they essentially have higher standards for a group. And so they, when they, when they see that gap, they're much more likely , to, to walk away. And I, I think certainly in the nonprofit sector folks just have gotten to the point and, and then I think with. I don't know, it's pandemic, you, you reminded me that we're, that our, all of our time is finite. That things become more urgent than they might've been. You might've put up with it in the past where folks just aren't willing to as much now.
Thomas: that's a great point. While you were sharing that, I thought about when you, you talked about sometimes there's a disconnect people can vision mission. And I don't know if I said this previously, but it's often something that can be taken for granted with when it's in place, but if it's not in place you feel, or, or employees can feel that disconnection between Where the organization, what the organization does and where their job fits in. And that vision often gives everyone a common direction. And then it's a good launching pad just for even those team meetings weekly to say, this is where we're going. This is everybody's part in it. And , the check-ins, it gives focus and direction to a lot of the work.
Carol: I think that's a piece that people forget to do on a regular basis. And, and one of the values that I see in, in going through a strategic planning process, I mean, sometimes what will come out. The other end won't necessarily be super different than what folks saw going into it. But it's like a rechecking and a confirmation that folks are on the same page. I often get a lot of feedback, wow. That's really helpful to know that other people are feeling the same way I am or seeing it the same way I am that validation. So, I'll often say if you come up with a whole bunch of goals in your plan that are brand new, I actually will be curious about that. Like, why is there such a departure from what was before? And oftentimes it's much more of a through line and it's about conforming or reconfirming or reintegrating that.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I played a game or I asked you one random icebreaker question. So I'm curious, what's your favorite family tradition?
Thomas: Oh, goodness. That is random. Wow. I love that question. Let's see my favorite family. I wouldn't have to say there are several, but if I have to pick one, it would be going to Hershey park. Yeah.
Carol: And how's that tradition originating and the same way.
Thomas: What am I, that's a good question too. I think we are just random, and that's why I say yeah, I'm going to stay with the randomness because I think we were random at times and we like to just experiment, try new things, go places. And I think we just looked it up and we saw that they had a chill child-friendly rides and attractions, and we said, okay, let's go.
Carol: And you love chocolate. Well, I am, I'm always in agreement with that one, for sure. So that's something you do on a regular basis or when we can, at least once a year.
Carol: Well, I'm not, I'm not a rollercoaster person, so I stay away from us at the museum at the park, but I was lucky that my daughter loved them and my younger sister also loved them. So it was a big treat that my younger sister, auntie, would take my daughter to the amusement park. And they got, they had a great time, left me, left me behind, best stay out of the way.
Thomas: I discovered, and this is funny now, but I discovered that. I had vertigo on one of the rides at Hershey park. So my wife is the roller coaster person
Carol: Yeah. There you go. I definitely have vertigo. Vertigo is a real thing. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in your work? You talked about a manuscript.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm totally excited about that. So I'm working with beta readers right now to figure out what's missing what's resonating with them. And, and they're mostly scholars in visioning and organizational change so forth and so on. And so I'm hoping to have that type of yes, by the end of the year.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll look forward to it and let us know so we can let folks know when it moves to that next step. That'll be exciting. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on.
Thomas: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I was struck by Thomas’ example of the CEO who has each of her staff be CEO for their monthly meeting and to articulate to the team what the organizational vision is. It is a great way to check in and find out whether folks are in alignment and really understand where you are trying to go. I also appreciated Thomas’ description of the ‘good enough vision.’ So many organizations can get caught up in trying to get it perfect. Whether it is their vision statement, their mission statement, their strategic plan. Having the attitude of we need to get it ‘good enough’ and then get moving can really help keep the momentum going. And the importance of visions being a shared vision. If you are a founder and you are the only person who really gets your vision, it will be a lot harder to realize it. You will be more effective if you create the vision with the people you are working with – whether everyone is a volunteer or you have a staff. It needs to be the vision of the group, not just the founder.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Thomas, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Keep making an impact!
In episode 50 of Mission: Impact, Carol went solo to discuss:
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: Welcome to Mission: Impact. Today, I'm celebrating my 50th podcast episode. I'm going solo. I'm going to discuss why more money and more staff isn't always the answer. Mission: Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause.
I'm Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast, we explore how to make your organization more effective and more innovative. We dig into how to build an organizational culture where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, and all of this for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
When I'm doing strategic planning, I often ask in my interviews and in focus groups, if you had three wishes for your organization and you could change anything that you want, what would you wish for? And frequently, I would say 90% of the people that I talked to say that they want more funding for more staff. why isn't that always the answer? I think it comes down to the assumption that more money and more staff is always going to be less work. And when it often doesn't our culture really emphasizes growth. Capitalism depends on growth. If the economy is not growing, even if it's just staying steady, folks, fear a recession. we have a proclivity to always want to grow.
And certainly growing your organization, having more resources to meet the demand. Further your mission addresses the needs that you're addressing. All of those are certainly good things, and I'm not arguing against any of those. I'm not arguing against scaling your organization to meet the needs. What I'm saying is that people fall into a false fallacy where they equate more staff and more funding as a way to get out of overwhelm, overwork and overcome. With the idea that if we just had more staff, I would have people to delegate to, I would have less on my plate, but what I have found and what I have noticed in all my years of working in the nonprofit sector is that the reality is that nonprofit leaders are very ambitious. They have big dreams and goals. Most vision statements, mission statements are way beyond what that organization can actually deliver. And growing is the only way to move towards that. As I said, the need is often greater than your current capacity.
When you grow, when you add them more staff, when you get more funding, it's authentic. Take on new projects, new programs, new services, you try to serve more people. You have a serve, serve additional audiences. You broaden your policy agenda. The work grows with the capacity. In the end you're still overloaded and overwhelmed. And running the organization actually becomes more complicated because you have more people and more things to keep track of. more funding, if we just had more money, everything would be fine. We could hire more people and achieve our goals, but unfortunately, in the scenario above where it does not lighten the load at all. And oftentimes funding rarely covers the full cost of those new initiatives, restricted funding. Doesn't contribute to your overhead. you're expected to find a match for your funding. And now you have more money to attract new reports, to write and new funders to please, as I said before, none of these are inherently bad goals.
I'm not arguing against them being able to serve more people and turn fewer people away is important. Being able to provide them with more comprehensive services, being more ambitious in your policy or research agenda. Having more staff to focus on fundraising, marketing, operations, HR, financial systems, all the things that it takes to run an organization. All of these are good things, but the assumption, as I said that I often hear embedded, is that if I just have more staff just have more funding. When I get that, I will finally be able to relax. Whether it's as a board member, as an executive director, as a lead program person or the development director. The assumption is my to-do list will be shorter. I can finally take that long postponed vacation. I can feel less guilty about taking care of myself, but unfortunately that's only true if you choose not to grow the amount of work with the growth in staff and instead redistribute the work for the pieces of the work pie to be small. The pie has to say the same size and mostly what's embedded in more staff, more funding is certainly growth and therefore does not get you out of the overall.
On episode 38. I explored a related question. What if you did less? If you haven't listened to that, I invite you to, and I also recommend Third studios, recent blog posts, headlines of “what if you did less,” that also looks at our current state of burnout and reflects on why just individual responses to the current state we're in is just not enough. I will post the link to that blog post in the show notes.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and with my guests. You can find a full transcript of the show as well as any links and resources that I mentioned in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production, as well as April Koester of a 100 Ninjas for her production support.
And if you enjoyed this episode, I really would love it. If you would share it with a colleague or friend, we appreciate your help in getting the word out; and the easiest way to do that is to go to pod.link.com/mission impact. Again, that's podlink, mission impact one word, and use that URL to share the show. Then your friend or colleague can listen to the show on whatever their favorite podcast player. Thanks again. I appreciate your time.
In episode 49 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lewis Flax discuss:
Lewis Flax specializes in assisting nonprofits and associations generate additional revenue. His hands-on approach has helped numerous organizations implement strategies and tactics to increase sponsorship, partnership, and other funding streams. His firm, Flax Associates, established in 2008, serves as a partner in driving revenue and results.
Lewis understands the challenges nonprofits face, both from an outside consultant's point of view and from the internal perspective of a nonprofit executive. Previously, Lewis served as a Vice President for IEG (a sponsorship consulting firm) and served on the leadership team at Financial Executives International (FEI).
He is a certified instructor for Dale Carnegie Training (Winning with Relationship Selling) and an AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Master Trainer.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lewis Flax. Lewis and I talk about sponsorships. We explore why companies are interested in sponsorships, some of the misconceptions, and why to create real value you will need to get beyond your traditional bronze, silver, and gold-level sponsorships.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Lewis. Welcome to the podcast.
Lewis Flax: Thanks, Carol pleasure to be here and looking forward to discussing sponsorship and the tie in with associations and nonprofits.
Carol: Absolutely. So I like to start at the beginning, I guess the sound of music inspires that, but start at the very beginning, but, but what w what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Lewis: When. First started working within the nonprofit world, realized when it came to sponsorship and how to go about it. When it came to how to structure and set up a sponsorship, when it came to how they go ahead and sell it, there was a lack of knowledge. There, there was a lack of awareness and the idea of how they work. Corporations and funders where they needed assistance and guidance. I felt a need or an urge to help, to give back through assistance and support. So I went to work for a larger consulting firm and then started my own firm in 2008.
Carol: All right. So you've been around the block a few times. So as you said, you work with nonprofits and associations on sponsorships. Just so folks have some context. Can you define sponsorship first?
Lewis: So sponsorship is where a company or an organization is paying a fee. Back to a property, the association or nonprofit where they're gaining specific benefits or specific rights which they value.
Carol: And what would you say motivates organizations to enter into those sponsorships? And I'm saying from the corporation side, what, what, what do they see as you a give get of what they're getting from that relationship?
Lewis: Sure. So they're aligning with an organization that can add value. So on the association side, often it's visibility awareness connection to thought leadership on the traditional non-profit side. It's aligning with a good cause, it's connecting with an organization which aligns with their values.
Carol: And what would you say are some of the key misconceptions that people have about sponsorships? You said that when you started there was a lack of knowledge. What are the things that you have to help people understand about those misconceptions?
Lewis: Sure. When it comes to sponsorship, often organizations on the nonprofit side look at, okay, well, put together a perspective. Especially now, given the pandemic things that have occurred, sending out a prospectus is not nearly enough, here's a standard offering of gold, silver, bronze, and this is what you get. That's not the way to generate higher revenue. That's not the way to customize your target in a way that's meaningful to a potential.
Carol: So what, what would you have organizations do instead?
Lewis: Well, there are a number of steps to take in working with different organizations. I walked them through a process that I term step up in terms of how to go about what it is that you can offer, whether a sponsor is interested in it, and then how you could structure your program to connect with the potential sponsors and align with your culture and your organization.
Carol: Can you give me an example of when you've seen that work well in terms of building that, building that relationship.
Lewis: Yeah. There are, there are many instances. So for example, with different associations it's well, what is it that they're offering? That's a value. So in working with one group, they have an awards program, safety awards. And for a sponsor, that's in a space where they're tied into safety. So say an insurance company or other types of companies. Well, if they can get involved with the safety program and they're providing insurance to the members of that association, all of a sudden it changes. Because if an insurance company is working with those who submit, apply or are involved in a safety awards program, well, they want to insure them. And if they can provide guidance as to how to handle safety procedures at a, in a manufacturing plant, or how to handle safety procedures in a different environment, that's who they want. So if they can get involved either on the selection committee or get involved in terms of articles on safety or debt involved in terms of working with an awards program that offers far more value than having your name and your logo on the website and on signage and pasted anywhere and everywhere. So when it aligns with what the company is seeking. And the specific association or nonprofit it's far greater. So I tossed out an awards program because I've seen that work a number of times.
Carol: What are some other misconceptions that you see folks have about sponsorships,
Lewis: Offering? They view it as a connection with a board member and the board member knows someone. And as a result, oh, we'll set up this. Offering and they think that that's the key value where the board member leaves and often boom, the sponsorship disappears.
Carol: So what would you say are some of the challenges that organizations are facing in terms of sponsorships and building those partnerships?
Lewis: New issue often that they face is the idea of corporate involvement and how we go about it moving beyond. Well, we can offer a webinar or we can offer a slot at a conference, or we can offer a table at a gala because those are just tools. They'll just tools in a toolbox, but what is it that the sponsor wants? How do they want to get involved? What's meaningful to them. And often on the association, nonprofit side, they only see it as well. What can we offer without thinking about it from the lens or from the perspective of the sponsor?
Carol: So what are the types of things that sponsors are often looking for?
Lewis: Normally it's going to, so with associations, are they interested in a specific regulatory area? Are they interested in reaching a set or tying in with a consumer promotion campaign? Or are they interested in an advocacy effort? What issues or challenges that the member base, the distribution list? What are the issues and concerns that they face and how can we respond or are addressed?
Carol: So again, can you give me an example of, of what your of those kinds of situations like th those, those values that they see
Lewis: Let's look at, let's say it's in the accounting space where the association is to provide information. Well, the accounting firms are going to have information on that regulatory issue. And if they can provide that information, be it in the form of an article, maybe a webinar, a conference presentation, a survey, and all of those could be tied together. That's where it's offering far greater value to the sponsor. And it's going to offer value to the association, assuming that they have authority and they best review what's presented and who's going to be presenting.
Carol: And from this, what mistakes do you see sponsors making when they, when they try to, make the most of their sponsorship in that partnership?
Lewis: Often they're looking at it as a short-term game. What we need to have X number of leads. Well, that's generally not how sponsorship works. It's often, well, if you're going to be involved, You're going to get out of it. What you put in for the sponsors needs to. So for example, if it's a regulatory issue where it's an advocacy campaign or it's a specific issue, well, do they develop content? They have resources. Do they have information? That's a value, not just a product demo. They have information. That's a value too.
Carol: So it's getting out of just a pure sales mode then, and thinking about what are the, yeah, what's the information, what's the thought leadership that they can, they can share and provide. And how about on, on the more traditional non-profits sometimes I feel like it's, it's easier to see the connections from an association point of view. But your more traditional nonprofits are also interested in engaging corporate partners. D do you see differences there between the two and, and approach?
Lewis: Yes. In the sense that. From the standpoint of how they go about. Often it's somewhat the same. Yeah. Associations are often looking at it. Both perspectives. Associations are often looking at it saying, well, they should want this. And it's visibility, logos everywhere. The traditional non-profits are often looking at it through the lens of board member connections and how to leverage those, if it's more well, them. So they should sponsor as opposed to what the value is from the company's.
Carol: And what are some steps that organizations can take to get started in this? If they haven't, haven't had a sponsorship program before, what are some of the basics?
Lewis: Sure. So I walk organizations through what, like turn on step up S and the S stands for, well, what's their current situation and looking at who they have as sponsors and who's within their sponsor. Now. And then also addressing the key challenge. What is preventing them? What is stopping them from establishing that sponsorship program? And that could be maybe there's a board resent. It could be that we don't know corporate decision makers. It could be. So one of those challenges, often organizations will, or nonprofits or associations will begin to set up their sponsorship program and, oh, we'll come back to those challenges later. We'll address that down the line and it's when they do. Those challenges are going to pop up again, those obstacles are going to come back and if they don't address that upfront or think through how they're going to address it, there's going to be an issue. There's going to be a problem. So the first step is to evaluate your current situation and figure out how you're going to move.
Carol: I feel like every, every consulting process starts with that first step of figuring out what that current situation is. And when I'm working with groups on strategic planning, that whole process of helping them also have a shared understanding of what that current state is, I think, is also a helpful step that consultants can bring to organizations that they may be. I know for me, when I'm working. Clients there's often a perception or almost a fear that there's such a breadth of ideas and perspectives. And then once you have a chance to talk to folks and get into it it turns out that there's actually a lot more common understanding and shared perspective than people realize.
Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Carol: So what trends are you seeing in the whole arena of sponsorships?
Lewis: Yeah, the trends are, there's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of unknowns. So on both the association and nonprofit side, they're unsure how to move forward. And so what ends up happening is they don't do anything or they don't make changes. So the idea of making changes. And making shifts as to how they're going to approach things. The associations and nonprofits that are going to thrive are the ones that are willing to take those chances. I say, take those chances. They're willing to experiment. They're willing to test and Rocky dies that not everything will go right. And when I say God, everything will go, right? Whether it's an event, whether it's a webinar, whether it's a sponsorship offering, they're going to try something new and organizations recognize that they need to do that. A lot of them won't. So the key is to take a step, make an effort and, and on the sponsor side, there's a lot more awareness of when organizations do that, they respect them. They acknowledge that these are different times.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine that, at least in my limited experience, Of just observing what goes on in sponsorship programs from the sides, certainly in working in different organizations. I think what I've seen is a traditional model that's very very event focused often around an annual conference or some annual convening. And, since the pandemic with so many things going virtual there's not that same. I guess it seems traditional, like slack, the logo everywhere. It's just not the same in the online environment. So what, what shifts have you seen with that? with everything that folks have been contending with in the last couple of years?
Lewis: Yeah. When it comes to events, Organizations have learned. Well, if you're just focused on events, you're going to be in trouble because in a virtual environment, whether it's zoom or teams or whatever the format is, you can appease the exhibit hall of 500 people. You can appease a gala where you had a hundred and 150 tables. So moving beyond events is a big component of how these organizations should shift. So earlier when you asked me for examples, the idea of a safety program or a safety awards program, the idea of a specific regulatory issue, when it's focused on a theme or an issue it's for a greater, because then it's not event centric and organizations can be more effective. The issue is a lot of the organizations struggle with how to piece that. If the conference department doesn't talk to the group that handles webinars, it doesn't talk to the magazine area. It doesn't speak to the research area. It's a lot tougher and they need to navigate through that because the truth is if there's good content and it was featured in a magazine or. Well, why not tie that into a webinar? And then why not include that at a conference presentation? Why not tie that into a survey? Why not allow the good content for the good content from a specific source, perhaps a sponsor and others. And you connect that across the organization. It's far better for the organization and it's easier than to establish a stronger sponsorship program. So it's more about themes and concepts. Topics or issues that are of interest to the member base or to the audience. And when that's done, it's far easier to set up a successful sponsorship.
Carol: That's a really interesting flip and I think it, beyond just sponsorship, it goes to a lot that, especially associations are doing around, serving their members being current and getting out of the mindset of, the, the delivery channels of whether it's a conference or it's research or it's, the magazine. But what are the overarching themes of the things that people need to know about the things that are upcoming, the trends the current research is helping, helping people navigate all that without being so caught up in what particular channel that it's being delivered.
Lewis: Yeah, analog organization, they get that's where I mentioned the tools they get caught up in here's a webinar, or here's put your logo on or banner on our newsletter or here's some other offering. And it's all about slapping or pasting logos everywhere. Well, that doesn't offer much value. Whereas it's an awards program, or if it's a specific campaign or advocacy effort or a themed approach, you move away from the tools. Then you move towards what the customer wants and then it could be, and should be far more successful.
Carol: And when the customer wants what you're saying there, that would be the member of the organization. Which customer are you talking about in that instance?
Lewis: Okay. So if the sponsor is interested in conveying their thought leadership related to regulatory issues, X. And they're pitched, here's an ad in the newsletter or here's an exhibit booth or here's a webinar. Well, it's not connecting with them. Those are the tools. And they're interested in this regulatory issue. Well, can they get involved in that regulatory issue?
Carol: Right, right. What are some fears that you would say either staff or board members have about, especially for, I would say on the more traditional nonprofit side of bringing in private sector groups to their, to their organization.
Lewis: Number one is if we take corporate money, how does that impact us? And I'm a big believer that any organization, association, or traditional nonprofit, should stick to their values and their culture, and do not allow a sponsor to dictate or to determine how to handle something, their control, regardless of funding. That's, that's one, the and then secondly, for a number of organizations, if they take. Funds, what does that mean? How do they work with them? And to clarify ahead of time what those requirements are, what those values. So it's easier for them to set up a program that's going to be successful as opposed to just hit or miss and see what happens.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine helping a group talk through what they're looking for in sponsors. So the, in the same way that you're talking about flipping the script and thinking about it from the sponsor's point of view and what value they're going to get out of it. But then from the organization's point of view, helping them think through. What is it that we want? Who, who do we want to partner with? Who do we want to give access and who do we not? And like having that conversation without individual sponsorship opportunities in the room, or in the conversation I would think would set them up to feel more confident in moving forward, to look for a potential organization. So it isn't just based on, as you said, the current board members that they happen to have, who they happen to have relationships with, et cetera.
Lewis: Yeah. I mean, when they set the parameters or the guidelines ahead of time, they're going to be far more directed and focused. And it's going to be easier for them to move forward as opposed to, well, we'll walk through the door and whether the company says they would do, and then the board or leadership is looking at that. And all of a sudden they haven't clarified their own values. They haven't clarified their own culture. They haven't set the parameters, they haven't set the guidelines. And often that leads to maybe not a problem at that point in time, but the problem down the line. Sure.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I play a little game where I pull out a Random, somewhat random icebreaker question. So the one I have, I have three of them sitting here. I always put up for you to just see what let's go to fit. I don't know if this fits or not, but we just, we've just moved into spring. And I think this will actually be being published sometime probably as we're moving more towards summer. But which season would you say fits your personality?
Lewis: Probably fall. And the reason I say fall is in my mind, it's beautiful outside because the leaves are returning the weather's a little cooler, more comfortable. I like to walk with my family. We'll hike and get outside and fall could be a rebirth and it's a change. It shifts. And I liked that. I liked that change. Yeah. The feel in the air. I like how things are changing. So fall follows my favorite season. I think it would describe who I don't think describes who I am. Yeah. I really enjoy fall. I enjoyed the change of seasons.
Carol: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We're just, I'm enjoying the, the, all the, all the. Flowers are popping up right now and the trees are blooming. And then yes, at the other end, when all the leaves are falling and you have that shift in the weather appreciate that. One of my sisters moved out to California and one of the things she missed the most about the east coast was having seasons so well, I really appreciate it.
Lewis: I was just saying, I love the different seasons. I love how in our area, in the Washington DC area, they're distinct and different seasons. And I liked that
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you and what's emerging in your work these days.
Lewis: It's interesting as we start to move, hopefully out of the pandemic and working with different organizations. So much for coming back to the fall, there's a bit of a rebirth, okay, now we need to move forward. And then in my role, it's looking at it through the lens of, no, you can't go back to the way you weren't doing it. Let's make those adjustments, those changes, and then move forward.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on. I really appreciate the conversation.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you, Carol. I liked the way you asked the questions. You asked me good questions and the follow-ups are on target in terms of what does that mean to clarify?
Carol: Yeah. Well, what I, one thing I appreciate about doing the podcast is that I'm always learning something new because I get to talk to people about their area of expertise and it's not necessarily mine. So I get to have a little mini-masterclass. So appreciate that and appreciate you sharing your perspective and all your wisdom on, on sponsorships. So thanks so much.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you for giving back to the association and nonprofit community by adding resources.
Carol: All right.
I appreciated how Lewis described how to work with your sponsors and potential sponsors to create more value – for your organization as well as the company. That it starts with conversations with the sponsor – what are they looking to achieve? How might you align in your efforts? And for both sides – the sponsor and your organization – that developing the relationship should be with the longer term in mind. If either party is just looking for short term gain they are missing a lot of opportunity and value that could be there. There is also more opportunity available if different parts of your organization are cross pollinating and talking – in an association – staff who are managing the magazine, staff who are producing webinars and other learning events. Are they talking and coordinating their efforts with a sponsor and a tie in? Of course always being mindful of whether a particular sponsor aligns with your organizational values.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lewis, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
In episode 48 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Chyla Graham discuss:
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Chyla Graham. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Chyla and I talk about why it is important for nonprofit leaders to get comfortable with their organization’s numbers, why you have to consider the wider context when you are looking at your organization’s financial statements, and why it is so critical to connect your organizational goals with your financial goals.
Welcome Chyla. Welcome to the podcast.
Chyla Graham: Thanks for having me, Carol. How are you doing today?
Carol: I am doing well. I'm doing well. We're supposed to have rain all day and all day tonight. So it's just an indoor day.
Carol: Yeah. So I like to start each podcast with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
Chyla: What drew me to the work was, I think I'd like to say it's like the convergence of several things. So I have always been interested in numbers. I'm an accountant. It is the thing I do. It's always the thing I've been interested in and, or I guess more so like the idea of money, like, Ooh, this is a cool thing. And I went from, I was a. So I'd be the one I, Hey, Carol, don't you want to donate $500 and that was terrible at it. Absolutely terrible, but loved learning more about the work nonprofits were dealing with that money. And so that led me to say, okay, well maybe that's where I want to go. And also seeing the idea of Enron worlds com I, all of that was happening while I was in college. And so I was just like, So this is the thing. And so it really made me more passionate about helping non-profit leaders get comfortable reading the numbers, asking questions about their numbers, because I just, I was just like, this could be any of you.
Carol: Yeah. And that, that comfort level with reading the numbers, just asking questions about them. I feel like. Very few people go into the nonprofit sector to manage money. Right. If, if they did, they would've gone into finance and they would've made a lot more money. Right. So they want to help people. They want to help animals, the environment, and some cause. So what do you do to help people get a little bit more comfortable about interacting with them, the money that flows through their organization, then the numbers that keep track.
Chyla: I am nosy. So I think by nature, I'd like, tell you more about why you did the thing. And so I try to get them back to explaining themselves not from an idea of like, I'm committed. I want to know why you went to Starbucks. I actually don't. It makes no difference to me why you went to Starbucks, but I want them to be clear on why they went to Starbucks. I want them to be able to understand that. And so for me, it's being able to say to them, Hey, let's go through your chart of accounts. So we do several things, like as energy, we do several things. We do accounting services where we help them. We do some of that coding, but most of our work, I would say most of our clients are actually in the consulting and education space where we're speaking. Just talk me through these reports as you read them. And in that way, trying to highlight for them. In their own words. What is the thing that works or doesn't work for them in terms of reading the financials? If they're like that, actually I have no idea what any of these pages mean. I just know I get it every month and I'm supposed to present it to the board. And so in that way, trying to dig in with them to say, oh, well, tell me what questions the board asks, tell me what questions you have every month, even though you get these reports. And so trying to help them say, oh, Let me put a list together or what are the things that come to mind? Because sometimes we just don't know where to start. And I think if we start with like, well, what is the thing that comes up every month? Whenever I talk to these people, it gives us a good entryway to say, oh, all right, well, how could I reframe this question? Or what else would I, should I look at to like, get an answer to this question?
Carol: What would you say are some of the common questions that people have whether they are comfortable reading the financial statements or not, or don't even know what a chart of accounts is?
Chyla: Yeah, I would say the most common question is, do we have enough money? It's really all that call that everyone wants. And I was like, is there enough money and context, man? I like to say financial statements don't make a difference if they're not in context or in relationship to something. And so, well, I don't, I don't know if you have enough money. What is your, what were you planning on having? So how does this compare to what you budgeted that might tell us? Do you have enough money? Because we can see how far apart you are or should we be comparing this to blast? If, like month to month things shouldn't change. And so that's the, we were like, Hmm, we have a lot less than we did last month. We don't have enough money. So I reframed it in that way to say like, well, tell me what it is that you're trying to find out. Because some organizations it's not about last month, it's more about last year because they are pretty cyclical. And so they're like, same time last year. How did that look? This is the indicator. And one of the things we started doing more and more is. I'm trying to help clients come up with their own benchmark of how much money per month they should. They, they have directed as their target. I know I liked them for like three to six months. It makes me feel comfortable, but maybe for their organization, they're like three. That's not, it's not a comfortable place. And then trying to say, okay, A thousand dollars, a hundred thousand thousand feels too small for this example, a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. And each month you're expecting to spend 50,000 you're two months worth of cash. And so just saying like, let's do simple math on this. We have this much in the bank. We know, we expect to spend this much each month, let's come up with that calculation so they can say, okay, yes, we have enough. And because two months is comfortable or no, we don't because two months is just not.
Carol: Your firm offers accounting services, but you, as you said, you're more in the consulting and coaching and you really focus on strategic financial management. Can you say a little bit about what that is and why it's important for organizations?
Chyla: Yeah, so I think I'll share it. She does financial management. After the board has identified some goals. Cause it makes no sense for me to say, like, these are your goals. If your board is like, well, you actually have a different vision in mind. So after your board has identified what the goals are for the next year, next three years, having a conversation about, well, how does that impact our finances? So sometimes we see organizations who say we need to expand our programs. We want to be in this many vocations, or we want to serve this many more people. And for me, that begs the question of what would it take to get there? Does it take more staffing? Does it take more computers? Does it take, like, what is it, what are the pieces? The tangible pieces that it actually takes to get there and help them build out. Okay. Is that a realistic plan? Because sometimes we say. Self included, guilty of being, I want to do all these amazing things and, what is the budget? Actually, maybe we should scale back accordingly. And trying to help them reframe that to say, okay, if this is the goal, what would it take to build the infrastructure we need to get there? Because sometimes it's not even about, we need more people, it's I need computers that don't die on me. I need something that's faster, stronger, whatever it is. I'm really trying to say that. Let's think that through and let's plan ahead. And if we look at your, if the fundraising goal, we want to raise a million dollars. Okay, cool. Let's look at your current trends to say, how do we manage those so that we can think of what are some times we should be, be heavier in the fundraising? Because we know from a cash perspective, we actually need this money to show up. And saying, let's plan that three months in advance, next week we will not have any money. I don't know who would have known this. And I'm really trying to say, let's just take a step back. Let's take, think about all the goals that we have, all the big picture items and make that a real, realistic thing and say like, Pencil bank. What, what do you have for me? And I find that that makes it a little bit easier putting those trends together because sometimes organizations don't, when I say we have an April development plan, I know we need to fundraise. And I just know I have to hit this number. When do you need to hit some of this number though? do you really need to emphasize in the first quarter of the year? And say like, okay. In March, I need to be talking to Petra. Has owners submitting all my grant applications that have X turnaround time because in June is where we see a real. We're short on cash and we want to know we've had those conversations already, as opposed to saying, I know it's May 31st. Would you like to write me a check for tomorrow? Thank you. that's what I think of as that's your CJ financial management. It's helping them see the big picture, helping them plan out. When do we need to start some of these activities, especially if there's not already a plan in place, because maybe there are more people involved that we need to integrate into this plan and help them think. That board member. I need to give them steps like this. It's not just like, oh, you can just fundraise. No, no, they can't. Well, not necessarily. Maybe they can. And really saying like, we need to build this out as a plan, as opposed to just like this morning, I woke up with this really great idea.
Carol: Yeah. It's interesting that you talk about stepping back and seeing the big picture, because I feel like. And in a lot of ways, that's the role of consultants for pretty much any aspect of the organization, whether you're working on finance or fundraising or marketing or operations, it's often, let's take a step back. Let's see where we are. Let's look ahead, look back where, where were we a year ago? And just helping people pause and have some perspective on what they're doing. You talked about how context is really important. And obviously every, every organization is a little bit different, but are there some key financial things that board members and staff members should really be tracking for the organization? You've mentioned cash as one. Yeah. What other things are really important?
Chyla I would say. Looking at the trends of when are there peak seasons in terms of revenue coming in, even if that's not actually fascist more of the pledges idea what, what are those timetables? And also on the expense side, what's the timing of things, because sometimes we. We assume we have to pay for something earlier or later. And that's just the piece that causes more stress and angst. And I have, I've worked in the non-profit environment. I've, I've been on all sides. I've been the auditor. I've been the auditee I've been, now in the consulting space. And being able to say, actually, I'm going to call up this vendor and say, can we make this payment on this day? And really thinking about it, to say, Hmm, are there payment arrangements we need to be making I've there's one organization we support where their board wants to know about accounts receivable, because for them they want to know, is there someone on here that we have a relationship with that us as a board member, this is the way we could support. And really thinking if it pledges something that your organization does and your board members are helping you get those touches, how do you delegate to them? And how can you help them say, AR is really high and we would love you to, this is the place that you can think about. They should also be thinking about the relationship items have to one another. I said, I was, I've been in the oddest space before, and I remember one client. We had a good meeting, there was not anything intentional, like miss dealings or theft. But their finance director was still overwhelmed. It was just like I'm just going to put in a number. I think this is how much we should have. I think revenue should be about here. And I like to think about what's the relationship between the numbers. really trying to say like, well, in theory, if our donations went up, we should either see an increase in. Well, we should see an increase in accounts receivable. One of those two things should happen. And really trying to say like, okay, I didn't see an increase. What does that mean? Where, what happened to this magical money that we received and really try thinking through what are those relationships, same for, if our expenses are going up, does that mean we either have a high account payable? The people we owe. we have a new loan. Do we have, or less cash? . Have you seen the movie? All the Queen's horses. Okay. I can't remember what city in Illinois, but it's about theft and mismanagement. And what happened is the finance manager for this city is a small, small town. I mean, I was taking out loans for. And it was said that it was going to be for rotor repair and all these things, but the people kept writing over potholes and she kept saying to me, that was a great indicator. You're like, well, if we were getting loans to do repairs, why aren't the streets repaired? Right. Right. And just making those, you didn't have to do a math calculation. You didn't have to say, I need to know how much meat, how much we borrow. Exactly. But you could say, even if we're not seeing progress, it'd be, see the people outside. Like we all know construction on roads doesn't necessarily feel like it happens fast, but do we see people working? No. Well, what happened to the money? And just making those types of conclusions or relations to say, I might not be able to do any fancy math or any quick math, but. This number feels like it should go up or down, or I should see we have new hires or I should see, we've got more supplies in the closet, something to say, like, these things tell us that this isn't just a made up number someone isn't just like, oh, that looked like a good route. It's actually saying like, oh yeah, we got a lot. I see where that load proceeds.
Carol: Yeah. it makes sense. What would you say are some. Differences in the finances for nonprofits. it's important for staff members and board members to understand. , different from a for-profit organization. Cause a lot of board members, they, they, and then they may actually be recruited right. For their, for their business background. But what are those differences that are important to be aware of?
Chyla: Yeah. the first one that typically trips people up is the name of. And the statement of activity for a nonprofit is the income statement for a for-profit business. And remembering that language is like, what are we doing? Is it an activity? How do we make money? We did a thing. We made money or we lost money. remembering like, oh, what did we, what does that mean? And then the same financial position is the balance sheet. it's at a point in time. On this day, we have this much happening. that is a really easy place that people were just like, ah, I don't really know. Another thing that I think people should be mindful of is the commitments to. From donors. in the for-profit world, we are typically providing a service or providing a product and we can say, hi, I did this thing for you. Please pay me. And in the nonprofit world, we are really exchanging goodwill. We were saying, would you commit to supporting this message mission? And sometimes we say, like, we ask people to commit a pledge. And one of the things I like to say. When should you record it? like in a for-profit you'd be like, listen, they said they were, they started that contract is their end. And in the nonprofit space, you have to say, let's take a step back. If this person was unable to. What would our next steps be? If your next steps would be like, we are going to Badger them, we are going to make sure we get that money. Great record. Yes. That is revenue. That is yours. But if you're like, you know what, it's not worth it to lose a relationship. Or if you feel like we would lose a relationship over this and just don't, don't record it because in essence you're, if you're not going to follow through on it, or there's no requirements to follow through, you would say, no, that's not. There are instances you could definitely say like, okay, maybe we'll put a little buffer. We'll say maybe we won't collect some of it. And those are things that are for-profit businesses. that's a similarity. A for-profit business would be like, I messed up invoice you, but here's how much I probably won't get. And a non-profit in some cases would say the same thing to say, like, we are committed, we are going to follow up, but we recognize some of this. We might just not get it. And so being able to see. Have some of those conversations say like, are we allowing for any of these sites and you have a business background to say, like, see the invoices aren't going anywhere. And I don't know who these people are, I can't call them. should we just have a conversation as a whole to say, what are our thresholds? What's our risk tolerance? So that. they can be good stewards. That's part of why they came into this. They're like, I've got a big background. I know what it takes to collect some money. And I know sometimes maybe it's just not worth it to say, like, those are some places that they could really chime in and be a part of and have like an engaging conversation. I think another difference is that trips up everyone, even if they're in the for-profit world, becomes the idea of donor restrictions. And what, what does that mean? What do you do? And don't the restrictions just mean the donor said, you need to use my money to buy, to build a gazebo. You can't use it for anything, but this was evil. And that that's a donor restriction that is saying, well, you can only use it for this thing versus. Something that's not restricted where there's just like, here's some money if you'd like to buy it. Cause those are those, great. Like you want to pay salaries also. Great. And being able to say like, well, what, what is that? And why does it matter? It matters because more and more. We're seeing what I'm seeing in grant documents and donor documents. If you don't spend the money for the specified rean, or by the specified time, you need to return the money. And it's always good to have a handle on, Hey, what's money that we might either need to spend by a certain time. there might be a time restriction or purpose requirements or we might think about, do we have to return. And should we not count right now? Those are, those are pieces. I feel like we are constantly changing and have a nice, high-level idea of how much of this might mean we need to turn back and how much of this we have to commit to a cause. In some cases it might not be relevant. I say, because Debo, because I've seen it, I've seen where people are like I'm donating $5,000 for it. Cause Eva, and then no one else. maybe money for it. Cause he wants to, we're like, that is not enough money to eat. Can you call that donor and see if we can get that money unrestricted? And those types of things are really good. I'll be monitoring.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just in terms of those grant timelines and, and the time restrictions, it seems like that's something where, if you're running up against it, reaching out to the grant maker and seeing, can this, can, are you flexible on this, this, this, or, do or die can be helpful. I mean, I think the other one, the other mistake that I've seen people make is to interpret non-profit as no profit. Well, yes. And, and really believing like, oh, we can't make any money. We can't have anything left over. what, what do you, what would you say about that?
Chyla: I try to remind them what would you do in your house at the end of the month? And then rent was due the next day. You, that wouldn't be a comfortable place. And thinking of your organization in that way, we don't want to go to zero every month because the next thing will arrive. And really thinking of it as you're not hoarding. You're not there. You're not necessarily saying like, ah, we're just building our reserves for no reason. Everything has a reason. And they're identifying that we're building our reserves because we want to launch a new program in three years. And , no, we're not spending it today, but we know it's going to come up because it's part of our strategic plan or thinking through like our staff gets, it has to get paid like every, every pay period, right? Oh yeah. We should probably have some money in the bank to do that. reminding them that it's not about. Hoarding of resources. It's more about what is the timing of some of the things that we have coming up to complete our mission and what do we want to make sure that we do so that it's not a surprise? That's the whole point of having to think about how much cash we have so that you can do the unexpected. And part of some nonprofits is trying to think of better ways to do that. And sometimes that doesn't come with any funding and you have to say, we need to have the money on hand. And reminding yourself like this is to do something that a funder doesn't yet see the value in, but we do know it's important. And just reframing. This isn't an arbitrary number. We're not picking three months for no reason, we're picking it because where it's, if something were to happen and we want it to still provide the services that we do, we would be able to, and our community wouldn't go without, because suddenly we, we didn't have it. getting beyond ourselves and beyond like what people might perceive us to do. I think that's where that comes in. People are like, well, they're going to see that we have so much money. They will see that you are responsible people and thought to save money for salaries and for program materials. That's great. I would love them to see what you are doing.
Carol: Right, right. Yeah. it's all, it's all about. What's the purpose and what's the goal? What's the strategy? at the end of each episode, I like to play a little game where I ask a random icebreaker question. I have a box of them. I always put out three before the interview and then pick one. what's something about you that surprises people when they first hear it?
Chyla: Usually that I'm an accountant
Carol: Say more, say more.
Chyla: That is typically the thing that people are surprised about, which I find amusing. More because I think I get perceived as very pernal and high want to have a conversation with you. And I'm like, I am, I'm definitely an introvert. Definitely. But I manage it really well. And I'm like, I can do the people thing. And I remember I used to have a quote. I was like, I've met my word quota. I can't talk to any more people. I think that piece has been the piece that, cause I don't tell people, I don't usually tell people work. What are you doing? I'm like, oh. That's a boring conversation starter. it's usually the last thing I share about myself. And that's typically something that I'm like, oh, I did not guess that.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. I've, I've met a lot of accountants that did not fit the stereotypical mold of whatever, whatever people perceive of as and it's great. It's great. Yeah, and I also, I also saw something recently where somebody described themselves as a social introvert. And I was like, I can relate to that because I get it a lot too. Like people aren't you talking to hell with all these people. Yeah. But then I need to recover. I'm like,
Chyla: Saturdays are typically my day. I'm like, you want me to do things with people? Well, they would, they would be in my house? No. Oh, absolutely. I don't know if I can, at least when I come to my husband, like I can, I can manage this. But otherwise.
Carol: what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Chyla: We are doing webinars for our. Online course. So helping nonprofits get more money, greater impact by just being more transparent about their finances. I'm really just digging into, like, what does that mean? How does it look? Because people get scared. People get nervous. They're like, I don't know what that I don't want to do. I don't know if we should be transparent and you should. But helping them figure out what that framing looks like and what that means, because we've definitely. With our clients that we work with when they've been able to say, this is what we're doing with the money, or this is a thing that you're looking to build, we've been able to one, identify more resources available because wow, thank you for telling me what you were going to do. There's money available for that one thing. So that's that piece. And there's also just the idea of, there are some donors who just want that level of transparency and they're like, oh, you can tell them. Cool. Here's some more money. And so just being able to do that is really exciting. It's been a thing that's been in the works. I'm just like, oh, Kimmy. And I have to do it now. Oh, okay. So they interpreted to me 'cause like a sport infer and the food lever baker in me, it's like, I have a slice of cake that is ready. I'm like, you're going to do it. And then you're in a warm beer cake. So the caramel is nice and soft and runny. And you're going to be like, look, you've finished. The thing that you were really worried about. So that is what's out on the horizon.
Carol: So the, you mentioned the course, what's the, what's the course that you're offering. Yeah.
Chyla: So, well, the course itself will be about other sitting financial management from a nonfinancial perspective. So we'll go through the first year mission. Why? Because I feel like if you, if you forget, when you straight from that, it becomes really hard. You're like, why are we doing this again? And so just recentering your mission is in that conversation about budgets and finances and all of those things, and then thinking about your priorities. So how do we, how do we rank the budget? How do we think about the chart of accounts, all those things that indicate what matters to the organization. Then we go on to actually using some tools. And so I don't necessarily need anyone to become a bookkeeper or a QuickBooks expert, but being able to say, all right, I know what a bank reconciliation is and what I should look out for, because again, part of this is managing those people and just being able to say like, Where should this be? Or how could I reframe that question? Because sometimes it's hard to talk to your bookkeeper or accountant. Cause there's like, I don't know if he spoke the same language. I don't know what they're talking about and just giving them some tools to help frame that. And then finally, it's about storytelling. How do we look at the financial statements and rephrase some of the things? How could we show some things differently? So not changing any numbers, but just updating the presentations to something that's more. Palatable more understandable for the people who actually need to read them and make decisions based off of
Carol: That sounds great. That sounds like a really, really needed resource for the sector. So thank you for creating that. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was great to talk to you.
Chyla: Thanks for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Chyla’s point that as a board member you don’t necessarily need to be a financial expert but you do need to pay attention to when things don’t add up. Not just literally the numbers – but when the narrative does not match what is in the numbers. A staff person says donations have increased but the numbers don’t match. The story is we have taken out loans for more staff but no one else has been hired. Where is the money going? Often it is about paying attention and asking the hard questions. And it is often because the people tasked with managing the finances are in over their heads – not necessarily because anyone is doing any malfeasance. Although of course that does happen in the sector and you certainly don’t want to be on a board when the organization gets in the paper for fraud or embezzlement on the part of staff or volunteers.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Chyla, her full bio, the transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
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