In episode 76 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and Devon Lawrence discuss
Devon Lawrence is the Founder and Principal of Clark Lawrence Consulting, Inc. For 10+ years she has worked with non-profits of all sizes, both domestic and international, to advance their capabilities around development operations, fundraising events, project management and leadership. Her clients have praised her ability to be well attuned to the needs, opportunities, and challenges of non-profit organizations and her reliability as a source of guidance on fundraising and organizational development. Devon currently serves on the boards of the Bowery Residents' Committee (BRC) and Association of Nonprofit Specialists. She lives in New York City with her husband and two-year old son.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Devon Lawrence. Personally I love to step back and see the big picture, look at the wider trends that are happening in the world and help groups think about what the implications of those trends are for their future. To help them envision their future and then come to agreement about what are the big 3-5 things that are really going to help them move the needle on their mission over the next 3-5 years. I love helping them map out the elements of their organization and programs and get clear on why they do what they do and how they can demonstrate their impact.
AND just thinking of the big picture isn’t enough. Without a clear plan for implementation and action all the strategy in the world won’t actually get moved forward. So rather than thinking of strategy as a once in a three year event that includes planning sessions and retreats, thinking of it as practice is really the key. How are we integrating what we decided in our planning sessions into our more day to day work. That is what I talk with Devon about. She focuses on fundraising – and a lot of fundraising consultants also focus on the bigger picture – the fundraising strategy – but Devon does something different – she helps organizations create systems and implement systems that really make their fundraising work.
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.
Devon and I talk about what metrics and other aspects are important to track and monitor for successful fundraising, why that thank you note you been procrastinating about writing is REALLY important, and some of the differences across cultures in attitudes about nonprofits and philanthropy.
Welcome, Devin. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Devon: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Carol: So I always like to start out by asking the question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you, or what would you describe as your why?
Devon: Well my career started in non-profits. So my background was already there and then it was.
When I was introduced to consulting and being able to, to support nonprofits in a different way, that was what was exciting, being able to help more organizations and people out there than I was already through just, working in a full-time role. So it was the ability to, to share my skills and expertise with as many organizations as possible.
Carol: And you really focus on development and fundraising operations and project management. When you're working with clients, can you just say a little bit more about what that looks like?
Devon: Sure. So development operations, I like to say, is really the behind the scenes work. It's the systems, the processes, the structure that needs to be in place in order for an organization to be successful.
So, whether that's, working with. Development directors or executive directors on just, prospecting strategies as well as thinking about, tracking the, the data behind solicitations, cultivation, stewardship, coming up with the right processes for, acknowledgement letters, matching gifts, et cetera.
It's all of those pieces that are part of the puzzle to learn, I mean, to do. Go towards sustainability for an organization.
Carol: And it's funny cuz I, I feel like in a lot of cases consultants err on the side of being the bigger picture strategy piece. And, and that's where I am and .That's all great and you need that, but then, How do you actually make it work?. What are all the 99 steps that you have to think about and keep, keeping track of and making sure that you're maintaining all the things?. What are some of the things that we, you would say are common stumbling blocks for organizations as they're trying to set up those systems?
Devon: That's a great question and a lot of people just don't have it. The bandwidth or capacity. A lot of organizations, you're so focused on the fundraising itself and bringing in the money and reaching your goals, that it's, remembering to track and monitor all of your communication so that you can go back and say to this donor, yes, they made a gift of X amount.
On, a year ago, and we need to get back to them. But what were all those touchpoints in between so that we know, like what is their interest? What is it about our organization that gets them excited? What was the last meeting that they had? What board members do they know? It's all of those pieces that people forget about, but it's really important to come up with the right strategy and continue to engage with donors.
Carol: What are some of those things that you think are really important for organizations to track along the way?.
Devon: Communications. Absolutely. So when you think about a lot of people, a lot of organizations think of communications as not being a part of development. They might even be different departments.
But they really do go hand in hand because, every time that a prospect or donor is reading about. Or seeing something about the organization, that's something that works towards the cycle of engagement. And so communication is definitely one, like understanding what the different touchpoints are that they receive throughout the year.
And in many cases it is also tiered communication. So, donors at certain levels might be only getting newsletters or, just. A quarterly email, whereas donors at a higher level might be, might be receiving invitations to an intimate event or getting a preview of some project or program that's happening that maybe the larger audience might not be.
So keeping track of communications absolutely. Number one is, Following up as quickly as possible when someone makes a gift. So thanking them for their gifts, acknowledgement letters is a huge one. I've worked with clients that, and this happens to everyone at many organizations, is that you, it, it falls to the back burner and donors notice those things.
So, even if it takes 48 hours or two weeks. That's acceptable. But when it takes, six months, nine months, sometimes even a year, donors really do notice. And that can affect the relationship you have with them. So I would say those are some top, must, must haves, make sure that all organizations are tracking.
Carol: Yeah, and it's, it's interesting. I'm, I'm. I work with a group where we've been working together for a couple years, and this isn't a nonprofit, that's not the point of it, but there's some similar things that if we had set up some of those systems at the beginning to be capturing all this information and tracking.
We wouldn't be doing the cleanup that we're gonna. In the middle of trying to do it now. Like, oh yeah, wow. Let's have one spreadsheet where we keep everybody's email and who the primary contact was and are we getting their home address so that we can send them a thank you card. Absolutely.
All those kinds of things that it's easy to think about. After the fact. And then, to think about, well, where would it be easiest for us to ask for this information in the process when, like at a, at an initial gift asking for example, for that address or whatnot. Yes. So that you're not asking for it.
Like, oh, I wanna send you a thank you letter now, could you please send me your
Devon: address? Yes, yes. Definitely, and that's a good point because, I was thinking even bigger picture, but those are the small things that make a huge difference is the address, emails, phone numbers, being able to stay on top of where people are, even annually following up sometimes to just confirm with donors what their, what their contact information is, if anything has changed.
Those are all very important things to consider.
Carol: And it's interesting thinking about like, you're talking about those different tiers and. My husband and I donate to a variety of different organizations. One here locally and we recently got invited to an event.
Now we don't donate a huge amount of money, but we've been consistent. We've donated, yes, probably now for the last. Seven years or something, I bought some of their merchandise. I don't know whether we've gone to any events. I'm trying to even think maybe once. So I was a little bit surprised that we got invited to this event, but it made a big impression.
My husband ended up going. It was really experiential, very close to, really being able to get closer to their mission. So it is interesting to think about kind of, there could be lots of differences. Criteria that would push people into that next tier. What are some of the things Absolutely that organizations might be thinking about?
The obvious one is the amount of money. But are there other things that they should be thinking about, to be able to notice who their, their. I don't know, next level
Devon: givers are. Yeah. And it sounds like the organization you give to has they, they have everything in order that they're able to, to reach out to you.
And with that invitation, because that's actually a really good example is that even if your giving has been the same over a long period of time those, the donors that have been giving for. For long periods, they're as important as someone that comes in at a very high level for the first time and is giving to you.
Sometimes they're even more important because, I know a story from another colleague where she had a client that they had a campaign and the donor had been giving at a. Let's just, for the purpose of this podcast, just say $10,000 for a long period. And at the campaign, the person might have capacity to give more, but the organization was nervous to ask for anything, six figures or higher.
But the consultant said, well, why don't we just ask? And no one has ever asked before, she's, this donor's been giving for. many, many years and they asked for a million and she said, well, no one's ever asked me. And yes, I will. So, wow. It is, IM, it is very important to not forget about those who have been giving to you for a long time because, that just shows that they clearly have a passion and care about the work that you're doing.
And really, if you don't ask for more, you're never gonna know if they'll be willing to, to, to give it a higher level.
Carol: Right. What are some other things that get in the way of organizations really managing their, the, those backend systems?.
Devon: Hmm. The event is a big one. Getting sucked into like those big moments in the year.
Everyone has a gala. A lot of organizations rely on their gala as their main income for revenue and that can blind people from remembering that there's more to fundraising than just the gala and events and that. It's a lot of what happens outside of those, those big moments that are important.
And when you just focus on events which is, it can be great for some organizations to bring in a lot of their revenue for the year. But there's so much more potential if you utilize that, those opportunities outside of those moments. And engaging with donors and keeping track of all the information and the behind the scenes and the proc, like following the proper processes and systems really does make a difference to help you reach those goals.
Carol: And you mentioned events, galas and a lot of organizations have traditionally relied on those. What are you seeing with the impact of, covid having to go virtual? Are those events coming back?. Are organizations decided to pivot away from those?
Devon:. I've definitely seen them come back at least, here in New York and. I have actually had clients in other areas as well. But yes, in person is coming back, but virtual is still there. So it's maybe no longer that the main gala, the main fundraising event for the year, is virtual, but their other virtual opportunities and events throughout the year, because it's a great way to, to expand your, your network and your reach by having the virtual events.
But with galas, I'm definitely seeing in person and people are excited to, to be back in person again and to really like, feel the, Importance of the organization that they're supporting by being in that room with other people and seeing, being able to watch the, the videos and hear from people on stage.
Carol: So you've also worked with organizations internationally. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience? Yes.
Devon: So I worked with a couple of organizations in Singapore. And it was a time when I, we had moved there for my husband's work and I had recently started consulting and I wasn't sure really what was gonna happen.
I still had some clients back here in the US but luckily just through connections, I was introduced to a few organizations that needed support. And it was very interesting because, The support that they needed was different from what I'm used to here in the us. The first thing that stood out was, nonprofits in the US and charities are thought of as two different things.
And usually, nonprofits are used in the broader, broader sense. And it was the opposite in Singapore. So they first think of organizations as charities, which not necessarily lessens them, but there's less of a responsibility that the community has towards supporting those organizations.
Most of the philanthropy was. Through church or so, religion or through medicine. So healthcare. And then outside of that, because Singapore as a country provides a lot of support to the nonprofits, the community really felt like it was the government's responsibility to provide them with support.
So when it came to fundraising for these organizations, they found it really hard. To get through to people to even understand why they should be giving. So that was very interesting to encounter. That was different from what I was used to.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, here in the States it's probably flipped, right?
Devon: Yes. We're
Carol: we're overly reliant on the nonprofit sector to Yes. Deliver services, government overly reliant. That's my own editorial, Editorializing, right?. And even, a lot of organizations get supported by the government, but not to the same degree that that .
There might be expectations in other countries. What other differences did you notice?.
Devon: Being that it was specifically Singapore was heavily expat. It was more so that the expats, the expat community were the ones that were supporting the nonprofits. Because again, just community-wise and culture that, specifically in Singapore, that. They didn't come from the background where, giving to nonprofits was was, was, was almost an expectation.
So I think that the expat community and the level of volunteerism that came from that as well, because many. In xFi communities it's usually because one of the spouses is going for work and then the other spouse, either, if they're lucky, then they are able to work. But sometimes getting those work visas is not as easy for the spouses.
So they put so much of their time and energy into the nonprofits there that was, I wanna say, Not so much more, but I was very impressed and blown away by the level of time and commitment that they all give to the organizations. I mean, the couple that I worked with, the couple organizations that I worked with were fully run and managed by volunteers.
Which we don't see as much over in the us. We have full-time staff, part-time staff at the minimum who are working for nonprofits, but it was almost fully run by, by the, the expats.
Carol: Yeah, so it might also almost be like, we turned the clock back 60 years and, and who was running nonprofits at that time here in the United States might have been more similar.
. And, and you also described them. Are described or seen as charities versus nonprofits, And, sometimes I think here in the US folks may think of that word charity in almost any, some kind of, has some negative overtones. What, what, what did you see?, what, how, how did people experience that in that context and in that culture?
Devon:. I wouldn't say there were negative undertones there, there was still a need for them. There's always a need for them. But people did, they, they would respect charities versus nonprofits and, and, they, they would give, but just the word nonprofit almost wasn't in the vocabulary.
It was very much a charity. And so just like you were saying, being from the US we, if you call a non-profit charity, they might be offended where, so that's what I was used to and I had to, teach myself to switch, to switch that vocabulary. But it was just more than SEMA semantics and being.
The language that they use around the organizations, but they were still respected. It was just that culturally, the, because the government provides so much support, it was less of an expectation of the community having to support them as well.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It's always interesting to explore those, those cultural differences and .
, just how words are used and. And attitudes and perspectives, all of that. I always, I always find that super fascinating. So we had talked before about some of the challenges that organizations have when they're trying to implement or maybe, build out processes.
Maybe improve their processes? What are some things that you see helping them really succeed in that, and make things work well?.
Devon: I am a big believer in CRMs and
Carol: say what a CRM is just quickly.
Devon: It is a, you can either, some say constituents, some say client, but it's a relationship management platform.
So there's. A ton of different ones out there. Razor's Edge, Salesforce, Bloomerang, Asana. There's so many now, but just a big, big believer in the importance of having a database, a system that is capturing and tracking all of your information in one central place. And being able to then, as I was talking about Using that information to help you with your donor engagement and cultivation, solicitation, all of your activities, to then be able to have a dashboard that shows you, how far you are towards your goals and how many, and that could be both, in revenue goals, but also in setting goals for, you want to, you wanna reach out to 10 people this week, you wanna make sure that you have communicated with a certain number of donors.
, helping you to set those goals so you can stay on track for your week, for your month, whatever it is reminding you when you send an email to someone or an invitation you haven't heard back that is a huge that is a huge benefit to like, to lead to, to success for staying organized and just staying on top of everything.
Carol: Now you used the phrase the CRM captures, but actually the, I think one of the biggest challenges that I've noticed with organizations really fully getting all the benefit of a system like that is. When the people don't do, don't take the time to make sure that everything's linked up and that email gets captured or .
Going back in and saying, okay, here are a couple notes from this phone conversation I just had. Yes. That habit forming can be really challenging.
Devon:. And it's also important to find the best CRM for your organization because they are not all equal in any way. for some, Salesforce might be best for some, something through Microsoft because that's already what you're using could be best.
But it's definitely finding what works for you. And also, some are better for events. Some are better for emailing, so it definitely is important to take the time and come up with the best, the best platform for the organization.
Carol: What are some of the things that organizations need to be looking at so that they can know, okay, this one is gonna be a good fit for us.
Devon:. I'm actually doing this right now with other clients, so I can think about just the process we're taking. So first it's Understanding what your vision is. So if you were to have a crm, how would that change the work of your organization? And it could be that it's only for fundraising purposes.
It could be that you also need to track your program information events, like I mentioned. It, whatever else there is. First thinking, big picture, like what is it that. You would need it for, for the organization, all the different ways that it would function. And then it's looking at the data you have and understanding what, like, from there, what your needs are.
It could be that you just wanna track contact information and email addresses the most important and of course, giving information. For others it might be that you need a platform that is connected or has connectability to A search engine. So to be able to search for different capacity levels and give you that research for the different donors to be able to have it within your system.
And then from there it's who is going to be managing it? Is every staff member going to have a hand in it? Is it one individual? Cuz all those things together just. Really make a difference in understanding what the best needs are for the best c r m for you.
Carol: So as we come to the end here at the end of each episode, I ask each guest what permission slip they would give to nonprofit leaders or what they would invite them to consider as they work to not be a martyr to the cause and they work to cultivate a, a healthier and more productive organizational culture.
What, what would your invitation or permission slip be for nonprofit leaders?
Devon: First of all, I love that question. And my answer would be to give your, to give yourself permission to take a break. That it's really important, everyone, especially leaders of org, of nonprofits and organizations, can get so caught up in everything, from your goal for fundraising events, communicating with donors.
But sometimes it's important to just take a break, take a step back and breathe and just take a look at everything around you within your organization and just remind yourself both of the great work you're doing and what you're, your mission and what, who you're working for and the people you're serving.
But also remind yourself of what your priorities are for that moment. Like, remind yourself of, whether it's monthly or quarterly, but just. What those priorities are, are you, are the projects that you're working on, line up with those priorities, but the only way to focus on that is to take a break.
Carol: I feel like so many consultants that I talk to want to give that, to organ to, To leaders. Let's, let's take everybody, take, give them that permission to, to take a break and take a step back and. Think about those priorities. So how can people find you? How can they be in touch?
My website is definitely www.clarklawrenceconsulting.com. And you can find more information about me, about what I do. There is a form to, to reach out to me on, on my website. So yes, all are welcome to check it out.
Carol: And we'll definitely have that link in the, in the show notes. So thank you.
Can find Devin there. Alright, well thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Devon: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Carol: 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 Devon, 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 Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
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