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Nonprofit Radio for May 20, 2024: Sociocracy & Attract More Donors


Justin BirdsongSociocracy

It’s a new form of decision making you might want to try out. Justin Birdsong from Skeleton Key Strategies introduces us to circle structures, domains and aims, and linking roles, as he acquaints us with this more equitable and inclusive, sociocratic decision making method. (Recorded at the 2024 Nonprofit Technology Conference.)


Shannon Bowen & Emily DiFrisco: Attract More Donors

When your development and communications teams work collaboratively with strong relationships, you’ll draw more donors and increase your fundraising revenue. Our panel shares their strategies. They’re Shannon Bowen with Monsoon Leadership and Emily DiFrisco at the Center for Environmental Health. (Also recorded at 24NTC.)





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Welcome to Tony Martignetti nonprofit radio. Big nonprofit ideas for the other 95%. I’m your aptly named host and the pod father of your favorite abdominal podcast. This is show number 691. That means we’re only nine weeks away from our 7/100 show and 14th anniversary. Not that we are wishing the summer months and weeks away. Certainly not, but we are close to the big one. Oh, I’m glad you’re with us. I’d be forced to endure the pain of Burrito Genesis if you got under my skin with the idea that you missed this week’s show. Here’s our associate producer Kate to introduce what’s coming. Hey, Tony, this week we have two more conversations from 24 NTC Sociocracy. It’s a new form of decision making. You might want to try Justin Birdsong from skeleton key strategies. Introduces us to circle structures, domains and aims and linking roles as he acquaints us with this more equitable and inclusive decision making method and attract more donors. When your development and communications teams work collaboratively with strong relationships, you’ll draw more donors and increase your fundraising revenue. Our panel shares their strategies. There’s Shannon Bowen with Monsoon leadership and Emily De Frisco at Center for environmental health. Antonis take two through infants. Eyes were sponsored by virtuous, virtuous, gives you the nonprofit CRM fundraising volunteer and the marketing tools you need to create more responsive donor experiences and grow, giving, virtuous.org and by donor box, outdated donation forms blocking your supporters, generosity. Donor box fast, flexible and friendly fundraising forms for your nonprofit donor box.org here is Sociocracy. Welcome back to Tony Martignetti nonprofit radio coverage of 24 NTC. You know what it is, you know that it’s the 2024 nonprofit technology conference. You know that we’re at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon, beautiful Portland, great food city. And you know that we’re sponsored by Heller consulting technology strategy and implementation for nonprofits. What you don’t know is that I’m now with Justin Birdsong, founder and principal of Skeleton Key Strategies. You’re now informed fully, Justin. Welcome to nonprofit radio. Thank you so much, Tony. I’m so glad to be here. Pleasure, pleasure. Thank you for joining us for our coverage where we are, you and I are going to talk about equitable governance and consent based decision making an introduction to sociocracy. That’s it. All right. I think we better start with a definition of sociocracy. Absolutely. So, sociocracy is a peer governance system that is based on decentralizing power and hierarchical power structures and uh more equitable distribution of decision making in organizations. What do we say? To the CEO S who think they just heard a definition of the word anarchy um to a certain kind of CEO with a certain kind of, um you know, power centric mindset, they wouldn’t be far off. Um I think the difference is that it’s the opposite of anarchy in the sense that sociocracy actually has really strong uh process and governance procedures. So it’s not that there’s no rules of the road. It’s that the rules of the road are about integrating all voices, making balance for dissension and um objections to certain kinds of decisions and making sure that everybody has a voice in the kinds of major decisions that drive either an organization or a team or uh it’s also used extensively outside of organizations and more informal kinds of settings like cohousing communities. Oh, interesting. OK. Or maybe we’ll get to some of those other settings. Sure. Uh But we’ll be focused on our, our listeners are small and mid size nonprofits. Yes. So I think they would be fertile ground for, for your ideas. I think. So I think an important thing I can say right up front is that sociocracy is a really different methodology from most of the kinds of power structures we are used to having, especially in businesses and nonprofits. They tend to be traditionally hierarchical in nature. There’s nothing wrong with hierarchy. It’s just ultimately decision making rolls up to a certain kind of level of decision making and the buck stops with one ultimate decision maker. Some smaller nonprofits are a little bit more flat in nature. We’re a little bit more democratic. We’re sort of, everybody gets to weigh in, but there are pros and cons to that as well because that can make it really difficult to make a decision and to integrate everybody’s different perspectives when they are in competition with one another. And so sociocracy attempts to sort of balance the things that are useful about hierarchical methods and flat and democratic type methods into a consent based approach where that balances all of those voices and seeks not just to have a sort of one decision maker or a consensus or a majority of decision makers who agree with one thing, but that every single member of a decision making group will be able to consent to a particular way forward as you alluded. Uh This is going to require leadership. Yeah, buy in. We’re not going to be able to, we’re not going to be able to do this without the senior leadership being on board 100%. Um you sort of made the case but let’s make it explicit. So, uh what, how would we make the case to maybe to our vice president to bring it to the CEO, maybe our CEO to bring it to the board um help us make the case? Yeah, absolutely. I think that ultimately depends on what the organization is struggling with. So when organizations and I think I’ve seen this in a lot of nonprofits, both large and small is how easy is it to make decisions? And then even if it’s relatively easy to make decisions, how brought in are people to those decisions? How easy is it to manage people through change? Because those conversations may have happened when they weren’t in the room, or somebody may be moving forward with something that they think the right thing, even though they may not feel like their perspectives or objections were heard. And so ultimately, that can sort of slow down or impede the success of a major project or a new initiative. Um And what sociocracy is designed to do is to level that playing field just a bit while still having an active facilitation role to make sure that everybody is being heard, make sure that um when somebody raises an objection that has to do with the effectiveness of the mission or the aim of whatever it is that we’re trying to do that, we’re able to hear and balance that and incorporate any of those objections through maybe altering the proposal a little bit or saying we’re going to extend the timeline of this so that we can give it a try. But then we’re going to commit to checking back in and making adjustments if we need to et cetera. So you just referenced some of the symptoms of less than ideal decision making that we might, that we might encounter slow processes, people not feeling bought in, um, anything else that would sort of trigger, you know, maybe we can, we can be doing a better job of and, and could be more successful at decentralizing our decision making. Yeah, I mean, I think the types of organizations that are drawn to something like sociocracy are also generally doing it from a sort of equity perspective. They’re just generally interested in decentralizing decision making, maybe making things a little bit less top down um organizations that are close to organizing or social justice tend to respond to this type of model because it’s about sort of disrupting traditional power structures in a way that just generally appeals to people while also understanding it’s a big shift and sort of putting it into practice is uh is complicated and um it involves a lot of letting go of uh the traditional sort of seats and, and controls of power that people are used to in organizations. Hence, you know, the senior leadership has got to be uh has got to be willing to have some fun with uh decision making but make decision making more equitable, exactly less flat as you, as you already explained. OK. Um We need to have a foundation, there’s some things we need to learn like circle structures. Yes, some things. OK. So set us up with our foundation. Yes. So this is, and this is by the way, also how there are bits and pieces that you can borrow from sociocracy, even if your whole organization is not ready to sort of move uh part and parcel into a socio cratic model. Um Essentially the way that we sort of take the hierarchical structure and adapt it for sociocracy is by having a relationship between sort of parent and child circles. And you can think of the core of those being a general circle, which in most organizations is kind of like your C suite, you sort of executive leadership and decision makers and then governing that is a mission circle which in nonprofits is typically akin to the board, may or may not not be all internal folks, but which are trying to make sure that the organization stays aligned with its declared mission and purpose in the world. The general circle is about managing the organization and then stemming off of that central circle are sub circles which are equivalent in many ways to teams and departments. And the thing that’s a bit different is the model by which these circles are linked. So as opposed to being sort of purely top down, there’s a system of double linking where there’s a leader and a delegate that is a member of both every parent circle and the child circle. And part of what that enables is for there to be two perspectives that get shared in both the parent circle and the child circle. And that the leader is making sure decision making happening uh or influence or questions happening at the parent level circle are being communicated down to the sub circle. And then the delegate is doing the same thing in the reverse, making sure that what’s happening in the sub circle is reflected back to the parent circle. And the explicit delegation of power is that rather than all of the decision making happening at the C suite level, that executive general circle level, anything within the declared domain and aim, which is an explicit sort of set of standards that get defined when you create these circle structures is, you know, my marketing sub circle has an explicit aim that is about, you know, publicizing and communicating about the role of our organization. And their domain includes potentially things like the website, the email list, anything that falls squarely within the domain of a sub circle, they have the autonomous decision making power to make decisions and recommendations at that level without necessarily always having to run things up a chain to a uh a general circle for buy in. OK. All right. That, well, that’s the big shift. They, they have the autonomy, they, they have the, they, they have the authority and they also have the responsibility, the accountability, responsibility for their, for their decision. OK. Now, at one point, you had said the parent child and the, the, the parent circle and the child circle. Uh I don’t that, that still sounds hierarchical. I, is there a better? I’m, I’m not trying to revolutionize sociocracy. I just learning about it for the past 9.5 minutes. But uh I don’t know that, like I said, it still sounds hierarchical. Well, there, there are different words we can use. Um I think it’s not wrong to say that it is, it is taking the thing that is effective about so about hierarchy, which is the fact that there are different levels of domain and oversight that are needed when an organization is handling both high level strategic and mission level impact type things and then all the way down to the weeds of the operations. So I think it makes sense that there’s still relationships and gradations of responsibility. Um And they are still related to one another in that sort of binary relationship that we can think of as hierarchy. But typically hierarchy stacks power and decision making at the top and the farther down in the hierarchy you go, there’s less decision making and that’s explicitly inverted in sociocracy and some decisions do need to go up to the parent. Exactly. I mean, there’s always the case where a sub circle itself, even though there’s a lot of uh rich process around decision making and how you get consent and how you integrate objections. There’s always the case that a sub circle can’t in itself integrate all the objections and make a fully consent based in which case that’s part of the reason why we still have the parent circles. Ultimately, things can be escalated up. If they can’t be solved at the sub circle, they don’t have the data, whatever information can’t resolve the conflict, they may not have the relationships to make their decision effective. It could be that it could also just simply be that there’s opposing viewpoints that are both valid. So when someone has an objection, it, first of all, it really needs to be based on something that is related to the aim and domain. I think this proposal that’s on the table, say it’s about a certain kind of marketing channel that we want to open up and somebody may have a really genuine objection that can’t be about their sort of personal feelings and preferences. But it is about, I genuinely think that us going into tiktok is going to erode our aim, it is going to make us less effective at our aim and domain. And therefore I am going to withhold my consent from our ability to move forward with that. And the group can try to integrate that objection by again, sort of saying, well, we can try it for a period of time and then check back in, we can amend the proposal and say we’re only going to do tiktok for certain kinds of campaigns, there’s ways to sort of balance that out. But if the group cannot ultimately arrive at consent rather than consensus full consent from everybody involved. Then worst case, that’s why you have parent circles to escalate things up to. It’s time for a break. Virtuous is a software company committed to helping nonprofits go generosity. Virtuous believes a generosity has the power to create profound change in the world and in the heart of the giver, it’s their mission to move the needle on global generosity by helping nonprofits better connect with and inspire their givers. Responsive fundraising puts the donor at the center of fundraising and grows giving through personalized donor journeys that responds to the needs of each individual. Virtuous is the only response of nonprofit CRM designed to help you build deeper relationships with every donor at scale. Virtuous is CRM fundraising, volunteer marketing and automation tools. You need to create responsive experiences that build trust and grow impact virtuous.org. Now back to sociocracy with Justin Birdsong. Le let’s shift away from the theoretical for a minute. Tell, tell me a story, tell me a, a success story of uh sociocracy decision making. Uh Sure. So I think one way that I have been able to implement it in a very small way is with um some colleagues of mine who were putting together uh their own sort of strategic plan for their new consulting company. So it’s a small, tiny, tiny group, group of three and they were looking for some sort of system of power that would enable the three of them, two founders and the sort of first hire underneath them to equitably balance the decision making power between them and then also position them to grow as they imagine they’re bringing on eventually mother staff. How could they do so in a way that continues that same method and doesn’t kind of concentrate all of the power and decision making in the hands of the founders. And so this is actually a really good example of where, you know, we went through the sort of whole model top to bottom. And there were lots of things that they were like, you know, I don’t know that we’re going to fully adopt that, that that sort of feels like in some ways that’s impeding us. We might not need quite this level of process and decision making. But we really, for example, liked the uh the circle structures because it gave clear aims and domains that could be distributed and it allowed them to then divorce in some cases themselves from one of those circles and say, OK, I’m going to step back and let these two other principal consultants take the operations circle and they have full aim and domain about that. If they need my input, they can come to me because all three of them are in the general circle, but I fully trust and delegate all of my trust responsibility to them. And it’s enabled them to um understand where they need all three of their decisions versus where they can move faster by making autonomous decisions themselves in smaller groups. And how long has this start up in uh engaged this way? They are in their third year and they adopted this early in 2023. So about a year and change and they’re still successful, they’re finding that it’s easier to, again, they sort of, they can move faster without anybody feeling disenfranchised because there are explicit agreements up front that these two individuals are double linked into this parents circle. They have autonomous decision making power over this particular domain and aim if it’s operations, if it’s product development, et cetera. And um and there’s no overhead of having to constantly run things back up the chain. I can see how this would make an any organization more, more nimble, you think more reactive in, in a, in a good way. I don’t mean knee jerk reactive. But you know, like the three of us in our circle can huddle and we can make this decision maybe in 10 or 15 minutes where we might have to wait for the next meeting with the vice president or the, or the CEO and that’s not scheduled for another whatever 10 days, you know, we can resolve this right now. That’s the best practical application of it is that it just allows people to move swiftly and it puts into place agreements of I at the time we set up the circle, we imbue it with this trust if you’re in this circle, otherwise I would be in the circle if I didn’t trust you to make the decision, I’m going to delegate explicitly this power and that allows us all move a little bit quicker. Plus, it tends to raise this sort of sense of morale because everybody has a voice at the table and has explicit ability to influence whether or not decisions get made and move forward. Now, what is your role in sociocracy? Are you, are you, is there a certification for teaching this and implementing it for organizations or skeleton key? What are, what are you doing around sociocracy? Well, at skeleton key, it’s mostly a thing that we have imbued in certain scenarios. Like what if we’re setting up a kind of committee? We are always kind of looking at like power dynamics and what’s going to enable an organization to move fast. Sometimes we are calling it sociocracy. Like with the group of consultants, I was mentioning other times, it’s more like principles of equitable decision making that we just try to weave in. Um but there is um there’s a number of organizations that do this, but I spent all of last year working in and training with an organization called Sociocracy for all that is an international NGO. But it’s based in the US. And their whole mission is about sort of spreading education about socio cratic models. And I trained in their sociocracy. Sociocracy academy for all of 2023. And um and that is where I learned a lot of this content and was able to practice it with people all around the world who again are using it in some places in the sort of eco permaculture sort of movement, cohousing movements. There’s lots of places where this is being used that are outside of sort of formal nonprofit organizations. And so now do we have our foundation set? Can we move to the next step of process? There’s, there’s something called rounds and integrating objections. And so do we have our foundations we’ve created? OK. Uh So what does it look like in practice then? And so this is where we’re, we’re sort of, we’re inner circles, right? We’re in our, our meetings and we’re trying to have more effective meetings. And one of the ways that we facilitate, there’s a strong, strong facilitation role at all levels of sociocracy and most meetings are run through what are called rounds. And that’s essentially whoever is in the facilitator role in that particular meeting, which is often rotate. Yeah, is going to make sure that every single person in the room or in the circle gets a moment to talk. That’s explicit. It takes some of the pressure off because everybody knows that at some point they’re going to get called on, they’re going to get to say their piece even if they have nothing to say and they can just pass. So it takes some of that pressure off of people feeling like they need to insert themselves. When, when does my chance come? I, I didn’t get a chance yet. The meeting’s gonna end. I’m not gonna, everybody gets an explicit chance. Exactly. It also helps to balance voices because then you don’t, it’s the facilitator’s role to make sure everybody’s being heard. It’s sort of the reasonable, roughly equally, nobody’s dominating that contrary to our purpose here. Exactly right. And so we are facilitating things through rounds. And so for example, when we are making a decision, there will be a proposal on the table. That’s the sort of traditional way that we talk about whatever the topic is the proposal. What is it that we’re deciding on and somebody might run, the facilitator would run us through first is a clarifying questions round. So we’re going to go around. Everybody gets just a moment to say, is there anything about the proposal you don’t understand or need more information about? We can go through that as needed once all the clarifying questions are asked, there’s a second round that is about reactions and that’s when people can start say like, you know, I am hesitant about this or I actually think this is a really good idea or, you know, I have some real concerns about this particular proposal as it’s articulated. And then that would be followed by an explicit consent round that is literally going around. Do you consent to this, do you not consent for this? And within that the sort of range of tolerance of consent, you know, there’s gonna be people who love it and they like, yes, this is perfect for me. I’m super enthusiastic about this and then there’s other people who are like this is fine, like it works for me, maybe it sort of falls into this sort of neutral territory and both of those count as consent. Um And then the third option is I object, which again, I have something about this proposal. I feel like it’s going to interrupt or be counterproductive to our aim. So I have an objection. I’m going to clearly state what that objection is. That’s that sort of last round. If there are objections, then the group is going to attempt to integrate those objections by potentially extending the timeline. Um Saying, you know, can we modify the proposal in some way that accounts for this or can we agree to move forward with this proposal as written? But know that we are going to check back in at some specific point and revisit it and what ultimately we’re trying to get people to consent within, to move whatever it is into that range of tolerance of at least being able to say like, OK, this works enough. It’s good enough for now. OK. So I have to be heard. Yes, my, my objection has to be heard. If, if, if that’s where I that’s where I start out precisely. OK. Um Say a little more about the role of the, the person who has the dual uh the dual appointment. They’re in the, they’re in, they’re in the, the parent circle, but also the child circle that is the liaison is that the leader and the delegate, the delegate, the delegate has the two, the dual role, dual assignment, let’s say yes. So the circle leader, you know, which may or may not always be the circle facilitator by the way, but they are the sort of designated leader of convening that circle. They may be the one that’s calling people together or sort of managing outcomes, et cetera. Um leader. Less likely to be rotating, it’s selected. Actually, there’s a selection process that’s similar to the rounds where somebody gets nominated. We discuss qualifications, people can amend their nominations and then the group decides on who the leader and the delegate are and the delegate is another participant who is explicitly not in the leadership role, but they sort of represent everybody else. And so their job is is to again, sort of keep in some ways, keep each other honest, right? Like if you and I are both in our marketing sub circle and then we have to go up to our general circle because we are double linked and you’re the leader and I’m the delegate, you may be reporting out on something that our decision making group did in the sub circle. And I’m another perspective. So I can even just sort of qualify sort of what you said is like, actually, there’s something else, I think the general circle needs to know about how that decision was made. We had to integrate this particular kind of objection and this was the nuance about that. And so it makes sure that there’s two perspectives being represented in every conversation, which helps again, sort of make sure that there’s no one person’s perception or, um, you know, allegiance to a certain kind of outcome that is going to prevail in every case. What else? Uh, what else should we know? I mean, you have some, uh, things that you’ve suggested about the, the, the topic, um, understanding how it improves equity and inclusivity. I mean, I think, I feel like we’ve talked about that at the outset even. But what, what else, what else should folks know about this, this process? I, I think ultimately the thing to know is that it is, um, it is a set of tools and I think one thing is people see it and they may have a really, well, they have a really strong reaction one way or the other. Yeah. Right. It’s unlikely to be neutral, talking about the neutral in the decision making. But I like it’s ok, you know, I could live with it. It’s probably gonna be, I think it’s very positive or very negative. I think that’s exactly the case. And so, um and while that is true, and I think even, you know, a thing that sociocracy for all that organization that I was training with, you know, they do implementations of this in organizations and they are frequently unable to move forward because if there’s not the kind of buy in and alignment about the kind of seismic change it represents, if you are an existing organization with a traditional hierarchical structure and you’re planning to upend that, that is not something to be done lightly. Um But the thing that I think I want to reinforce is that I see it as not just a monolith but a whole set of practices and tools and um sort of micro processes that can be used and adapted, especially when you are in an operational or a technological or project project based kind of role because you are constantly making decisions in agile projects, technology implementations, you’re constantly trying to like get stakeholder buy in to be a level in a certain way and make sure that decisions are soundly informed by different, maybe even competing perspectives. And you want to be able to integrate objections from different stakeholders and project members because they may have something really valid to say that you may want to adjust a little bit. And so I see it as a whole tool set from which people can learn and take pieces of it that they can implement. Even if you’re going to do it within a traditionally hierarchical organization? Is it difficult in uh sort of the, the delegation of where the authority ends for each circle? I mean, there, you had, you had said at the outset, there are certain things that are not gonna be conducive to this or the CEO is just not gonna give up uh uh give up sole authority over. Um But say a little more about delineating the, the boundaries of each circle. How do we, how do we define that? Sure. It’s when you, when you’re creating a circle structure of any kind, even if you were going to sort of just do this within, uh let’s say you have a technology department and you have a couple of different teams and you sort of, and you want to be able to adapt this just even within a department, you could sort of the thing that you do when you’re defining it is you first are articulating the mission that unites the whole group together and then you are delineating the aim and domain. The aim is what we’re here to accomplish. And then the domain is the set of things, usually multiple things that then fall into our responsibilities and oversight. Like for example, one group may have the domain of the website, another group has domain over technology infrastructure network desktop. Another group has domain over project management and applications, things like that. Um And so you define those things at the outset and you are clear about what does and does not fall into the domain and you try to make sure everything is captured somewhere. And then of course, you know, organic organizations are constantly changing. New things will come up and when they do come up, it’s the job of that parent circle to figure out. OK. Whose domain does this fall into? Does this stay with ours? Does it move into one of the sub circles or do we even need a sub circle of off of that? Do we need a new sub circle that has a clear domain? And that’s the way by level setting right at the beginning about who has, who gets to decide who decides, who decides everybody decides at the beginning? Ok. OK. Leaving it there. You feel like we gave it adequate coverage? I think so. Thank you very much, very interesting sociocracy. Um Justin Birdsong, founder and principal at Skeleton Key Strategies. I love the company name too. Skeleton Key. Thank you so much. That’s brilliant. I appreciate it. Thank you, Justin. Thank you Tony and thank you for being with Tony Martignetti nonprofit radio coverage of 24 NTC, the 2024 nonprofit technology conference where we are sponsored by Heller consulting technology strategy and implementation for nonprofits. Thanks so much for being with us. It’s time for a break. Donor box, open up new cashless in person donation opportunities with donor box live kiosk. The smart way to accept cashless donations. Anywhere. Anytime picture this a cash free on site giving solution that effortlessly collects donations from credit cards, debit cards and digital wallets. No team member required. Plus your donation data is automatically synced with your donor box account. No manual data entry or errors make giving a breeze and focus on what matters your cause. Try donor box live kiosk and revolutionize the way you collect donations. Visit Donor box.org to learn more its time for Tonys take two. Thank you, Kate. A couple of days ago, I was on the beach. Uh I just sat myself down, still not warm enough to go, you know, sit for six or eight hours under an umbrella, not quite that warm yet we’re getting there. But uh I was just out uh walking and I decided to sit down and there was a little infant, uh I’d say 23 months old or so and she was being held by, I’m not sure it was mother or grandmother. I think it was her mother and the, the so the mother was facing the, the, the sand and the dunes and the houses and she had their baby facing out uh to the ocean and this little infant was just so captivated by, you know, the vast ocean. I guess the waves and she was just like serene and uh they were like 20 ft away or so, you know, it’s not, not really that far. And, you know, the baby wasn’t fussy, just calm and, I don’t know, h, I don’t know, I don’t know if babies think, I don’t know what, I don’t know what infants think about. Do they even have the capacity to think or what they, they, what, I don’t know what they’re doing in their minds, in their brains. But she, she was just so calm on her mom’s shoulder over her mom’s shoulder and I was just thinking, oh man, that the ocean and you know, she could feel the breeze and maybe smell the salt, although she doesn’t know it’s salt air. She just knows it smells a little different than, than her house. Uh unless her mother cooks with a lot of salt, but all the senses from a little infant from like a two or three month old infant. And I was thinking just how unusual it must be for her, the wonder, you know, and just to sort of seeing it through the infant’s eyes too. I was enjoying it myself, especially like more than usual that that afternoon, but just, you know, through an infant’s eyes, the world or in, you know, and just the ocean for the first time. It was, it was uh it was really moving, it was really something uh and it went on for many minutes. Uh the baby was just captivated, we can all be captivated by life. See the world through infants eyes now and then, and that’s Tony’s take two K. I would love to go back in time and look at the world through like five year old Kate’s eyes because I’m sure it was so much more colorful and bright and just exciting and I really like, didn’t take anything for granted, you know, at that age. Right? Because so much was new, like this little infant watching the, watching the ocean and hearing the waves and uh yeah, you know, we get a little jaded so take time to smell the roses. We’ve got Buku, but loads more time here is attract more donors. Welcome back to Tony Martignetti nonprofit radio coverage of the 2024 nonprofit technology conference. We are all together in Portland, Oregon at the Oregon Convention Center. Nonprofit Radio is SCHED, is sponsored by Heller consulting at 24 NTC Heller does technology strategy and implementation for nonprofits with me for this conversation conversation like I’m 14. My voice breaks are Shannon Bowen and Emily Def. Frisco. Shannon is founder and CEO at Monsoon Leadership. And Emily de Frisco is senior Director of Communications at the Center for Environmental Health. Shannon Emily, welcome. Thanks for having us. Glad to have you on nonprofit radio. So we’re talking about your session topic. Have you done your session yet? We did it, you did it all right, as you’re fresh off the stage. So all the questions maybe we asked some about, about some of your questions that came up your session is full court press harness development and communication teams to attract donors. Alright. Sounds like we’re breaking down silos. Uh Emily, let’s start with you. Why do we need? I think it may be uh it may be widely known, but I want to make it explicit why do we need this session? We need this session because it’s never been more clear that there are silos, you can absolutely collaborate and work together to achieve your shared goals. So we had a lot of fun in our session, taking a lot of questions from folks who were learning just how to collaborate across the teams and how to really achieve their goals. Uh Shannon, what what happened? Why, why are we in this situation? Development and communications. They, they seem like ideal partners. Why are we siloed? What happened? Well, I think it’s hard for humans to work together in general. So that’s just across the board. Um But Emily and I worked together at Center for Environmental Health and really, we harnessed all of the different vehicles to connect with our donors. So not just donor emails, but also using social media website pop ups, you know, earned media, everything to really attract new donors and engaged at a deeper level with their existing donors. And so we really wanted to share that story because it is actionable and you can do it today at your organization. All right. So, so how we got here is just human nature. Well, I don’t know what happened, what happened to the, what they seem like symbiotic partners. I think that sometimes people put a lot of pressure on development because you got to bring in the money and you’re paying for people’s salaries. And so sometimes in organizations, it’s like, oh, well, development is more important than communications. But really what Emily and I saw as they are part and parcel, working together to increase the brand reputation and that brings in your major donors. So really, instead of working in opposition coming together and co collaborating on campaigns can increase your impact exponentially, which is what we did at ce H Yeah. And sometimes there can be a little tines as Shannon mentioned, you know, between communications and development. Um but we really valued each other’s expertise, respected each other’s expertise. And that really set the tone for collaboration for our teams as well. Ok. All right, Emily, let’s stay with you. How do we start to break down the silos? How do we start to collaborate, see each other as, as equal partners? What do we do? Yeah, it starts with communication with setting up meetings, brainstorming together, creating campaigns together. Really soup to nuts, sit together and work on something in a collaborative way. Instead of having, oh, my team is working on this, your team is working on this and never the Twain shall meet. Um really collaborate from the get go and that you will have a stronger campaign meeting together and from the beginning and then sharing success at the end. So it’s not just development going and presenting to the board, you’re bringing communications along and saying, hey, we did this great campaign together. I’ve never seen that. I mean, I always see development, presenting development outcomes. OK. All right. What, what else can we do? Yeah, I mean, I think communications serves a vital role in the organization and just having communications needs to have the humility and respect of the development team when they approach the development team to understand that um you know, fundraising for the organization is so it is so challenging. So sometimes communications folks can get kind of a little bit set in their ways and just really from the get go valuing fundraising and really just putting your best foot forward and valuing the expertise will set you up for success. What if development and communications are both under the same, let’s say vice president is that that’s not sufficient. I mean, you still still the two teams should be meeting together. I mean, I, I can see a scenario where they, where they don’t even though they’re under the same vice president. Exactly. I actually am also a Chief Advancement Officer for an organization in Seattle. And so I oversee development and communications and still even within that, you need to bring everybody together to say, OK, how are we using each vehicle to achieve our goals. And so we’re not just, oh, we’re only going to send print appeals, we’re only going to send email appeals. How are you incorporating social media? How are you incorporate video or I currently work with genetic scientists. We’re talking about podcasting because they don’t really like to be on camera. You know, I think that we have to be creative about those different mediums to increase the brand recognition, but also to talk to the donors about the content that they’re interested in and really it’s coming together brainstorming that we get our best ideas. All right. And that, that’s a great transition to another one of your learning outcomes from your description, expanding social media as well as earned and traditional media who speaks to is that this is my favorite topic is press and media. I still believe it’s the best way to reach the most amount of people when you have a piece in the New York Times or the San Francisco Chronicle or the Chicago Tribune. Um You know, you’re reaching millions, tens of millions of people at once. So it’s very important to develop in your communications team, a robust press and media strategy, develop that calendar and then keep some of it flexible for breaking news and then work with your executive director, your program directors, your science director, whomever you have at the organization who’s really moving and shaking and come up with a way that you can develop news for your organization and you can use one of the fancy platforms that there are to pitch journalists like Cision or Meltwater. There’s other ones as well help a reporter out Harrow. Is that still a thing? Yeah, I think it is. Yeah, I think so. But you can also be scrappy about it and build your own press list using an Excel spreadsheet. Um, that’s a possibility to build relationships with journalists that way. And then when you have, have a press release, ready to go, you pitch the journalist and you make a splash with that news and try to connect it to current events and then once you have that piece that you landed, um then you can approach your development team and say, hey, we’re in the San Francisco Chronicle today on the front page and that is so validating for donors um and for board and for everyone who cares about your organization’s mission. You said something that I want to flush out a little bit with, um have a relationship with journalists before you’re pitching before there’s a news item, news hook related to your work. Say a little more about developing that relationship, you know, like uh building the digging the well before you’re thirsty, you know, building the relationship before you want to pitch the journalist. There’s so many ways to do it. You can follow journalists, you like on Twitter who are reporting on issues that your organization works on, you can tweet at them and say, hey, thank you. I read your piece. It was great. I would love to connect with you. Um You can build that press list, as I mentioned and you can proactively share with them the work your organization is doing in our session. We talked a lot about virtual town halls, basically a fancy phrase for a webinar. And you can invite journalists to your webinars, invite them to your virtual town halls. They might write about your work. At the very least they’re going to get educated about the work your organization is doing. So all of those are things you can do to build relationships with journalists and to the extent that there’s still local journalism, which is not, not nearly what it was 10 years ago. Uh that includes local journalists, not only the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. Absolutely. We just had, um Fox News come out to our office in Oakland yesterday. They came out at like seven pm and interviewed our CEO about a report that we launched yesterday. So local journalism is still alive and well, although it has, you know, as you said, there’s been some setbacks but you can still reach local journalists and they’ll still report on the work your organization is doing ok. All right. So you’re earned in traditional media, uh social media, Shannon. Do you want to flush out social media a little bit. I’d actually love to hand this over to Emily because she has an amazing hot of depressed story um about tiktok. Yeah. So we released this toxic fashion report yesterday. Um We have tested a lot of consumer products for toxic chemicals and we found over the period of the last 10 years, high levels of lead in purses and other accessories at Ross and Burlington stores. So of course, we’ve sent them legal notices, but it’s kind of like a persistent problem. So we released this report yesterday, detailing kind of our results and the legal actions that we’ve taken. And we did a Tik Tok video on it um which we didn’t expect to get a lot of traction because it’s really um like kind of a slide carousel with music and as of today, it’s reached over 300,000 people. So social media there is, is still a wonderful way to reach people. Ok. Uh Is there a broader lesson that uh our consultant from uh Monsoon wants to extrapolate from the, the, the tiktok breaking news? Well, I think that you have no idea which of those 300,000 views is going to be your next major donor and major donors are looking for causes that resonate with their values and they’re looking out in the world. They’re watching Tik Tok and we had an experience at Center for Environmental Health where we had out of the blue, an email to our info at Ce h.org started con connecting and talking with them and they turned into a $300,000 over a three year donor and you just never know who is, who is reading, who is watching. But you, you have to find a way to engage them and bring them in. And then once they’re there using all of your communication strategies to steward the donor and bring them even closer and increase that gift. And so I really think that all development directors should be savvy in communications and be open and willing to new communication channels like tiktok, you know, Twitter was the hot thing five years ago and now we know it isn’t. So you gotta be open to linkedin Tik Tok all the different ways that people are engaging now because it could shift and you don’t want to be left behind. Now, these were two anecdotes that both called up the number 300,000. You’re not making this up, are you? I guess it’s just our lucky number, I guess. So, skeptic in me, I’m sure you’re being very truthful for non nonprofit radio listeners. I mean, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t lie to you. A scout. I was a girl scout for a long time and scouts on her counts, otherwise it would have to be a pinky pledge, but scouts on her counts. Um Anything else you want to say about media, whether social traditional earned? I think social media is a great way to showcase your organization’s work. And what we do at ce H is we have a comprehensive editorial calendar. We keep some of it flexible and we do different strategies across different platforms. Um linkedin is growing really quickly right now. So is tiktok Instagram a little bit? Um So definitely diversify your strategy across social media. The news is very hard, it’s very depressing. Our work is sometimes challenging. So I always encourage um social media strategists to celebrate the wins. So when you do have a piece of good news or you are part of some legislation that passes, you know, really celebrate that on social media and you will find that, that those are some of the most highly engaged with posts that you create. And I’ll also add that in our session. We talked a lot about email strategies with donors and segmenting your list and really talking to your donors in different ways in different places. Glossing over here we go. So when I came to ch there had been a two year vacancy in the director at V Monro. So our donors hadn’t heard from us. So the first thing we did is we set up a what we call our three things email and this was a monthly email from our CEO to our major donors. It came from his name. It looked like a normal email to the point that people respond back and be like, oh, it’s so great to hear how you’re doing. Here’s my, my wife, how it’s like, oh, this is the development team, but it looked like it was, it was fresh off his email. Exactly. And we had huge engagement with it and we actually ended up, we were writing a story about, uh, toxic chemicals and exercise. You wouldn’t think that’s how you’re gonna get back, one of your biggest lapse donors. But we did and she wrote back and said, oh, I’m using this brand blah, blah, blah. We had it tested by our toxic team wrote back to her, not only did she come back as a lapse donor, but then she for the first time ever introduced us to her family foundation. And we got a second gift from her family foundation and it was all because of this email and the interaction, the opening the conversation through that email. And so we really believe in the power of segmented emails, talking in different voices, providing different content that all aligns with your brand, but really speaks to the donor. And how does this align with our bigger purpose of bringing together? What do you say? Harnessing the development and, and communications teams? Well, and I think that’s because we would repurpose content from the communications team. And we would hear, oh, this is what’s hitting really big on social media. This is what you know, reporters are really interested in and we would tailor that content to the major donors based on what was hitting and lo and behold, it would engage in conversation. And our donors would say, hey, I want to hear more about that report, you know, how did you guys even think to test lead in purses? You know, and so I think it’s like if you don’t know the data of the other team, you don’t really know what your audience wants and we need to deliver the content that our audience is actually interested in. So you got to entertain too, purses and exercise bands and socks. We did a whole Safe Socks campaign in clothing, high levels of BP A in all of our workout clothing, sports bras, leggings, shirts, shorts. Um Yeah, so this is one of the issues that we’re tackling with our public interest litigation, telling companies get the BP A out of the clothes. Ok. Um, we still have more time together. You, you did a what a 60 minute session, right? So we’re not, we’re not flushing out some things. We’ve only been talking for about 15 minutes. We, we’re not flushing out some things that you did for your live session. Well, I think one thing that we talked about is really about validating your brand, that there are a lot of people that are tackling the same issues that you are and you also have a great mission, but you really have to your brand to attract top donors. And so using her media using virtual town halls where you’re your CEO in line with other stakeholders that builds a trust of your brand and validity that you are actually the right person to be delivering this mission that all increases the dollar amount that you’re gonna get from donors. So you really have to be thinking about all of these things working together to validate your brand because there’s a lot, a lot of great missions, there’s a lot of great organizations, but why are you the right person to do this work? And that’s what’s going to get a new major donor or a larger gift from an existing donor? What were some of the some of the questions that you got? We got so many great questions. Let’s see. We definitely talked a lot about virtual town halls. People were very excited about that topic and exactly what Shannon was just saying about bringing together different stakeholders to kind of validate your brand. Um We talked about a lot about press and media coverage and talked about how you don’t have to have a huge budget and you don’t have to have a super comprehensive plan. You can get started just sitting down with your executive director, your program directors, your science director, whomever you have, who’s really moving and shaking at the organization and create a piece together and what you want to do for that is think about what the work your organization doing, what what’s happening, what has changed because that’s what reporters want to talk about is what has changed in your organization or what has changed in the work and then connecting it to current events, what’s going on in the world that you, that’s connected to your organization’s work. And then you can write an op ed together hooks we talked about and you can pitch it to different reporters or you can publish it on your website, you can publish it on linkedin and that’s a way of really driving thought leadership forward. Absolutely. We also had an interesting question about how many staff we had and who’s actually watching the metrics and who’s reporting back the metrics and why we were inspired to do this session is we both have small teams. So Emily had two staff and I had three staff and it really just takes a dedicated portion of one person’s time to look at the metrics and to discover the gems. I told a story of, I had a staff who would look at who opened and who clicked on the emails and she brought it to our team and she said, hey, there’s this donor that’s been, they only give about $500 but they’re opening and click everything. And when I looked at them, they’re actually a producer in Hollywood, maybe we should re engage them, guess what we did. And it turned into a $10,000 donor. And so by having someone just take a minute and look at those, bring that data back to the team. You can actually optimize your process and get a bigger result. And so, you know, we’re not a huge shop, we’re small shops, but we just kind of work smarter, not harder and really by working together, even though it’s monsoon consulting, you’re not enormous, you know, creating tidal waves and tsunamis. No, just little lightning bolts, you can create a tidal wave with a few amount of people. That’s true. That is true. Well, our 300,000 on Tiktok today. There you go. That’s just today, that much breaking news that we didn’t make it to our slide show because it just happened. Is there any more questions that came that you think could be instructive for us? I think there is definitely some people that just felt really frustrated, you know, that they wanna do things this way or they want to try new ideas and the other team member doesn’t want to. And I think that Emily and I are both early adopters of technology. We’re both really open minded and it’s like you have, everything is moving so fast right now. You have to be open to new technologies and new ways to communicate with your donors. And if you do things, the same thing over and over again, you’re gonna bore your donors and you’re gonna see attrition. And so I think that just one of the main takeaways is be creative take risks. You talked about an idea that failed and you have to be open to failure to be able to be successful. And I think that both of us have that same ethos and we brought that to our teams and that’s why we could create so much success in a short amount of time. You know, while I was there, our development team brought in close to him, million dollars over our goal. We could not have done that without the support of the coms team and all of their creative ideas and immersing our donors in this message that what we’re doing is important and vital and urgent. And that’s where I feel like you’re missing out. If you’re not harnessing your communications team, you’re missing out on the bigger ripple effect you can make for your donors. I’m dying to leave it there because that was a beautiful closing. However, there’s a story that you teased a story of a failure that was, that’s instructive. Why don’t you tell that story? Yeah. So sometimes your op ed that you craft that you spend so much time on does not get picked up. So we have had, you know, an op ed on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. And then there was another time that we spent a lot of work on an op ed on the very sexy topic of leaded aviation gas. I know people are falling asleep already. So this is actually a big problem because in this small little municipal airports where the small aircraft are flying, a lot of leaded aviation gas is released. And then the folks living in that area have high blood lead levels. So we wrote this op ed about this California airport and how the Children living nearby had blood lead levels on par or worse than those in Flint during the height of the lead poisoning crisis. So we had a lot of facts and figures and a lot of solutions that talked about our litigation kind of making, you know, unleaded aviation gas more prominent and prevalent. Um and nobody bit, we pitched it out a bunch of different places and nobody bit, but it was ok because what we ended up doing is posting it on our blog and um kind of made lemonade out of lemons and that page has been one of the most viewed pages on our website. So it all worked out in the end even though we failed along the way to place the op ed. How about we leave it there then? A good uh a willingness to share a failure that resulted in a highly viewed page. And uh also uh Shannon’s uh two minutes ago, very good wrap up, which I was, I was, I was very tempted to end there, but I wanted to hear the story. You can’t tease the story with failure though, but that’s why it wasn’t a failure. That it was the most red page on the blog and on a linkedin article which, you know, really harnessing all the linkedin tools is a great way to reach your audience. And I don’t think people should be afraid of failure because if you’re trying new things, you will fail and you should embrace it and learn from it and it’s going to work out, especially something that’s outside your control. Like whether newspaper accepts your op ed or not. Exactly. Exactly. But if you don’t try, you’re certainly not going to get published, right? And then you balance out with things. You can control your blog, hosting your own virtual town hall, hosting your own panel event, you can control those things. So yeah, you have some percentage of stuff you’re thrown out into the world and hoping it sticks and the other half you’re actually controlling and make sure it fits within your strategy. That’s Shannon Bowen founder and CEO at Monsoon Leadership with her is Emily De Frisco, senior director of Communications at the Center for Environmental Health. Shannon Emily. Thanks very much. Thank you. I’m glad. Thank you. And thanks to you for being with nonprofit radio’s coverage of the 2024 nonprofit technology conference where we are sponsored by Heller consulting, technology strategy and implementation for nonprofits. Next week, more from 24 NTC with strategic meetings for teams of one and cyber incident cases and takeaways. If you missed any part of this week’s show, I beseech you find it at Tony martignetti.com. We’re sponsored by Virtuous. Virtuous gives you the nonprofit CRM fundraising volunteer and marketing tools you need to create more responsive donor experiences and grow, giving, virtuous.org and by donor box, outdated donation forms blocking your supports, generosity, donor box, fast, flexible and friendly fundraising forms for your nonprofit donor box.org past flexible friendly fundraising forms. Love it. Our creative producer is Claire Meyerhoff. I’m your associate producer, Kate Martignetti. The show’s social media is by Susan Chavez. Mark Silverman is our web guide and this music is by Scott Stein. Thank you for that affirmation. Scotty be with us next week for nonprofit radio. Big nonprofit ideas for the other 95% go out and be great.