Charity For All

Charity For All

I recently finished Ken Stern’s critique of the nonprofit sector: With Charity for All. Even for me, who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20-years, I came away from this book shaking my head. It makes me think that working for casinos and tobacco companies might be more honorable. But later that week I had a meeting with a client in Florida that is doing awesome things in their community, and my hope was restored. I wish Stern would have visited this nonprofit organization. All of us consultants and agencies who work for nonprofit organizations live on a knife edge. On the one hand, most everyone working on the supply side of the table serving nonprofits is in it because we want to use our skills in a manner that makes a difference in the world. Yet when we work with nonprofit organizations that aren’t good stewards of their donors’ gifts, we are contributing to the problem he addresses in his book. Here’s one thing we can all do to improve the situation. We can stress the importance of our clients doing solid program evaluations that prove the effectiveness of their services and make sure that information gets back to its donors. Ultimately, we have a duty not only to our clients, but to their donors as...

Spring Cleaning Your Donor Database

I started my spring-cleaning this weekend.  You know, tossing out clothes that have seen better days, getting rid of unidentifiable meat in the freezer, and emptying out the junk drawer in the kitchen to only realize that I do need all that junk and there really is no way to organize it. While cleaning, my mind wondered to work and the constant challenges we face as analysts when databases are not clean.  We see a lot of donor databases and the majority of them have their data challenges.  You know the old saying “garbage in, garbage out.”  Regular database cleaning processes will help you ensure that your not wasting money mailing appeals to deceased donors, incomplete addresses or pestering those donors that asked to receive solicitations only twice a year. Here are the top 5 data issues we often see: 1)     Inconsistent Coding – The turnover in development staff on average every 18 months leads to inconsistent data entry processes.  It becomes difficult to compare performance year over year when the campaign level coding structure changes often. 2)     Data entry errors – For example, gifts received in January of 1902? 3)     Lack of solicitation history – Why is this important? Donors have the opportunity to give through a variety of channels these days.  In order to have a full picture of say your direct mail performance you will want to see those donors that received direct mail pieces but chose to give online. 4)     Status codes that are not up to date such as deceased flags, major donor flags, prospect codes, etc. 5)     Duplicates – The most commonly used...

Data woes? Try Quacking the Code

Complicated data pulls. Faulty syntax. Ugly data. Error. Error. Error. Working in the information age has given us plenty to pull our own hair over. Our digital co-workers, i.e. computers, are quite literal in their expectations of how we communicate our needs to them. While we’re often quick to curse the defenseless   little machines, the truth is that we usually find out the problem was us. Here’s a tip to get to that realization faster. Computer programmers use a method of debugging called Rubber Ducking. This is how it works. Once you start running into errors, grab a “rubber duck” to talk through your process line by line. Explain each step and why you made the decisions you made. As you are teaching the duck, your errors in logic or typos will reveal themselves to you. This is also a great way to find an error in a spreadsheet. Now, it doesn’t have to be a rubber duck. Maybe it’s a picture on your desk or a bobble head. Maybe you still have an imaginary friend that you wisely did not reveal to human resources. The bottom line is that by teaching someone else, you are forced to understand and justify all the steps you have taken. You will find the error and sometimes even find new ways to improve the overall...
The Wisdom to Youth Ratio

The Wisdom to Youth Ratio

At most agencies, profitability relies on a delicate balance of seasoned professionals (wisdom) and less experienced staff (youth). The wisdom gets and directs the work while the youth execute the work. The wisdom make the money and the youth gain valuable career experience. But this is what happens. Youth gains experience and invariably want a place at the table. And if the wisdom of the agency makes room for them, then agency’s wisdom and youth ratio becomes out of balance and profitability suffers. However, if they don’t make a place at the table, then the agency becomes a churn mill unable to keep good talent (or spinning off small shops left and right)  which in turn adversely effects client service, and . . . profitability suffers. Joe, Lynn and I thought a lot about this and we wanted to create a new model that avoided these pitfalls. And we think we have a solution. Our model gives everyone (wisdom and youth) a place at the table from the get go. We want our company to be the last place anyone works. Yes, our model may not be as profitable as others in the short run. But we think our model offers superior service to our clients, builds a tight knit community that attracts top talent and, well, really reduces the headaches or running a business. You might want to consider it for your agency...