A Quick Thought
I am at a conference this week. I spent a good portion of last week trying to get several projects to a resting point I would be comfortable with. Several projects are in planning periods with lots of ideas swirling around but no real plan in place to move forward. Several other projects have been in holding patterns and have simply not progressed as I have wanted them to. Basically, the major projects I am working on are all a little messy at the moment which is not what I had planned for. By the end of the week I had worked myself into an exhausted, frustrated frenzy. How could I leave my work at a time like this?!
I’m sure you have had similar self-indulgent moments of your own. We start to sense we are losing more control than we bargained for, and we meltdown trying to gain that control back. We get stuck in our own heads trying to figure out why life is so against us.
I finally realized I had worn myself out worrying about myself. I wasn’t really focused on my work; I was focused on myself and how I might look to my coworkers. Were they frustrated with my progress? Were they doubting my ability to come through with good work? I had elevated myself to being the most important factor of these projects, but I am not.
I am simply here to organize and guide these projects so that their impact can be maximized. Especially in the nonprofit world, it is always a great reminder that our work directly impacts lives and improves the world. We’ll never fully escape the trappings of wanting to be a hero, but we cannot allow our self-indulgence to hinder our progress or cloud reality.
Links to Check Out
1) Pursuant won 9 Telly Awards this year! We are extremely proud of the creative work our client partnerships produce, and winning awards like this validate the work we do together. We invite you to watch the winning videos here.
2) The conference I and a few colleagues are at is MarketingSherpa’s Optimization Summit 2013. MarketingSherpa produces unbelievable research-based resources that help improve conversion statistics. If you don’t know much about their work spend a few minutes on their site.
Coming This Week…
Wednesday, May 22 — We will post Part 1 of a 3-part series on fear from our very own Yijiao Zhuang (@Yijiao Zhuang).
Friday, May 24 — If everything goes well (fingers crossed!) we will post episode #1 of a new video segment we are calling, Friday Conversations (very creative, we know). Our hope is that these informal videos will provide insight into the people of Pursuant and the work we are doing with our clients. More to come.
My nephew Carter routinely fell down and bumped into things when he was a toddler. He got older and his “klutzy” tendencies continued. Spilling his milk at the dinner table became a regular occurrence. His parents assumed he just was not paying attention.
Carter started school and began having regular headaches. Along with these headaches his teacher noticed him squinting at the chalk board. As a result he ended up with glasses. The glasses seemed to help a little, but the headaches continued.
Around this time, Carter’s lack of eye-hand coordination became more pronounced. When playing football he would prepare to catch a ball thrown him, but then would suddenly jerk back at the last moment as if the ball had arrived unannounced. His younger brother was much more aggressive, and appeared in comparison to be undaunted by the ball. The assumption this time around was that Carter’s younger brother was simply fearless.
When Carter turned 10 he was taken to an eye specialist. After a series of tests it was determined he had a condition called amblyopia, or in common terms – lazy eye. Amblyopia reduces visual clarity, but it isn’t due to damage of the eye. Its cause stems when nerve pathways between the brain and the eye aren’t properly stimulated. Treatment for amblyopia is typically easiest and most successful when it is caught very early. The fact that Carter was 10 meant the correction would be much more difficult than if it had been caught earlier.
The problem for Carter was that his eye didn’t appear to be “lazy.” All tell-tale signs that his eyes weren’t working in tandem were virtually non-existent. The signs that an issue did exist were simply mislabeled as misconceptions about his klutziness and lack of athleticism.
What does amblyopia have to do with fundraising? We often see organizations come to us with a problem that they have identified from obvious indicators. However those indicators might actually be a result of a larger underlying issue. Something that if not addressed and corrected will continue to undermine even the best efforts. Further, if the legitimate cause is addressed sooner rather than later, it usually indicates an easier path to recovery.
What are some of the obvious indicators of less than stellar performance within your organization? Beyond the apparent, what else might those indicators be revealing?
The 2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks report was published a little over a week ago. This study, produced by M+R and NTEN, is an in-depth analysis of both email and social media trends across five different non-profit verticals. In addition to providing response metric averages, such as click through and open rates, the report also gives year-over-year comparisons.
One of the biggest surprises is the dramatic decline of email response rates compared to 2011. Click-through rates are down over 25% in some areas, and open rates are down as well. There are a wide variety of factors that are likely affecting these metrics (broader email usage on mobile phones, image filtering by email service providers, increased amount of emails being sent, etc). What we know for sure is that the nature of engagement is changing. The question now for nonprofit organizations is what are we going to do about this? How are we going to adapt?
Our answer is somewhat simple: If the way donors engage is changing, then your organization must be willing to change how you engage your donors!
The organizations we work with that are experiencing the most success in their email programs are those that are agile in their approach. Through a commitment to testing and optimization, they have developed a process of measuring results, quickly analyzing data and making appropriate, strategic changes to messaging and tactics. This process ensures that the focus of their communication is on deepening donor engagement. These organizations are not content with results that are “good enough,” and they are constantly looking for ways to improve.
Here are 3 easy suggestions of where to start this process:
- Modify the amount of content you are sending in your email. This is one of the first tests Pursuant runs with our clients. It allows us to determine if donors need more copy to be interested in a cause or less copy because they want to get to the landing page to act.
- Simplify your email designs. Many people don’t download images anymore so highly stylized emails have a greater chance of being ignored, filtered or deleted.
- Test responsive design in your email messaging. Responsive design allows you to cater your message more appropriately to your donors’ behavior. It is good to note that responsive design can significantly increase the time it takes to produce an email. So be sure that you plan your timelines accordingly, and be sure to test your design across multiple platforms.
There are always metrics that can be improved, and there are always multiple tactics that are worthy of testing. Your donors’ tastes are constantly evolving, which means donor engagement will continue to change. A well thought-out testing plan and a nimble approach that enables quick changes to be made is how your organization can stay ahead of the negative curves seen in this year’s non-profit benchmarks.
Over the past few years several studies have reported that the use of red ink when correcting papers can create an unfavorable bias that isn’t there when teachers grade with other colors. Some parents have argued that teachers should be focused on marking students work to ensure that children learn (inferring that red ink prevents that). And, these parents have argued that teachers should be focused on marking students’ work to ensure they learn as opposed to just focusing on their “failures.”
My initial reaction to this movement elicited rolled eyes. I thought it was silly and another case of irrational, over-protective parents ironically creating situations for the children that would handicap them in the long run.
I never had issues with the red ink I was presented in school. Plus, how can a child learn without knowing where he/she presently is and where he/she needs to be?
After mulling this issue over for some time, I believe it boils down to a visceral reaction. The aversion to red ink is more indicative of what the ink represents…failure. Our society loathes failure. And, I can definitely understand and appreciate parents not wanting teachers to focus on the failures of their children. However, fearing failure can barricade the path to success.
When coupled with evaluation and correction, failure can inform success. We have to learn to embrace failure in order to grow. It is important to note that it isn’t enough to identify the error. The evaluation and correction and teaching that are part of the learning process cannot be underestimated in their ability to impact.
As I think about the nonprofit sector, there seems to be a correlation between some agencies and organizations and the parents who want to ban red ink. The “red ink” issue is similar to implementing projects that are safe even if they don’t progress the organization. In order to improve, one HAS to learn and know what doesn’t work. That requires knowing where you’ve been, and possibly, how you have failed.
We shouldn’t spend time only focusing on our failures, but we also cannot fear the “red ink.” We have to be willing to embrace the reality of our current situation, build a plan to improve and then move forward trying to improve on where we have been.
What would you do differently if you weren’t afraid to fail? What could you learn in the evaluation of such errors? Where might that lead you once the correction is made?
Around age 12, I had my first experience getting my hair cut in a real hair salon. I didn’t wash my hair for days because it felt so soft and was gloriously shiny. When I did, I lathered up with Pert, the shampoo my parents provided for my brothers and me. The outcome was disappointing. Even though my hair was clean, it wasn’t soft and the shine, lackluster. My hair felt different, and I decided I wanted the Paul Mitchell shampoo my salon had used. I knew I would have to spend my own money on it, but I was committed to this new experience. I was ready to fight against the status quo of my parent’s shampoo!
My father thought this was foolhardy and frivolous. He told me “shampoo is shampoo.” He even showed me different brands that had the same ingredients. I argued back reminding him of how he was able to satisfy his love for real San Francisco sourdough bread.
My dad grew up in the Bay area. When my grandmother would visit us in Denver, my dad would ask her to bring loaves of sourdough bread with her. My mother could never find a sourdough loaf locally of which my father approved. The ingredients were the same, but the experience was different!
What makes one product or service stand out above others? Frequently we focus on the ingredients and overlook the processes involved when evaluating what sets one product or service apart from another. Although overlooked, these processes cannot be underestimated in their ability to illicit a “WOW!” experience. Processes matter! Where most ingredients can be considered a commodity or duplicated, processes rarely can. Savvy processes that create a superior product can also command a higher price tag. This was the case with my shampoo, and it was with the bread that brought my father such pleasure. We valued the experience, and it was the processes involved that created those experiences.
The question then becomes do we accept status quo? The answer to this question is found in what we truly value.
“What the?!!” I thought. Wandering through another living-room, having already passed through at least a dozen, dismay gave way to anger at the labyrinth yet ahead of me. I began to recognize a taste in my mouth. Let’s call it bitterness. “Who designed this horrible store in which I was captive?” I knew what I wanted to purchase. Why were they making it so impossible for me to do just that?
IKEA’s store layout is meant to make sure you see all of their design flats…to the tune of what seems like 500 rooms. Once you have secured the product(s) which initiated your excursion, you then realize there isn’t an easy path to the front of the store for checkout. Nope! Simply continue on the never-ending path, and keep wandering through an array of frames, furniture, and barrier after barrier.
I seethed for days about my experience.
Once my anger subsided, I was reminded of the email marketing work I do and the consistent need to reduce what we call “friction.” Friction is anything that makes it difficult for someone to complete a call to action. A multiple-step sign up process, requiring unnecessary fields of data on a contact form and a form not optimized for a mobile device are all examples of friction.
I was mortified to think that I might be making it difficult for someone to complete the very thing I was asking them to do. Had I been spending time, resources and good intentions making it harder for people to engage with my message? Was I creating an “IKEA experience” for my audience?
In a very real personal way, I now understand the need to reduce friction for those that are requesting information and resources from Pursuant. My IKEA moment clearly exposed the correlation between reducing friction and reducing frustration.
In what ways are you creating an “IKEA experience” for your donors? How can you reduce friction in the work you do?
Last summer, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend several days in Yountville, CA exploring and enjoying wine country. Amid the wine, food and great weather we made a point of stopping by the Buchon Bakery for some macarons. We are not foodies by any stretch, but we knew we had to take advantage of being so close to an easily accessible Thomas Keller establishment. As you can imagine, we were not disappointed. It was shocking how much we enjoyed those little pastries, but it was not shocking to realize Keller’s reputation was built on actual quality.
Yesterday I came across a small article from Fast Company that highlights a specific quote from Thomas Keller. In this quote Keller expresses his interpretation of how to achieve success. He explains that, “[i]t’s not about passion. Passion is something that we tend to overemphasize… To me, it’s about desire. If you have constant, unwavering desire to be a cook, then you’ll be a great cook…”
I interpret his point like this: Passion tends to be an emotional response that can subside over time. True desire drives us to maintain our discipline as we seek to achieve our goals.
I love hearing from a master like Thomas Keller that he is not able to sustain some fantastical emotional response to his work 100% of the time. And, more importantly, he is not trying to sustain that passion to achieve his goals. He is reliant on his desire to achieve excellence, and that pushes him to be disciplined in his work every day.
How do you maintain discipline during those times when your passion to serve wanes?
Nonprofit Quarterly released an article last week, addressing the need for communication calendars in any nonprofit organization.
This is something Pursuant whole-heartedly believes in. One of the first things we do for our clients when we begin a partnership with them, is to craft a comprehensive communication calendar—laying out everything from their direct mail program, to the online program, to major events, and even including national holidays. Each of these sectors of your giving program need to be able to speak to each other in a fluid way.
Do you have a communication calendar for your organization? Regardless of how many channels you use to speak to your donors, this is a MUST for your organization. Are your mail dates overlapping with your email send dates? Do you have events that you’re publicizing for, that are getting lost in the jumble of communication? More importantly, are your different department communications getting in the way of each other? These are all questions you should ask yourself about your own organization’s communication plans.
We truly believe in multi-channel communication to donors, but it has to be done right. Check out the article for more helpful information about crafting a communication calendar!
Last week, Harvard Business Review published an article, addressing the issue of fear of simplifying your workplace.
The writer talks about an example of a CEO of a large company wanting to simplify her complex and unwieldy organization. She met with her senior leadership and they all agreed to choose committees, projects and studies that could all be stopped across the company, to improve efficiency. One month later, they reconvened and no one had halted their unnecessary projects! They all pointed fingers to other departments, identifying projects they thought those departments should cut, instead of their own.
Why did they do this? The answer is simple. People have a hard time letting go. Now this is nothing revolutionary. But, when you stop to take a look at some things you do at work daily, are you comfortable letting projects go? I know for a fact that I am not. I am guilty as charged.
Why don’t we want to let things go? Do we find satisfaction and pride in being busy? Are we afraid of losing the “prestige” of being involved in everything? Are we worried that letting unnecessary work go will make US seem unnecessary to our organization? I think most of us could say yes to at least one, if not all of those questions.
How do we fix this issue and be more productive? It IS spring-cleaning time after all. Dig down deep on your list of projects. See how many of them can be “let go,” and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Check out the article to get some more info on how to simplify your organization!
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the “Chagall: Beyond Color” exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. The exhibit showcased distinct periods in Chagall’s life. To help frame the works on display the gallery had added painted quotes from Chagall on the walls above the pieces. These quotes helped provide me with a greater context for the impact Chagall and his works had on the world in which he lived. I have been focused one quote in particular when considering my day-to-day work, in part because I can’t experience anything without finding application to my own life. It reads:
“The ceramic art is nothing more than the alliance of fire and clay. If what you offer is good, the fire will give you something in return; if it is bad, everything is smashed, nothing remains and there is nothing you can do about it. The test of fire is pitiless.“
Testing is a way of life at Pursuant. Time and time again we learn the lesson that progress and refinement is never done. However, to receive the virtues of testing, we have to put ideas “into the fire.” We have to be willing to try, and we can’t allow the real possibility of failure to keep us content with where we are. This isn’t always comfortable, and we don’t always get what we were hoping for in return. However, we are constantly learning; constantly applying what the fire returns to our next ideas, concepts and tests. We have seen the benefits of this process enough to accept that the risk of standing still is greater than the risk of testing the fire.
I love that Chagall alludes to the fact that he cannot control the fire, but he also speaks about it as a certainty in his life. He creates, and the fire is the ultimate test. Our job is to create, put our ideas into the fire and discover what is gained in return.
What ideas have you put into the fire recently? What have you received in return?