I recently ran a survey in our community to ask folks what their big challenges are these days and what would feel like an absolute miracle to do inside their fundraising or communications program.
As I read through the dozens of responses it’s clear that most of us are in the same boat. The current reality we find ourselves in is deeply impacting our ability to make decisions about our fundraising and communications programs.
I understand this predicament. I’m currently running an entire digital fundraising program for a client and every week I’m challenged to make a lot of decisions that impact their success. I’m regularly reminding myself that I’m doing my very best and making the best of the circumstances like you.
Decision making inevitably deals with unknowable variables. But being in the middle of a pandemic and a major soci-political moment in the US, it feels like there are far more unknowable variables to contend with.
In the survey responses many of you shared you’re trying to figure out angles for messaging, content, storytelling and fundraising asks.
Rather than focus on each of these topics individually, what I’m going to do in upcoming content is share with you my framework and process for making strategic decisions and planning. You can expect content that gives you the insider perspective on how I build strategy as a consultant and a practitioner that you can then apply to the specific nature of your work.
This is the first post in this series that will unfold over the next two to three months. Today I’m going to share 4 questions that I always use when I’m trying to answer the question, “What next?”
The Four Questions
For context, these questions come from one of my all-time favorite strategy books called Blue Ocean Strategy. Yes, it’s mostly a business book but they do have a few non-profit case studies in it! The gist of the book is about finding your organization’s uncontested advantage(s) and leveraging them to build a strategy that makes the competition irrelevant.
I love the approach of embracing advantages for a couple of reasons. 1) As a sector we emphasize “best practices” but that doesn’t leave a lot of room for organizations to be self-reflective and understand how (or even if) these best practices apply to them. 2) Focusing your advantages often makes executing the work easier because they are often aspects of the work that come easily to you and brings a great degree of focus to your work.
Without further delay, here are the four questions from Blue Ocean Strategy.
- What should we do more of?
- What should we continue to do at the same level?
- What should we stop doing?
- What should we start doing?
Depending on the context, I will modify these questions to make them relevant to what I’m working on.
Here are two examples to show you what I’m talking about:
- In our digital fundraising program, what should we do more of?
- In our digital fundraising program, what should we continue to do at the same level?
- In our digital fundraising program, what should we stop doing?
- In our digital fundraising program, what should we start doing?
- In our communications program, what should we do more of?
- In our communications program, what should we continue to do at the same level?
- In our communications program, what should we stop doing?
- In our communications program, what should we start doing?
If you’re interested, keep reading for a deeper explanation as to how I approach answering each of these questions.
Advice on How to Approach Answering These Questions
When answering any of these questions it is critical that you have some data points. Pulling answers out of the sky or based on assumptions will make this exercise less valuable. So do what you need to do to get data. Open your Google Analytics account, look at your social media insights, run some reports in your CRM. Whatever is relevant to the work that you want to apply these questions to.
What should we do more of?
When I answer this question I’m looking through my data and reflecting on my experiences to try to identify the outliers that brought in good to excellent results. For instance, this might be a particular social media post that garnered a big response or an email that had a huge open rate. Anything that stands out as having driven exceptional results is what I’m looking for. I’m looking for this because I want to see if I can replicate it and get similar, if not better, results.
If you look at the last 3 to 6 months, this will also tell you what is working well right now and that is helpful for figuring out what to do.
What should we continue to do at the same level?
When I answer this question I’m trying to identify tactics that are consistently bringing in results. They may not be huge results but they seem like things I should continue to do to reach my overall goals.
Again if you look at the last 3 to 6 months, this will also tell you what is working well right now and that is helpful for figuring out what to do.
What should we stop doing?
There’s a fine line in the answers between this question and the previous one. There are inevitably things that we want to keep doing at the same level, and yet we need to balance that with realizing that sometimes what we are doing is just simply not getting results and therefore not worth our time or resources. Your answers to this question is your permission slip to let these things go!
I’ll say that I know it’s not always easy to just say, “no more!” Sometimes we need organizational buy-in to make the change or it just feels too strange to decide to not do something that is an apparent “best practice.” If you’re coming up against resistance for the second reason, I encourage you to challenge yourself to let go of it anyway. You could even decide to give it a limited timeline like 30 or 60 days to see if stopping a particular tactic or task has any impact on your overall results. You might be surprised!
What should we start doing?
My goal with this question is to look at my answers to the first question (do more of) and start getting creative. How can I better support what’s truly working? What else can I try to get great results?
As an example, let’s say I found that email was driving most of my online fundraising results. I might start to think about what I could do to keep my email list healthy, how I could grow my email list, and think about other experiments I could run to optimize my email results. As with all of these questions, you don’t have to commit to everything you write down, but I find that this last question is great for brainstorming and forward thinking.
So this turned out to be an incredibly long blog post about how I start making strategic decisions for fundraising or communications. I hope you find these questions as well as my explanations of how I answer these questions helpful for your work.
If you are interested in more reflection questions, you may want to read Reflection Questions for Uncertain Times and Daily Life. I wrote this a few months ago and still find some of these questions useful.
I’m happy to continue the conversation with you in the comments below! Feel free to leave questions or reflections there.
Vanessa, thanks for this article. In previous classes with you, I’ve looked at these same questions, but today they are hitting me differently. I really feel our organization is in need of some deep reflection and possible changes to how we’ve been doing things. But I’m not the ultimate decision-maker. How do you suggest I get others on the team to do this reflection with me? I’m not sure that they are of the same opinion that we need to re-evaluate things. Would you recommend I do my own reflection to these questions first, then approach our leadership? Or do I throw out these questions to others and hope they jump into the process with me? I really believe these questions could help us make healthy decisions for moving forward, and your examples were clear in how to use them. But these questions really need to be a group process.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hey Karen – I’m so glad to hear the questions are landing in a new, helpful way for you. I have a couple of thoughts on getting organization buy-in. First, if you are the only person who’s truly “in the weeds” of your fundraising program, it’s going to be most helpful for you to do the reflection on your own first. You’ll have the deepest perspective on the program and that’s a good thing. If others aren’t in it day-in and day-out like you are, they may be bringing in best practice perspectives that are less applicable. If this is the route you go when you bring your reflection and proposal(s) to the broader team I would show up with data that really proves what you are suggesting. For instance, if you get insight about something that is really working (or not working) bring the numbers and the results to show it.
If you do feel like a group process is best for organizational buy-in (and I won’t deny that in some cases it is), here’s how I would approach it. I would provide everyone with the questions and some instructions for answering them. Have everybody answer the questions on their own time rather than doing it as a group discussion. Doing it this way lends to more independent thought and less group think. But at some point, you’ll want to bring the group together and facilitate a discussion of everyone’s answers. Look for similarities and if someone feels strongly about something, really give them an opportunity to explain why AND examine the why as a group.
I hope this helps a bit. Feel free to reply if you want to discuss this more 🙂
Elvira Landeros says
Thank you so much for putting things into perspective. This all seems very basic and apparent but with everything that’s going on at home and at work, it sometimes gets difficult to look beyond the overwhelm. That is especially true of those of us who were managing program delivery and now have to focus on fundraising to survive.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hi Elvira! Thanks for your comment. You know, sometimes the basics are what we need to do. Fundraising and communications has the tendency to get overly complicated and very overwhelming and it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way a few times in my career. It makes a difference to pay attention to what you’re doing and how it’s working. It will help you fight off overwhelm and shiny object syndrome 🙂
Khusbu Oli says
Impressive article its very good. It is the little changes that will make the biggest changes. Thanks for sharing this Knowledge.