Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to be a Critical Consumer of Nonprofit Research

In today's society we want information fast and to the point causing us to make assumptions and generalizations about the sector or society as a whole. Too often this sound bite mentality/culture prevents us learning the real truth behind what we read. Here are examples of three news headlines:
Each of these headlines reported on a different study and made claims about the entire nonprofit sector. It is great that many organizations are producing research about the sector, however, in many cases this research is reported in an inaccurate manner.

One of the first things I learned in my PhD program was how to be a critical consumer of research (thank you Dr. Galloway!). Here are the questions I ask myself when I read any article or research about the nonprofit sector:

1. Who were sampled? (Nonprofits, Executive Directors, Foundations?)
2. Is the sample representative of the nonprofit sector-by organizational type (NTEE Code), budget size, location?
3. What were the sampling procedures?
4. Was the information conveniently gathered or did the researcher attempt to collect data from as many organizations as possible across the sector?

There are a variety of reputable sources that researchers can use to compare their sample to the national nonprofit sector. The National Center for Charitable Statistics produces an nonprofit almanac where the majority of this information is location. Here are some other sources as well.
Now, let's try to be critical consumers of the three studies I listed above:

1. "A Growing Leadership Gap: Need for qualified executives persists even as charities trim staff" Comes from the study: Finding Leaders for America's Nonprofits by the Bridgespan Group

The survey sample included 433 Executive Directors. The Bridgespan Group purposefully sampled organizations with revenues over 1million dollars. I am unsure why they did this since their sample potentially represents only 17.7% of organizations in the sector, therefore the study is not representative of the entire sector. Although the researchers reported NTEE code and region for the sample, it is unclear if this information is representative of the 17.7% of organizations in the sector since no comparisons were made.

2. "Nonprofit Groups Laid Off Employees, Shifted Investments, and Added Governance Steps in 2009" Comes from the study 2009 National Board Governance Survey for Not-for-Profit Organizations by Grant Thorton.

The survey sample included 465 CEO's, CFOs, board members or other executive level staff. Grant Thorton reported that 71% of respondent organizations had revenues of less than 50million. Really? I am unsure why they did not break down the budget sizes into smaller categories. This shows me the sample is heavily skewed towards larger organizations, and like the study above, is not representative of small organizations or the sector as a whole. Additionally, the study does not provide any statistical information about NTEE code or location of respondent organizations.

3. "For Executives, Study Shows Foundations Prefer to Hire from the Outside" Comes from the Study: Benchmarking Diversity: A First Look at New York City Foundations and Nonprofits by the Foundation Center & Career Pathways to Philanthropic Leadership 2009 Baseline Report by the Council on Foundations

I am going to focus on the Career Pathways report since it is a national study. This study includes a combination of interviews with 50 foundation executive, trustees, nonprofit executives, and people connected to the foundation subsector and an analysis of foundation executive appointments from 2004-2008 (400 appointees). I think this report does a nice job of reporting its sampling procedures and limitations of the research. They are clear that the study does not represent the 70k foundations in the USA and the study is skewed towards larger foundations. However, the hiring information is representative of foundations by region.

I recognize that it is difficult to conduct a research study that is representative of the entire sector and I am not necessarily advocating for that. I am advocating for researchers to clearly state their sampling procedures, limitations of the study, and try to see if their data is representative of the sector (and if not -- state that is not). Additionally, since most news headlines generalize research to the entire sector, I want to encourage people to read cautiously and be critical consumers of the research. I would also encourage news sources to state the limitations of the study in the news articles as well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Live Blogging Cause Conference 2010: Marketing Basics and Partnership Proposal

Brief notes/resources from breakout sessions this morning.

Adding Power and Value to your Partnerships Proposals

Parker Pike provided steps and resources for securing corporate partnerships.
  1. Conduct an internal audit of their resources (staffing, finances & current marketing resources)
  2. Partner with local media (San Diego area media contacts, do you have a list in your town?)
  3. Develop corporate partnership proposal (include the $ amounts of the value of your marketing efforts). The San Diego Marketing Association provides examples in their Nonprofit Valuation Survey.

Parker also provided additional resources about corporate sponsorship:
  • (analysts for donors about value of volunteer time)
  • (download reports – corporate social responsibility reporting)
  • (the premier organization that connects sponors to nonprofit organizations)

Understanding Marketing Basics

Diedra Maloney led a panel about nonprofit marketing basics. She first provided an overview of a nonprofit marketing plan. She then provided some general tips for the marketing role within a nonprofit. Here are her tips:
  • Every nonprofit needs to create a strategic marketing plan.
  • Marketing needs to be a part of the overall strategy of the organization.
  • Be clear about the role marketing will play in the organization.
  • The marketing role should be: Create communications, messages, and vehicles to inspire action to achieve your organization’s goals

Electronic marketing

One of the panelists Chris D'Eon spoke about the importance of using algorithms to track electronic marketing efforts. He provided several tools nonprofits can use to increase conversions on their websites (the amount of people that click through and make a donation). He used these tools in his nonprofit and increased funding by 63% - wow!

Public Relations

The last panelist Indra Gardner spoke about nonprofits and public relations. She mainly provided social media strategies and how nonprofits can use facebook, twitter, and UTube. She also advocated that everyone should read Beth Kanter's blog if they are interested in integrating social media into their organizations. Here are a couple of her tips:

  • Use facebook ads -- $10 for ads too target audience using demographics and interests.
  • Use press releases sparingly, instead create a list of the media contacts that care about your news and form relationships with those contacts.
  • Use google analytics and find out what percentage of people come to your site from search engines. These people are new and do not know much about your organization, work on connecting with those people.
  • launches press releases through social media.
  • Mashable – nonprofit case study examples, links, and best practices in using social media.

Live Blogging Cause Conference 2010: What young professionals and nonprofits have in common.

I’m listening to the keynote this morning by Will Marre “The Top 10 Questions Every Nonprofit Needs to Answer to Survive” and I’m excited because I’m noticing a common theme with his speech—the importance of branding your nonprofit! Coincidentally, Rosetta Thurman and Allison Jones are currently hosting a live twitter chat for young professionals with the focus “how can young nonprofit leaders build their personal brands to enhance their careers.”

So here are Will’s 10 questions. Try to ask these questions in your nonprofit and with yourself.

1. What problem are you willing to solve?

What are you willing to do? What cause are you going to focus on? Are you in the misery relief business or root cause ending? Successful nonprofits can explain the specific thing they are going to solve and how to solve it.

2. How do you know when it is solved?

How do you measure your program results? What is your emotional story?

3. What is your z factor?

The Z factor is your core way of doing value. The steps you take to create sustainable programs – moving from providing shelter care to empowering inter-city youth.

4. What proof do you have that your Z-factor works?

Anecdotal evidence works, self-assessment by the people that work with you. Document, Document!

5. Is your work going to matter in 10 years?

Is your work significant? Be clear in your 10 year plan your scope, focus and strategy.

6. How much money and resources do you need to succeed in the next ten years?

7. What are you willing or not willing to do to accomplish your mission.

Avoid mission creep, tell me what you are not doing.

8. What is your promise, your commitment to each stakeholder?

Nonprofit leadership doesn’t know how to encourage board members to make a difference-Yikes. Will said that half of the board members should be leading task force committees. Task forces have purpose and a timeframe. Make board members strategic drivers of task.

9. What is your new success story?

Your old story is an excuse. Your new story is a vision and logic of success.

10. Request your board members to answer the question: what is the most important thing for the organization to accomplish in the next 90 days to ensure success?*

Then compile the answers from the board members to determine a common purpose for the organization.

*I want to do #10 immediately because it is amazing about how many organizations that I come into contact with the board or staff do not have an understanding of the common purpose of the organization.

Will said, “The world is interested in extreme expertise at the highest level. What are you willing to be famous for? Then you can create a path to sustainable income.”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Live Blogging the Cause Marketing Conference San Diego

Tomorrow I'll be live blogging the 2010 Cause Conference in San Diego hosted by the San Diego Chapter of the American Marketing Association. This year's conference will focus on nonprofit marketing strategies to beat recession. Also Jessica Van Der Stad will live blog from the AMA conference blog.

The twitter hash tag for the conference is (#SDAMA2010 or #SDAMA10). The 12th Annual AMA officially gets underway Wednesday, March 10 at 7:30am at USD’s Joan B. Kroc Center for Peace and Justice, with the first presentation starting at 8am.

The San Diego chapter of the American Marketing Association is the premier professional development association for San Diego’s marketing community, with more than 240 members.