In episode 52 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, David Pisarek discuss:
David is an award-winning web and digital solutions architect, designer and project manager with extensive industry experience focusing on education, not-for-profit, politics, healthcare, and government. An expert in his field, David worked full-time at Durham College for 11 years (seven of those while working at UOIT too). It was in that role where David performed the redesigns and programming and ran training sessions for over 100 staff. As a result of those years, David understands the internal processes and functioning of post-secondary institutions. He also worked as a professor and guest lecturer at Seneca College and Durham College where he taught web design, graphic design, computer science, and web development. And he developed the Web Design curriculum at a private, corporate training facility.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is David Pisarek. David and I talk about nonprofit websites. We explore the common mistakes nonprofits make with their websites, why video is something your organization should consider for storytelling, how to start cultivating a relationship with the people learning about you through your website, and a quick and easy way to create a content calendar.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome David, welcome to the podcast.
David Pisarek: How are you doing today? Thank you.
Carol: I am doing well. I'd like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
David: That is an awesome question. My why is really baked into my upbringing. I was involved in youth groups as a child and adolescent and teen years, and there was always a component of helping and giving back and volunteering and being part of the community. I started working in nonprofits in 2000, managing the web and all that type of stuff for them. And it just evolved from there. It's just something I love doing. I love figuring things out and thinking strategically about what it is and how to problem solve and, and work around things and find solutions. And part of what I also love doing is educating and teaching people about things. So in terms of my agency, when we're working with our clients, we train them on the system. We teach them about SEO. We teach them about best practices. Like you don't want to put a giant wall of copy up on your site. You need to break it up and have some headlines and bullet points and things like that. But we're about educating in that. And so like I've got a blog and a podcast as well to help empower the people that we work with and other people that are in the nonprofit.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. . just that's, that's what you do. You help people help nonprofits really create better websites. And, and probably more than that you've mentioned a couple of things, but, but what would you say are some of the biggest mistakes that you see organizations making when it comes to their website, which really today is a foundational piece of how you present yourself to the world?
David: One of the biggest things that we find with our prospects that come to us, and we've also conducted an audit of over 400 nonprofit and charity websites. we've got like this broad base of data to pull from, to answer this question. One of the biggest things that we find is that websites look old. There's a client we worked with a couple of years ago. Their site was actually redone in 2016, but it looked like it was from the mid two thousands. And I'm sure you've come across a site. The listeners have come across sites where it's like, Hmm, the site doesn't really quite look like maybe anything has been done. Like, is that organization still in business? Are they still doing things or is this just like up there? And it's just like a ghost town.
Carol: . paying attention to updating information, but also updating the look and feel of a website to make sure that , it doesn't look like a, I dunno, a Victorian mansion or something.
David: You could have a wonderfully, beautifully designed Victorian mansion. Right. But if your website isn't working properly, it's an issue for your organization because Google and their algorithm is giving preferences to sites that are. Working really well and designed for mobile devices. So the easiest way to check if you're not sure is to open up your website in your browser window and then make your browser window really narrow. And if you have to scroll sideways to see any of the content, your site's not mobile optimized or likely isn't mobile optimized, I should say. That would be a good start.
Carol: . Excellent. what are some other couple simple things that organizations can do to really improve their websites?
David: You need to create an emotional connection with the people you're trying to reach out to. that can be done through the wording that you have. But it can also be done through the images that you've got or videos that you have there. And you need to create this impactful story about your organization in terms of what you do, why you do it, who you help, how the donor's funds are being used, the type of volunteers that you need and need to really weave that through all of the messaging that you have. Not just like we need. You need to donate today, right? Why, why do we need to donate? What's the money happening sorry, what's happening with the money and how is it being spent? What's it going towards and making people really care and be empathetic towards your cause? And that's going to really help organizations have ambassadors for your brand.
Carol: And how do you help organizations identify what their story is and, and how they can tell their story in a way that connects with the people that they're trying to reach.
David: That's one question with regards to connecting. If you're going to be looking at imagery, things like that, it's hardwired in our DNA. It's scientifically backed and proven. You want pictures of people looking at the camera. And because. Fight or flight responses from like back in caveman days. Right. So do you need to be here and fight and we're wired to look people in the eyes and being able to do that will help you evoke that response from a visual perspective when you're thinking about the story and the meaning and everything behind it. There's a couple of things that you can do the first thing or one of the first. Would be to connect with the senior leadership, the executive team, the board of directors at your organization and ask them, why do they care? What does this organization mean to them? Most likely people care about an organization because they are helping. In some way, shape or form with something that has impacted their lives, their family, or their friends, there's some direct connection, like first or second level to whatever it is. So if it's, if your organization is about, I don't know, ALS for example, Somebody in their family or, or friend or circle has been affected by that in some way, shape or form. And so they want to help and they want to get involved and be able to do that. So really understanding why people care. And then having that in and talking about, here are the things that we're doing to help this. He, there's a media campaign or there's this awareness week and really pumping up your messaging around those.
Carol: . And that's why I love asking that question at the beginning of my interviews. Right. Why what motivates folks to do the work and, and why, why are they connecting into it? And it usually the story does begin in, in people's growing up and how they were connected either impacted by an issue or connected in service early on lots of different things, but one other thing that you said that really struck me was around thinking about imagery and I've, I've heard so much about, our lizard brain and the amygdala and our fight flight. I'll put them there's fun. And there are four of them. Now I think freeze and Fon have that immediate response. And that, that part of our brain is always checking for. Can I trust you? Are you going to hurt me? I've never thought about it in terms of imagery, in a magazine, on a, on a website, any of that. all we thought about it in terms of either this on, on a. In person, not in person, but it, mediated through some screen event or just more of that interactive. it's so interesting that you bring that in also in the imagery that folks are using. thinking about it from that point of view, what's inviting, what's, what's engaging. What other mistakes do you see organizations making?
David: there's two other ones that I'd like to mention. One is making it really easy for people to connect with you. In our audit that we conducted, we found there were a lot of sites. They didn't even have a phone number on there. Like some really basic things have an email. Your, your mailing address, your physical address, a contact form on your site, a phone number some way that you can reach out to that organization in a way that people can connect with you. The other, sorry. Hold on one sec. I wanna, this is popping up. Okay. The other thing that organizations typically fall short with are having calls to actions on their website. The best way to get somebody to do something is to have a call to action. And typically a call to action is a button that you would have on your site with some wording in it, right? Like “donate now,” for example, right. Or a volunteer with us or subscribe, right. Things like that. And making it really. Comprehensive and short and understandable way for people to take whatever that next action is that you want them to take.
Carol: And what are, what would you prioritize between those different calls to action? In terms of thinking about someone, hearing about you, looking you up, looking up your website and in terms of what that next step might be. The reason I asked you the question was the first one you asked, you mentioned, was “donate now.” And I guess one thing that I'm curious about is. I guess an assumption that I have is it takes a little while for something, to get someone to the point where they want to donate and give money to your organization. That's not always true. it may be that a disaster just happened. They looked for a list of who can I donate to by someone that they trust. They look at that list, your organization's on the list and they're going to, they don't need to know anything more. They're going to donate money to you. But in most cases I would think that you have to nurture that relationship a little bit more before they're ready to jump to that action. what, what are some of those steps that you want to invite people into in terms of what that call to action might be?
David: You're absolutely right. They are getting people to make a donation. Isn't the, isn't typically the first thing that people are going to do when they come to your site, they want to get familiar with your organization. I always talk about in terms of, of three things, there's the know like, and trust factors, right? They need to know you, they need to like you, they need to trust you and then they'll be willing to take action of some kind. you need to really have your messaging put together. Easiest thing to get people to do is to subscribe. if you don't have an email list set one up there's MailChimp, there's constant contact as a campaign monitor. There's a ton of systems out there that you can use. A lot of them have a free tier. I typically recommend MailChimp. It allows up to, I think 2000 email addresses and they're free and they also have nonprofit pricing as well. if you do need to bump up into a, into a paid tier, they do, they do offer a discount there. But , you can embed a form in your website and get people to subscribe. And that's where some of that nurturing can happen. you need to set up the messaging you need to set up. Maybe if you're a little bit more of an established organization, a nurture sequence, maybe two or three emails, just explaining, Hey, thanks for subscribing. We send out emails, every month, this is the type of stuff that you're going to get from us. The second email would be, Hey, here's, what we've done recently, or the impact we've had over the last year? Hoping you might be interested in finding out more from us, the 30 emails could be, here's our most popular articles that we've published or videos that we've put together looking forward to getting you our monthly newsletter, for example, right. And then they get on the regular monthly email that you'll get, or pardon me that you'll publish out there. But in terms of call to actions, Unless they're like, somebody may have passed away and they want to donate to your organization because that's what that family or that individual really cared about or were passionate about. Typically that donation isn't, isn't the piece that they're going to go to right away. So there are some other things that you could do. I have a podcast also called the nonprofit digital success podcast episode 39. So while digital.com/ 0 3 9, that'll take you right there. That episode is all about CTS. So head on over there, you'll get, you'll get a bit more detail there, but in terms of call to actions, it could be contact us. It could be sharing this page or sharing this article. You could have some buttons for social channels, like Facebook, Twitter, that type of thing. But some other CTS that you can think about doing, let's say your organization was around funding cancer research, let's say, and you're trying to raise funds for that. It could be like “end cancer today” or, “end brain cancer today.” Or instead of “subscribe,” it could be, “keep me informed.” Right? There's different languages that you can have. But something you shouldn't be scared of is having to call. On a page in your website. So, maybe when people load up your homepage, you'll probably find only about 40 to 50% of your web traffic actually lands on your homepage. Google wants to send people deep into your site, into the content that they're already looking for. But on the top of the homepage, you can usually have the typical designers you've got like a big image or something like that, and like a headline and a button. So that button up there, that could be. I have two buttons. So you could have one for more info. So if you have a big campaign or something like that happening at your organization, or maybe there's a gala and you're trying to do some fundraising for that, it could be like I don't know, RSVP could be one of the, those buttons and the other button could be subscribed and you can have that right up there and drive them to a subscription page.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. And just you, you did say call to action and then you said CTA multiple times, but , just for clarity, CTA is market speak for call to action. So, awesome. . Another acronym that you may not be familiar with is SEO. Can you explain a little bit about what that is and what are some, what if, how do people need to think about that or why it's important.
David: SEO is again an acronym it's search engine optimization and really what it comes down to is how do the search engines index and list your website in their database. So when somebody goes and does a search, it's looking through their database, it doesn't actually search your website live. Actually, they have a cache of all the content on the internet. So if you think of Google, they've gotten like terabytes petabytes of. Astronomical amounts of data that we can't even comprehend on all the different websites and domains that are out there in the world. So when somebody goes into Google and they search for something, it's looking for relevance as well as geographic proximity. So I'll take a look when I'm in Toronto. And so if I went and looked for, I don't know, my heart and stroke association, let's say it'll, it'll find me results based because I'm in Canada and Toronto that are as close to me as possible. Whereas if I was in Australia or Germany or somewhere else, it would show different results. Based on. So SEO is about being found by search engines and being able to be indexed. So if your organization is, let's just talk about, I don't know, cancer research, because we were just talking about that four months ago. If you're focused on that, you want to make sure that you're using the terminology that other people, the general population might be searching for, because then you're going to end up ranking higher in the search result. People typically don't really go past page two of Google search results. We'll end up going back to the search and typing again. So if you think about the last time you went to Google and you searched for something, that's probably exactly what you did. If you're looking for a new hat or something, right? Like you'll go you'll search and whatever. I don't know. Totally unrelated to nonprofits there, but right.
Carol: But you might need a hat for your next Gala. who knows.
David: It's important to have the terminology that people are looking for. And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that you have some analytics tool in your website. you can gather data about how people are coming to your site. What are the popular pages on your site? And then you can create additional content. Around that so that you can start to become more well-known to search engines around certain topic areas. And one of the best tools that I can recommend is Google analytics. It's free and you can install it on your site. If you need help with that, reach out to me, connect with me. We'll do it for you for free, no strings attached. We'll get you going. Analytics is one of the best ways to be able to improve your web presence. And it's really important. To have regular check-ins on that.
Carol: . Because certainly through mine, I have some analytics through just the service that I use. I use one of them. like Squarespace and others, that make it easy to make it look good. But they're not as robust around analytics, et cetera. And I got Google analytics set up at one point, but I think it's all falling apart, so probably could do with some help in that direction.
David: Happy to help. One little caveat is Google analytics is sunsetting their universal analytics. So if you are going to sign up for new analytics or if you have it on your site, you need to migrate to GA for so Google analytics for,
Carol: Okay, good to know. Good to know. what are some steps that organizations can take to improve their SEO? And I, a lot of organizations, these are the kinds of things that may feel Beyond their sophistication or capacity, but I'm wondering if there's some easy things. You talked about making sure that you're using keywords that aren't just the expert jargon. But really how an average person would look for, for whatever it is that you do. that being an important element, are there other key things that organizations need to think about in terms of SEO?
David: Absolutely. So like I said, right at the beginning, I love educating and getting information out there. I have a webinar, a free webinar that I run, where I talk about how you can leverage your website to get better impact, more donations and more website traffic. And I talk in that webinar about SEO and the importance of things. And one of the best things that you can do is to add content to your web. Over time on a frequent regular basis. So maybe once a week, once every two weeks, once a month, whatever the cadence is that works for you. Write a piece of content about whatever that keyword or the idea that you want people to find you under. Frank. Right content and it doesn't have to be long. There's people out there that are going to be like, no, you need to write at least 2000 words. We've had a lot of success with some of the clients we've done this for where it was just five or 600 words on a weekly basis. And over a period of five months, we were able to increase their organic search traffic by 510 times. So. short content things that are easily digestible, things that are topical, maybe there's something happening in the news around COVID or something like that. And you're related to Curing, whatever disease based on MRNs, for example, right? Maybe there's, there's a tie there, connection there, and you can talk about that in some content and you can try to leverage media in that way because people are already searching for that. In Google analytics, you can actually get some details in terms of what pages are the most popular on your website. Take a look at those pages and. Over time, make some updates to those pages. And Google is going to start to rank that page a little bit higher as well. And just jumping back to CTS, when you're looking at that list of the most popular pages of your website, make sure that the top 10 pages of your site, you've got a clear call to action on that page to drive people, to do something, whatever that happens to be because you're already getting traffic there. Right. Let's leverage that traffic to try to get them to do something else, like subscribe or make a donation of some kind. And you don't affect change that way.
Carol: that makes a lot of sense. I've been in organizations where they haven't had a, a communications person or a marketing person, and they've really struggled with being able to keep that consistent, creating a little bit of content and getting it, getting things updated because there's just this mindset of it. It has to be really important or really meaningful or just perfect. And I think really for me, the way that I've just tried to stay consistent and keep things rolling is, just, it's gotta be good enough. It doesn't have to be perfect. And it doesn't always have to be super profound. I keep being, perhaps I'm boring people, I don't know, but I try to psych myself into just continuing versus getting into that mind space that can be paralyzing. And I've seen parallel organizations in, in, in really. Keeping people appraised about what's going on because they had so many criteria that they felt like their communications had to meet.
David: . And it's really tough. So one of the things I always tell people when I'm meeting with them is you need to take some action for better, or for. Take something, create a bit of content, see how it works. If it doesn't work, modify it a little bit for next time. If it does work, keep following that same path until you meet some resistance or, or something like that. What we find with a lot of our clients is that they're reactive instead of proactive. There's. One of the issues between non-profits, and charities is the size of the team. The time that the team has to get the job done. And then, you might, you might embark on a project with the world's best intentions. But then there's fires that come up and there's wrenches that get thrown in. And then there's red tape and meetings and meetings and meetings. And ultimately at some point you need to say, what, I need to actually just do something and make it happen. And, taking that first step, taking that initiative is really, what's going to help you because you can have committee meetings and you can meet with stakeholders across the organization, all you want, but nothing's actually going to happen until you sit down and spend time in.
Carol: I think people see technology tools, whether it's websites or any other thing. And, and, and they see all the bells and whistles and they want to do the, all the things I was talking with, an organization, a small organization. They only have two staff right now. They will be growing, but there are only two right now. And they're thinking about their metrics and data tracking. And they have a database that, It's infinitely expandable in terms of the things that they could track, could pay attention to. And, I kept trying to bring them back to what are the one or two things that are going to be super important to be able to tell donors, tell funders, tell your story. You don't want your staff caught up in spending all of their time, entering information into a database. What are, what are going to be the things that really give you leverage? So key, back to that keep it simple. what else is important for organizations to keep in mind as they approach their digital marketing strategy?
David: I'm just going to close the door. Hold on, I have no idea why, but my wife just came home. She was at her office today. So okay. So let me ask the question again. Nope, I got it. We're good. Okay. . One of the things that I think is important to do is really be strategic about how you're spending your time. Right. And. On the wall behind me. You can't see it because this is an audio podcast, but I have a board. And on that board is our content calendar for the year. And we do this with our clients. You can do it yourself. Sit down with your team with key stakeholders from your organization, spend an hour together an hour and a half. Give everybody a stack of post-it notes and just say around this idea. So we are focused on cancer, curing cancer, right? In the next minute, how many post-it notes? Can you write down topic ideas for articles, right? And just sit and just pound out as many as you can. And then. Do that three, four times and have another topic idea. Do that three, four times another topic on day three, four times. And you're going to find within probably about 20 minutes, you're going to have 40, 50, 60 different topics. Some of them are going to overlap, right? So you take those, you throw them out who cares, right. But you've, you've spent a really short amount of time and you figured out, all right, here's all the different types of things that we can write about, or we can create videos about, or we can be featured on podcasts and talk about the great work that we do. And it really simplifies that process. So taking those post-it notes and then taking all of those. Magical DS and weeks and months that happened. So for example, like Alzheimer's awareness month, right? If, if there's content, some of those topics that tie into that, you want to put those on, on those months, on those special days that come up through the year, those awareness type of days, and then you can plot out your content for the whole year. So within a short amount of time, we're talking like an hour, hour and a half. You can have your content calendar planned the entire year. And . Things are going to come up through the year. So you take the post-its and you move them. If you want to use tech tools, you can use any Kanban board, like an air table or mural or whatever, there's tons of things out there for that. But , it's a super great process. It was really streamlined. And it makes it easy. And you don't have to think week after week or month after month about what it is. What are we going to write about this time? No, you have it already done. You grab it. Put that together and be done or you bring in people to help support your team. And that's like where we, where we come in, we as an agency, think of our thoughts. Think of ourselves as an extension of your marketing communication, it teams. And it's, it's, there's lots of agencies out there. There's lots of freelancers out there, whether it's copywriting design, web development strategy. Branding, whatever it happens to be that you can bring in to help.
Carol: When I was blogging on a regular basis I just kept a running list of ideas, and sometimes I'd write a bunch down and think about them. And then sometimes they would just pop up. Swimming or walking around the block and I'd add it. And then when it came to the time when I was supposed to be writing I would look at the list and sometimes I wanted to write the thing that was next on the list. And sometimes I didn't, so I just skipped and found another topic, but I did really find that not starting with that blank page was really, really helpful. I love that process that you described of just bringing a group of people and it is amazing how quickly you can generate. More than you could possibly even cover. you feel like you start with, oh my God, what are we going to talk about then having a list of 50 things and you're, you're good to go. And then, then doing that planning. That's awesome.
at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask each guest one random icebreaker question. What is one activity that you enjoy so much that it really makes you lose track of time?
David: Do you love doing so
Carol: much when you get into that state of flow?
David: Low. . The state of flow is super awesome. Right? Once you can focus and you're just sitting there working with it, and then all of a sudden it's two hours later. You're like, where did that time just go for me? With regards to the business side of things, that state of flow happens when I'm sitting down and really working on strategy and in. Problem solving, like trying to figure out all right, here's the, here's the issue. Here's what we need to do. What is it that can be done to work around that, but then going from that to actually doing it and jumping in and going, okay, we want to build out this new thing. So for us, here's a great example. We want to have better communication with our clients. We want to impact more and give them more education and more awareness about the work as we're working through the project. So we created what we call the hub for our. And so every client has a page. They can go in, they can see a Gantt chart of the projects, live project status and whatever. And when I had this idea, I was like, all right, let's just make this happen. And then like three hours later, I had the first template put together. And it was like, where did, where did all that time? Just go.
Carol: What are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and your work?
David: It's interesting. We've got a few really great projects on the go right now. We're excited to move forward with them. We had a couple of meetings this morning already with them and we heard that the senior executive leadership loves the work that we've done. So that's super awesome and exciting in terms of our agency and where things are going, we're like dabbling. And taking a look at a metaverse in terms of like, what does this actually really mean? How can nonprofits and charities leverage this? We're also taking a look at crypto. So cryptocurrency and NFTs are non-fungible tokens. You've probably heard about this in the news a bit with artwork and there's like 14 year olds that have made over $10 million selling their like whale artwork, essentially. And what are some ways that nonprofits might be able to leverage that newer technology and get ahead of the curve on it, typically what we see as you've got like big business and then you have the education sector. And then lagging behind education is like the nonprofit world. Let's leapfrog that a bit and help them be current as things are happening in the news.
Carol: That's awesome. I appreciate all the education that you do for folks and I'm helping them. . Not, not always being one step behind, so that's awesome. Appreciate it. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking with you today.
David: Thank you so much, Carol.
Carol: I appreciated what David said about some of the very basic things that can easily be fixed on websites that they audit. The first being look and feel – does your website still look like someone should be looking at it via AOL in the 90s? The DIY website hosting and creation services such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly – all have built in templates that make it easy for you to have an up to date looking website and have it be mobile friendly – all without having to know how to do any of those things. And the very basic – is there information on your website about how people can get in touch with you. And then beyond the basics, I appreciated David’s points about building a relationship with people – so this will likely be beyond the website. Are you asking them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you have it set up that when they sign up they get a series of automatic emails over a period of time to educate them about your work? And then how might you start using video to tell your story. Everyone can do a video now on their smartphone. What if you were to spend 15 minutes at your next board meeting having each board member each record a 1-2 minute video about why they are involved and what excites them about the work you do. It doesn’t need to be perfect and doesn’t need to be super fancy. And if you do want to go the extra mile there are plenty of folks who can help you produce more professional looking videos for your site. Or at your next board or staff meeting take his other tip and spend 15 minutes brainstorming all the topics you could cover to create a content calendar quickly.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with David, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 23 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Elizabeth Engel discussed include:
Elizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, is Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting. For more than twenty years, Elizabeth has helped associations grow in membership, marketing, communications, public presence, and especially revenue, which is what Spark is all about. She speaks and writes frequently on a variety of topics in association management. When she's not helping associations grow, Elizabeth loves to dance, listen to live music, cook, and garden.
Important Guest Links:
Carol Hamilton: Welcome to Mission Impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
My guest today is Elizabeth Weaver Engel. Elizabeth is Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting where she helps associations grow. Elizabeth periodically writes white papers on topics of interest to association staff and board members. These white papers go in depth and provide interesting and actionable insights on the topics she explores. On this episode, Elizabeth and I delve into the topic of digital transformation, the focus of her upcoming white paper that she co-wrote with Maddie Grant. In our conversation we explore what digital transformation is and why it is important to associations. We also talk about some of the key differences between associations and for profit companies that most of the literature to date about digital transformation has focused on and the implications of those differences.
Welcome Elizabeth. It's great to have you on the podcast today.
Elizabeth Engel: Thank you so much, Caroline. We're very happy to be here. So
Carol: I'd like to start out with the question. What, what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you or what's your, why?
Elizabeth: You mean, like in the, in the largest sense of why, why do I work in associations? You're why am I in the nonprofit space? It goes back to when I was in graduate school. So initially I'd gone to graduate school at the University of Virginia. I was studying political theory. I was intending to be a professor of political theory. That's not really a job that exists anymore. Even back then that did that job didn't really exist anymore. Even 25 years. And so, when I, when I decided to bail out of the PhD program and do the terminal masters and I was graduating, and then I was like, okay, well now what and we were living in Charlottesville, which is lovely, but small lot of overeducated people running around there who don't want to leave. I was one of them And so I started looking for work in DC, the first interviews, God we're with for-profit companies. And I realized pretty quickly that I just could not bring myself to care about making the widget 5 cents cheaper than the other guy and selling it for 5 cents. More like I just. Did not care about that. And so I thought, okay, well, clearly non-profit industry is, is for me. And I started applying only for nonprofit jobs. Got my first job. I was applying both in sort of fundraising calls, oriented organizations and associations, got my first job working in an association, my first capital R capital J Real Job and never looked back.
Carol: It's so funny that you talked about being a professor and I sounds like you got a little further along that path than I did, but that was definitely my idea in college that I would be a history professor, but then I was working on my my final project not a dissertation, cause it was just a BA I don't know the big paper that I had to write at the end of my, at end of end of my degree. And I was doing some research in the library, in the big central library in Philadelphia. And reading these old magazines ‘cause I was doing a project on basically how women were being told how to be mothers advice to mothers at the turn of the century Germany. So I was reading women's magazines from the turn of the century Germany. I realized that I was, I had a mad dust allergy. So I was like, clearly my life's work needs to not be in archives. That's going to be a real problem. Yes. Yes. So, so being a professor, being a history professor was not, not going to be what I was going to be doing. So I had to figure it, figure out something else. And I did. My first job was with a for-profit company and it was When I helped out w w when, when, of course it was all clients, all comers, we were helping people get on talk shows and it was after that, there was like, no, if I'm going to be promoting things, if I'm going to be publicizing, if I'm going to be moving some cause forward, you know I want to have it be something that I believe in. So that's when I made the shift to the nonprofit sector. Yeah. Yeah. So one of the things that I really appreciate about your work is your generosity in creating free, very substantive, white papers on a variety of topics. And, and you've, I think maybe it's going back to that drive to research that originally would've been, would have been in that professor realm. ‘Cause you really go all over the place and, and, and dive into a lot of different topics. And I think actually, It's where we originally met because you did an interview with me as a per case study for one of your white papers.
Elizabeth: Yeah. When you were at NAFSA.
Carol: Yes. Yeah. So around design thinking, lean start up. Yeah. So, so how did you get started doing those?
Elizabeth: Oh, yeah. So that was yes, you are correct. This definitely relates to my interest in research and writing. And there's a range of length, I guess, Israeli types of writing, everything from tweets, obviously, of course, all the way up to books and the length that I always liked was the extended essay. Something that falls into that 25 to 40 page range where you can, you can really have an idea and develop it, but you haven't committed yourself to a 400 page book. And so when I was first launching star back in 2012 I was part consulting. One of the things that I was, I was thinking about is, okay, well I'm going to need to do stuff. To get my name out there. And, and I had already started doing some of that in the association world prior to launching the business. I had been really involved in training people for the certified association executive exam through ASAE. For like the period from right after I earned it myself 2004 through 2010, I was super involved with that and that got me started on the speaking track for ASAE and I, and I had had, and other associations and I, and I had had employers who were supportive of that. Even while I was, I was still an association executive working directly for associations myself and had been doing it association blog for a number of years at that point. And, and that was all great. Like I was enjoying all that planning to continue all of that and whatnot. But I was looking for something a little bit more substantive, I guess, or a little bit more something that has, has a longer shelf life, I guess that's, that's the best way to put it, right? Because if you're speaking at a conference, well, that's great for the people who go to the conference, but what about everybody else? Right. and, and blog posts tend to be somewhat ephemeral. So I was looking for something that would have a little bit more, more staying power to it. So it was a fall of 2012 and I got contacted by a state society to come and speak at their conference. And so we're talking about potential topics that I could cover. and did they want something that was sort of more, personal story inspirational or did they want them to be, it was a little bit more research-based and they, they said, all we know are, are. Opening keynote is going to be a little bit more of that personal story. So like, let's go with something a little bit more. Research-based we're bouncing some ideas around and I was like, well, look, what, what about this, this concept of information overload and, and content curation, and this is something that we're all dealing with. Both personally for ourselves and also as association professionals, trying to deal with our members and others audiences, you know? So what if I dive into that and look into that a little bit more and then, and then make the case for associations to begin focusing less on content creation and more on content duration. They're like, Oh yeah, that sounds, that sounds really interesting. So that ended up being the first white paper and I revisited that topic for the white paper that I turned out last year. Because so much had changed in the intervening eight years with regards to both the volume of information that we're dealing with, and also the association environment for doing content curation. But people are still interested in the topics. So I was like, Hm, I really need some updated information here and ended up revisiting that. But anyway so I, I went ahead and created that white paper for the event. And I, I will say I. Bombed at the safe society event. I have never bombed at a speaking gig like that before or since. But we did learn a very valuable lesson, which was that their audience really preferred, inspirational personal stories. But the thing that I took away from that other than, than, quizzing my, my potential. Speaking employers a little bit more closely about their audiences of what they really wanted was, Hey, this white paper thing is a pretty interesting idea. And I think this might be my thing, my thing that I'm going to create, that is that more lasting longer shelf life way of contributing to the body of knowledge and the association industry, which turned out to be the case.
Carol: Yeah. And now you have a, Oh, I'm going to have to wait a second. That changed something on one of the recordings and it started to give an echo. Yeah. So now you have quite the body of work yourself in terms of all of those white papers. And the one that you're currently working on is focusing on digital transformation. Could you say a little bit about what this is and why it's important to organizations.
Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely. So, as you mentioned, there's now a pretty significant library. This is number 13, which I think is lucky. Yeah. And so, the, the topic, and, and as you mentioned earlier, it's across a really wide variety of topics. Because I basically look for something that, a major trend or something like that, that I think is either impacting or is about to impact the association industry, where I. I think that we're either not really paying attention to it the way we need to, or, or like with the blockchain white paper, it's something that's really nascent. When I have an opportunity to educate people about this or it's something where the existing literature and advice that's out there. Is maybe missing something and that's very much what was going on with taking on digital transformation. Digital transformation is not a new topic. This is something that organizations have been working on for at least six or eight years, in, in most cases. And so of course that, that immediately begs the question. Well then why, why bother right about this? Right? This is one of those cases where. In my view, the existing literature and advice and case studies and all that stuff that are out there about digital transformation or are missing something fundamental about associations. And that's actually part of the reason why I wanted to work with Maddie grant for this particular white paper. So, as you know pretty much all of my white papers. I worked with a co-author, we look to feature other experts in interviews within the white papers. We do case studies of organizations that are doing work in that area, et cetera. But, I matched my coauthor to my topic. And so, the thing that. Associations have not that that no one's been paying attention to for associations or writing about for associations is the issue of culture change with regards to digital transformation. So there's, one of Maddy's favorite sayings is digital transformation is culture change plus vendor selection. And the technology of culture change is, or of, of digital transformation is very important, obviously. But we do tend to have a little bit of shiny object syndrome and get very focused on the tech pieces of this. And, and we don't think enough about the culture change that's required in order to actually be a digitally transformed organization. And that's where the problem is for associations. The majority of the work. That is ecstatic about digital transformation from a for-profit perspective. That's why they miss that associations are unique. Our cultures are unique, are our relationships with our I'm making air quotes here. So people in the podcast onesies, but our, our customers are very different. A member of an association is not the same as a member of Costco. And all of the digital transformation work that's out there is about how do you deal with a member of Costco, not how do you deal with a member of an association? And so Maddie and I saw a real opportunity to say, okay, look, there's, there's good stuff out there about, you know the tech piece of this. And we do summarize a little bit of that in the white paper. There's good stuff out there about the techniques of this. Let's talk about what makes association culture unique. And then some of the kinds of things that you need to think about as an association executive in dealing with culture change in order to do that digital transformation to truly become a transformed organization, to one of the One of the, the experts that we spoke with for the white paper is a guy named Martin mocker, who a lot of association folks are familiar with the work of Dr. Jeannie Ross because she's been a speaker at some association tech conferences. But they write about digital transformation and the distinction that they make. And, and this is where the transformation piece happens. Is between being digitized and being digital and being digitized is the piece where, you're, you're grabbing all those shiny objects and you're doing exactly what you've always done, just using technology. So it's better in some way. And it tends to start with an internal focus. Like we're going to fix our internal processes and start. doing more, less stuff, analog and more stuff, digital internally. And then it works its way out into customer facing stuff. I remember facing stuff. But if you, if you want to be able to make the leap from getting some cool tech, let's do some stuff in a digital way that we used to do in an analog way versus. Becoming a transformed organization. It's, it's that leap to going digital that you have to make. That's where the culture piece comes in.
Carol: Well, you packed a lot in there. So I wanted to dial back to a couple of different things you talked about. Well, one was interesting and I'd love for you to unpack a little bit more about what you see as those unique aspects of an association and what makes them different from for-profit organizations.
Elizabeth: Sure and for folks who've been in associations for a number of years, this is all going to sound familiar, but it starts at the top. Right? Our relationships to our boards of directors are very different, first of all, plenty of for-profits are privately owned even though even those that are publicly traded that have a board of directors, their boards are very different than our boards. It's a very different relationship. And the board of directors of an association is much more directly the boss of the CEO or ED and the staff than happens in a for-profit company. So, it begins right at the top. The other thing is our, our, again - air quotes for the podcast folks. Our customers are members. They own the organization. If you're a quote unquote “member of Costco,” you don't have an ownership stake in Costco. Right. if you're, if you're an Amazon prime member, you don't have an ownership stake at Amazon, right? You truly, they're calling it a membership and that's all very lovely and it implies relationship, but you're a customer. And, and this is not to say that associations don't have customers. We absolutely do. But the membership relationship is what makes associations unique. And so, all of them. All of those pieces of the role of the board, the board to the CEO, executive director, the board of the staff, the members, how they relate as owners of the organization, all of this gives them a very different stake in decisions that the organization makes. And it also complicates the culture change picture because you have people who are not staff, but have a much greater investment than somebody who's. Stopping by your store to buy a book or whatever is in the organization. And so, that all has to be taken into account. When you're talking about intentionally designing your culture and then intentionally creating culture change.
Carol: Yeah. A couple of things come to mind there. You mentioned that you had interviewed me as part of that case study when I was at NAFSA and that's an association that's. Serves the international educator field. But what was, what was really interesting about that group? And I worked for a number of different organizations, different associations, and I'd never seen this before NAFSA. I don't know if it's still true today, but at least that the generation of members that I was working with would call themselves NAFSAs. And absence, like they've made a country they've made an identity about being part of that organization. So that sense of identifying with the organization, being part of it, being, seeing it, as I'm a member, I am part of this community. It is integral to how I think about my work. And I have some ownership stake in it. Even though I don't know that a lot of folks necessarily. Thought about it exactly that way. But they also, but in many ways they acted that way. They acted that they had that relationship. So, yeah. So super interesting about how, it can just, it's not just sending a check to get a membership, to get a magazine, when it, when it's, when it, well, honestly, when it's done well, right. When, when there really is that sense of identity and not just being a consumer.
Elizabeth: The reason that people associate is because they're trying to accomplish something that they have found either extremely difficult or impossible to associate on their own. So they're gathering with other people with similar interests. Well the very nature of trying to do that means that this has gotta be a long-term commitment, maybe not the rest of your life, but certainly, longer than making a consumer type purchase. And exactly as you, as you just express that can over time. Maybe not for everybody, but certainly for some people it becomes a part of your identity.
Carol: Yeah. And I also, what you were talking about made me think about just really any tech related project where you're trying to bring in something new, have people maybe use a tool, a new tool that will help them do the, hopefully, Obviously the idea usually is to help people do their job easier, better make things better for members for, for constituents. And at the same time folks get very focused on the technology. You get very focused on what are the features that we want, are we picking the right. The right vendor, are we picking the right software to do this job for getting that really what's way more important is after that decision is made, how are you helping people actually learn how to use the thing and integrated into how they're doing their work and, and accepted, adopted. And so it's not just this, shiny object you bought it. And then it's like, okay, now it's gathering dust. Well,
Elizabeth: and, it's, it's funny that you would use that example because that is a further illustration of the difference between a consumer relationship and a membership relationship. Right. if you think about it again, just as a sort of a regular person, your own experience, whatever, whatever vendor you like, that you, that you go to online regularly, they make a bunch of changes to their website and you're like, ah, I gotta figure out how to do the thing again. Like whatever thing it is you go to them to do. Like, I gotta figure out the thing again. Okay. Whatever association, I know that if we make significant changes to our websites and our members don't know, I like them, they're just gonna kinda shrug and be like, Oh, well I just have to, I have to figure out how to find the thing that I normally do here and whatever, it'll be fine. You know? My favorite example for that is like every time my, the, the airline that I usually fly that has where I have on my frequent flyer stuff. Like they make changes. I'm like, ah, crap. Okay. I'll figure it out. It's fine. Right. I don't call them up and chew them out on the phone. If I don't like it. If you do something like that for your members. They absolutely feel like they own the organization and they will call you up or email you and tell you what they think. Right. Because it's not just, Oh, the powers that be on high have done this. And I, the poor consumer, have no power in this situation. That's not it at all. Right. I'm a member. I'm a part owner of this organization. I have a say.
Carol: Yeah. And one of the things you talked about was the difference between being digitized and digital. Can you, can you say a little bit more again about what, what you see as the difference between those two and why that's important?
Elizabeth: Sure. And for people who really want to dig into this, I would definitely recommend that they check out the book. So I am getting the title of it right now. It is designed for digital, how to architect your business for sustained success. So that's by Dr. Jeanne Ross Cynthia and Martin Mocker who's the guy that we interviewed for the white paper
Carol: We’ll put links, we'll put links to that and the paper.
Elizabeth: Yeah. So the, the, the difference is going, B becoming digitized has to do with I'm taking analog functions. And I am now doing the exact same analog functions I was doing before only now I'm using technology to do them. So a great example of this is where I first started my career in association management. It was the mid nineties and we were doing all of our membership join and renew. Everything was entirely analog. Paper form, mail it in with your check to the lock box, the bank, kind of, deal. And yeah, mid nineties, right. That's pretty typical. We worked at associations and were sort of just venturing onto the web. We did have a website. It was your typical mid nineties. Brochureware so our, I arrive on the scene and I'm like, Hmm, I'll bet. Our members would like to be able to join and renew online. Well, let me, let me set up a test of this speaking of lean startup methodology, right. I just threw up a form that dumped all the information to an email. Yes. As a matter of fact, I was dumping unencrypted credit card numbers across the internet into an email that we then had to. Process, like we would print them out to the mall, to the lockbox for processing on the back end. So it was still a little analog there. But from the front end, from the, from the member's perspective, it looks quick digital. And so, that was, that was my, my test to say, Hey, like, nobody has this as a built-in feature of their association management system yet let's find out if it's worth building it. And in fact, it was like our, our members were very much people who wanted to be able to do this online. Then we had data. We were like, yes, we will pay to go ahead and build this because it's going to be worthwhile. But my point is that it’s becoming digitized. Right? We were, we had this analog membership program. We, now you can join and renew online, but it was, it's still the exact same membership. Like we weren't changing anything about the membership. We were just saying, Oh, well, instead of. Mailing in your form with your check to the lockbox, which by the way, you can still do if you want to do this online with your credit card and be fancy and fast, we can, we can do that. Right. That's becoming digitized, becoming digital, has to do with a mind shift. it’s actually the construction specifications Institute story from the, from the the white paper, their, their crosswalk platform illustrates this pretty well. It's about shifting your mindset to say no. What we are going to do is we are going to think differently about our members and our other audiences about how we interact with them, about how they want to interact with each other, being aware of what the technology enables at this point to create entirely new ways. Entirely new programs, products, and services, entirely new ways of building networks and relationships, entirely new ways of creating knowledge, entirely new ways of organizing ourselves, entirely new ways of creating group action that are digital from the start. That to me, that's the transformation bit because it, because you have to change your mind about all this stuff. It’s changing business processes as well, and it's changing product development and all that, but, and this gets back to culture, change, change. It's a complete shift in the way you think about things and view the world.
Carol: Yeah. And what I appreciated about that story. And, and if I can, let's see if I get it right. In terms of my summary, they saw a problem that all their members were having. The problem wasn't necessarily an in, in their work. So out, out in their world, not necessarily about how the association works, but how their members were doing work in the world with a whole bunch of other folks who weren't necessarily members of that association, but lots of different other types of professionals that their members had to work with and how they all had their own way of I guess one Version that everyone could relate to would be the multiple times. You have to fill out your medical history at every doctor that you go to. Right? So all of these different people were, were, were managing information, managing inventory in different ways and had different systems, different technology. So they didn't build something to take over all of those things, but they built a bridge. Building those, what are they called? APIs. Yep.
Elizabeth: Advanced Programming interfaces.
Carol: Yep. Right? So that translation to go back and forth between those different systems, which really transformed how people were doing their work in the field.
Elizabeth: Yeah. And, and honestly, I mean, this is something anybody who's ever done, any home renovation project could totally relate to this. Right. like, so construction specifications Institute, this is guidelines the, the things, the regulations that keep large-scale construction processes. And ensure that you have a good result on the end bridge that doesn't fall down a size skyscraper that doesn't collapse, et cetera. Right. And so anybody who, anybody who's ever done a home renovation project knows how this goes, right? You've got your general contractor that you've got a zillion subcontractors, they're all doing different pieces of the project. And they all have their own systems and their own processes and their own ways of doing things and, and all that. And, unless you are a crazy person and decide to act as your own general contractor, that's what your general contractor is doing is managing all of that for you, right? They're not telling the carpenter or the tile guy or the electrician or the plumber or whatever, how to do their job, or what processes they should use. They manage it for you. Well, CSI construction specifications Institute saw the opportunity to do it. Similar thing for large scale construction projects, where there's everybody from architects and engineers to, all, all of the other types of things that you would think about that would be involved in building something like a skyscraper or a tunnel or a bridge or whatever. And they saw an opportunity to create that shared platform for them to be passing information back and forth so that everybody can still use. The systems that make them happy and the programs that they like to use and can still manage the information internally the way they like to. But all of a sudden, we're all sharing it across this, this bridge platform where it cuts down on waste to time, it reduces risk. It cuts down on errors, and, and this has been it's, it's a completely different way of thinking because. Carol as you just articulated, most of those other players are not and will never be CSI members. But this is an opportunity to create something that serves the entire industry vertical soup to nuts.
Carol: What'd you say are some of the either misconceptions or mistakes that associations make when they. think, okay, well we need to, maybe we've started on some digitizing, but we really want to shift more to this larger transformation moving towards the digital process. Yeah.
Elizabeth: The most obvious one is the shiny object syndrome. Right. Like we noticed something going on and so we grab a piece of technology and slap it on there and we're like, we're, we're done. Yay. Go us. Yeah, that's, that's not gonna transform your organization. That's the thing to get you in the trouble that you mentioned earlier. Oh, and we had this great idea and if no one's using it we've, we've slapped some technology technological bandaid on a problem that we noticed and, and so I think that's one of the main challenges that we face is, you've got to think about this in a much more strategic way. One of the things that Maddie and I stress in the white paper is that you don't want to have a strategy for digital or a strategy for mobile or a strategy for social or a strategy for AI or whatever, right? Like you, you have your larger organizational strategy and you're looking for how to do things like mobile and social and web and AI and internet of things and data analytics and all that. Like how do they fit into and contribute to your larger organizational strategy. And so as I always try to do with, with the white papers, the final section of this is very much the, okay. All of this information that you've shared with me was lovely and interesting. And I see what you're thinking here, but like, what do I actually do? And so, and we, we lay it right out in a very clear series of steps. You have to start with assessing where you are, if you don't, if you, if you don't know where you are and where you're trying to go, any path is the right path and the wrong path. And you're going to end up in places that you had no necessary intent of ending up. So you've got it. You've got to know where you are right now, before you can figure out where you're going to go. And some associations when they do that, they're going to discover, what. We've got work to do on digitization. First, one of our other stories, the independent community bankers association was very much what my friend, her boss, who works there discovered when he, when he was hired, like we have to, we have to digitize first. Like there's some internal stuff going on here that we're going to have to fix before we can look to trains. Right. But because he assessed, he knew that. Then you got to move on to things like getting support resources. You need to look for strategic areas where all those digital technologies, social, mobile, mobile, mobile data analytics, all the stuff that I just mentioned could contribute, could help, could help fix things. You're going to have to take a look at what's going on with your legacy processes, because you may find yourself in that. Digitization work to do first before we can go digital. Right. But you need to, you need to take a look at that. Then you're going to have to, in addition to getting some sort of leadership support and financial resources, you're also going to have to assemble your team like Avengers unite, right? Like you've got to have Avengers assemble, right? Like you've got to, you got to get your Avengers together. And this is one of the Association cultural things. It's not just going to be staff. You're also going to need to be recruiting volunteers and rank and file members on to your team. Because that's one of the things that's different about our culture. Then you've got to get into that experimental framework and consider how this is all going to affect your culture and engage in that process of intentional culture change in order to get you to the ends that you, that you envisioned when you did that sort of strategic look and how can these technologies contribute to the organizational strategic goals we're already trying to achieve.
Carol: And one of the things that I think people have been advocating for for a long time in the association space, and then the nonprofit space more generally is really, making having staff and boards volunteers make more data driven, driven decisions rather than, Well, the last member who happened to call you and, and, and, and bend your ear relying on those anecdotes and what are, what are some of the key barriers that you see to really effectively using the data that or organizations actually already have?
Elizabeth: Oh man. How much time do you have, especially the TA. This specifically is the topic of one of my earlier white papers on evidence-based decision-making that I wrote with Peter household from Mariner management. Yeah, this is a challenge, right? Speaking of legacy systems this for associations is, is one of the big ones. And we actually talk about this quite a bit in the white paper, because, Consumer businesses would kill to get the data that we have on our members, because we have obviously, again, not with everybody, but for a significant portion of your membership, you have a very long-term relationship with those people where they've been. Doing all sorts of different stuff with you for years. And they've, and, and this is, this is actually born out in some of the, the other studies that we referenced, the white paper that have been done by community brands. But the other thing is our members are more willing to share their data with us. Austin. They are with most consumer brands because they trust us. And they are particularly willing to share their data with us if we're transparent about how we intend to use it. And it's clear that the reason that we're asking for this is in order to provide them with better service, better programs and products, et cetera. so we've, we've got a treasure trove of data. The problem is, one of the, the technology pieces of, of digital transformation. Is data analytics. And as an industry, we've been lagging on that. Some of that is because we have a lot of legacy systems that were built in, in exclusion of each other. And so they don't talk to each other particularly well. And if you can look at the history of association management, Systems and, for, for a while, there was this trend of, we're going to do everything in the AMS and we're going to build everything that is part of the AMS. Anything you could possibly think of, you might want to do with your members is going to be a module. Right. And we pretty quickly all realized that was a terrible idea. So, people went back to more of a, okay, so, we need to. Run conference registration. So we're gonna, we're going to get a best of breed conference registration system, and we need to run professional development. So we're going to get a best of breed learning management system, and we need to manage the content on our website. So we're going to get a best of breed, every content management system there, and, and realizing that it's, it's better to do it that way than to try to have this one mammoth piece of software that handles everything. But the problem is, those things don't always communicate with each other particularly well. So, back to it, we've got this wonderful treasure trove of data, but none of it's talking to each other and we have, have lacked the capacity to figure out how to make that happen. Now we're seeing even, even when Peter and I wrote the evidence-based decision-making white paper a couple of years ago, we're seeing more of a movement towards. Speaking of a crosswalk type platform, something that's, that's on top of all of those things and they don't have to talk to each other, they all just have to talk to this shared platform, and we're seeing that with everything from, actual business analytics tools to data visualization tools and, and so my, My encouragement to associations would be to keep going on that route, to keep, keep looking at those business information and business analytics tools, get educated about them, just dive in and pick one and find somebody on it. Staff, who's interested in learning about it, and just like, just start going and see what you can do and what you can learn and what insights you can gather. So that's that piece of it. The other piece of it is the questions, right? Because it's all just a big pile of data. If you don't know what it is that you're trying to find out. And so in the midst of finding yourself good data, visualization to want a good business information tool and finding somebody on your staff. Who's interested in learning how to use them and, getting them some training and setting them loose and all that. But like all that stuff is good. Right. You also want to think about what are the questions that we are trying to answer about our members and other audiences and what data do we need. In order to answer those questions. And so one of the things that Peter and I very much argue for in the data-driven decision-making white paper is spend more time on the front end asking better questions, because then back to that whole thing of our members being willing to give us data. If we know why. We want it. You'll have a better question that you're asking. So you'll be asking for more targeted data with a clear, this is why we need it, which means people will be more willing to give it to you. Which means you'll be able to have a better answer to the question because you'll be operating from a fuller picture of what's going on.
Carol: Well, and that all goes back to, strategy from the beginning of thinking about, where, where, where are you right now doing that assessment. And, and maybe you need to go back and do your homework and, and, and do more digitizing, maybe work on your data, silos, those kinds of things. Before you can really shift into transformation. But, really having that assessment of where you are and then working together to figure out what's the vision for where we want to end up.
So I'd like to shift gears a little bit at this point. And I always like to ask, I have a box of random ice - they're not random because they wrote them all, but I randomly picked them out of the box of icebreaker questions and always like to end the podcast with one of those. So, I was about to ask you, if you could write a book, what would it be about? But you told me you didn't want to write a book. So I won't ask you that one. So who in your life inspires you to be better?
Elizabeth: Ooh, that's a good one. So many people and now I'm going to have to pick one. This is good. This is going to be trite, but that's okay. It's, it's probably my spouse. So He, he historically has believed in me way more than I believed in myself. The perfect, the perfect story of that being, when I, when I was first thinking about starting the business, I, at the time I wasn't thinking about starting spark consulting, I was thinking about it was time to move on to a different association job. Yeah. It's not there. Yeah. I got my resume to go on talking to people and meeting with recruiters and submitting resumes and whatnot. And, as I'm starting to tell people in my network, Hey I think it's time for me to move on. The almost immediate response from everyone was, so you're gonna start your own consulting business. Right. And I was like, Oh no, I was going to go work at another association. And so finally I was meeting a friend of mine who is a recruiter for lunch. And I said, Hey, We're going to move on and she's like, okay, so you're gonna start your own consulting business. Right. And I'm like, you're like the 10th person who's asked me that. Could you please tell me what I'm seeing or what you're seeing about this whole situation that I am missing. And she did, she did. She laid out some really great advice for me and everything. And I was like, Hmm. Okay. I really thought about this a little more seriously when I came home that night. And we had friends over for dinner and, we had a nice dinner and we're cleaning up whatever, and it's like time to go to bed, you know? So as we're getting to bed, I say to him, I'm like yeah, I had lunch with my friends this afternoon. And I'm thinking that maybe I want to start my own business and he looks at me and he's like, I think you'd be great at that. You should totally do that. And it turns off the light and I'm like, this man believes in me. Right. If he, if he believes in me to this level, I need to believe in myself to this level. And that, that level of confidence in me and confidence that I'm going to make the right decision and do the right thing, inspires me to make sure that I do
Carol: Awesome. Well, what's, what's coming up for you next. What are you excited about in your work?
Elizabeth: Getting this white paper launched. So yes, for the, for the, the listeners of the pod it is going to be coming out right around June 1st. So we're, we're very excited about that. And then Carol, as you mentioned, it's freely available you don't even end up on a mailing list. I mean, you can just have it, like, I don't, I don't collect your data or anything like that. You can, you can just have it. So definitely getting, getting that launched and also watching the association industry begin sort of poking our heads out post pandemic. This is no great secret, but for a lot of small consultants 2020 was a pretty rough year because associations very much went into hunker down and try not to panic mode. So for a lot of us. 2020 was a little challenging. Totally understandable. Right, when an association doesn't know what's going to be happening and they may even be having lay off staff, they're not looking to be hiring outside help. But I'm, I'm watching again, more associations start poking their heads out, Looker, looking around and start thinking about, okay, we're, we're moving into whatever the post pandemic is going to look like. And now thinking about some of this stuff that we just, for a year, like, We just we're in survival mode here, man. We can't think about any of these things. So yeah, I'm just, I'm looking forward to, to all of that. And seeing where we go as an industry because and this is, this is something we talk about in one of the other case studies in the white paper associations had to make a lot of changes, really fast. And that we, some of them were good choices and good changes, and some of them were less so, right. Like we did not have the luxury of sitting around and assessing everything and, like we had to move right now. And so I'm also really interested to see. See kind of, what's going to stick and what's not going to stick. I'm very curious about that. Yeah, so I'm, I'm eager to see how that all plays out too.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's going to be, I think that's what a lot of people are thinking about right now. And I'm asking the question of kind of, well, we, we, we suddenly, well, one, we suddenly enacted changes that perhaps a few people had been talking about for years and we'd been ignoring them and then overnight we had to do them But then, what do we want to keep? What helps us in terms of maybe being more efficient including more people. But then where is it really important? basically like working remotely or, and doing virtual events. No, where is it really important for people to be in the room together? And, my one wish if, if, if this can happen, it will be just amazing that people start being much more intentional about why are we getting all these people on a train, plane, automobile to come together and be together? And then the answer should not be to sit and listen to a lecture that they could have watched at home since that's what we've done for the past year. That could be the change that comes out of this for organizing patients and their, their convenience and meanings. I would be very excited.
Elizabeth: Yep. Three things related to that. Right? Number one, the whole thing of, anytime you're having a meeting, look around the table, think about how much each of those people is paid per hour and how long you got from there. And that is the actual cost of that meeting. Right. And we don't think about that enough, this flight-shaming becoming a thing. Right. We have to think about the climate impact of our travel, nowadays, I mean, that's, that's very much, much a thing. And there's the issue of being able to include more voices.
Carol: Yeah. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great to have you on, and we'll definitely put links into the book that you mentioned, and to the white paper when it comes out and more generally to the rest of them so that people can have access to all that wonderful, all those wonderful resources that you've been producing over the years. But thank you so much for coming
Elizabeth: on. Yeah. Thank you for having me and, and, I made these for you also. Please take them.
Elizabeth: Thanks Carol.
Carol: Thank you.
I appreciate Elizabeth’s focus on organizational culture change if an organization is going to truly transform digitally. It is not just about shifting internal processes from analog to digital – it is really thinking differently about how you are using technology to support your mission – and that could have much broader implications than just improving internal processes. Any one who has worked on a technology project knows how easy it is to get caught up in worrying about making the right decision about what system to choose to achieve your goals – whether it is what fundraising software, what customer management system or what team collaboration tool you are going to use – and then what vendor will be the right one to properly service the system. But even if you make the ‘perfect’ decision if you do not bring folks along with you and consider the changes from their perspective, you may find that they do not see the change as the wonderful innovation or improvement that you do. Have you given thought and time to think about how a group will adapt to the new system? What it will mean in terms of their day to day? Can you find a few champions who will lead the way and demonstrate its value to those who are reluctant to jump in? The objects are a lot less shiny when folks won’t use them and they do not end up solving the problem you thought they would – not because the tech can’t do it -but because it is too much hassle for your teammates to take the time to learn the tech and it not an urgent need for them. This past year demonstrated just how quickly people can learn new technology such as Zoom when it is a burning need. So it is not really about whether people can – it is really rather – is it important for them to do so? If not – how can you help them see the importance?
Thank you for listening to this episode. It’s an honor for you to spend this time with me. You can find the links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Nora Strauss-Riggs for their support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, it would be great if you would share it with a colleague or friend or on social media – please tag us if you do! We really appreciate you helping us get the word out.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.