“If You’re Going to Test, Don’t Test Whispers!”
What a compelling quote from Roger Craver of The Agitator at the DMANF Conference on February 26th. Roger was joined by four other Max Hart Achievement Award Winners on the panel: Sherry Minton of American Heart Association, Geoff Peters of Moore DM Group, Lynn Edmonds of RobbinsKersten Direct, and Larry May of Infogroup Nonprofit Solutions.
The panelists were invited to share insights and recommendations from their illustrious careers in direct marketing and fundraising. If you know even a little about any one of these panelists, you can imagine the bold banter and stories that flowed, spanning at least 30 years in the business for each of them. There were many themes brought to the panel for discussion by Larry May, who did his best to moderate and bridle the discussions. I specifically selected the word “bridle” because this group of experienced industry veterans all have strong opinions, beliefs and convictions about what emerging leaders and industry colleagues can do differently to ensure the industry continues to thrive and maintain its edge.
Be bold! Take risks!
One of the most memorable themes was a call to action by the panel imploring the audience to stop doing the same things over and over again. We were asked to be bold, downright disruptive of conventional wisdom. The panel was more specific in their message by explaining how so many organizations within our industry, especially nonprofits, are shying away from taking risks and challenging the senior leaders in their organizations, even Board members, to “stop playing it so safe.”
Roger’s quote referenced above was part of a discussion on how too many organizations waste countless hours and dollars by testing such small and incremental techniques or changes to their programs year after year. It is apparent that our industry has adopted a behavior of testing and testing and testing, in some cases just to test and create activity versus real action and risks.
According to the panel, testing can and should be done in a bolder manner. More accurate data is trackable now regarding donor behavior, attribution, giving history, patters, etc. Not only is reliance on data improved within the industry, but the knowledge and ability to understand what the data is telling you has been improved upon, allowing for informed and calculated decisions. The panel counseled the audience to take a very active role in understanding what this data means for your organization, and how to understand the results and the outcomes. Achieving this clarity means your team will not be solely reliant on your consultants alone.
Challenge the Norms by Investing in Results
Sherry Minton described a scenario that occurred a little over three years ago. Her organization took a bold step to move funds from their annual operating reserves to an investment in the direct mail program, primarily in the acquisition of new donors. In order to do this, the policy of the organization had to be changed after some 20 years and, to add further risk, the decision was made when the economy had taken a turn for the worse six months prior.
The outcome has made a tremendous impact on the American Heart Associations’ program, annual donor base and revenue. This decision took courage, teamwork, dialogue and a belief that taking a risk and failing was far better than do nothing and staying status quo. Roger echoed the strategy of reinvesting funds, pointing out that nonprofit organizations would see a better return by moving money from their corporate investments or money market accounts to their direct marketing program, as the return of investment would be much greater over a 10 year period than a 2% annual interest rate.
Lifelong Learning and Mentoring: Pay it Forward
This transitioned into a final theme and discussion on learning and constantly investing in your personal knowledge and the teaching of others. The panel made it very clear that mentors and key influencers in their careers taught them to push for what they believe in and to have passion for the work that they do. And, in the spirit of continuous philanthropy and giving back, it is very apparent that this panel has made a career of continuously learning and, most importantly, teaching and mentoring of others. This group of industry leaders are among the most well-known when it comes to staying true to who they are and what they believe, paying forward the wisdom and professional development their mentors provided them.
The key takeaways were a reminder and reinforcement of a wonderful TED Talk addressing success as a continuous journey and continuous loop of principles: Passion, Work, Focus, Push, Ideas, Improve, Serve, Persist. This group of respected leaders clearly embrace these principles in every way, using them to achieve optimal results and impact for the organizations and missions they serve and have led. It reminds us all that success in life and work is not easy, often hard; however nothing great comes without great effort and a lifelong journey of personal investment.