Monday, January 27, 2014

How do you plan for the seasonality of nonprofit donations?--from a discussion topic in another Linked-in discussion group

Steven Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

In marketing parlance current and potential markets are sometimes classified in three ways: "dogs"--those markets that are shrinking no matter how much you invest in them; "cash cows"--those markets that will produce reliable returns no matter what, but which are unlikely to grow much more than where they are now; and "stars"--those markets that are growing and merit more investment or you risk missing the boat.

If the holiday season produces pretty much the same return for your organization year after year no matter the level of marketing investment--then it is a "cash cow"--meaning you can probably afford to ease off on your level of effort to invest in developing new lines of revenue elsewhere in order to diversify the timing and source of your revenue streams, which is always a prudent thing to do.

Nothing remains the same forever--so questions like the ones you are asking are healthy and should be explored, even though "cash cows" can sometimes be confused for "sacred cows!"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lowest level of Americans employed since 1978. "Employment" is being re-defined. Isn't it time for economists to catch up?

Steven Worth
President, Plexus Consulting

"Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 6.7% in December, but the drop came mainly from workers leaving the labor force.

"Only 62.8% of the adult population is participating in the labor market -- meaning they either have a job or are looking for one. That matches the lowest level since 1978.

"In the job market's 2007 heyday, unemployment was under 5%, but in the two years that followed, the recession wiped out 8.7 million jobs. To this day, not all those jobs have returned." (from the BBC News)

In all this economic turmoil I am sure there is ample opportunity for people and organizations that can connect the dots and harness creative impulses to find new ways to address chronic problems.

I rather doubt this change is going to come from our established educational institutions or any classic employer-employee relationships as we have known them for the simple reason that thinking outside the box is hard—like the old saw that generals are always preparing for the last war—the older, wealthier, and more established the institution, the harder it is to change.  I think this is what we may be seeing in these numbers--organizations breaking apart (creative destruction) and people coming together again, formally and informally, according to need and interest.

Technology plays an important role of course--like the fast growing “Linked-in” forum we are increasingly using as a firm. But it seems to me there is a role in all of this for insightful, vision-driven nonprofit organizations that are ideally suited in their fluidity to bring together like-minded brains and talent f
or needs and opportunities wherever they may be found.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The multi-dimensions of fact-finding

Steven Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

When you have a room full of "type-A" personalities ready to make strategic decisions we have found nothing focuses attention and provides direction like the facts. Lacking independently-generated facts a group of decision makers will tend to be dominated by the strongest personality in the room or whomever claims to have possession of the "facts." A fact-free environment invites chaos and almost always results in poor decision-making.

But finding the facts is not easy. Our most thorough fact-finding follows a five step formula:

Step One--review existing research and seek out trends knowing that individual snapshots in time can sometimes be misleading. Use this secondary research to create the basis of a quantitative survey.

Step Two--When large databases of stakeholders exist they offer an ideal opportunity to develop "statistically valid" information--a quantitative sampling that can provide a picture of what larger population segments think within a relatively small margin of error.

Step Three--Usually quantitative survey results uncover interesting findings that lead to other questions along the lines of "why are we seeing this?--what is motivating people to say this?" Such questions can only be explored usefully in one-on-one conversations with people who are widely regarded as well-informed. These "opinion leader" interviews are usually done by phone and are designed to flesh out our understanding of the statistically valid findings from our survey even though the interviews themselves are not usually representative enough to be statistically valid.

Step Four--By now we should have a fairly good understanding of the key opportunities and challenges that we face, and we may even have a glimmer of various ways forward. We also know perhaps that different stakeholder groups may have different responses to all of this; and this is where we use focus groups to flesh out what those differences might be. The idea of a focus group is to put similar stakeholders together so that they can react as a group. It is in such groups that we see if men and women, older and younger professionals, Europeans and Americans, see the facts in different ways and would react differently according to their interests and perspectives. This step allows us to be able to predict what ideas and approaches will work and what will not among different stakeholder groups; and sometimes these groups unveil entirely new ideas and approaches to consider. (The thing I always find fascinating is how individuals may say one thing when interviewed separately but who might voice an entirely different opinion when in a group of peers. Peer pressure can produce sometime strange results!)

Step Five--By the time we have reached this step, we will have a fairly good idea of the various directions the organization is likely to want to consider, so we use this step to examine benchmarks or best practices of other organizations that have undertaken similar programs or projects to see if there are relevant lessons to be learned.

Not all clients have the budget to undertake all five steps, but those that do find themselves with a treasure trove of data that can be turned into intelligence for multiple uses. They also inevitably find strategic decision making a much more pleasant and productive experience than those groups that try to wing-it!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Leadership Quotations

By Virgil Carter

All of us compile lists of leadership quotations.  They can be illuminating, inspirational, and often are funny, helping us understand that leadership is also about humor and enjoyment of the human condition.

Here’s some of my favorites:
  • To lose patience is to lose the battle (Ghandi)
  • Even if you fall on your face you are moving forward (Victor Kiam)
  • Until the pain of not changing is greater than the pain of change, no change will occur
  • When I feel the heat, I see the light (Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen)
  • Progress always involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your feet on first (Frederick Wilcox)

And since I brought up baseball, here’s several from the great philosopher Yogi Berra:
  • It ain’t over till it’s over
  • You can observe a lot by watching
  • The future ain’t what it used to be
  • Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical

Concluding with:
  • We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm (George Orwell)
  • The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits
  • Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect (Mark Twain)
  • The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away (Linus Pauling)

I invite you to submit your own favorites!