How One Nonprofit Does More of What Works and Less of What Doesn't

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“Not it!” The refrain echoed playfully through the room in response to Louise’s question, “Who wants to kick us off and lead the meeting this week?” After a few chuckles, Katie offered to lead the discussion and Bre agreed to record any new updates that would be discussed. Louise is the director of external relations at Hedgebrook, a literary nonprofit we work with, and Katie and Bre are external relations managers who report to her. Me, I try to participate in meetings like this as often as possible as an active contributor to strategic development, and an occasional project owner or collaborator on special projects.

Hedgebrook was the first nonprofit to adopt an organizational productivity system based on The SLOWER Framework™. Using this framework, organizations are going slower to grow faster, using familiar tools to break bad habits and adopt a more thoughtful and systematic approach to their work.

The meeting at Hedgebrook is a weekly progress and strategy meeting that the team conducts according to the Framework, and its unique format is one of the ways the team has transitioned from one in a recurring state of chaos and catch-up, to one that now functions in a thoughtful, calm, and confident manner.

I participate in a number of these meetings with Hedgebrook and other clients, and get really excited anytime I witness “aha” moments or examples of teams achieving their goals as a result of their use of The SLOWER Framework. Today was just one of those days.

What’s so Special About this Meeting?

Hedgebrook’s meetings are usually pretty enjoyable, but the the thing I loved most about this one was when Katie reported that one of the earned income projects the team was promoting had far exceeded its registration goals–well in advance of the deadline. As the conversation continued, I briefly reflected on how we got there.

This type of success hasn’t always been the case for this program. It has a fairly high four-figure ticket price and an aggressive registration goal. The way they’ve gotten so much closer to their goals, however, is by optimizing their strategy for how they promote the program.

Put another way, they’re doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. In fact they’ve gotten so good at it that they can now:

  • Accurately set and reach targets for this and other campaigns (including fundraising)
  • Easily isolate and correct possible reasons why a given promotion isn’t going well
  • Apply what they learn from successful campaigns to others

As I drifted back into the conversation, I heard Louise ask, “Now that we’ve reached our goal, what remaining tactics can we consider cutting from this promotion to create more time for something else?”

This was a bit of an “aha” moment for the team. By optimizing their strategy for this recurring promotion, they have become more effective at reaching their goals. As a result, they can now spend less time promoting this program and shift their focus to other projects, like their annual fundraising event.

Optimization like this is possible for all organizations. All that’s needed is a little patience and discipline.

Doing More of What Works and Less of What Doesn’t

Doing more of what works and less of what doesn't is relatively simple. The tricky part is knowing what works and what doesn't.

In order to realize benefits like Hedgebrook has seen, begin by documenting your strategy for each new project, campaign, program, etc. Be sure to record the purpose and specific goals you wish to achieve, and specifically how the various tactics within your strategy will ensure success.

Next, commit to monitoring how well each tactic works relative to what you forecasted. The more specific you can be in setting targets for tactics, the easier it will be to measure and know whether they are working.

This is where the discipline and patience come in. That’s because it takes time and multiple cycles of planning, measuring, and evaluating before you will have collected enough data to make confident decisions. It’s tempting to try to start making decisions after only one or two instances, and you certainly can–but the more time you give it, the more confident you’ll be that you’re acting on good information, not gut feelings.

Over time it will become more obvious which tactics are working better or worse than others. All that’s left then is to change your approach going forward, and continue to monitor and adjust your tactics.

Great Job Everyone! Now, Back to Work!

As the meeting came to a close, the team agreed to cut the promotion short and record the results for reference in future campaigns. I gathered my things and was preparing to leave, when Louise made a sound that’s become all too familiar to me: a sigh of relief because she knew everything was under control.