Next In Nonprofits Podcast: Nonprofit Strategic Planning

Sarah was on Next in Nonprofits with host Steve Boland where she talked all about the evolution of strategic planning for nonprofit organizations in the Internet age. You can listen to the talk below!



Steve Boland: 00:11 Welcome to Next in Nonprofits. I’m Steve Bolan and I am very pleased to be joined today by Sarah Olivieri, the founder and creator of the Impact Method at PivotGround. Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time.

Sarah Olivieri: 00:22 Thank you Stephen, it is a pleasure to be here.

Steve Boland: 00:24 I’m really excited to be able to talk to you more specifically about what I described in our earlier conversation as kind of an eat your vegetables moment for the nonprofit sector around strategy. But before we dive into some of those conversations, can you just introduce your work, the Impact Method, what is PivotGround? What do you do?

Sarah Olivieri: 00:42 Sure. So I come from a nonprofit administration background, shifted into the marketing world and then merge the two by starting to do marketing specifically for service based nonprofits. And through that work we really found good marketing wasn’t really helping nonprofits who didn’t really have great organizational structures in place. So that is how the Impact Method was born. And the Impact Method is really a new way of thinking about having a strategy and executing on a strategy in the digital age. So it uses digital tools on the one hand and it thinks about communication and the role of marketing in a way that many nonprofits aren’t really used to but really is beneficial. But otherwise it’s in many ways it is a replacement for traditional strategic planning as well as something new. What’s new for many nonprofits is having a structured way of consistently executing and making progress.

Steve Boland: 01:49 Well, and that’s a big topic. Let’s back up a moment on what maybe people thought of as the traditional strategic planning methodology or ideas or whatever that. Somewhere out there, but it’s probably because I’m a potential funder asked you, you know, what, what’s your strategic plan look like that you look back and go, oh, you mean other than just doing everything the same day that we’re doing the same day and trying to think about tomorrow, tomorrow. Because that’s where a lot of service oriented nonprofits kind of go. I think it’s been a more responsive, like, right, we’re supposed to have one of those and therefore we will create one. But not really an organizational driver in many nonprofit organizations that I’ve worked with, it’s something that they create because they feel like there’s an external need for it and often in the process I think get some insight and feel really good about it and go, this is going to be really helpful and I’m going to really start implementing some of these ideas as soon as I finish this other thing that’s on my desk and then I’m coming right back to this. And then three years go by. So as people talk with you about the idea of what drives an organization forward, how do you help them kind of start breaking through that log jam of everything in front of me today that I know how to do that I really want to do feels so extremely urgent versus taking some time to look at that bigger picture, that longer term. And that’s a challenge everywhere I think.

Sarah Olivieri: 03:11 Yeah, I think so. You know, I often say that most nonprofits don’t really struggle with vision. Unfortunately there are a lot of consultants out there who are helping nonprofits with vision. These are visionary people, heart driven people who are running nonprofits, they have a change they want to make in the world, but what they struggle with is they have this pile on their desk, they’re wearing many hats, they’re feeling overwhelmed. And it’s about what do I do next? Which of the fifty things that I feel like I have to do now do I focus on, because you can really only focus on one thing at a time and I’ll get more into, you know, strategic planning versus strategy in a couple of minutes. But where the Impact Method comes from and where a lot of my thinking comes from is starting with that person, that executive director, that leadership team with that pile of fifty things and knowing what they need to do next. But on the other side, and I think where there’s such a big disconnect, is the history of strategic planning really comes from (and there are many ways that people do strategic planning, so I wouldn’t just say there’s one traditional) but when I think about traditional strategic planning, it comes from the time really before the Internet, when data was relatively hard to collect and and you kind of would look at the past, it was hard to collect data and then you’d make predictions. You’d say, okay, what’s the trend from the past? And then you could predict to, you know, three years, five years out, three to five year strategic planning cycle. But with the Internet, the world doesn’t work like that anymore. Data is really easy to get. The hard part is knowing which data you want and the world changes faster because we can communicate faster. The Internet has enabled us to communicate not just one too many people at scale. We can communicate back and forth one to one at a scale we have never been able to do before. And that changed really that part of the Internet where we scaled our one to. One communication happened after, you know around I think it was, I’m going to get my years right, 2006 or so. And it’s when Google Chrome really started coming out and there was like a lot more interaction on the Internet, so we started getting all this data of what people were doing on the Internet and then we start to get the Internet of things which are objects that are sending data in. So now we have tons of data and what people do trends, change much faster so it doesn’t, you can’t look at a trend from the last two years and say that this is going to be the trend for the next two years. It doesn’t work anymore. So, but it didn’t used to be that way. And so the kind of traditional strategic planning is built around we’re gonna gather data first, and that’s going to be a lot of work. And then we’re going to look at those trends and then we’re going to put together a plan that will work for three to five years and we’ll execute it. So that is what I would call the traditional model. But it doesn’t make, it’s hard to do if you don’t have the resources to collect data or it was hard to do. So I think that’s why a lot of people didn’t do it, but now that that model just doesn’t work and that model, never solved the key issue of how do we turn the big goals of our strategy into our action plan today. How does that help the pile of fifty things on my list and that old traditional method never helped solve that problem. I think that’s another reason why so many nonprofits just didn’t do it.

Steve Boland: 06:49 I think that there’s a challenge in there too about maybe not wanting to know the answer to that question. So as you talk about gathering all of this data and what not, there’s an awful lot of people that I’ve worked with in the past that have said, we know how to do this. We know how to fix our problem. We just need the resources to go do it. So, you know, I, I don’t want to spend time looking at alternative ideas or having somebody rain on my parade. You know, we’re kind of the experts. And I think in some cases that’s just an incorrect assumption that, you know, we’ve done things this way for the last 15 years, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do them, it means it’s the way you’re comfortable doing them. But if you’re just asking in a strategic planning process community, do you love us as a nonprofit? And the answer is, well, yeah, you guys are great, you’re very nice. And then you go see, we did our research, everybody likes what we do, therefore we should keep doing it the same way. I think there’s a sometimes internal barrier of a little resistance to change because of the passion of that vision is like, of course we’ve been doing it this way for a long period of time. This is how we know how to do it. We want to keep executing that probably with like a 10 percent more, you know, that’s our strategic plan. Do 10 percent more than we did before. Not do something differently than we did before, or heaven forbid, shut down and go away because the way that we were doing it is completely not useful. And the way that somebody else is doing it is actually making much more impact and we should support their work and let them do it or whatever. Those are the things that in theory could come out of a really interesting look at real data, but I don’t know that they always do because of the human side of it. Is that something that you struggle with?

Sarah Olivieri: 08:30 So I solve that issue by taking a mission based approach. So you know, once you reaffirmed that yes, your mission is your mission. I do encourage nonprofits to look at their mission and make sure it has some constraints so that you’re not just, you know, make the world a better place, but you’ve got something that it can actually work like a filter. Where a lot of nonprofits I think struggle with their mission is they want their mission to be their like a marketing tool as well. And I like to just give nonprofits that permission. It doesn’t have to be. At its core, your mission statement needs to be a filter through which you can make decisions and you can write what you do as an organization in marketing language for your marketing materials. They do not have to be exactly the same words, so just give yourself permission to let your mission be this tool that you use to give, it’s like your ultimate goal, and your marketing materials can be marketing oriented language that reflect the meaning of your mission, but maybe in new words. So I think the answer to your question really lies in what is a strategy and why is it valuable? Because strategy is really valuable and at its core, a strategy is a two part plan. It has goals that you’re trying to achieve and it has action steps that you’re going to take. Or sometimes those are called tactics to achieve those goals. That’s what it is. And it’s valuable because if you write that down and especially if you prioritize your goals and your action steps, you can then share that information with your entire team or with your entire community. And leverage all of the human capacity that you have in your organization and typically what I find is most nonprofits are not leveraging this untapped capacity because they don’t have that clarity of focus and to me that is one of the core values of having a strategy, which is that it allows you to leverage more resources. And many of those are not about spending more money and nonprofits are always concerned, we have to fundraise. We can’t do this because we don’t have money. We can’t do this because we don’t have money, but I like to tell nonprofits, you have a ton of untapped capacity within your community, within your team right now, and none of that capacity has to do, and some of it has to do with spending money, but most of it does not. There’s a time you can gain by having clarity of focus and clarity of roles within your organization. So strategy is valuable because of this focus that it gives to your organization.

Steve Boland: 11:11 Is there a challenge though, of sort of a desire with clients that you’re talking about the Impact Method with to just reaffirm what they’re doing? I think that that is, what is the goal? The goal is to do more of what I’ve already been doing because I know how to do that part. I have staff that are trained in that and all the rest of it. If you’re getting into that data piece that you were talking about with access to so much more information than we’ve ever had in your traditional stakeholder interview, literature review sort of process that may have happened in the past, it’s possible that it could really point to these other goals are maybe more achievable with less resource and actually more impactful, but it’s not what you’ve been doing before. And is there a filter problem there or do you not see that as much as people really feel like, oh, I get where the data’s going and I’m excited to make that change.

Sarah Olivieri: 12:01 So I think when we look at the data and if you don’t necessarily have to look at the data to begin a great strategy, you have to think about what you want to achieve and usually that is what I call an outcome goal, or I like to call them impact goals. Those are goals that you don’t actually have control over. Usually your mission is something like, I would like to feed 500 homeless people in the next six months. That’s an outcome goal you don’t actually have control over that. And those types of goals, you don’t necessarily need a ton of data to set. You might need some data points to set, like is it 500 or is it a thousand people we can actually feed. But to know that your goal is to feed hungry people in your community, you don’t really need much data to do that. On the other hand, the set of actions that you’re going to take to achieve that outcome, I call those execution goals. The people who study goals in academia, they call them process goals. But to me, execution goal makes sense. That’s the things that you’re going to execute on to achieve that outcome or make that impact and execution goals often need that data component like are the steps we’ve been taking, are those working to achieve the goal we want to achieve or are there other actions that we could take that would be more efficient or more effective? Has the world changed a little bit and so that as soon as you really separate and understand those two categories of goals, then the role of data and the role of like you don’t have to judge yourself so much and saying like, do we need to change and because oftentimes your core mission doesn’t change so much and sometimes your core outcome goals don’t necessarily change so much with the action steps you achieve. That’s where you may need to change or you may need to do more of the same.

Steve Boland: 13:56 So as you’re working with a nonprofit organization that wants to look more iteratively about how they handle this stuff and what a timeframe may look like if your process is a little bit more focused on agility, speed. Not that this one set of goals that you put together is going to last for three to five years. How do they kind of adjust thinking a little bit if they’ve been around for awhile and they’re like, but strategic plans are always three years or whatever. How do you help them frame that? And then also how does that communication get moved along and up the chain to potential supporters that maybe do love the idea of the old fashion in a three year strategic plan kind of thing because that’s just what they’re used to seeing. And if you’re going to give them something that’s a little bit more iterative, they, they may need some help learning and feeling comfortable with that.

Sarah Olivieri: 14:48 Sure. So I think the approach I take when people really feel like they need their strategic plans still, if they have had them, is we layer in an impact strategy model underneath. And so the impact strategy, the way we do it is when we help clients set it up, it takes about 30 days. It happens over a series, like five to six meetings. It’s pretty fast. And we get our core goals in place, but from there it’s a continuous process. There’s never a, oh, we have to redo our strategy phase. We check in on strategy with clients at least once a month. And typically we get people working in a 60 day cycle. So we’re seriously reviewing progress every 60 days. I would recommend to nonprofits at the very least you are looking at your strategy quarterly and making adjustments. When it comes to moving faster, we’ll break those 60 days or a quarter down into sprints. This comes from the agile framework of working that the people who’ve developed the internet figured out that this is the way to work and it makes a lot of sense in the age of the Internet. Those are typically one weeks, two weeks, we usually work in two week sprints, which means we’ve taken 60 days’ worth of action steps to achieve goals and we’ve broken them down into two week chunks and they’re all assigned out. And that’s where you start getting clarity on that pile of 50 things on my desk. Which do I do next? Well, I’ve only given myself five things to do in the next two weeks and I’m going to get those things done and to complete. One of the things that comes with the agile thinking is that you can’t just build something majorly complex over over many months or years and then launch it because the world will change while you’re building it. So you really need to take a scaffolding or a building block approach where you get something complete, something out there, and then you get the data on how your thing works and then you revise it. So the data piece instead of coming before comes after or between two steps. So you get some data, you don’t have to go crazy. You build something successful that you can launch. So whether or not it’s a fundraising campaign, get it bare bones, start getting it out there, see how people respond to it. Take a moment in two weeks to look at, is this working? Is this not working? What is our own data that we’re generating tell us? Make some changes, put it out there for another two for that next two weeks and keep revising, keep revising. So to get to your question about how do we deal with like changing over to this new system so we can have a strategy that’s a continuous strategy that’s in place that lives underneath the strategic plan, but once people see the kind of progress and clarity that comes from this work, I think they quickly shift over. Often we’ll take like a three year strategic plan. We’ll pop it into the new version. We’ll make sure the goals from the strategic plan are in the new version of strategy, which I like to call it strategy. It’s ongoing. Once we kind of get you started, it never stops. You’re in a continuous cycle of review and revision. Usually like a three year plan will be like, oh, we’re gonna, we can just do all this in year one. You know, we use our own, at PivotGround, we use our own strategic planning method for our business even though we’re not a nonprofit and we’re very, we are a modern company. We work in two weeks sprints and basically by working in 60 day cycles in two week sprints, we gain four weeks of efficiency a year. And so basically just say we’re just going to take four extra weeks off every year because we’re working so efficiently. We’re so focused and that’s kind of our own reward, but I think that gives you a sense of the power of staying focused. If you just gained four weeks of time every year, while still making huge progress, you’d start to feel pretty happy about your new planning process.

Steve Boland: 18:53 Is that within charities though, does that just mean, oh great, now we’ve got those extra folks who can probably cram six more weeks of work into. Because I think that’s a challenge.

Sarah Olivieri: 19:02 Exactly what it means. Nonprofits are heart driven, they keep working, they keep going, you know, four extra weeks means six extra weeks, we can cram into four. You’re absolutely right. And that goes, you know, another thing about continuous strategic planning is I really resist the idea that boards, well maybe boards because they can be disconnected sometimes. Nonprofits get away from this model of taking a retreat to figure something out and then come back. You know, in some ways, yes, it’s helpful to get everybody focused on one thing. But most of the nonprofits I know they are moving trains. There are, most of our clients are human service oriented. They keep going. So if you, they’re not really stepping away, they don’t actually not work on the weekends. They are on call 24/y. They’re extremely passionate. So I like to take the approach of like when you go for those people who help nonprofits, you have to go in and hop on there moving train. If you really want to help them, don’t ask them to step off their train and then figure out how to plug it back in. You need a system that, that gets integrated smoothly and quickly into what nonprofits are doing now and then kind of gets moving with them, if that makes sense.

Steve Boland: 20:20 Sure. Well, let me change tracks for just a second and talk about some other tools that people sometimes look at you know, how impact comes into the world. And how the data flow question really might be a part of what you’re talking about here because I think if we talk about a logic model framework, for example, towards a longterm outcome change, it is going to take, you know, generations or something to make a real impact. But of course you break that down into smaller to get along the way and you can kind of see them. But part of that logic model for us is to always be looking at changing externalities that are not within your control and not something that maybe you do day to day. How do you regularize that process if you’re going to be looking at kind of, you know, a couple of months at a time or whatever, to have some kind of external check in about the world that is out there. I mean, I’ll throw out the example of some organizations here in Minnesota where I work that had been very focused on resettling refugees before the federal government decided to essentially shut down the refugee admission program. And you know, they, nothing about what they were doing was wrong or challenged or whatever, except that the people that they were trying to help are no longer allowed to come to them. So you know, that big externailty changes things pretty dramatically for what they do, but you know, it wasn’t within their control to sort of plan for that. At the same time knowing that it’s coming, you got to be ready to do something.

Sarah Olivieri: 21:45 Yeah. There’s two approaches. For some organizations, you know, you can hire someone externally to really take a look if something new in major shifts in your environment. You can always, you know, part of. I don’t do swat analysis, but if you like to do the swat analysis, there’s always that looking at threats and opportunities, I think people are triggered to look at that way. But I’d say just when you shift to this concept of iteration that you take action, you review and you adjust. Every time you review and we review every two weeks and then we do a deeper review every 60 days. You’re always looking at, okay, how did the world change in the last two weeks? How did our company change? How did our organization change, you know, what did we learn from what we were doing? What changed in the news? Did something happen? You naturally build in this, like thinking about, you know, has the context change in the next two weeks, in the last two weeks of the last 60 days or the last quarter. That becomes that the nature of getting used to reviewing what you’re doing just naturally kind of triggers. So it’s like when you do a swat analysis, you’re asked that question pretty much like what do we need to consider in the larger world? And you just get used to doing that all the time.

Steve Boland: 23:01 So you said you don’t like the traditional swat sort of methodology. So how do you trigger that? I mean, what is it just there’s a calendar appointment on somebody’s desk that says stop and think or I’m just trying to get a sense of what that looks like in this faster moving cycle.

Sarah Olivieri: 23:19 Sure. So the fastest version is breaking down into two week sprints. And so I’ll take it from there, but if you were at a slower pace, you would do it at whatever your review was. So literally, we have a sprint review meeting, sprint review and planning where we say, okay, what got done? Okay. Everything got done? Good. Were there any issues that came up? Okay, yes, there were some issues. And then we say we look at our plan, we already the 60 days worth of stuff lined up and we say, okay, this is what we thought we were going to do in the next two weeks. What do we need to start doing that we didn’t have in our plan? What do we need to stop doing? Because it wasn’t really working like we thought we were doing and what do we need to change because it was kind of working. But we’ve learned something as we’ve done it or the data has shown us something. So in that way it kind of captures those elements of the swat analysis. And then every cycle, every 60 days or every quarter, we use an assessment tool that’s maybe a little more in depth than swat analysis. We look at things like, are we leveraging our human network? What could we, how strong are we at that? So that means like, are we, are we, do we know if it’s a nonprofit, like do you know wealthy people who could be your supporters and you’re just not calling them up. That’s often the case. So we rate on a scale of one to four. We look at how well are we using data in our organization? Scale of one to four, how well are we leveraging money that we’re spending, you know, are we thinking about making an investment where we’d spend money or are we thinking about throwing money down the toilet when we’d spend money? And so by looking at that, we see, you know, where we’re weak and where we’re strong. And then we say, you know, okay, so, we’re weak here, but we’ve got other things to focus on. And so we’re just going to know that we’re weak there and if it causes a problem, we’re just going to accept that that’s a weakness or we’re going to say we’re weak here and this is an area that if we improve, will significantly solve some issues for us or get us closer to our goal.

Steve Boland: 25:26 So how does the eventual idea that, you know, no nonprofit as an island in almost every case that there is somebody else trying to do some work similar to what you’re doing. Of course, every organization I’ve ever worked with has insisted that they alone have the keys to the kingdom. They know how to solve this problem, but most I think are thinking along the lines of how do we think more about what do we peel off that we’re maybe not so good at knowing that this organization, that government agency, that local community partner might be able to pick those things up or honestly, there’s just not enough support in the community for them and they are going to have to go away. Which is the most painful decision that most charities ever are faced with. But allowing you then to make that stronger case for some of the elements that you are making some impact on, but seeking kind of the reverse too that, some partners out there that maybe are doing around the edges, what you’re doing really well to seek them to come to you and say, let us be the lead on that. Let us kind of move this part forward because this is where we’re really measuring and we can really go. Those are always challenging areas of any kind of nonprofit work moving forward. But I think as terms of of impact planning, it’s a real opportunity to shed some things specialized in some things. Stop trying to all the things all the time for everyone, which I think is a nonprofit challenge. But I think you know, your framework talks a little bit about how it might happen internally, but how do you get partners engaged in something if you are moving that quickly?

Sarah Olivieri: 26:58 Sure. So two things. One is you’ve gotta get your mission with those constraints. As we said before, I think the book engine of impact is really good for some examples about getting your mission focused and part of the reason is if you start without your mission focused, then your only option is to look at what you’re doing and say like, is this good or bad? Do we like it or do we not like it? Does the data say we should do it or we shouldn’t do it? And sometimes nonprofits look at a trend and say we want to do the opposite, and that’s a great choice for that. Like the trend, you know, we, we don’t just follow data to follow money. We might say, hey, there’s no, there’s no trend for this certain population and we want them to have attention. So we’re gonna use that bottom end as something we want to focus on. Those questions, do we like it? Is it working? There’s so much emotion behind that because people have poured their hearts and bled for their program. That’s an impossible discussion to have or a very hard discussion to have, but if you have a mission that you agree on with constraints and then you start running your goals and your program saying, does this meet the criteria of our mission? No, it’s a great idea, but it doesn’t fit in our organization and we literally, I said, we use digital tools to help us plan better. So we do our initial planning like a mind map tree with the mission at the center, so if you have some goal, it’s going to have a line drawn directly to that mission, like visually on paper and if that line just doesn’t make sense or you can’t seem to connect it in there, then you have the space to say, this is a great program. It says so many things to help me, to help people, but it just isn’t part of our mission. It’s just not connected to our mission and so we’re going to let it go. We’re going to give it away. We’re going to give it a new home because if we don’t stay focused on our mission, what can happen is it’s like you overfill your boat and your boat sinks.

Steve Boland: 29:13 I think that’s the challenge that I’m trying to get to though is in my work with a nonprofit boards and more to the point staff. I think absolutely everything that they have ever done is a core tenant of the mission and if you ask them to draw that line back to the center, it may get awfully curvy, you know, working around 63 different things, but they will find a way to connect it back to the mission and say that, absolutely. I think part of that is getting used to chasing money that when you’re local foundation partner decides to change mission and says we’re no longer funding early childhood work, but instead we’re going to be moving over and looking at resettling immigration issues and immediately somebody at that nonprofit is going to go, well, you know, immigrants have children and we do early childhood because the immigrants and therefore we’re still funded. You can still give us money. I think that that logic kind of seeps into this conversation about when is it time to shed or let go of something that you’re really connected to. I find it really kind of tenacious and sometimes problematic to get people to let go of something that isn’t really that really directly connected mission thing. If it ever got in the front door in the first place, getting it to peel off at some point, even if that means letting it go away completely is I think the thing that stops most progress in strategic work that I’ve seen and I don’t know if you have better luck getting people to shed those somewhat tenuous connection sometimes.

Sarah Olivieri: 30:46 You know, I would say finding someone to help you. I take a very kind of logic model approach. And maybe I have a kind but firm way of telling people. And I think it really comes down to the cost of not taking action is that you think that you are doing all these things, but in fact you’re just like sending out anchors that are slowing you down and causing you not to achieve your mission. So unless you’re prepared to change your mission altogether, you know, you have to face it is you have to be brave and you have to think about the cost, the opportunity cost and the cost of not taking action. So opportunity costs means because you’re doing this other program, you are losing your ability to because you only have so much capacity, you’re losing your ability to really make good on your mission. And do you really want that? Do you want to not achieve your mission because you were chasing something else? No. Right? So you have to decide one or the other. And then so that’s opportunity cost. And then the cost of not taking action. This often comes into play where nonprofits are afraid of spending money to do something that’s in their wildest dreams. And it’s like if you don’t take a certain risk or if you don’t invest what seems like your last penny, sometimes that cost of not taking action will be your complete demise. And in fact, taking action can be much more expensive not to take action, especially when it comes to staff, you know, and, programs that aren’t really working and you’re afraid to say, no, we need to stop them. By doing that you’re the funds, you’re draining the capacity of your organization.

Steve Boland: 32:43 So how do you begin working with a new partner? You mentioned that some of the folks you’re working with, you do these fairly frequent check ins, get the sprint wrap up meetings, talk about the every couple of months cycle. But in beginning a new relationship, especially when it is such a data centric world, where do you start in sort of assessing what they have access to now and what they might need access to in terms of information before they really begin a more agile process?

Sarah Olivieri: 33:16 Sure. We start with a series of, it’s usually six meetings and I’ve kind of devise like a topic area for each meeting. I pretty much stick to this essentially a curriculum that I built and it’s a process of me gathering and my team gathering the information that we need from the organization. And we do this with the key leadership and that’s different, sometimes boards are more involved and so there’s a board member, always the executive director. And then what I say is to advise nonprofits is I need a few people in the room who understand what’s going on at the ground level of your nonprofit. You have to have a grasp of what’s really going on. And so rather than kind of, we dive into data a bit, you know, we look at trends, we look at what’s going on, you know, often their website, do they have any traffic on their various digital properties can be a great source of getting some data. Looking at financial records I think is really telling. But having that conversation with people, because I do think you said at the very beginning nonprofit sit there saying we know what we wanna do, we know what our problems are, we just don’t know how to solve them. We don’t know how to get, we know where point A is, we know where point B is, we just don’t know how to get to point B. So, and I really like to go in with that approach of like pulling out, I understand what the issues are and then I take a very, I start segmenting those issues and I think issues instead of challenges because sometimes issues are we want to do something, we just don’t know how to get there. Like they can be positive. Oftentimes they’re negative. If you ask somebody what’s working, you’ll get a great list of what’s not working. Is thinking about is something not working because it didn’t have a good plan or a good strategy or is it not working because there wasn’t enough capacity to actually do what they wanted to do in the organization? Or is it both? And then we have a sense of, okay, you know, we need to have a better strategy in place, a good strategy has to reference capacity, a great plan that doesn’t meet an organization’s capacity is not a great plan because you have to, you have to grow capacity incrementally. And I think that’s where a lot of traditional strategic plans also fail is they make this big plan, but they don’t really tell you how you’re going to get there because you don’t actually have the capacity. You don’t have like a million dollars just sitting around saying, you know, here’s your plan, here’s a million dollars. That’s how much it’s supposed to cost, go do it. The money doesn’t come with the plan. So the plan has to meet you where you are today and it has to grow you to where you want to be tomorrow. So that’s where we start with really information gathering about what are the core issues and then understanding and usually the story of nonprofits is often the first starting place is that they have an organizational structure. The way they organize their team and their departments is extremely inefficient. They are organized the way they’re, if they’re not, if they sometimes they aren’t setting goals, so we get them setting goals. We get cleared up. Start to establish a culture of accountability, not that people in nonprofits are irresponsible, but often they haven’t divided up who needs to be accountable for what in a clear way and so we really kind of enable that human capacity and that gives us a lot more maneuvering room to get things done.

Steve Boland: 36:56 So I want to just ask you a little bit more about that inefficiency where things may be not going as well as they could be question mark. Because I do think that, you know, most people feel like, oh, I’m doing 110 percent of what I’m supposed to be doing. So if you put a specific goal in front of me, it just means that something else is going to have to jettison and I won’t jettison anything. That I think is, I keep coming back to that particular point of how we can help people through this process to really understand that the thing that they’ve been doing that nobody else even understood that they were doing. Maybe either it doesn’t need to get done or somebody has to talk about the fact that I’m the one that takes the garbage out every day because we don’t have a janitorial staff and somebody has to do it and I’m doing it. I’m like, oh, I didn’t know that you were cleaning up the office. I mean, nobody told me, so if you are supposed to be doing on these other things instead and you’re picking up the other duties as assigned thing, which can end up being overwhelming, I mean that’s going to eat into that strategy when you sit down to go, let’s look at how our goals went and somebody didn’t quite get there. My concern would be that they’re going, well, I had to do these other six things. I mean I had to. They, they wouldn’t have gotten done or there’s something horrible would have happened. I’m not sure that that’s always the case, but I do think that that comes up, you know, does it shake out after a few meetings of, you know, doing those check ins every couple of weeks where people go, I see now where I’ve been diverting time, uh, and it seemed hard for me to, to come to that conclusion, but now it’s clear that these are the goals, this is what I’m really going to be accountable for, these other things aren’t and we are going to them go until somebody else figures out that nobody’s taken the trash out for four days in the office is starting to get a little ripe and somebody else has got to figure out that problem, but it isn’t invisible. It isn’t just being solved under the table with nobody recognizing there’s a lot of capacity being used up.

Sarah Olivieri: 38:51 Yeah, I mean, I think that is a great example because it’s often the reality of when I worked at a nonprofit, I kept it a complete secret that I knew how to repair a toilet. I was an administrator and there was a toilet that was broken and I’d like make sure everybody was gone amd sneak in and fix it because I was like, I’m going to do this because it needs to get done and I know how to do it, but I don’t want anybody knowing that they can come and ask me because I don’t want to be fixing all the toilets in this nonprofit. So that is a very real situation where you have somebody like literally doing that physical stuff and you’re so right, if you just start adding a goal and you and you’re just adding more work onto somebody’s plate that is not going to, that is not going to give you progress. And so that is. And so often people are working 110 percent and there isn’t, especially if you’re a smaller nonprofit, there is no money to just throw at the problem. So you have to, I take this approach, it’s like getting out of a parallel parking space where you’re like backed in, you have to like make these teeny moves to wiggle out. And then once you know, as you get farther and farther, your moves get a little bigger. And then finally you’re free and you can start driving. And so usually this issue of capacity is one of the first things we need to address because there is no point in setting a big hard goal or your goal should be gain capacity, like get rid of the overwhelm, know which things we’re working on, have some focus. That is a great goal to gain a significant amount of capacity, a significant amount of time back in everybody’s day. Are they going to use that extra time to keep doing even more work for their nonprofit? Probably, but at least they will know when to take a breath. So I like to go in, I use a tool called the nonprofit accountability chart. It’s modified from a for profit business tool and it’s a tool that helps me put on paper with an organization, what are the key functions that make this nonprofit work? And what are the key functions that most nonprofits need? And does your nonprofit have all these key functions? Usually, usually they’re missing some functions. And then there’s often, most things are accounted for, but they’re all mixed up. You have an administrator taking out the garbage. And so, there’s some great articles about context switching and efficiency, so reality is that we can’t actually multitask, but we can switch from one task to another, but the process of switching from one task to another, especially if they’re very different, is where we lose a ton of efficiency and it becomes an exponential amount of time just by switching tasks. So we start to look at what these functions are right down to, you know, who’s taking, who’s accountable for making sure the trash gets taken out and who’s actually doing it now so that we don’t lose those things or if we are going to lose them or we’re going to say it’s not that important, we’re just going to let our garbage be dirty and fill up the room or whatever. That we know that we made that decision consciously. So it’s not like oops did anybody notice the garbage taken out? It’s, you know what, we decided that our office was going to be dirty and disgusting because we needed to do this other thing and we just couldn’t do both. So I really liked to take those, those problems that we can address now and just pin them up, like literally or have a list of them, like what are the problems, what are the balls that were intentionally dropping and we know they’re going to be messy and we know they’re going to like create this little fire. But I like to say I’m going to hand you a fireproof garbage can that you can just put your fires in let them burn. That fire’s going to burn and it has to burn or I won’t get this other thing done and we won’t get out of our tight parking spot.

Steve Boland: 43:00 I really love the metaphors of both the getting out of that parallel parking spot inch at a time until it gets to be a little bit more and a little bit more. That’s a great visual, but also the fire proof garbage can. I’m going to have to borrow that one from you. That’s good. We are just about out of time. So I just want to begin to wrap this up by asking if people are a little intrigued about the idea of the Impact Method and the agile process and how all this works. How should they follow your work? What’s the best way to get in touch?

Sarah Olivieri: 43:34 Sure, you can visit our website, If you’d like to speak to someone, you can apply for a strategy session with me. Not everybody gets it because there’s only one of me, but certainly apply if you’re interested and we can kind of talk you through it even more. We can even problem solve some of your issues in that kind of strategy capacity framework. Otherwise you can follow us on Facebook if you look for PivotGround and occasionally we post on LinkedIn as well. But really I’d say, you know, get in touch with us. We’d love to have a conversation with you. I think most nonprofits, that question is, I love the name of your organization, but what do we do next? So if you’re, like, what do we do next is working with PIvotGround or doing something like you’re doing, our next step, we can just help you answer that question. So if you get on the phone with us and we will in the future be releasing a training course. So if you’re a small organization and you can’t really afford, you know, one on one consultant help in an extended way you can get trained in how to implement the impact method at your own organization.

Steve Boland: 44:54 Great advice and I really appreciate the tone and the tenor of what you’re trying to bring to the conversation here. And I hope more people are listening and getting the word out. So, Sarah Olivieri is the founder and creator of the Impact Method of PivotGround. Sarah, thanks so much for taking the time.

Sarah Olivieri: 45:12 My pleasure.

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