Support is Sexy Podcast: How to Make Your Nonprofit Thrive in the Digital Age

Sarah was a guest on the Support is Sexy Podcast with Elayne Fluker. They chat about how PivotGround helps nonprofits companies thrive in the digital age by revamping their marketing strategies and introducing them to the company’s proprietary ImpactMethod to help break down audacious goals and make them attainable.

Click below for audio of the podcast:

Elayne Fluker: 00:00 This is Support Is Sexy, Episode 622 with Sarah Olivieri, founder of PivotGround. Welcome to Support Is Sexy, I’m your host, Elayne Fluker, entrepreneur, author and founder of Chic Rebellion Media. Five days a week, Monday through Friday, I bring you inspiring women entrepreneurs who share their wins and lessons to help you take your business to the next level. Here we go. Hi everyone. Welcome to a new episode of Support Is Sexy. I’m happy to have you here. You know, it just would not be the same without you. And today we have a great guest, Sarah Olivieri, who is the founder of PivotGround and Sarah’s company helps nonprofits prepare for the digital age, making sure that they have the marketing strategies and things in place to grow their businesses, to grow their nonprofits and make sure they have the impact that they want to have. But in this episode, Sarah also talks to us about how we can prepare for marketing our businesses in the digital age. If you’re like me and you’re an online entrepreneur, you feel like you might have heard at all. Nope. Sarah’s got some new insight for you, her thoughts about the digital age and digital marketing in particular, where it’s going. Also the importance of being brutal in your prioritizing when you’re creating your business or coming up with a marketing strategy for your business. She also talks about chaos theory and how it applies in business. And she talks about the value of one-on-one in the age of the internet. Everyone tell us about many to one, many to one. Sarah is going to tell us the value of one to one and a lot more. So without further ado, Sarah Olivieri, founder of PivotGround. So Sarah, thank you so much for joining us for an episode of Support Is Sexy. I’m excited to chat with you.

Sarah Olivieri: 01:59 Yeah, I’m happy to be here.

Elayne Fluker: 02:02 Excellent. So our first question, when did you first fall in love with entrepreneurship?

Sarah Olivieri: 02:08 You know, I think in some ways I was a late bloomer as an entrepreneur. I had gotten involved with running some nonprofits and like, it was good, but I never felt like I was an entrepreneur because that world of nonprofits seemed so far away from that. But after getting sucked into some businesses with my now ex husband and then really starting my own PivotGround with a focus and I knew where I wanted to go at that point, I finally started realizing, oh, I am an entrepreneur. And that was a very empowering moment to be able to own that.

Elayne Fluker: 02:44 What were the businesses that you were in with your ex husband? What type of businesses?

Sarah Olivieri: 02:49 Sure. First he’d started a media company doing video production and we ended up making a documentary film, which was quite a ride and when an opportunity emerged and before I knew it, I was learning how to do a documentary and color correct and sound edit. And then later a cafe and art supply store. So I learned a lot about retail and how to run a cafe. So there was lots to learn in there.

Elayne Fluker: 03:23 Very different kinds of businesses.

Sarah Olivieri: 03:24 Yeah, totally different kinds of businesses. So that really gave me kind of a nice understanding though. Nothing like retail to teach you about understanding margins and inventory and purchasing. So that was really interesting.

Elayne Fluker: 03:42 Do you feel like those things help you in your business today?

Sarah Olivieri: 03:46 Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And to this day, I mean there are a lot of entrepreneurs I think who are service providers and thinking about margin from a perspective of offering a service is like kind of not very tangible, but because of my retail owning experience, like I really got a grasp of that and that helps me think about my business very, very much.

Elayne Fluker: 04:10 Now, where did you grow up?

Sarah Olivieri: 04:12 I grew up just on the edge of the Catskills in New York state in the area called the Hudson Valley. And spent most of my life there til I went away to college in Chicago. And um, I grew up in this area, always wondering why people seem to come back to it. And I was like, that’s weird. And then I of course went away. I went very far away. I moved to Japan after college and then I came right back to the area I grew up in. And I absolutely love it here.

Elayne Fluker: 04:38 What do you love about it?

Sarah Olivieri: 04:40 There’s beautiful nature, mountains, the Hudson River and a lot of incredible community. I mean, it’s a rural area with woods, but it’s only 90 minutes from New York City. So, it’s really in some ways at least diverse in thinking, the kind of people who come up seeking respite from New York City.

Elayne Fluker: 05:01 Right. You get the best of both worlds, I feel like.

Sarah Olivieri: 05:03 Yeah. Yeah.

Elayne Fluker: 05:05 What would you say, well, how would you say you first got the inspiration to start your company that you have now, PivotGround?

Sarah Olivieri: 05:14 Well, I had realized that I had now, you know, I had now started a nonprofit. I had been a first executive director of a nonprofit somebody had started, I had started a media company, which didn’t mean to start, but my ex needed a lot of help, we were married at the time. And I had started the art supply store and cafe and I was like, this time I’m gonna start something for myself that’s going to give me what I want, both work that I really enjoy and the life that I want to have. So I really thought about what kind of business would give me that and that led me down a very different kind of trajectory than the previous ventures, which were all someone else’s vision that I was kind of picking up and like, how can we make this vision work?

Elayne Fluker: 06:03 So what was it then? What was your first step then to creating the company you have now? Or how did it evolve still to become what it is now?

Sarah Olivieri: 06:10 Sure. So I had been building websites for small businesses and nonprofits, so that was kind of my first step. And that of course led to more marketing and I realized that well, actually I took a course. So I had the opportunity to get a larger client, which actually came from the cafe. And as I was running the cafe and running this other business at the same time, I basically picked up a client who is having a hard time identifying a web project that they wanted to do. Like they couldn’t translate it into a website, but they had this core idea that was really great. And I was like, I get it. It was for a nonprofit and I was like, I can turn your idea into a web project. It was way beyond my technical skills. So I realized that I would need to hire a development team to actually build the project. But from an organizational and business structure, I could translate this project from the humanistic vision that the nonprofit had into something that could become a website that was usable. And so that was a really big shift cause I went out seeking like, how can I structure a company now that wouldn’t just be me. I basically knew I was about to become an agency. And I started getting help. So I took an online course and then I signed up for an online training program. And that led me down an even more intentional path in growing my business.

Elayne Fluker: 07:39 What was the course and the training program that you took?

Sarah Olivieri: 07:42 It was called You Gurus and their program at the time was called 10k Boot Camp. I think they still call it that. It’s a great community. It’s specifically business training for people who own web and marketing agencies or even if they’re solo-preneurs. And one of the first things they did with us was tell us that we needed to find a niche, like some specific way to fit in. And I was like, oh my God, I don’t know what my niche is gonna be. Then it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. All my best clients are nonprofits and I can serve them in a way that nobody else can. I basically had very little competition because I knew how to run a nonprofit. And from there it evolved into business consulting for nonprofits because I couldn’t, I couldn’t do a website if they weren’t going to do marketing and we couldn’t do marketing if they didn’t have a strategy and we couldn’t really build a strategy or do great marketing if they couldn’t like describe their programs to me. So we would, I would hire a content writer and be like, okay, we’re going to describe your programs. And then it would turn out, well, they hadn’t really clearly defined their programs, so they were basically indescribable. And because of my background, I said, okay, so the one thing I’ll do that isn’t digital marketing, I’ll come in and I’ll help you organize your programs and get them cleaned up so that we can describe them and market them and fill them. And then one day one of my clients said, well, would you come and like train our staff and help us reorganize? And I was like, oh, that sounds like super fun to me. And they wanted to pay me to do it. And I did that and I fell in love with that. So I really spent the rest of the next year shifting to being a business consulting agency who had all this marketing support from all these expert marketers that I had partnered up with.

New Speaker: 09:34 So great. Thank you so much for sharing that part of the journey. I love that a lot of the moments, at least that you shared with us so far, it was you kind of saying yes, even if you didn’t know where it was going, you know, just as you said, oh this looks like fun, oh I could do that. When you talk to the customer at the cafe, oh I could help with that you know, but not sometimes, I’ll speak for myself. I know for me I have to push myself not to try to see all 30 steps down the road. You want vision, but you don’t really know how it’s going to happen.

Sarah Olivieri: 10:02 Exactly. And you have to be ready to roll with it and you have to be ready to recognize when you just got on a moving train and you now have to keep up with it. Cause it is going where you wanted to go. You set that vision, but it doesn’t mean that you get to control the whole ride.

Elayne Fluker: 10:17 Right. So how did you know then in some of those, or did you know, in some of those moments that you mentioned where you said, you know, yes, I know how to do that. I’ll try that. Yes to some of the other things. Did you know, did you have a feeling that this feels like the right direction because you were kind of already searching for something else?

Sarah Olivieri: 10:35 At that point in my life I was really attuned to trying to do things that…someone had brought to my attention that the concept of having a super power, those things that you’re both good at and when you do them instead of draining you, they energize you. So I started really just like, I actually kept a document for a while of the things that I do that I want to get off my plate and it got more sophisticated over time, but I just, everything that I didn’t want to do or wasn’t good at or that I thought I wanted to do, but when they did it, it drained me. I just kind of pinned that. So as long as I was doing something that was energizing me, I would go in that direction. And sometimes I think of it as like, you know, sometimes you got to try to follow the path of least resistance and often that’s very closely linked to what’s meaningful for you and if it’s meaningful for you, usually you can become quite good at it because you end up doing it in an in depth way. So yes, kinda like follow your heart, but maybe a lot more pragmatic than that.

Elayne Fluker: 11:40 Right. Well, I liked the idea of tapping or discovering your own superpower cause we all have something, as you said, I think you said. And then allowing yourself to sort of be led in some way and knowing that it could be, you know, the right path and paying attention, I would think too, along the way.

Sarah Olivieri: 11:55 Yeah, definitely want to pay attention. And sometimes you went the wrong way. Sometimes I went the wrong way and I was like, oh, like that didn’t work. But what was it about this experience that was great and that was meaningful and that I want to replicate?

Elayne Fluker: 12:11 One of the things that you just mentioned is that you created this document of things you wanted to get off your plate, which I want to know more about. But I know I also noticed when you were telling the story about first, I think it was with the project that you knew right away you had to bring somebody in or hire someone to help you with. I think this was for the person at the cafe when you were creating their company. Right? So I wanted to mention it because something I’ve been trying to be much more aware of too is not trying to do it all myself. And people might think, oh of course, cause your podcast is all about support, but not even like that when you create, say an agency or some kind of business. I think a lot of us, I don’t know if this is a woman thing, but I think a lot of us think I’m going to be the one to have to do these things. We don’t necessarily always think, oh, let me find someone to hire to execute this. How did you know to do that right away?

Sarah Olivieri: 13:03 In that moment? Honestly, I just knew because I was like, I have no idea how to, it was a web app and I was like, I have no idea how to do that. But I knew because they’d already hired a team who had technical ability and they couldn’t deliver. And so I knew because of the conversation I was having with the client, I knew I could turn their idea into something. So I leaned into that strength. But kind of just to kind of touch on the importance of that for, you know, nobody can do everything themselves. And what I have learned and am still learning as an entrepreneur is the more I am a facilitator for my own business and getting other people to do things, the more successful I am. So now when I try to do something new, the first thing I’m like, who has done this before who I can hire as an expert and I will, like, I never thought I would spend a lot of money, but that first course that I took to get help because I recognized, I was like, I can’t do this alone. I need somebody to help me. I spent $2,400. I think it was a black Friday special. I had to put it all on a credit card. It was super scary. You know, and this year like I dropped 15 grand at the top at the drop of the hat cause I’m launching a new type of program and I’m like, I don’t know how to do this. I found the person who was an expert in it and I signed up for their program. I was like, you know, this is definitely happening. Like I’m going to make that money back in a second and if I don’t spend that money to get help and you don’t always have to spend money to get help, but oftentimes really good help you do have to spend money on, you will get a return on that so quickly and you will feel so much better. And there’s a certain like speed if, you know, when I was younger and newer business I thought that time was my friend. I was like, I don’t have money but I have time that I can put in and now I realize like time is not my friend and if I don’t get a certain amount of momentum very quickly, my runway for getting off the ground with a project is going to be so long, it’s actually going to increase my expense and decrease my chance of success.

Elayne Fluker: 15:13 Excellent, Sarah. Thank you so much for sharing that. Now, what got you to the point where you knew that you need to be willing to invest in yourself? Cause I think sometimes of course there are times in our, some of us, most of us when we start our businesses, you might not have all the money to do all the things and as you said, all help. You don’t have to pay for it. But sometimes I think there are ways that we could figure it out. Like you said, I’m going to put this on a credit card because I know that I’m going to be able to make this money back or I need to learn this. It’s an investment. But some of us find it difficult to do that even if we desperately can tell we need the help.

Sarah Olivieri: 15:50 Yeah. I think sometimes maybe you have to get to a point where you’re desperate enough, it has to hurt. And I was there, I was at a moment, I didn’t realize this, but I was very unhappy in my, I knew I was unhappy in my marriage. And this real conflict came about. I was on the edge of starting to build this company and had some success and I kept wanting to get some support from my husband and he just wasn’t giving it. In fact, he was pulling me away from my work. And so I just, I don’t know, one day it clicked in my brain. I was like, you know, I could pay for business support like, you know, there’s the husband and that’s full of like emotions and all sorts of things that it means to be a wife and have a family. But it just kind of clicked this more simple road of I could pay for business support and that maybe that made sense. And that was the moment where I decided to buy the program and it was actually like probably a week later that I left my husband. And those two things were very wrapped up and it just became like, I kind of reached my end in my relationship and my end of not having my own trajectory. And I just said like, I have to go, I have to go forward in my direction fast and furious. There’s a word I keep using recently and it’s surrounding me even though it feels so unneeded. But this concept of being brutal in prioritizing what you want to do because if you are in a tight spot, like the best thing you can do to eke out every bit of capacity is to be brutal in prioritizing and really know that you can really only do one thing at a time. And so put that first thing you need to get done and it will be a building block for the next thing you need to get done. And don’t let all those demands that that come at you kind of weigh you down and sink your own ship cause you’ve got it. Like for me it was like this break free moment in so many ways. And I put, I mean I put it on that credit card. We were poor. We had like, we had no money. We were on food stamps assistance. Like everything, you know, it wasn’t so bad we had a place to live, but it wasn’t, you know, I did not have that money any other way than to put it on a credit card. And it was completely worth it. And sometimes I think, I hear some business owners were talking about putting skin in the game, even though it might feel like paying for something is just a lot of money. There is an ownership that you take when you’ve put some of your money on the line. And I think it really helps provide that motivation to make the most of it.

Elayne Fluker: 18:43 Absolutely and I love be brutal in prioritizing. I tell you, this message is right on time. I’ve been pushing myself to do that a lot more because a lot of times you want to do so many things and if you have the big vision and includes so many things, but you can’t really do as you said, I think you can only do one thing at a time and I think one or two things exceptionally well at a time even. Sometimes we try to do 20 things well by ourselves. If you have a team, it might be different, but being brutal and prioritizing and I think making yourself a priority as you did in investing in yourself so you could move to the next level is so important. Be brutal in prioritizing. You said it’s circling around you. I get it. It must be circling around me, too.

Sarah Olivieri: 19:25 I’m so glad you liked that. It was scary to say that in public the first time because I work with nonprofits, like I love people, to say the word brutal out loud, just kind of like makes me my skin crawl for a moment. But I really feel it and it hurts to prioritize sometimes. And that’s why that word brutal feels right. Cause you feel like you’re doing something that hurts. But really you’re doing something incredible for yourself and for everybody who’s going to benefit from your work.

Elayne Fluker: 19:54 Right. And it pushes you. What I thought of right away was this idea that you have to learn to say no, maybe going to some things that you want to do and then some other things that you think would be nice to do. Sometimes we get caught up in that. So those are the things that.

Sarah Olivieri: 20:06 Right. For people who have trouble saying no, I think it’s practice saying not right now. Like I love that idea and I would totally be interested in the future, but I can’t do it right now.

Elayne Fluker: 20:19 Right. So, which is true, but yet somehow it’s easier than saying no. So tell us then now what exactly PivotGround or in what ways PivotGround really helps organizations. Cause it sounds like you have, you kept including more and more services as you saw what companies need it.

Sarah Olivieri: 20:36 Sure. So we work exclusively pretty much with nonprofits and they’re generally human service nonprofits, meaning they have some sort of program that they’re delivering in addition to needing fundraising. And so now what we do is, so kind of going down to the end of my journey, which is certainly, it’s still very much at the beginning, but where we are now is I ended up building a business framework specifically for nonprofits to run off of. And I center consulting to nonprofits, teaching them how to use this framework. It’s called the Impact Method, we say optimize their capacity, organize their strategy, and then thrive by continuing to iterate on optimizing their capacity, organizing their strategy. And one of the keys to optimizing capacity is knowing when to ask an expert. So like capacity could be money, it could be time. And one of the key things to capacity is expertise. If you have to learn something, you’re like kind of, you suck up all your capacity and when you hire an expert to help you with something, it leaps you forward and actually gives you. So it’s such an important part of understanding capacity. So because of the marketing background and because for many businesses, but especially nonprofits, understanding the digital space, it’s a lot to keep up with. The world is still evolving very quickly. So we have a lot of experts who can do things, some things that people will eventually learn, like a certain amount of content writing or social media posting. And other things that I would never advise anybody learning like managing sophisticated Google ad words for advertising on Google. That is a full time job just to know what to do. If it’s going to be somebody full time job just to know what to do, you shouldn’t make it your job. You already have a job. So I think you know, now I, in some ways when it comes to that piece, I offer additional expertise, access to experts beyond just the business consulting piece.

Elayne Fluker: 22:51 Where did the concept PivotGround, cause I know you spell it all together with a capital p and g, where did that, what’s that concept? How is that related? Is it about a pivot in the your client’s businesses?

Sarah Olivieri: 23:03 It is. I’m actually very fascinated by chaos theory. And there was a book that influenced me that I read in graduate school, I think it was called Leadership And New Sciences. And it’s really basically like what can we learn about running organizations from quantum physics? And chaos theory is one of those pieces in there, which might sound a little like high level. But one of the concepts that I was really thinking about both in the Internet and in businesses is that what scientists have discovered in chaos theory is that while a particle that supposedly moves chaotically, meaning you can’t predict where it’s going to go next if you track its movement over time, a pattern conform forms, a consistent pattern. And I think that the Internet is like this and I think that the world of business and certainly nonprofits have understanding this nature of chaos that while we might not know what’s going to happen, we might not know for sure that our next step will work. We can look for the pattern and have a good idea about what direction we should go in. And so I, you know, I named PivotGround PivotGround to be kind of like that eye of the storm where you can stop for a moment and kind of catch a glimpse of what that pattern might be in all the chaos and take a comfortable kind of controlled, clear step in a direction that’s going to get you, if not to your destination. Sometimes it’s a sidestep, you know, that you can’t get there from here, but if you sidestep over there, then you can get to where you want to go. So I wanted PivotGround to be a place where people could get that focus and know what their next move was. So many people talk about vision and I love vision at nonprofits do not struggle with vision and yet so many consultants focus on vision. But what I think they do such struggle with, and I think entrepreneurs as well, is knowing what is my next step? What do I do tomorrow? What is that manageable thing that I can actually do in the next week that will actually make, you know, a drop or a small step or sometimes a big step towards my goal, which is huge and impossible.

Elayne Fluker: 25:25 And how do we know, how do we get clear on that next step? Is it a matter of just as you said with the name PivotGround, sort of taking a second, recognizing the patterns of seeing which way might be the best route from where we’re standing. Of course we don’t know until we go.

Sarah Olivieri: 25:41 Right. We never know for sure, but I think, you know what I came to realize, I really thought about this question a lot and the whole concept of the impact method focuses on that question. How do we know what our next step is? And the conclusion I came to is we have to start with where are we trying to go? And then we have to backtrack until we get to where we are now. So like what is it that we’re trying to get to? And usually that’s a goal that we don’t have actual control over. And then we say, okay, what goals can we have of actions that we can do that are probably gonna get us this outcome that we don’t have control over? And then, okay, how can we break that into smaller steps? And until we get to, I like to take it down to like what can we do in the next two weeks? And our tendency though is to go the other way. We say, well, here are like five things that people have done to get somewhere similar to where I want to go. Like, which one am I going to do? Yeah, you have to, again I think this comes down to being brutal in prioritizing is just because everyone’s doing social media doesn’t mean you need to do social media. You need to look at your goal and really assess what is the best or a great step that I can take forward. I know I hesitate to say best because you can get hung up. You don’t have to take the best step forward. You just have to take a great step forward.

Elayne Fluker: 27:06 Right. A great step forward. So now what are some of the things or some of the mistakes that you’ve seen, maybe some nonprofits, whether your clients or not because you’ve worked in the industry too, make when it comes to their digital strategies?

Sarah Olivieri: 27:21 Following trends that may or may not be relevant for them.

Elayne Fluker: 27:28 Like you mentioned social media. Maybe trying to be on every platform when you should choose one.

Sarah Olivieri: 27:34 Yeah. Taking on more than they can handle. I try to boil every mistake or issue down to it’s either they didn’t have the capacity to do something that they took on or they didn’t have a strategy that made sure that their next step was a great next step or both. So following fads, especially when it comes to marketing and digital marketing trends come, but they also pass very quickly because the market gets saturated. A lot of tactics that work are about getting people’s attention. So as soon as everybody’s using that tactic, it’s no longer relevant. So you really have to keep going back to basics of what is the fundamental human psychology that’s driving people’s actions? And you need to run things through that filter and not just look at what people are doing and be like, oh, they’re doing it. It’s working. So we’re going to copy them. So you know, things specific things I’ve seen is we want to get people’s attention because we have this important message, we’re going to put it on our home page along with 50 other things that are on our homepage. And as soon as you have two messages on your homepage, you’re basically not delivering any information, or doing social media just because everybody’s doing social media. When you have no capacity to manage all the posting and what’s involved with social media.

Elayne Fluker: 28:58 Tell us again about the two messages on your homepage.

Sarah Olivieri: 29:02 I think basically like right, we can only do one thing ourselves at a time. We can only receive one message at a time, pretty much. So, you know, if I told you go to the refrigerator, get the keys from my car simultaneously, you’re like, well, which one? But if I tell you, go to the refrigerator, you’ll probably go, and the more specific I am, the more clear my message comes across. And so it’s important to think about what is that message that people need to receive that most important message who are going to your homepage. That’s not everybody’s start place. People will come to your website, websites are porous. So people might come like on your blog or onto a specific article, so you can start to make pathways, but you always have to think about the context. Like the person who is visiting my homepage, why did they land there? Is it because they did a Google search or are they specifically on my homepage because somebody referred them? Probably if they did a search, then they’re gonna end up on some sort of article inside your site. And if they’re on their homepage, somebody told them like, go check out this place. And what does that person need to know? What’s the most important thing they need to know first? And once you have their attention, then you can tell them something else. But just tell them one thing at a time and your message will come across much more clearly.

Elayne Fluker: 30:26 So good. Thank you for that. And I think that’s nonprofits but probably for every business.

Sarah Olivieri: 30:32 Absolutely. And you know, if you’ve struggled doing it for yourself, you got to get somebody else to help you. You can’t know your own message the way somebody else can tell you your message. I know all this stuff and I still like, to do it on my own company is so hard.

Elayne Fluker: 30:53 It’s so funny you said that, cause Lisa Son, this other woman I interviewed who’s the owner of the clothing line, Gravitas, she’s wonderful, but she talks about how that’s something that she does in her business. Well, in the beginning and still, where she brings either friends or just mentors or just people that she respects to sort of beat up on her business as she calls it. Because she said something that makes the most sense to her, someone else might be like, oh well no, that seems like you know something totally different that she didn’t think of or people might not get it. So bringing someone else in from the outside allows you to have at least that feedback, whether you yes or no, you know, you get to decide, right?

Sarah Olivieri: 31:29 Right. I mean, and if you hire an expert, I say follow their advice and people will be like, what’s the best advice you have? I always say, it’s not about getting good advice, it’s actually relatively easy. It’s following good advice that’s the hard part. So do you hire an expert, trust that you’re getting good advice and follow it even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Elayne Fluker: 31:49 Why don’t we follow it sometimes? Cause we think we know better or it’s just change is difficult. Or in your experience even, I’m sure you’ve had people probably not maybe, follow your advice.

Sarah Olivieri: 31:58 Oh, I don’t really know. I could guess that the reason we don’t follow advice or that it’s hard is because if it was something we were naturally good at, if we already knew the answer, we wouldn’t need the advice. But because it’s, we don’t know the answer, it means we’re out of our comfort zone. And so when we receive the advice, we’re out of our comfort zone. And to act out of your comfort zone is always hard.

Elayne Fluker: 32:26 So does PivotGround provide a whole staff to your clients that the organization, like you find their staff for them that does these things or comes in for awhile or does the organization come to you and your team does the digital strategies and aspects for each client with your internal team?

Sarah Olivieri: 32:44 We do that. We have an internal/external team. We kind of partner up with a bunch of different agencies and then we all work together through PivotGround. And so we help the clients put together their strategy. Especially with smaller organizations we try to empower them to learn how to do it themselves and then provide just some guidance, especially with like how to monitor their own strategy and build on it. Larger organizations often benefit more from the kind of insight that, you know, for me, when I’m an outsider, I can often see problems are clear to me that aren’t clear to them because they’re in the middle of it. So if you have large departments it can be really helpful to have an outside person looking in. But if you’re small, you know, a little advice and some training can go a long way.

Elayne Fluker: 33:34 So for nonprofits, do you work with varying sizes like larger, you know, maybe well known nonprofits to smaller ones? And I ask that because sometimes as soon as people think about, I shouldn’t say as soon as, a lot of people that I’ve spoken to who have either worked with nonprofits before or think about it, some of them, one of the things that they often hear from other people is nonprofits have no money, you know, unless you’re talking about, you know, the Red Cross or something like that.

Sarah Olivieri: 33:59 Yeah, there are plenty of nonprofits who have money, although even ones with multimillion dollar budgets often struggle to feel like they have money to invest in themselves. That’s a whole other issue. It’s a cultural issue in nonprofits kind of for a long time, investing in growth and operations was really frowned upon and it’s created just some history that needs undoing let’s say.

Elayne Fluker: 34:29 Some unlearning needs to happen.

Sarah Olivieri: 34:32 Some unlearning, some restructuring. But I think for larger nonprofits, meaning they have like, you know, multimillion dollar budgets, generally we work with them one on one, guiding them through and identifying kind of what, when to work on it. Cause building a strategy really works best when you keep identifying capacity issues. And either your strategy addresses how you’re gonna solve them and when you’re going to solve them. Although often I find there’s like an initial amount of just capacity building that can just be done, just like tweaking things so that they have more capacity so that they can follow a more bold strategy. For smaller organizations, I’m really excited because we have this new group coaching program. So basically we’re taking smaller nonprofits through the same tools and processes we do with our one on one clients and we still get lots of guidance from me. But we’re doing it in a group setting. There’s more learning for the executive directors and leaders to like how to do it themselves. And then there’s the group environment so they get that support from peers as well.

Elayne Fluker: 35:44 What’s the program called? Can we find it on your website?

Speaker 4: 35:47 Sure. I’ll give you a link that you can share with the show notes because it’s new enough that we haven’t been blasting it out on our website. Right now we’re calling it the Executive Directors Coaching Program. I’ll provide you with a link to it, but you can find it or you can just message us on our site or on Facebook and we can give you more information about it.

Elayne Fluker: 36:10 Perfect. Thank you. So everyone, of course, I’ll have links as you said, Sarah, in the show notes by the time we have this up, which will be a little bit from now. So we’ll definitely have that for anyone listening who’s in the nonprofit space or knows someone who should consider doing this, investing in themselves and going through this coaching program.

Sarah Olivieri: 36:28 And completely unintentionally, I have to say that the program costs $2,400, which is pretty much exactly what I invested. So I know it’s a lot, but I also know it’s doable and it will completely pay off.

Elayne Fluker: 36:42 Yeah. So we talked about nonprofits and money within nonprofits. Tell us about the future of digital fundraising. I saw that either on your website or somewhere else and I was intrigued by how that affects nonprofits specifically.

Sarah Olivieri: 36:55 Sure. Kind of a big topic, the future of digital fundraising, but it very much, I think while there’s lots of details and tools and things that can be learned, I encourage people to think actually about the context of the Internet now. So to make this story really short, and I have a blog post coming out, if you want to read a longer version. It starts with the printing press, which scaled our ability to have one to many communication, right? We could print books and send one person’s out, one person’s ideas out to thousands of people using a book. And then the internet came along and it basically scaled that many times over. Now almost anybody could publish their idea on the internet or send out an email blast to thousands of people. And so that’s one to many communication. So one person’s idea to many people all at once. Then kind of in like 2006-ish, the Internet really changed and it became, it started like gathering data, people’s activities and we could kind of make some rules, like if somebody is doing this thing, give them this version. If someone’s doing that thing, give them another version. Really simple form of that would be like a mobile version for a site, which is no longer a thing and a desktop version. But that was a thing at one time. Or going onto Amazon and having, you know, my Amazon homepage that I go to is not the same as yours because Amazon’s tracked all my preferences and is displaying kind of dynamically. So this new internet, which also allows us to have like automated email sequences is about scaling our one to one communication. It’s about having more of like a pseudo personalized experience. And many people are still catching up with this version of the Internet. So for nonprofits, the kind of biggest thing I see is people are still sending out like a mass e-blast newsletter thing when really they should be sending out one to one type correspondence. It looks like a real email from a real person and took a clue from some sort of action that the person took like, oh, they read this article about, you know, saving puppies. So now we’re going to send them something that has something to do with saving puppies or we’re going to send them our loving animals series as opposed to our care for the park series. So it becomes much more personalized and customized. And now, so that’s really important for fundraising because fundraising has always been about building relationships with people because when you’re fundraising, it’s like sales, but what you’re selling is an emotional journey, an emotional experience that the donor gets to take with you. So it’s really important to take advantage of this ability to scale your one to one relationships. Coming down the pipeline is artificial intelligence and what I call like augmented intelligence, where we’re still the actor, but a computer’s kind of dishing up some suggestions. So we’re seeing it now a lot like in email programs, like it’s suggesting what you’re probably going to respond and you can now respond in half the time because you didn’t have to write congratulations. Like Google just knew the right word and you just had to click on the word. So I love augmented automation and what this new wave is is about what I’m calling scaling your none to one and your none to many communications. So we’re starting to have like enough data points and enough of the right type of computer programming to just make it simple to allow a computer basically to generate the content. That was the one person on the other end and then either distribute that to many people or to a single person.

Elayne Fluker: 40:55 That was amazing. I know you said it was a big topic, but that was really extraordinary and I love to, what I really hung onto was this idea that of course the internet seems like it’s getting certainly smarter and smarter if not bigger and bigger. I guess more and more people are getting online, so in that way bigger and bigger. But the idea or what you pointed out is that as much as everything’s getting bigger and bigger, the future is figuring out a way to make your customer client or whoever you’re communicating with feel like it’s a one to one. Scaling to a one-to-one seems sort of counter intuitive.

Sarah Olivieri: 41:31 And I think, you know, when I think about digital fundraising or really any digital marketing, which is all about building relationships in any market, there’s a formula I use. It’s like human psychology, like whatever motivates us to act. And that’s pretty constant, like it doesn’t really change times the context of whatever the Internet is right now, equals like whether or not a person will engage. So to cut through the noise of the Internet. There’s so many things commanding our attention these days. You have to lean on human psychology and just really think about like, what is the context of this technology and you know, and build something from that route rather than looking at the noise and getting lost in a bazillion pathways.

Elayne Fluker: 42:24 And some of the tactics that you mentioned that I heard with making things feel more scaling to one to one is the phrase that you use, you know, when you’re sending out your newsletters, it’s more of an email format than a newsletter format. Is that what I heard?

Sarah Olivieri: 42:40 Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it’s easier to do. Like instead of having a template or whatever, you replace that with an email from a leader at your organization or somebody who’s relevant to be sending that content and say, you know, Hey Bob or Dear John, I was sitting at my computer and I, you know, was thinking of this thing and it’s just plain text. The more it looks like a regular email that someone actually wrote to you, the better.

Elayne Fluker: 43:09 Right. People are more, I know when I get emails like that I’m more likely at least to skim it to see what it says as opposed to if it’s a newsletter, unless it’s someone I know, it’s like, okay I can’t read that right now even if I have to go back to it.

Sarah Olivieri: 43:22 Cause it wasn’t for you or you didn’t feel it was for you. It’s less important. And I mean the thing about human psychology, like even if you don’t get deep into some of this stuff that’s cool about neuroscience is people mostly think about themselves. And so if you can just remember that, so they want to hear about them, they don’t want to hear about you, cause it’s like an easy rule of thumb, but because for you, you like talking about you more than you like talking about them. So you kind of kind of like turn your brain to put yourself in their shoes. Which we’ve all heard since kindergarten, but it’s still really hard to do. But that’s what you have to do is put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about what they really want to hear about. And usually it has something to do with themselves.

Elayne Fluker: 44:11 And then the other thing you talked about was these email sequences or even if not email sequences, just content to them that is more targeted based on their, say search results or things like that. So there are tools or agencies like yours that people would have to turn to for things like that. But that’s something else that, that we should pay attention to scale to one.

Sarah Olivieri: 44:32 Yeah, absolutely. And you have to, you have to kind of plan ahead. So instead of just saying like, I’m going to send out an email to my list, if you haven’t done any of this work before, send out an email and have two links to test who’s interested in what. Or you could just have one link. So like say you have like, you know, if you want to read about our programs for saving the environment, click here. We’ve got a great new article that we think you’d be interested in. You know, if you’d like to hear about our saving children programs, click here and that it doesn’t, you don’t really want them at that moment you might not care whether or not they read anything about them, but you want to see who clicked on what. And so you’ve got to plan in kind of ways of capturing that data. And usually the simplest way is by embedding a link in the email and then tracking your, and most email programs will do this that send mass emails, tracking who opened what and then you can tag them or however the email program kind of bulk will give you a list of everybody who clicked this link versus everybody who clicked that link.

Elayne Fluker: 45:42 Right. Excellent. So what would you say have been the greatest challenges in your business and how are you overcoming it today?

Sarah Olivieri: 45:51 Oh, man. You know, there’s always a new challenge around the corner that you don’t know what it’s gonna be. So, you know, trying to figure out what you don’t know is probably the hardest thing in business. How can you know what you don’t know? You know, growth is always full of ups and downs and so kind of managing our company care and our own self care through that process, that’s probably like every challenge has been related to that. Things got hard and then it stayed harder longer than we expected or things got good and didn’t stay good as long as we’d hoped. But I think overall, like generally the solution has been recognizing that a timeline is really important and the faster we get through certain things, as long as we get through them well, the better off we are. And that really has involved spending money on experts. You know, I really can’t recommend that enough. It really has solved a lot of issues for us because experts in whatever topic it is, they can see what you can’t, they can tell you that thing you don’t know. And you know, that ability to essentially see around the corner is priceless.

Elayne Fluker: 47:25 What would you say entrepreneurship has taught you about yourself as a woman?

Sarah Olivieri: 47:30 Oh, man. You know, in some ways I think my journey as an entrepreneur has been very linked to being a woman, especially as I really discovered myself as an entrepreneur through a process of getting divorced. And I had a young child at the time and it actually really, it converged that I was kind of setting my schedule of my custody schedule with my son at the same time as I was thinking about how many hours I had to put into my business and whether or not I’d need to hire people to do other things. That made it really crystal clear for me that I did need to hire other people. But otherwise, you know, I think in some ways it’s very empowering just to be a woman who isn’t affected by being a woman because you own your own business on the inside. You know, my team is all very supportive, there’s no issue that I’m a woman. At the same time from the outside there’s still plenty of pressures. It’s always hard to tell whether or not the fact that you’re a woman is a factor in the interactions you have with the world. I try to be aware of it, but it is hard and I’ve certainly been aware as I’ve branded my company and put my own image out there, the fact that my own image is the image of a woman and there are many ways I could present myself to the world publicly and just trying to be conscious about what I’m comfortable with and what would also be effective from a branding and marketing standpoint. And those two things are sometimes at odds. So there’s a lot of stuff to navigate that is both about being entrepreneur and very much about being a woman.

Elayne Fluker: 49:29 So in closing, Sarah, if you think over your life and career and you had a chance to thank only one person who support was critical to you personally or professionally, who would that be and what would you say?

Sarah Olivieri: 49:43 Well, there have been many people, but I would say my mother, even that’s probably cliche, but, my mother ran, I went to a small private school, an after elementary school that was very, it was lovely and it was started by some incredible innovative people. And after I left, the school is in financial trouble and my mother took on running the school even though she’d never run a school. And she just started with the bookkeeping and she said like, you know, I’ll figure this out. I’m willing. And she did figure it out. And so when it came to be my turn to take on some problems in organization, I was involved with, you know, she just told me, she’s like, you can figure it out. It’s really just a matter of diving into the problem and doing that. And I knew, you know, she had done it. So that was a great role model. But that encouragement and that has served me again and again. So many times when a problem emerges, it’s really just the willingness to look at it deeply and try to find a solution, that’s the secret sauce. A lot of people just aren’t looking or they aren’t willing to put in the time to figure out the solution and so therefore they don’t. And so she gave me that and I think that has been the biggest, the biggest inspiration. And the best advice.

Elayne Fluker: 51:06 That’s the best advice. And that willingness will either get you there, get you through or just leave you sitting on the sidelines.

Sarah Olivieri: 51:13 Yeah, I mean, I think the thing is like, successful entrepreneurs are great at failing and overcoming failures. And I think overcoming sounds much bigger than it really is. It’s just continuing. Yeah, don’t let it stop you. Like it sucks to fail. But if you can get through the experience of loss and try to get some key takeaways and just move on, the faster you do that, the farther along you’ll be on an entrepreneurial journey.

Elayne Fluker: 51:47 That’s right. Now what are the ways that we can support you? Tell everyone website, of course, I’ll have links to anything we didn’t have links for here and we’ll have that all set up in the show notes. But just so everyone can hear how to find out more about you and your work.

Sarah Olivieri: 51:59 Sure. The website’s And you know, I think even though not everybody works in a nonprofit, almost everybody’s involved with a nonprofit, so spread the word. I’m on a new mission, PivotGround is on a mission starting this year to make organized, optimized and thriving the new status quo for nonprofits. And there’s an industry concept that like nonprofits are chaotic and disorganized and somehow that’s like part of their nature and will never change. And I just don’t believe that. I think nonprofits can run extremely efficiently and be organized. And I think that our world needs them to run even better than for profit organizations because they’re doing such amazing work. So spreading the word that like being optimized and organized as like cool for nonprofits and that they should accept nothing less and put in the work. And if they’d like some help, come find PivotGround and we will get you there.

Elayne Fluker: 53:00 And that’s your Impact Method, right?

Sarah Olivieri: 53:02 Yeah. Yeah.

Elayne Fluker: 53:03 Excellent. Thank you so much, Sarah. This was so great. I went in, well I probably took it in different directions just cause I love the way you think about things as far as running your business, setting up your business as we talked about saying yes and some of those things that are other challenges that we might not necessarily be conscious of all the time but still come up for most of us as entrepreneurs, especially in the early days.

Sarah Olivieri: 53:28 Thank you. Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I always love, you know, talking about the journey and helping people find their own way.

Elayne Fluker: 53:40 That’s right. Now, before you go, what’s a partying piece of advice from you to our listeners about anything?

Sarah Olivieri: 53:45 I probably gave it already. It’s when you get good advice, follow it, go out of your comfort zone, just do it. You know, it’s like taking your medicine. Just try following it. You probably don’t know better and do it maybe not to a t but you know, so there’s certain things you might have to adapt but really do it. Don’t be like, oh, I’m just going to take this piece or that piece. Make sure it is good advice and what my kind of litmus test for good advice, if somebody is giving you the advice, did they ask questions first about your situation? If they didn’t try to take a moment to ask and understand where you are before they gave the advice, then it’s probably, you know, they’re probably not great advice givers, but otherwise there’s books that are full of incredible advice. Really great experts tend to put their ideas down in books. Once they’ve like fine tuned and honed in on their expertise. So read or you know, if you need to put skin in the game, spend money to follow that good advice. Sometimes that’s what it takes to push yourself in that direction.

Elayne Fluker: 54:56 All right. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Sarah to find out more about her, to find out about PivotGround and resources mentioned in this episode. Make sure you go to and just search Sarah. Her show notes page will pop up with links and resources, all the ways to get in touch with her and to find out more. and just search Sarah. Thank you so much for being here. You know, I appreciate you and as I always say, it wouldn’t be the same without you. Until we chat again, always remember, support is sexy and having it all doesn’t mean doing it all alone. And I’ll talk to you soon. Take care.

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