TEDx Talks, Deconstructed for Nonprofits

As mentioned in my last blog post, nonprofits could learn a few things from the way TED and TEDx approach presenting to live audiences. I asked Carlos Montoya, who led speaker development for the 2013 Sacramento event, to describe how TEDx manages to produce such moving presentations, and to provide tips for nonprofits.

1.  As nonprofits consider who tells their story, have you found that there are certain characteristics of people who can make good speakers? Are good speakers made or born?

TEDx talks have a format that is different from what most speakers are used to. Those speakers who are the most successful often share a willingness to learn, explore, and engage in the TEDx format. With regards to whether a speaker is made or born, I have to say it could be either. There are some speakers who are natural on stage and others who are not but are so passionate about their idea that with a little practice they can deliver just as well.

2.  What’s the first step when you begin working with a speaker? They have an idea, you know what format works best for TedX. Then what?

The first step usually starts a little earlier and consists of an initiation email that includes a lot of information such as TED guidelines and process timeline. In this email we request that the speaker send us a one page treatment or outline of their idea. With treatment in hand, an initial conversation is scheduled.

The initial conversation varies and depends on how detailed the treatment is at this point in the process. However, here are three things that I generally try and accomplish during that conversation:

·         Ask the speaker to run through their idea and what they have so far.

·         Listen to every word and try to get a sense of the speaker’s natural delivery style and the structure of their key points from the perspective of an audience.

·         Ask a few questions and provide some speaker specific feedback.

3.  What’s the rest of the process look like, between that initial meeting and standing up in front of TedX?

Many more conversations like the one described above working toward refining the key message and pairing that message with other elements such slides, props, video, or performance. Two weeks prior to the event we request the near final presentation and schedule 2 or 3 rehearsals with the entire TEDx speaker team to provide additional feedback. The day before the event we hold an in-person dress rehearsal at the venue.

4.  (If one comes to mind) What’s the most powerful talk you’ve ever heard given by a nonprofit at TedX? What made it so compelling?

This is an interesting question. A specific talk from a nonprofit doesn’t come to mind immediately. But there is a reason for that, a TEDx talk according to the guidelines should not have a commercial agenda.

“Speakers should not promote their own products, books, or businesses or those of a company which employs them. The only exception is where they have specifically been invited to give a powerful product demo, or to describe the ideas in their book, and here the focus should still be on the technology and/or the ideas.” – TED.com

That said, Ron Finley, Salman Khan, Bill Gates, and Mark Roth have each delivered great TED talks, Melinda Gates delivered a TEDx talk that shares some key lessons for nonprofits. At last year’s TEDx Sacramento, Chris Ategeka delivered a talk that ended in a standing ovation. In my opinion, the power comes not just from the idea but from the story behind the idea that resonates with our own experiences.

5. You’ve probably heard some pitches or presentations by nonprofits. What do you think nonprofits do wrong, or could do better?

The few pitches or presentations by nonprofits that I have heard usually do a great job at presenting information. However, in today’s world, with the abundance of information available at our fingertips, information has become somewhat disposable so we have to look at new ways at extracting meaning from information and make it accessible. I think this is one of the strengths of TEDx talks because the story is as important as the idea. The story is what connects us to the idea and drives the audience to action.

6.  You appear to have some guidelines, like using slides, but emphasizing a limited number and using images intensively rather than words. Throwing in a few humorous lines, etc. What are the guidelines you’ve found work best to grab and inspire an audience.

There are speaker guidelines developed by TED that are sent to each speaker that discusses the format and what has worked best at TED. Here locally, we have found that shorter talks work better. We often work with speakers to cut each talk down to 10 minutes, to focus both the speaker and the talk.  Another guideline is to have the delivery be more conversational rather than a presentation. We also recommend that if using slides that the slide present only one piece of information and not detract the audience from the speaker. Beyond these guidelines, I often borrow from various storytelling devices that I think could enhance the speaker’s ability to share their idea.

7.  So what do you want to do before you die (per the blackboard in the park)?

For me at this point, the list is still too long but one thing would be to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and reach the summit on a clear day.

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Ten Things Nonprofits Can Learn from #TEDxSacramento2013

TEDx Sacramento held its “Confluence” event on Friday, June 28. Its rapid-fire series of brief talks aimed to pique curiosity and encourage the bubbling up of “ideas worth spreading.”

The audience sat rapt.

As I participated, I thought about how TEDx does what it does, and what nonprofits can learn about attracting attention and/or provoking action.  Here are my top 9 tips:

1.  TedX chose speakers who had done or experienced something unusual. Novelty is important. People are programmed to identify patterns.  If you hear a list like this — monkey, banana, jungle, airplane, sun – you’ll remember the thing that doesn’t fit the pattern best. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the whole day, but here are a few thumbnail examples:

  • a banker-turned-change-agent re-interpreted the model of payday loans to help the 45% of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck get access to fairly-priced short-term financing and build credit history
  • a 9-year-old persevered in his quest to be admitted to college courses
  • a woman whose travails with MS taught her the value of humor has been inspired to pursue a career in standup
  • a teacher whose desire to live legally with his husband of many years took him to the forefront of an educational revolution in Brazil
  • a high tech entrepreneur turned the image of hacking on its head, as a power for creation rather than destruction or other nefarious ends

2.  The speakers weren’t famous. They weren’t celebrities promoting a cause, nor were they recognized leaders of organizations or companies. This wasn’t the Sacramento Speaker Series. Part of what made the presentations interesting was the ability to see yourself in the speakers: hey, they weren’t famous or rich and they saw a way to do something!

3.  Every presentation had a good hook. Nine year old Tanishq Abraham began his presentation, “I know what you’re thinking. Why college at age 7?” It was so ludicrous that it worked. (Of course just seeing a 9 year old address an audience of 500 with a precocious intelligence is jarring all by itself.

4.  They used stories effectively. Sasha Orloff described how “Michelle” got stuck in the debt trap when she needed immediate access to funds to pay medical bills. Greg Gopman put us on the scene as he talked self-taught Errol out of quitting New York’s biggest hackathon. “I was there when he walked out with the first place prize for the first application he ever built. He called me last week and told me he just raised $1 million for it.” Taniqsh and Sandi Selvi (the M.S. survivor) used their own powerful stories.

5.  They talked short. The beauty of TED and TEDx talks is that they are blessedly sweet. They don’t try to make a whole bunch of points. They make one point.

6.  They used humor. Okay, occasionally the funny lines were pretty obviously written by someone else for the speakers. You could almost imagine the Speaker Developer saying, “We need something a little light here. How about saying…” But the humor worked.

7.  They posed a question or offered a few lessons – no more than three. Brain science tells us that people can’t remember more than about seven things in a list (no mystery as to why telephone numbers are 7 numbers long). Sasha Orloff knew that the reputation of payday lenders is terrible, and deservedly so, but he reframed the sector by looking at the problem: people who can’t get loans from banks still need access to funds on a short-term basis, and a way to build credit. But he broadened out the appeal of his presentation by provocatively asking, “How can you rethink broken?”

8.  They understood the value of suspense. Many people follow the old speaking guideline of “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” TEDx speakers don’t seem to do that. They say they are going to share three lessons, for example, but then tell them one-by-one. They don’t give you the outline upfront, and it seems to make the audience listen more attentively. Having heard lesson one, the audience is attuned for two and three.

9. They used slides, but sparingly. Atlantic Monthly had it right about 10 years ago when they began an article, “Before there was PowerPoint, there were conversations.” The slides were culled to the bare minimum, dominated by images, and contained very few words.

10. And yes, they were coached. The speakers weren’t perfect but their humanity and the fact that they weren’t professional speakers made them all the more appealing. They obviously had a coach working with them for hours on their material. More nonprofits should avail themselves of having an outsider who really understands oral presentations work with them on their elevator speeches.

Formulaic? Yes, but effective. I’d love to see every nonprofit have a version of a TEDx talk ready to give at a  moment’s notice.

Stay tuned: With help from Brandon Weber, TEDx Sacramento’s Curator, I made contact with the event’s speaker developer, Carlos Montoya, and have sent him some questions that I hope he’ll answer about how TEDx prepares their speakers.

P.S. Love TED? Capitol Public Radio now features the TED Radio Hour at noon on Mondays at 90.9 on the FM band or listen live on the website.

More about TEDx (independently licensed local events) and Sacramento’s own version here.

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Before I Die, I Want to _________________

That’s what TedX Sacramento asked participants to write on a big blackboard on Friday.

My best oldest friend recently reminded people what I used to say when we were teenagers. I told her I wanted to be wise. Maybe I thought that would be an admirable answer. But now that I am where I am in my life, I think it’s still a pretty good answer.

I spent a lot of time in the past 7 years with someone I considered very wise, and wisdom turned out to be something different than I imagined.

My father, who died in January at the age of 96, didn’t offer his opinions, although his were well informed by experience. He didn’t try to demonstrate how much he knew, although he was well educated and read broadly. He was patient, and humble to the point of self-effacing.

And to much of the world, he was invisible.

This, to me, is one of the great tragedies of our time: that we live in communities with more and more old people, and we mostly ignore them because they are seen as no longer beautiful, not useful as a source of social connections, don’t get the inside jokes, and – horror of horrors – they are not fast. They take too long pulling out of parking spaces and writing checks at the grocery store. Their stories can’t be condensed in 140 characters.

Until his last few months of life, my Dad was capable of listening with great empathy, as if he had nothing more important to do than to listen to my problems or those of others. And maybe that’s the point, he really didn’t have anything more important to do. He was able to devote 100% of his attention to anyone who was sincere and making an effort.

His wisdom was dispensed in stories, not just the ones with successful endings, but the things that caused him pain. Through these stories, he conveyed what really mattered: family, accountability, bravery, loyalty, integrity.

We have time and money to address childhood poverty, as we should. But there seems to be no moral outrage that one out of five of seniors in California is living in poverty, according to the supplemental Census bureau measure that factors in the cost of medicine, which is not an elective expensive for seniors. One in ten seniors doesn’t have enough food to meet their needs.

Seniors may not hold the future, but they may help us to live our future better. With their wisdom, maybe they will help us to avoid a few mistakes, or to correct a few that we’ve made. If only we can unplug from our social networks and pause from the demands of our lives long enough to notice the precious resources who lie hidden among us.

Lessons of a sometime-social observer, caregiver and her father may be found at TheHenryChronicles.com

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Now THAT’S Followup – Thanks Figgy Pudding!

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 3.50.43 PM

In December, just before my father’s health fell apart, I was visiting Seattle and managed to be there for Figgy Pudding, a big caroling contest that benefits a local charity.

Each caroling team has a hashtag. When you vote by text using the hashtag to identify your favorite, it generates $5 for the Pike Market Senior Center.

I just received this text:

Your gift to Figgy Pudding 2012: already provided 23,445 meals at Pike Market Senior Center this year. Thank YOU!! Save the date: Figgy 2013 is Fri, Dec. 6.

#ArtsDayofGiving folks and local Sacramento charities, take note!

If you’re in Seattle the first weekend of December next year, GO! It’s a blast.

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What’s “Good” Nonprofit Facebook Growth?

Being liked on Facebook isn’t enough, but it’s not a bad place to start. Facebook continues to be an important channel for building engagement with community members, volunteers, donors and potential donors.

In March 2010 I started tracking a sampling of Sacramento nonprofits to understand something about the growth of Facebook. By “sampling,” I do not mean that I constructed a representative sample; let’s say I taste-tested them to get a sense of average performance and growth. Though there were baseline numbers out there in the blogosphere, they were generally for big, national organizations. I wanted to know what a local nonprofit should be striving to achieve.

I’ve now got 33* organizations in my sights including a few that I added in this round and a few that I exclude from analysis as outliers.

Here are the highlights from an analysis of 24 local nonprofits:

  • In 2010 (when I was tracking a much smaller comparison group), the average number of likes was around 500. The average is now 973.
  • I was surprised by the continuing growth between June 3, 2012 and June 3, 2013. As the denominator gets bigger, it gets harder to achieve impressive growth. That’s just math. I was also concerned that Facebook’s changes have made it harder for nonprofits’ content to be seen as widely. Among the 24 nonprofits who had at least 500 likes last year, growth ranged from a low of 11% (People Reaching Out) to a high of 63% (United Way California Capital Region).
  • In the group with 500-1,000 likes last year, growth averaged 34%. (United Way fell in this group, with 501 likes as of 6/3/12 and 815 as of 6/2/13).
  • In the group with 1,000+ likes last year, growth averaged 39%. The “winner” in this larger category was Effie Yeaw Nature Center, which grew from 1,125 likes a year ago to 1,763 today. The growth of this larger category impressed me. It suggested that whatever “machine” they ginned up to get to the 1,000 mark is still accelerating.

What about the outliers?

I don’t know what’s going on with Stanford Youth Solutions (formerly Stanford Children’s Home). They started their Facebook page in 2011 and had 393 likes this time last year. Now they have 70. They’ve redone their website but their social link (singular) is buried (unobtrusively displayed on the right several screen swipes down).

Susan G. Komen, which experienced a dramatic drop in racer participants, has also had a huge loss in Facebook friends, dropping from 9,815 in 2012 to 6,948 today, a 29% drop.

I also exclude the Crocker Art Museum because of their size. But they should be feeling great about continuing growth, from 13,860 a year ago to 18,194 today, 31% growth!

How’d they do that?

Facebook doesn’t have to be a part of a nonprofit’s marketing strategy, but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a circumstance when it doesn’t belong in it.

One of the obvious differences between organizations that grew rapidly and those that didn’t is the placement of Facebook on their website page. I suspect that also carries over to other communications – printed materials, emails, etc.

For every rule, however, there’s an exception. Effie Yeaw is obviously doing a great job of promoting their Facebook page, but not on their website. If the link is there, I couldn’t find it!

I’ll do some more sleuthing to see if I can ferret out winning approaches in content as a driver of Facebook growth.

*The organizations I track – all local affiliates:

United Way, American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs, Child Abuse Prevention Center, Children’s Receiving Home, Crocker Art Museum, Diogenes Youth Center, Effie Yeaw, Foodlink, Francis House, Give Local Now, Goodwill, Hands On Sacramento, Junior Achievement, Lilliput, Loaves and Fishes, Make a Wish, People Reaching Out, PRIDE Industries, River City Food Bank, Sacramento Children’s Home, Sacramento Steps Forward, Sacramento Tree Foundation, Sierra Forever Families, Salvation Army, Susan G. Komen, Stanford Youth Solutions, St. John’s Shelter, Volunteers of America, WEAVE, WIND Youth Services, Women’s Empowerment, The Y of Sacramento

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#ArtsDayofGiving: The Learning Continues

How often are you thrilled to receive an online survey? I was yesterday when I received an email invitation to complete an online survey for Arts Day of Giving donors.

What did inquiring minds want to know? Besides the usual demographics, satisfaction, and “how you heard about” questions, the survey should be helpful in answering some of the questions about cannibalization – specifically whether the event brought in existing donors, or new donors.

After asking donors how many nonprofits they supported, it gave donors the opportunity to identify whether the nonprofit(s) they supported were those they:

  • Already support
  • Supported in the past
  • Were aware of but never supported before
  • Never supported before but learned about through the event, or
  • All of the above

It also probed the importance of the match in spurring action, and whether participants helped a nonprofit to pursue and/or win a challenge prize.

Other follow-up notes

Museum of Glass

I received a mailer from Museum of Glass promoting Seattle/Tacoma’s #GiveBig event… which unfortunately came about a week after the fact (it also promoted their annual membership drive – I’ve been a member). It did answer my question about whether some nonprofits mailed promotional materials out to existing supporters; at least in Seattle/Tacoma, they did.

I’ve also been paying attention to which of the 7 organizations I supported through #ArtsDayofGiving sent some kind of follow-up thank you. As mentioned in a previous post, Capital Public Radio’s Arla Gibson was right on it with a personalized thank you email as was Fairytale Town’s Kathy Fleming.

I also received snail mail thank you letters from Fairytale Town, the Crocker Art Museum and the Davis Art Center. Which means – unless I missed it – that I didn’t receive an acknowledgement from three organizations. I was a past (but not current) donor to two, and a new donor to the third.

So here’s a tickler for the organizers of the May 2014. KEEP tracking what happens with new (or resurfaced) donors, and how nonprofits communicate with them, even if just with a few “beta” nonprofits who agree to provide information… my theory is that the organizations who pay attention to new donors will convert more of them to repeat givers.

Three out of seven nonprofits I gave to fell down on the job.

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How Should a Nonprofit Board Track Progress?

Since what you report and manage can lead to better performance – and better implementation of a nonprofit’s mission – I’m a fan of periodic housecleaning of Board reports.

Habit creeps up on all of us. In the case of nonprofits, a Board president may ask to see certain reports as part of the Board meeting packet. Time goes by, and another Board president asks for additional information to be reported. Pretty soon, the executive director’s email has six or seven attachments – the things that he or she is used to reporting plus the other wiggly bits that have been added.

What the Board tracks is vital to a nonprofit’s ultimate success – if for no other reason than it educates the Board as to what is most critical to organizational performance.

A nonprofit that decides it’s time for a Board report house-cleaning should consider these questions:

1) What are the best indicators that the nonprofit is on solid footing and making progress on its goals and/or strategic plan?

2) What’s Board level information?

3) What’s it look like? What’s the best way to focus the Board’s attention by appropriately formatting the report or reports?

I’m actually going to address my three questions in reverse order.

What’s it look like

One of the most helpful tools for organizational effectiveness is a Dashboard Indicators report. The term derived from car instrumentation; we rely on our speedometer, gas gauge, etc., to tell us how things are going when we’re driving, right? Dashboard indicators for organizations point us to the information that tells us if something is wrong (or right).

Much of Corporate America has been using some form of a Dashboard Indicators (trademarked name Balanced Scorecard) since Robert Kaplan and David Norton popularized the idea in the early 90s. Although originally developed as a tool for management, many corporate Boards receive and review quarterly versions of these reports.

Below is an example of a county government’s scorecard. Notice that they figured out the  indicators that they believe to be most important. Then they color-coded the indicators as to whether they were on target (green), at risk (yellow) or below target (red).

http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/wtd/About/Finances/PI/Scorecard/~/media/environment/wtd/About/Finances/Productivity/08BalancedScorecard_700.ashx

Is this a Board-level report? No. The Board needs something more streamlined that speaks to its role and responsibility.

What’s Board level information?

Higher level information, for one thing. Boards shouldn’t see all of the information that management does. It would not only be crazy-making for the Board members but tempt them to step in and manage rather than govern. They should protect the public interest by ensuring that the organization is using its nonprofit resources appropriately and in a way that sustains the mission, identifying risks to the organization’s mission and stability, approving the strategy and evaluating the nonprofit’s work. Not focusing on things like why a mailing cost $1,100 instead of $1,000.

So what are the best indicators?

Kaplan and Norton’s approach used categories to focus attention not just on financials, but the measurable processes and activities that are required to deliver on the customer value proposition. For example, without a reliable and prepared supply of volunteers, many nonprofits couldn’t deliver their programs, so it’s critical to keep an eye on volunteer resources.

Typically dashboard indicators include four categories: financial, customers, operational business processes, and learning and growth (I tend to call this last one “organizational capacity”). Financial is pretty self explanatory. Operational business processes include things the organization must be really good at to deliver its programs while “customers” takes a little bit broader view of the value proposition and includes management of the brand. (Many businesses end up combining these in some fashion because of overlap, or just assigning some indicators to one bucket or another.)  Organizational capacity indicators include the activities that are critical to the organization’s continuity of internal management; it includes indicators or activities related to the technology platform, for example.

I don’t think the buckets are that critical, but they can help nudge management and the Board that there’s more to protecting the mission than the money. A whole system of moving parts – from internal capacities to operations – drives financial performance.

How does that translate to a nonprofit? It depends on the nonprofit and its funding model. An organization that receives government funding to provide a service will have a very different dashboard than one that provides compassionate relief services and is funded largely by individual donations.

I don’t want to complete wimp out on you and not offer some specifics, so here are 10 Board-level indicators that are important to many nonprofits:

1) Reserve operating funds – For many nonprofits, reserves are what allow the organization to smooth out nasty bumps like loss of a grant. This is a link to an example operating reserve policy provided by the Nonprofits Assistance Fund.

2) Gross “profit” % (also called contribution to overhead) – Management certainly needs to look at days of cash on hand and surplus or deficit compared to budget, but I think it’s important for nonprofits to realize they can’t be break even. They have to generate some surplus in order to pay for improvements to plant and technology, for example. A business might look at gross profit (revenue minus operating expense, divided by revenue). So, yes, nonprofits should track this number, expressed as a ratio, in the single digits (the number depends on the budget).

3) Revenue diversification – We’ve all heard stories about nonprofits that lost a big grant on which they depended for 50 or 60% of program revenues. Depending on the nonprofit’s funding model, it should have a target “mix” in mind, e.g. the % from individual donations, the % from grants, and the % from its major fundraising event.

4) Donor growth or average gift growth – A nonprofit may have plenty of donors, but a fairly small average gift size, or it could see its future strength coming from attracting more/new donors. What the right indicator is depends on the nonprofit’s situation, but it needs one or more indicators that reflect its fundraising strategy.

5) Program efficiency – Large funders are becoming savvier shoppers. They want to know that a program is achieving real long-term outcomes and that it is a good or better approach relative to others. Now is the time to start considering how many clients were served for the money (including some allocation of overhad).

6) Client service/satisfaction – The problem with measuring long-term outcomes is, well, they’re long term. Nonprofits have to translate the outcomes they hope to achieve into mid-term and short-term indicators such as the percent of clients completing a program and client satisfaction.

7) Volunteer supply or growth – For nonprofits that depend on volunteers to deliver their programs, tracking volunteer supply vs. budget and volunteer growth (net of attrition) are important indicators.

8) Meeting (big) contract standards – If the nonprofit has government funding for a program, there will be specific standards in the signed scope document.

9) Training completion – Hopefully the nonprofit has a documented process for delivering services, with expectations down to the employee or volunteer level. Ensuring that 100% of employees or volunteers is trained according to the organization’s service standards would be a worthy indicator.

10) Strategic goals or big project milestone tracking – If the organization has an approved strategic direction with specific objectives, or has budgeted for a big capital improvement, it would be appropriate to include high-level milestones in the dashboard indicators report.

Here are some more thoughts from Compasspoint.com’s Board cafe.

Technology to the rescue: business intelligence tools

Believe it or not, dashboards are a baby step (but a really, really important one). If your organization has absorbed the idea of paying attention to a limited number of critical indicators, it may be time to consider tools that make the job easier. Idealware.org has a great page about business intelligence tools you should check out.

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