Thursday, September 29, 2011

You Get What You Measure

With apologies to a certain rock band, you don't get what you need, you get what you measure. This expression, you get what you measure, is a favourite management maxim of mine (along with "good, fast and cheap: pick any two") and is often helpful to keep in mind.

Successful for-profit organizations like Procter & Gamble are experts at measurement, and almost as importantly, know exactly what to measure.  I was reminded of this recently when a staff member at a client proudly informed me they had 140 followers on Twitter.  My response was to congratulate her, and then ask whether this had exceeded their goal or if this was faster than she had hoped?  Her answer?  There was no goal, 140 just seemed like a lot...

And 140 followers in a couple of months may indeed be stellar, but unless you set up a goal and measure against it, you'll never actually know.  Here are some simple guidelines to help both charities and for-profit organizations set good goals and measure against them appropriately.

  • Set the target(s) before the activity - setting them afterwards doesn't count
  • You can adjust the target but don't discard the original - you'll want to learn from why you changed it
  • Document your goal and share it - it will make you more likely to achieve it and keep you honest!
  • Do some research about the goal - too stretching becomes demotivating, too easy adds little value
  • Make your goals / targets "SMART"
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-bound
  • Always do a post-mortem - this debrief will be extremely helpful to avoid future mistakes and cement best practices
The final point is to be careful what you measure.  You can drown in metrics, and I first heard the phrase "analysis paralysis" at P&G for a reason.  So do be selective.  And in being selective, seek to find the most fundamental drivers to your success.  In any organization there are many things that are important, but ultimately only a few key levers that you can use to drive the whole operation.  For example, in Fundraising you may want to measure how many Prospects you have, but its often more helpful to count how many Prospect Meetings are booked per month.

So be sure to measure because it will directly influence what you get!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Database Evolution: Avoiding Costly Mistakes

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and and over again and expecting the results to be different.  In my experience charities generally follow four main evolutionary steps in managing their data and database software...  And oddly enough the results are generally the same for all those charities!  Here are the outlines for the four stages, and some tips on how to avoid some costly pitfalls.

The first step for most charities, often because they're small and don't need much more, or because they're trying to be really thrifty, is to use a manual or paper-based system.  This can actually work pretty well, unless the charity grows or until the sticky-notes and hanging files get out of control.  So eventually someone takes the time to migrate to...

The next phase of database development is to use a spreadsheet (like Excel) or if there's a technically competent staffer or volunteer, some kind of pivot table.  Again, not a bad option for the right size organization with limited demands on its database, but usually someone (the Fundraisers, Board members, etc.) start wanting to actually use the data, and this forces the next evolutionary step.  This often leads to a...

Every charity is unique.  So it follows that each one needs its own unique database to meet its needs, right?  Wrong!  And yet so many charities spend loads of money pursuing their own special database path, sometimes creating unique campaign and fundraising events just to get started, or to build the next version.  Yet with few exceptions (e.g. large charities with the resources to keep up with costly code-writing and upgrades) these stand-alone systems rapidly become outdated, expensive to maintain, and very hard to use.  My strong advice is to avoid this step if at all possible and, if your charity needs this level of database support, move straight to...

There are countless options for charities of all sizes and budgets to manage their databases effectively and efficiently.  And if you need something unique to support your specific needs, most of these packages can have modules "bolted on", or even new code written, for far less cost than sustaining a proprietary system.  And you get the benefit of thousands or even millions of other users helping to spread out the costs of upgrades and tech support, generating a truly robust system.  My other tip would be to not necessarily go with the best known brand: like many major purchases and little research and solid advice can go a long way to save money and provide better options.

Avoid costly mistakes by thinking carefully about your database needs, or else you could wind up owning a dinosaur or even facing an evolutionary "dead end"!