The 5 Pillars of High-Growth Organizations and Other Insights from #NYNP2015

DMA NY Nonprofit Conference logo

I recently returned from speaking at the DMANF Nonprofit Conference held in the heart of NYC. My conference experience started off with an unexpected gem. The scheduled keynote speaker was sick and unable to present, but the silver lining is that we got the pleasure of hearing from guest keynote speaker, Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, an organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world.

In his engaging keynote, Adam outlined the 5 pillars of high-growth organizations.

1. Narrow the narrative. When speaking about your organization, it’s very tempting to want to talk about everything you do. Adam advises to keep your mission simple to explain and understand. Think one person, one symbol, and one outcome. Adam illustrated this with his story of how he got the idea to start Pencils of Promise from his experience volunteering and working in developing countries. When a poor child told him that a pencil was what he most wanted, Adam was struck by the value that this simple tool had and the larger doors educational opportunities could then open for people. In explaining his work, he tells this simple story of one person (the boy), one symbol (the pencil), and one outcome (increasing educational opportunities), that translates into an easily understandable organizational mission.


2. Rationale leads to confusion, emotion leads to action. The part of your brain that deals with compelling emotions is different than the part that deals with logic. You don’t want to appeal to the rational brain when you want someone to pledge a large sum of money—it’s not a rational act. Rather, when you’re trying to get supporters to donate or take action to support your cause, appeal to their emotional brain, and separate this from the more factual information about your work.

3. With social media, focus on channels, then features. What social media channels should you focus on? Braun answered this question with a quote from Wayne Gretsky: Don’t skate to where the puck is; skate to where the puck is going to be.” Have an eye out for the social media channels that are growing with the audience you are trying to reach. Focus on channels that optimize mobile and share short-form content. Another key to success is finding simple social media hacks to save time and extend your reach. Braun suggested IF as a terrific tool for working smarter and spending less time on social media.

4. Do small things that help others feel big. Look for small actions that pay big dividends and have emotional appeal to your donors. Braun gave the example of a targeted campaign they did to youth who were mostly non-donors but highly active on social media. Instead of a “Click to donate” button, they used a “Click to tweet” call to action to share the news about their #GivingTuesday campaign. The result was a huge success with user engagement, which put their name out there. The exposure resulted in an unexpected big grant they received because of their large reach.

5. Get to know each item in your tool belt. Use different tactics at your disposal to tailor your campaign to fit the needs of your supporters without compromising your purpose. Braun asserted that organizations should stop referring to themselves as “nonprofits,” since this suggests a minimization of resources instead of a maximization of impact. Instead, he suggests, “You do not work for a nonprofit; you work for a for-purpose organization.”

I also got to check out the session, “Pay to Play: Using Digital Media to Stack the Odds in Your Favor” with NTEN Members Julie Leary and Ann Nguyen of Whole Whale, who presented with Mihika Sapru of Breakthrough. They gave many data-driven examples of how organizations, like Breakthrough and the National Black Programming Consortium, have successfully used paid digital platforms to acquire new leads, and convert and retain online and multichannel donors. You can check out their big list of resources from their presentation for more on making the most of your digital media investment.

NTEN Board Member, Farra Trompeter of Big Duck, and I presented our session, “Go Fund Yourself: How Crowdfunding & Peer-to-Peer is Dangerously Changing Fundraising.” We explored the how and why of crowdfunding, broke down the basics of different types of crowdfunding campaigns, and shared tips and strategies for success. It was exciting to get to see many NTEN Members there in person and get lots of interesting questions from the audience. Here are the slides from our presentation. For more on crowdfunding, register for NTEN’s upcoming Ask the Expert event on planning successful fundraising campaigns.

For the last conference session, I joined Jonathan Benton and Michael Ward of M+R in speaking about the 2015 Nonprofit Benchmarks Report. This year marks the eighth year of this annual report from NTEN and M+R, and by far, the largest number of nonprofit participants in the study. More participants means that we have better data and can report on more things, including several new categories this year. You can download the full benchmarks report or go benchmark yourself: enter in your organization’s data and see how your organization compares. (P.S. Be sure you also scroll down and click the cat button).

Did you attend NY Nonprofit Conference? What were your key takeaways from the event?

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