This week marks the end of Convio as a distinct company. This is a week of lasts. The last exec staff meeting on Monday, the last Donut/Bagel Tuesday, my last managers meeting on Wednesday, my last 1:1’s on Thursday, culminated with a Convio Closing Ceremonies party on Friday. It feels like graduation week did in high school, except nobody is signing my yearbook and there’s no cap and gown.
When I arrived here almost four years ago (time flies when you are in the best job you’ve ever had) Convio was a gawky teenager—through the start up angst, but not quite ready to be a grown up either. So I did what I do best from a professional standpoint, I helped it mature. The marketing team had a lot of talent already when I got here, but was a little short on process. It was particularly short on processes that could SCALE. And when you’re trying to grow, and grow fast, you have to get really good at lather, rinse, repeat. Enter me. I’m proud of our results, and I’m proud of my team.
The executive team at Convio is really something special. I’m sure everybody thinks that about the people they work with, but in 25 years of doing this I have to say this is the best TEAM I’ve ever worked with. Gene Austin did that, and for that I will be forever grateful. He hired good people, but he didn’t hire superstar ball hogs. He hired the best TEAM. And then he made them better, both as individuals and as team players. Kind of like the 1980 US Hockey team, but without the throwing up at practice. My peers have made this job extraordinary and I thank each and every one of them, particularly those who will leave us: Dave Hart, Jim Offerdahl and Vinay Bhagat. I will miss them and I will miss this team. I’m glad that most of my pals will be part of Blackbaud, although we won’t be sitting around the table together as much as we used to.
Monday marks the first day of a new era, and like a high school senior, I’m anxious, excited, and worried about all the stuff I don’t know. Which, when I think about it is pretty much like every job I’ve ever taken. And if history serves, the jobs I took where I was the most anxious, and feeling the most over my head have always turned out to be the best jobs. So I’m sure this will be no exception. I’m looking forward to all the great things we can do together with all of this combined talent. While competing with Blackbaud has at times been fun, I’m actually looking forward to putting all that competitive energy into something else.
This week is for saying goodbye and preparing to move on. Commencement, we called it in 12th grade. I always thought that was a funny word for the end. But now I realize it really is just the beginning.
Soon Convio will be acquired by Blackbaud and as a result the last few weeks have been filled with reflection. I realized that I have been working for almost three decades in the tech sector, and during that journey I have met many people who have influenced and shaped me as a leader. There was Nancy Anderson and Glenn Osaka at HP, who first gave me insights into the core strengths of being a leader. Nancy told me to keep HR and Finance close by because the lack of good people programs or missing the “numbers” are the fastest way to trouble. Glenn gave me a great lesson in creating win-win situations with teams and people. Then at Dell, Mike Lambert and Joe Marengi schooled me in running giant organizations in a fast growing company. At CareerBuilder, Rob McGovern taught me how to instill confidence and vision in a small team of people trying to make giant changes in the way employers and job seekers engaged.
And now I need to add Vinay Bhagat to my list. With the completion of our sale to Blackbaud Vinay will depart Convio. After 12+ years, not only does he leave an indelible mark on the Convio business, he has truly helped shape the nonprofit tech sector in a manner few others can match. Frankly, many of the practices and strategies being deployed today by leading nonprofits in our sector were first conceptualized by Vinay several years back. He is a true visionary.
In 2003 he had brought Convio to $5M and 50 people in less than an ideal economic environment. At the time, the Convio Board decided to go outside for a CEO and I entered into the interview process. Vinay and I met at least a half dozen times including the time when I begged him to cut the phone interview short so I could go watch my son pitch in a baseball game. For those of you that have not been “interviewed” by Vinay it is quite an experience. I was sitting in my car, trying to figure out how my son was faring by the changes in crowd noise while Vinay was “drilling me” about my skills, leadership background and my decision making abilities.
When I joined Convio, our investors insisted that there was an 80 percent chance he wouldn’t be around in a year. “Founders just can’t step aside and let someone else take over” they told me. We both take a lot of pride that the oddsmakers were wrong and we were able to combine our strengths for our company and our customers. The real winner in Vinay’s years with Convio is the sector because never have I seen an individual that is as passionate about something as Vinay is about helping nonprofits.
We worked because he was a nonstop provider of new ideas and innovation. We also worked because I taught him that execution was as important as strategy, and never lose sight of how important people are to sound execution. He would overwhelm me with what he thought Convio should do next, and I couldn’t stop listening. Our company has evolved our strategy in many ways: a dramatic expansion of our services, entering the CRM space, and acquiring businesses that provided scale and strategic compliments. While each new strategy required my entire team to pull off, Vinay was in the middle of each (although he didn’t agree with me on selecting Salesforce).
Lastly, we all got to watch Vinay and Deepa start a family over the last few years and yes he is a passionate father. No one loves their children more than he and Deepa, and while his hours may have dropped off a little, I love that he is such a devoted father. I used to get emails from him well after midnight in the early years about all kinds of topics, and thanks to Kishan and Yazzy, bedtime for Vinay appears to be before midnight.
Vinay – congratulations on the success of your baby, and thank you for giving us all the opportunity to be part of it. Convio has changed so many lives and careers, including mine, and it all began with you. As you move on to your next gig (which is not associated with the nonprofit sector), I know I speak for everyone in saying we can’t wait to see what is next.
While enjoying the spring conference circuit, Convio put our (very patient) camerapeople and me to work. We asked 70 nonprofit pros what they think the biggest challenge facing the sector is. Then we took the answers, identified trends, wrote up the "Heartbeat of the Industry" report and made a YouTube video (because it's 2012 and that's what you do right?).
Ritu Sharma, executive director for Social Media for Nonprofits does a lovely job summarizing it all: “This is a very interesting time for nonprofits. Fundraising is always a primary concern, especially as the economy looks to get back on track. But nonprofits have also become hypersensitive to successfully engaging with their supporters and creating awareness for their mission. Many organizations realize that knowing when and how their supporters want to be engaged is critical in this world of information overload.”
What do you think the biggest challenge is? Any ideas for addressing it?
When we think about having a strong fundraising board it can be tempting to think about filling your board with lots of big name individuals that you expect to write huge checks. In reality, these people may have no real connection to your cause. And if you are lucky enough that they do, they may be too busy to either commit to board services or worse, they’ll commit and never show up at meetings.
Too often, eager to fill a vacant seat or secure a well-known name, we fail to clearly articulate expectations of service to prospective board members, or downplay the expectations of service.
“There is no question that orienting new board members to their responsibilities, especially around fundraising, is critical,” says Linda Crompton, BoardSource President and CEO. “In our 2010 Nonprofit Governance Index, BoardSource found that 90% of the boards with a structured orientation process were rated as effective, compared to only 67% of the boards without such a process.”
In addition to a job description, prospective board members should receive a board manual and board contract to help them understand and be successful in their role.
“Board manuals can be a key resource in facilitating the work of a board member. New members should receive a manual when they join the board and be encouraged to use it to track or manage all of their work. A board manual can also be used as the basis for an orientation training session. Board members report higher satisfaction when they participate in a formal, in-person orientation, and reviewing the content of the board manual will ensure that new members are consistently and thoroughly oriented to the work of the board and the organization.” –Greenlights for Nonprofit Success
Templates for organizing your board manual are available through many organizations. For one set of examples, check out the free board resources from our friends at Greenlights for Nonprofit Success.
One of the most critical pieces of content in your board manual is your board contract. Ideally your contract lays out the following:
Don’t forget the signature at the end, and make sure you each get a copy.
Board members are your most committed volunteers. By providing them with excellent training and clear expectations, you are showing that you value them as exactly that.
Confession time: when I am not thinking about everything fundraising, I am a part-time energy economy dork. Meaning, I spend a lot of time thinking about carbon consumption, energy mix, whether it will be resource scarcity or technological progress that might one day wean humanity from carbon…
As a direct marketer, I’ve spent a large portion of my career in traditional marketing (Direct Mail (DM), Telemarketing (TM), and a little direct response TV). Early on, my inner tree hugger had to reconcile the millions of trees that it took to get DM campaigns with 5% response rates out the door with the cold reality that it was this sort of marketing that was the lifeline of many organizations’ revenue. I secretly hoped that at least those other 95% recycled….And I couldn't help but draw parallels in my mind about marketing channel mix and energy.
In my mind, the comparison works this way:
Email= Natural gas
Mobile, social, geolocation= solar, wind, geothermal
In the energy marketplace, coal and gas are still king. Get rid of either one of these and most of our houses won't have electricity, most of our cars won't drive. Over the years, both energy sources have become more efficient—gas mileage for cars has improved, coal power plants have been forced to implement all sorts of clean coal technology, but we may at some point run out of both while complete non-reliance is years, and likely decades away. Sure, there are the outliers: people living “off the grid”, whole villages in Africa using solar cookers, but largely, we all sigh and agree that while progress is made toward other forms of energy, coal and oil are in our lives.
Starting to sound pretty familiar? So direct mail and telemarketing (offline) for the large part rule the roost. Perhaps not the cleanest or most glamorous, but they power the revenue engine. And sure, there are also the nuclear believers—folks who've made DRTV work on a sustainable basis, but like the Frances of the world, they tend to be the outliers in the traditional revenue power equation.
And then there is the current energy industry darling, email, ahem, I mean natural gas…. The cleaner, cheaper, newer kid on the block, with the potential to replace some of the older sources, and in some instances, doing so quickly. It is also the one folks who are used to coal and gas are most comfortable with. Traditional marketers have for the large part embraced email as part of their marketing mix and are recognizing this channel as increasingly the driver of growth in revenue, donors, and reach for organizations.
What about solar, wind, and hydrogen? They are the energy gold rushes of the modern century, with folks thinking there are millions to be made, but turning out to be more complicated, slower to take off, and requiring huge economies of scale. And the reality of these industries is even they will never be truly independent--we need to account for what might happen on non-windy days, or cloudy ones. Under the right circumstances (disaster fundraising for example) there is money to be made, and the technologies are evolving, but for most organizations they still constitute a very small percentage of the revenue mix and are mainly a constituent engagement tool for now.
How do countries (and organizations) approach energy (channel) mix in an environment that seems more in flux than ever? I am not going to claim to have the answer, especially because for the largest countries (organizations), this is the more difficult to navigate with so many stakeholders involved. But a few thoughts:
Bottom Line: Not everyone (or organization) has the same access to, or need of, the various fuel types (channel types). So it is important to understand what is necessary and achievable within your own environment, and not rushing to be a fast follower just because everyone else is doing it. In the end, it will take a blending of each to establish energy (fundraising) equilibrium, and the recipe could be quite different from one nation (organization) to the next.
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