– [Steven] All right, Diane, I got 1:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started officially?
– [Diane] Let’s do it.
– [Steven] All right, cool. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Good morning, if you’re on the west coast, I should say, and if you’re watching the recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter where you are. We’re here to talk about using the Agile framework for your fundraising teams. What’s the Agile framework? What’s Agile? Well, you’re going to find out.
I’m going to find out too because I don’t really know too much about it, either. That’s why we’re doing this webinar. This is awesome. Thanks so much for being here. I’m Steven, I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always. And just a couple of housekeeping items, I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and I’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on today. You should already have the slides but if we missed you, don’t worry, we’ll get that to you today as well as the recording, I promise.
Just be on the lookout for an email from me later on this afternoon. And most importantly, I know a lot of you have already done this, but please use that chat box on your Zoom screen. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A so keep the questions and comments coming. Introduce yourself now if you haven’t already. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, what your organization does, we’d love to hear from you.
It’s always good to know a little bit more about who we’re talking to. You can also do that on Twitter, there’s a Q&A box. Don’t be shy, just send it in wherever you can. We’ll see it, I promise, and we’ll try to get to your question through as much time we have left at the end of the hour. And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you, first-timers.
We do these webinars every Thursday afternoon. We love doing it. We’re zeroing in on, I think, 1000 sessions since 2012, hard to believe. But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang beyond the webinars, we are also a provider of donor management software. That’s what Bloomerang is. We’re a donor database. So if you’re interested in that, check us out.
There’s lots of videos you can watch online. You can kind of get a good sense of what we’re all about and we’d love for you to do that if you’re curious. But don’t do that right now, at least wait an hour, because you all are in for a treat. My buddy from beautiful upstate New York near the 1000 Islands, Diane Leonard, is here. Diane, how’s it going?
You doing okay?
– [Diane] Caffeinated and ready, which is about as good as it ever gets here.
– [Steven] This is great. It’s nice to see you. I usually run into you multiple times a year at conferences and things but this is a good consolation prize, I guess, to have you on a Zoom. What can I say about Diane? She’s one of my go-tos for grants, she’s awesome, she’s also a Scrum master and a Scrum trainer, which is part of what we’re going to hear about today for sure.
She’s been a grant maker, she’s a consultant, she’s been in your shoes, which is something I always look for but check out DH Leonard Consulting if you need grant writing, especially. She has won all kinds of grants for herself and her clients, $80 million worth actually. So if that is something that maybe you might want some help on, definitely connect with Diane afterwards.
But she’s particularly passionate about this project or this topic, this concept of Agile and Scrum beyond just the grant stuff. So I’m excited to hear about it. So Diane, I’m going to pipe down. I’ve already blabbed on too long. I’ll let you bring up your beautiful slides here.
– [Diane] Yeah, let’s get that started. I know if you give me a soapbox on grants, right, I mean, like, I can go and I can go – [Steven] And we have.
– [Diane] … and I love it. Usually, I’m talking about storytelling and grants and all the things but it turns out, Agile, well, to me, like grants and Agile, it’s like peanut butter and jelly. I know that’s not everybody’s favorite sandwich of choice but I’m, like, they just go together.
– [Steven] Peanut butter, bananas, maybe? Some people like that.
– [Diane] Oh my gosh, now you’re speaking my love language. Oh, now I’m hungry. Thank you also as well for that, Steven. That’s delightful. I am so excited though to be with everyone today because … and I’m seeing in the chat box, all the great organizations you’re with from around the country doing great things. And so I’m thrilled that you’ve decided to take a little bit of time out of your day, I’m guessing you’ve all got a very long list of things.
You’re working on big projects, upcoming virtual special events, appeal letters, grant applications, whatever it is, I’m thrilled that you’ve taken time to join me so that we can talk about Agile and how that might work in your fundraising teams. So here’s the slide about me again. You already saw this from Steven. I do want to point out the very bottom bullet and this is what I would like to have everyone respond to as a prompt in the chat box for me.
When we think about our work in the fundraising realm, whether it’s all fundraising or just grants like my heart, self-care is so important, especially given our last year. In fact, International Grant Professionals Day was just this past Friday, the second Friday in March every year. And when we think about self-care for our work as fundraisers, for me, that means running, or when it’s super cold, some other sort of indoor workout and drinking coffee.
In fact, today’s mug in your honor says offer hope. So I have done both of those things. So I’m fired up and I’m ready to talk about Agile with you today. I’d like to hear in the chat box, what is your form of self-care? How is it that you rejuvenate yourself, get excited, find new energy, whether we’re talking about just a weekday or over a long weekend, but what is it that fuels you and gets you excited for the next big project, the next big deadline, the next big ask?
I saw sewing go by, I see massage, hiking, biking, exercise, camping, crocheting. I’m terrible at crocheting. Grandma Horry tried to teach me, I’m terrible at it. All these are … I’m so impressed. Your self-care is phenomenal. And part of why I like to start the conversation off like that is that when we think about why an organization might think about Agile, it’s a mindset that we’re going to be talking about today, but part of this is about working at a sustainable pace.
And maybe that phrase, you’re like, sustainable pace? What’s that? We’re always at, like, 60 miles an hour, full speed ahead. But if we do that, we’re no good to our organizations, we’re no good to our teams. And so thank you for sharing, with me, the different forms of self-care that you personally enjoy as a way to recharge. So I’ve got a bunch of information we’re going to cover today.
We’ll end with a formal Q&A. So as Steven said, throw those questions into the Q&A box and we’ll be answering them at the end of our time together. So here we go. I want to make sure as we think about Agile, I want to give you some shared understanding, a little bit of background, because these might be some new terms for you. So when we talk about Agile, and I am using capital A, Agile here, when we talk about Agile, I’m specifically thinking about the field of Agile, which actually has its own manifesto, if you can believe it.
You can go read the Agile manifesto at agilemanifesto.org. It is an international community sourced manifesto. This is something happening around the world, not in any one community. There are four values that are part of that manifesto. And the point of the values is that the text that you see on your screen in green on the left are things that teams that have an Agile mindset, an Agile approach to doing work, they value those green items more than the blue text on the right.
It’s not that we stop having processes and tools, my goodness, no, it’s not that we don’t think about our plans, absolutely not, we still need our strategic plans, but it’s that we value those green items on the left more. So which of these four values to me screams nonprofits, especially after this last year?
You’re right. It’s number four, responding to change over following a plan. I think that as a whole, the nonprofit community has always done a great job of embodying this value of including this in their way that they approach work but this last year has really, well, it’s pushed people to think in this way. Hey, you offer behavioral health services in person?
Cool. You need to be virtual in a week. How do you do that? Hey, you’re used to providing hands on LEGO League teams as a way to teach children STEM and get them excited in sciences and engineering and coding? All virtual, figure it out. Things have been so different.
No surprise. I’m not telling you anything new. But this Agile value, you should pat yourself on the back right now because you, your team, your organizations have really done a great job related to this value in the past year. So that’s our base understanding about Agile. It’s a mindset and it is an umbrella. Under the idea of Agile, there are many frameworks, so ways that organizations can operationalize this mindset.
So we talk about an Agile framework, there are many that I could mean. Today though, what I want to share with you is Scrum. And the reason I want to share specifically the Scrum framework is because we have case studies, data that shows that this does work in nonprofits.
That Agile mindset is already there but does this framework, which is 25 years old, which does indeed originate in the software industry, does this framework work for you? That’s the important part here. So Scrum, it’s not an acronym, it’s not a software tool that you need to buy, what it is, is a uniform approach that teams can take to doing work, to iterating, to improving the work that you do, and more importantly, the way that your teams work together.
Now the Scrum guide, this is like our rulebook when we talk about the Scrum framework. You can go download it at scrumguides.org. It’s free, it’s in a bunch of different languages, you pick your choice of your preferred language to read it in. It is only 13 pages. It’s a very short PDF.
This is the rulebook that anyone talking about Scrum in any industry, in any country is following. So all of a sudden, you’re going to have a whole new community to talk to on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn because if you read that Scrum guide, well, you’re going to be dangerously knowledgeable as well. So the Scrum guide is going to give you those rules.
Here’s a really quick visualization of what this means. It’s three different roles. We’re not changing your org chart, we’re not changing your job descriptions, but rather, the roles that people play within a team. There are five events. Does that sound like more fun than meetings? I think so.
So there’s five events that the team goes through together as they’re doing their work and there’s three artifacts, so three visual representations for how we communicate about our work. So this is a great slide just to have on hand. If you read that guide, you’re interested in more, this slide gives you a very quick visual map. What is this Scrum thing?
Well, it’s our three roles, our five events, and our three artifacts. Do you need to memorize any of this so that today’s conversation makes sense? Absolutely not. But I want you to understand the background behind the conversation so that should you choose, you can go read that Agile manifesto. You can download the Scrum guide for free and read more but let’s take the conversation where I want to.
Let’s talk about fundraising teams and how this information might help you. Well, wait a second, hold on. I want to start by talking about increasing the impact of your fundraising efforts. So I found this handy little elephant image on Canva because to me, there’s a huge elephant in the room.
And no, you’re right, there’s not one here behind me on my bookshelf. But when I talk about increasing the impact of your fundraising effort, I am not saying that your fundraising skills are in need of bolstering. I’m not saying your organization is doing anything wrong. Please, not at all. I think you’re doing amazing work. But within any team, and I believe it’s about my organization’s teams as well, within any organization, there’s always ways that we can improve the way our teams work together so that we create greater impact together because we’ve got different personalities coming in, different skills, experience.
And so the makeup of the team impacts how we work together, how efficiently, how happy we are, it changes all these things. So there’s always a little bit of room for improvement for how we work together to ultimately achieve our mission and vision. Now, when we talk about teams and fundraising, we’re always on some level talking about leadership and what it means to be a leader in a team, maybe we are somewhere on the org chart for leadership, maybe we are leading up within our team.
So I don’t want you to take it just from me for what Agile leadership can mean in an organization, I want you to take it from one of our good friends and colleagues. So Marc Pitman, the founder of Concord Leadership Group, he did an interview with me earlier on in COVID, you can watch it on our YouTube channel. You can find that at agileinnonprofits.com, where Marc talks about Agile leadership in fundraising, what it means to be a leader, how the framework can help with your fundraising efforts.
So I get it. It’s like an optional homework assignment but if you’re super excited about this idea, I’d encourage you to take a listen to what Marc has to say for how this plays out in teams. I have some more ideas too for you, though. Don’t worry, it’s not just about going to listen to our buddy, Marc. So this is the line that first hooked me, honestly, right?
I was like a fish with a hook in my mouth. I was like, “Oh my gosh, clearly lots of books behind me. I need to know more about this based on the title alone.” “The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time,” this is the book that Dr. Jeff Sutherland, the co-founder of Scrum wrote, and I was intrigued. I was trying to think about how I could better serve our writing team, how I could be less of a bottleneck, how I could make sure we were happy because grants can be stressful, let’s be honest, how we could work with organizations that were feeling stressed about grants.
And so I was like, “It’s not about writing more grants and it’s not about saying, ‘can we write more grants just faster, let’s crank them out.’” It’s not that at all. What it really came down to as I read the book was how does this translate, not to just getting more things done, but could the theory of Scrum, could the framework itself help us in our industry create more impact faster.
So in fact, taking the metrics and creating twice the impact in half the time. The point of Scrum is that it’s a decision-making framework. It is empirical in its nature. The framework gives us the opportunity to use data about how our team is doing, about our work and our feedback from stakeholders, so that we can make choices about how we could improve, how we can improve our work and our team.
So if you’re thinking about what that might mean, some of the ways the Scrum framework helps fundraising teams think about increasing their impact, not about doing more hours, not about adding more appeal letters, although that I’m sure is what Steven Screen would also say, “Keep asking.
Don’t forget to ask.” But when we think about our impact, one of the things you can ask yourself is, “Could we make our work more visible to each other, to our colleagues?” That actually, the act of making our work visible, can increase the way our teams work together, can improve and enhance it in a way that ultimately will increase our impact. We could think about our team, our size.
I’m curious, go ahead in the chat box, tell me how big your fundraising team is right now. I don’t mean your department. I get that could, for some of you, be like a huge answer but if you’re thinking about your core team that you work with all the time, what is the size of your team? And I know that we do have some small shops, some solo shops here so I want to acknowledge that you are doing awesome on your own and you can still be a Scrum of one and I will be your support.
I’m here to help and to … I want to promise you that. But so I’m just curious to know what your team size is because looking at your team size is another way you can increase the impact of your funding efforts. If you are too big in your day to day team, 12, 14, 16, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen, there’s a lot of time spent communicating and getting people up to speed.
If you’re too small, that’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders and the team’s capacity to create impact is based on are you on vacation, are you out sick today, right? There’s a lot of weight and pressure on your shoulders. I get it, again, that might be the situation for now but ideally, what we’re looking for is fundraising teams that are between three to nine people.
And more than that, that they are cross-functional, which means that we have different skills, different strengths that we bring to the team. We don’t all have to be able to do each other’s jobs, not in their entirety, but that we can learn and share and support each other. And I specifically put the example in the question here about grants because that’s a very common spot within fundraising where folks are like, “Team of one, right here,” right? Table for one grant team? Being the grant professional can feel like a solo team but as an example here for what that could mean, you need information from finance and from your program staff and maybe from HR, we need the skills, the expertise of other colleagues. And so it might not be a formal team on the org chart but we are a cross-functional group working towards that specific fundraising effort with grants. So again, team size is something you can look at as a way to optimize your fundraising efforts to think about how you might increase your impact. And then I’ve got another idea for you too. And we’re going to talk about team happiness in a few more minutes in greater depth than this but one of the things you can do, don’t change your work at all, don’t change your team structure at all, focus only on team happiness, on team morale, and your work will improve, your impact will be better. I’ve got piles of case studies to prove this exact point. They don’t really, like I said, we’re going to dig deeper on this one because this is usually where people are like, “Mm, that’s interesting. Tell me more.” So you’ve got a few different ways at a very high broad level that you can think about how your team could be enhanced in the way that you work together so that you actually increase the impact of your fundraising efforts without necessarily even changing your work or your strategy. Well, here I promised team happiness. Here we go. So in the chat box, this is optional, should you be willing, I would love to hear when the last time was that you were asked if you were happy with your team. I’d love to hear a unit of time. Was it three months ago, one year ago, one week ago? When was the last time you were asked, not if you were happy at work, that’s too broad of a question but were you happy with your team. And if you were one of the folks who said, “Oh, yeah, we’ve asked that,” did you have an open dialogue about it? I’m seeing a lot of folks saying, never, can’t think of a time. This is a very unique, specific question. Some organizations do gather data related to organizational happiness but I want you to think about your core team, those people that you work with all the time on your fundraising plan, on your specific special events, on your grants, whatever it is. So why would we ask this question? Here’s why. This is called Sutherland’s Law. And so over the years with all the case study data, what has been proven time and time again, that teams, regardless of industry, regardless of country, regardless of where they are, what type of work they’re doing, teams that are happier are faster. So happy teams drive awesome work, they drive more work, they drive impact. You might say, “Diane, wait a second, are you sure you’re not telling us that we’re going to have to work more?” No, no, no. Again, we’re working at a sustainable pace, no different hours, but simply, the act of focusing on our team’s happiness with the team can change our impact in a positive way. There’s also something else to pay attention to. While increasing happiness means increasing performance, happiness is also, if we’re watching it, a leading indicator related to performance. Which means if team happiness were to start to drop, we would see a sign of trouble for our team. Maybe we’d start to worry about burnout or turnover. This actually played out quite a bit within our writing team and you might say, “Diane, really? What’s the story?” Right? Okay, pull up a chair, here’s the story. So our grant-writing team, we watch their happiness and as we were watching over time, when there’s little blips occasionally, we can find out why, gosh, big stressful change in the grants, last minute or a last minute funder request, but the team happiness had started to have a pattern where it would blip in the summer months. Why? As we looked at it, what the team uncovered, there was a very specific state grant process, which is very stressful and is where a lot of organizations are applying through. And wait a second, did I mention that it’s in the summer and people are trying to take vacation, both the writers and the people who are applying and the program people with the organization, it’s a recipe for potential disaster or, at least, decreased team happiness. And so by seeing that, the team was able to say, “How could we approach this work differently so that in future summer months, this grant program is not going anywhere, we can’t do away with it, we’re not that powerful, but how could we keep our happiness so that we don’t blip?” So this data drove some team change, some great process changes in discussion among the team for how we could improve. Will it always be that big of an aha? No. But what I want to show you are some of the ways that you could try this practice in your team. Now, you could openly in a team situation say, “Hey, team, how would you rate your happiness with the team on a scale of one to five, five being happy, one, like the character, Sorrow Sadness from the Inside Out movie by Pixar, no joy here,” right? It could be the blue sad character instead. But that feels like a lot of pressure, doesn’t it, to answer that question honestly? Let’s be honest. For sure, it is. So there’s a few different ways that you can gather happiness data within your team. One, if you are all together co-located in one office space, you could walk up to a whiteboard and put up a Post-it note on a happiness histogram. We’re going back in time to some of our math classes thinking about what a histogram was, we can just take the same color Post-it, can’t see who posts what, and just place it on the scale of one to five so we can get a quick visualization of how’s the team’s happiness. That might be one way our team feels comfortable. We could use one of our great digital tools and throw up a quick poll to let people answer about happiness. That could work. We also can use a great free tool. It’s called easyretro.io. I’ve got the link at the bottom of the screen. See how on the far right hand side of the screen, there’s an indicator here, a column that says team happiness. This is an anonymous tool. So people can share what went well, what didn’t go well as they’re reflecting on the last sprint, but they could also share their happiness in an anonymous place. So there’s no pressure for someone to feel bad if they decide, “You know what, I’m going to be honest, I’m going to type a 4.25. I was a five last week, but oh, I am not happy with the team this week, something went wrong.” We’ve created a safe space is what really you would have done by using a tool like this. Now, why am I showing you some of these different methods and explaining that you want to be careful asking this question thinking about your team and how comfortable they are asking or answering this question? This is something that really comes down to the term, psychological safety. And psychological safety was first, there was a lot of research done by Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard. This book, it has a spot right here behind me, it is top notch. If you’re trying to think about how to ask deep, important questions like this of your team in a way that makes them feel comfortable to answer, yes, this book is a must have. So acknowledging that psychological safety is paramount, if we want to ask the question, we’re asking about our team. We’re not asking about the organization, we’re not asking about the larger department, because that is likely … that is outside of our control in most situations. We’re asking about what we have control over. We can control how we interact and work together as a team. So we’re specifically asking about happiness related to our team. Well, so we ask the happiness question and so what? What do we do with that information? How do we use that to actually accomplish our work? We’re here, we’re fundraisers. Our goal, it is to raise money so that we can achieve our mission and vision, serve our target audience, serve our community, create change. So how could we use a framework like this to implement our fundraising plan? Because the happiness thing, what? It’s nice and it feels good but asking people about happiness, is it really going to help us implement our fundraising plan? I can hear that’s the skeptical question. So let’s talk about the Scrum framework and how we could use it for our fundraising plan. Now, there’s some questions that you could ask your team upfront, some prompts. You could think about reflecting back. Well, what did we accomplish last year? Last calendar year, last fiscal year, whatever you want. And then as we look forward, what big ideas, what big projects, new things do we have as an idea? I’m sure that there is a huge list of all the amazing things you’re going to do to help raise money for your organization. So maybe you’ve got some ideas kicking around as I’m asking you these questions. I’d like to know who sets the priorities within your team. So go ahead and type that person’s either first name or title, your choice, but who sets the priorities for your team. Let’s see what we get in the chat box. And when we’re talking about priorities, I’m going to push you a step further, priorities plural, that’s not the way I like to use the word. Let’s think about what is the number one priority and what is priority number two, and priority number three. Do you have an understanding of these sequentially ordered priorities, not priorities horizontal where they’re all equal, they’re all hair on fire, super, equally important? No, can’t do that. We want to have priorities so that we know what is the most important to our team, what is the second most important for our team, and so on. Now, as I’m looking at the answers here in the chat box for who’s setting priorities for the team, not surprised. I’m seeing board, department director, executive director, associate VP, yeah, right. Those are common titles as I would imagine in an org chart that would help set priorities and that’s great. There’s not a right or wrong answer for who sets priorities. What’s important is that we understand they’re not all equal, what is the order for priorities so that as we’re working our way through our work, we understand where we start and what we move to next. So when we think about what that might mean in our fundraising plan, a fundraising plan might end up something like what will be placed on our calendar. It might be difficult when you look at your calendar to interpret priorities in any sort of order. It’s very clear there’s a lot of things happening but how do we know the big things were taken care of and in what order and how could we say, “This is a good idea, we’ve got time for it. This is a good idea but we don’t have time for it. It’s a lower priority.” How could we do that? So as we think about our work, Scrum, as I mentioned, is about making work visible. So one of the ways we can make our work visible, I’m showing you this very messy but real world exercise that a team went through to lay out their grant plan. So a very small subset out of a big organization’s fundraising plan but what they did is a great way and I’ll show you some cleaner screenshots here in a minute of how you could do this. But they took 12 months, threw it up on the wall, and grabbed a whole bunch of different Post-its that represented different types of work, and placed it in the months where it was due or where it would be expected to happen so they could get a sense for the ebb and flow of their work and think about where could we do new things or where could we move some ideas so that we were planning for something that was at a sustainable pace, that was, to its best, preventing or trying to help us prevent doing heroic things. So here’s what it looks like in a slightly cleaner version. So if we were thinking about fundraising, if you went and took 12 Post-its and laid them out on a wall or in a digital tool, and again, fiscal year, calendar year, it doesn’t matter, and started to lay out some of the big things that you’re going to do for your fundraising plan. Here, I’ve got some major donor asks represented. So I’ve numbered the donor so we could think about who they are. And we’ve got some family foundation reports and some special event committee meetings. In the image on the left, you see a special event is the same Post-it size as everything else. Oh, but moment of truth, you all know that’s not true. It’s not the same size Post-it, it’s a big Post-it, right? This is something huge. It’s not just normal capacity. This is like an all hands on deck type thing. So by making the Post-it bigger, just in laying out the plan, the teams representing, this is a huge capacity thing for everyone and they could plan accordingly. The messier real world on the wall picture I had up a moment ago had some big Post-its on it too. Those were federal grants, right? That’s what would stand out in a big way when we think about a grant plan. So this visual representation of how do we take our plan and think about our year, part of why we color-code it is so you can see the types of work we’re doing. Are we equally distributing our major donor communications over the year? Are we maybe seeing a space where we could ask, send another appeal letter, send another email campaign? It can give us a quick visual snapshot of what we’re doing. And more so, even than us, it can be for our stakeholders too. So here’s another version of what that grant plan can look like, not the messy real world one I showed a few minutes ago but here’s just another representation of how it helps us find maybe a space where we need to back off as a team, think about moving something to a different portion of our year, or where we see a space. Hey, that funder that’s got the rolling deadline, we’ve been talking about applying to them for a while. I think we might be able to do that in June. We can slot that into our plan. So this visualization is a way, again, that we’re taking our fundraising plan, making it visible for the team so that we can think about our capacity, think about an even flow of our work, share it with our stakeholders and also, quite frankly, then return to this. If something pops up, a funder request, a major donor meeting, a great idea a board member had for a new event, we can look at our visual representation of our plan, think about do we have capacity, should we de-prioritize something else in order to make space for this new idea, this new work? So that’s one of the ways we can use the artifacts, the visualization of the Scrum framework, to help with our fundraising plan. Now, what if we think about some of those big projects I mentioned like the big special event or the big federal grant, how can we use something like the Scrum framework to manage big projects? So if we’re looking at big projects, well, originally, I represented them with a big sticky. And I know that people are asking about the tool, like, “How did you do that with a Post-it?” There is a free tool, actually, there’s a few. The first one is that Post-it has an app. So you can take pictures of real Post-its on your wall and get it into a digital system on your phone. So that’s a cool, free way to do it. The other one of our favorites, it’s called Miro, miro.com. You can have three, virtual, endless whiteboards for free. You can create a lot of cool stuff within three free boards. So that’s where actually those screenshots came from. I made them in Miro. So the idea though is when you’re looking at those Post-its, you’re like, “Well, hold on, there’s a lot that goes into this special event.” And I’m thinking back, I used to be the foundation and grants coordinator for an Alzheimer’s Association, statewide chapter. And their biggest event for the year, their big fundraiser, it wasn’t their walk event, it was their gala, The Chocolate Gala. Oh my gosh, right? It was like, “Yes.”
As a chocolate lover, it was my favorite event. I certainly, yes, I will sign up to volunteer there every year. It’s delightful. Well, if you said to someone on the team, “I need you to implement this gala,” right, that’s a big story, that’s a big Post-it, there’s a lot of detail that goes behind it. Or if you said, “I need you to do this federal grant.
I need you to get this submitted by the beginning of next month.” Again, same thing, you’re like, “That’s huge. That’s like 100 people hours.” What is all the detail that goes behind it? Well, we’re fundraising professionals, we’re grant professionals, we know how to break our work down and get it done. But where are we making that visible? How are we making it so our team and our stakeholders can see it and can help us and can think about priorities?
That’s where we sometimes struggle, and I’m speaking personally there. I’m like, “I definitely struggled with that.” So the idea of breaking down our work, thinking about how we make it visible, this is what we call a backlog. This is a way that we can break down chunks of work and make progress towards our final deadline or our event date.
So I want to give you an example. We’re going to start with a grant one this time because I had another great real life Post-it example, huge historic preservation grant, huge, lots of narrative, lots of budget, and honestly, like the longest laundry list of attachments, architectural drawings and photos and letters of commitment and, and, and.
So how do you figure out how you’re going to get from the day it opens until the day it’s due with all these moving pieces? So as you can see, there were three months represented from the time it opened until the time it was due. Blue on the screen, narrative-related, peachy orange, budget-related, yellow, all of the attachments.
Laying it out across those months lets you see, okay, I can’t wait to start all these things. I can’t save all these attachments till the end or we’ll be scrambling. So by seeing the different attachments, you could think about who you might assign or who you might ask for help by breaking up all the narrative into different versions of drafts.
It’s not that there’s three narratives, it’s that there’s three versions of the narrative draft, not that there’s six budgets but that there’s different versions of the budget design and the budget narrative. You could think about and start to show when might we do what and therefore, where might we help each other as a team. You could think about this for special events too.
Let’s go back to that Chocolate Gala. You could say, “Well, the event is going to be in six months and to get there, we need sponsors and we need tickets and we need program books and how do we feel about silent auctions?” I’m not going to get into that debate. I’m just saying it’s a question that might be asked. But you could break out all the components that are needed to get you to the end result.
You’re breaking down the big Post-it into actionable items that are visible to your team. But then, what? How do we know how much effort it’s going to take? We don’t want to just keep working and working and working to make sure we get it all done. So there’s something that a lot of teams will do where they estimate the effort, not the time, the effort of the work that is on their visible backlog.
So I want to give you a way to practice this idea. So I want you to think about a single page letter of inquiry. So it’s something on your organizational letterhead, it’s signed by leadership, it is a letter of inquiry, which means you’re asking for permission to submit a full proposal.
That is your reference story. Okay, everybody close your eyes, think about what that looks like, think about the effort it takes, even if you’re not the traditional grant writer for your organization, what it take to put that letter together. That is going to be a medium piece of work. It’s not the smallest thing your team does, it’s not the biggest thing you do, but it’s something we agree on as a team.
We understand what it means to get that work done. And if that was a Post-it related to our work, something we had broken down, we now could look at another item on our visual backlog there and say, “Well, team, is one single 2000-character response as an application or a request for funding, is that smaller or is it bigger in terms of our effort?
And if it’s smaller, how much smaller? If it’s bigger, how much bigger? Is it 2 times as big, 10 times as big? Is it half as small?” And we’re not talking about time because I don’t know if you knew this but humans are terrible at estimating in time. So rather, we’re thinking about relative size.
So go ahead in the chat box, be dangerously knowledgeable. If your letter of inquiry, your team has an understanding of what that means, is writing a 2000-character response, is it bigger or smaller? Let me know what you think in the chat box. Now, here’s the fun part. There’s no right or wrong answer.
So there’s the spoiler for you as you get started. But as a team, you have agreement about the type of work. And so as you move on, maybe, right, sometimes people get into a debate, 2000 characters, I need to like … that’s a lot of work to get it into the box and so it feels like it’s bigger. And I’m seeing that even in the chat box, there’s some disagreement, which is fine, about what it really means.
So the team looks at the broken down work to figure out smaller, bigger, and the relative size of the work. This is going to be used as a planning metric but what if I threw out one more idea to you? What if I said what we need are all the letters of commitment and support related to a grant application? Like that state application we were looking at, I need to have all the letters in hand, scanned, and in one PDF.
Is that bigger or smaller in terms of an effort for the team than writing a single-page letter of inquiry? I don’t know. What do you think? Tell me in the chat box. Is it bigger or is it smaller? Oh, I’m getting some, like, much bigger. Why?
I’m going to read your mind. It’s because it’s external partners. We have to gather all this. There’s externality. There’s complexity. There’s more people. We’ve got to gather all that back.
You’re right, it probably is bigger, but on what scale? Two times, 5 times, 10 times? So your team can think about the effort for the different types of work you have to do in order to get it all done. You do that for the entire backlog for the big project and you may translate it to something called story points.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to learn about story points today but there are ways you can add numerical metrics to it but we’re thinking relative size, smalls or medium, something bigger. What that lets us do is say, “Can we get all this done? What is our pace of doing work together? Can we get to our deadline on time or early or are we at risk of being late?” Well, if it’s a special event, if you’re not ready, well, people are coming in the door anyway or people are logging on to the event, like, it is what it is.
If we’re talking about a government grant, the funder, they’re going to close the portal. They’re not going to accept it. So we have hard deadlines, so why would we need a tool like this? So that we could see if we’re ahead of schedule or if we realize we’re tracking a little bit late, what could we change? How could we look at our priorities and rearrange things?
I’m not suggesting we work extra hours, no, I’m not suggesting we do heroic things. But by having that visualization over the whole project, it helps our team plan for how we could work together. How can we think about our priorities, maybe de-content something, maybe get a little bit of extra support from an intern or another colleague that’s part of the project.
It lets us make a choice. Now, a lot of this comes down to facilitation. When we think about facilitation, it’s not about your title, it’s not about where you fall on the org chart. I want to go back to the idea of maybe being a leader that is leading up or yes, maybe you have the title but I want you to think about how we could facilitate our team, how we could be a servant leader, a leader who serves the team.
When I talk about a Scrum team, your fundraising team is a Scrum team because you’re cross functional. You’ve got multiple different skills, awesome skills, and you’ve got yes, your different job descriptions and responsibilities, but you can help each other and you can learn from each other and support each other.
So do you need to change what it says on your org chart or on your, you know, maybe as you walk into your office area? No. But if I say Scrum team, you can just change it in your mind. That’s right. It’s the same thing as a fundraising team because we’re a cross-functional team with different skills, different strengths. So how could you, in whatever position you are in, how could you use Scrum to help the team?
So there are, remember, I said there were three roles, five events, and three artifacts and I’ve been focusing a lot on the visualization, the artifacts, how we make our work visible. And also on that idea of team happiness, how it is we can focus on the roles and the happiness within our team so that we can do better work together. Well, when we look at the five events, there’s these different events within Scrum and there are nonprofits that love some of these different events and it’s where they choose to start their journey, they choose to try an idea.
So maybe your team decides that you want to try sprints, it’s the container of time that we use to think about our work. So like our great writing team uses one-week sprints, it’s not that we get a grant from beginning to end in one week, it’s that we produce something of value, a draft, the next iteration of a draft, something that there can be feedback on within that week.
With fundraising teams, again, does it mean that your new case statement is from start to finish in one week or if you did a two-week sprint, in two weeks? Probably not. But it’s about creating iterations. How we build a draft or an increment and then get feedback and improve it. And that’s a lot of what you’re already doing but the Sprint is a way that we set goals.
We always are operating on this same cadence one week, two weeks, because it gives us a consistency for planning. Some teams like then the idea of the sprint planning. So this is me behind the whiteboard. You can see my treadmill desk in the office. When we are doing sprint planning, well, wow, that’s a whole lot of Post-its, right, what it’s helping us to do is to not try to do all the things.
We think about our capacity as a team, how many of those really big stories could we do or how many of those really small stories, and we plan our work for a sprint and make a commitment based on how we’ve performed the last time. But you can see actually, I’m writing on the board.
Do you know what I’m writing? Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. Because then, oh, wait, there’s reduced capacity because the team’s at the conference. Shout out to the conference. I know we’ve got some conference alum on the line here. So if we know we’re going to have a change in team capacity, we shouldn’t plan for the same amount of work because how are we going to get it done?
Late nights? Weekends? No. We just shouldn’t plan for it. So this is where the sprint planning can really help a team think about sustainable pace. We should take paid time off. We should go do professional development.
We don’t just cram the same amount of work into that time rather, we plan for it together as a team. Some teams love starting with the daily Scrum, pulling the team together, having a conversation for 15 minutes or less. How are we progressing towards our goal? How are we progressing towards getting ready for that special event or towards being ready to submit that federal grant?
It’s 15 minutes or less. It’s not a status report rather, it’s a chance to check in. Do we have any impediments we want to remove? How are we doing? Let’s celebrate progress. That’s the purpose of coming together. And that way, everyone’s on the same page.
We’ve saved a whole bunch of emails, we’ve saved a whole bunch of planning meetings and status reports. Quick check-in, team and stakeholders can quickly be up to speed. The sprint review is where we get feedback from our stakeholders. You’re already doing a great job at it, getting draft feedback for a grant or for an appeal letter or getting feedback on a program brochure or on the program book for a special event.
The act of getting feedback from your end user or a stand in for your end user is a sprint review. So you might say, “Oh, well, we already do that.” Kudos. Cool. You’ve already got one of the events down. This last one, this is where we talk about team happiness, the sprint retrospective. This is not about inspecting and adapting the work like a sprint review, this is about inspecting and adapting the team.
Maybe asking the happiness question, it’s not required but maybe we feel comfortable, but rather, you can also think about it as like a post-mortem. On this last sprint, what went well for our team? We’re not talking about the work, we’re talking about how we worked together. What could have gone better? What is one thing we could try this next sprint, just one, we only try one, that could make us happier or faster?
And the reason we only pick one, well, it’s because if we change more than one thing, we don’t know what helped or what hindered, right, if we change too many variables at one time. So this is one of my favorite books, again, right here behind me, “Agile Retrospectives” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen has all sorts of great prompts for retrospectives.
But if you don’t want to buy a book, if it’s not in the budget right now, we do have an agileinnonprofits.com, there is an Agile Retrospective toolkit that you can download for free. So happy to have you do that as well but this, if you love books, if you’ve got room on your bookshelf or in your budget, this is one worth having on your shelf. Lots of great ideas for running retrospectives.
Now, you might say, “Diane, what about other things? Like what about, like, capital campaigns?” Right? I’ve talked about events, appeal letters, grants. You don’t want to hear from me. I’m not a capital campaign guru but Alice Ferris is. So Alice did an interview with us to talk about what it was like. She used the Scrum framework with a capital campaign.
I don’t want to give away all the story. It was the Lowell Observatory. You can hear Alice talk about it in detail. Again, click video interview, there’s a blog that goes with it to summarize it for you but you can hear what it sounded like, what it felt like for the team that she led for that campaign. And what it’ll highlight is that each team looks different and there’s no one right answer.
The framework, those are your rules. The playbook, what it looks like in your organization, I’m guessing is going to be just a little bit different literally for each of you on the line because your organizations are different, your people are different, your culture in the organization is different. And that’s part of what I love for why something like an Agile mindset and an operationalized framework like Scrum can help your teams to thrive.
I’m going to have Steven help me facilitate some of the questions here but I want to make sure that you know you can reach out by email at any time to ask questions, any time. Happy to talk Scrum whenever, happy to talk Agile, but it’s not just me. There are communities of practice that we have, there are free places where you can ask questions and get input and hear not just from me, like I said, but from other people in nonprofits doing Agile.
We have a Facebook group where you can ask questions, get answers. We have free monthly office hours where those doing Agile in nonprofit space share and answer questions for each other. We have a free book club that we do once a quarter talking about some of the books in the field, things that might help inspire you or get you started. So wherever you want to talk about Agile, we’ll see you there.
And I hope that you understand the community of practice. It’s an open sharing space and we make it available for free because it’s about inspiring each other to try new things. It’ll look different for all of us but we can still learn from each other. So with that, oh, I’ve said an awful lot. What do we have for questions, Steven?
– [Steven] Yeah, but that was a lot of good stuff so don’t feel bad. That was awesome, Diane. Thanks for doing this and taking an hour, more than an hour probably to share all your expertise. This is a fun one. I learned a lot too because this is a foreign concept to me as well. So yeah, we probably got time for a few questions here. One that popped up, I think you got a lot of people thinking about team happiness.
You know, you asked that poll question about when was the last time you were happy with your team, and a lot of people were curious about kind of the other side of that coin is how do you know when your team is happy? Are there things that maybe you should be looking for or telltale signs of unhappiness that folks should be looking out for? What do you think?
– [Diane] Yeah, and I think because, I mean, if we think about like Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman’s book, “Happy, Healthy Nonprofit,” what are the things we’re looking at, like are signs of burnout. It’s usually the more that you see the opposite, that’s what you can visibly see. But, to me, an indicator of a team that’s happy or doing the right thing without even asking to measure happiness, teams that celebrate, not just on the big, big wins when you get the grant award or when the major donor check comes in.
Oh, prop, check out this yellow smiley bell. Our grant team rings this whenever something good happens. Good call with a funder, letter of inquiry is accepted, it doesn’t take a lot for people to get excited and ring it. We mail these to clients now so they can ring them too. What a tiny thing?
I know there’s a lot of development offices that have like a red bell or something similar to that, right? Anything good happens, ring it. You don’t save it only for the big stuff. Or, hey, we got that done, let’s have a virtual ice cream party today or let’s do, I know we all are Zoomed out, but like, “Hey, this was a great week, let’s do a quick Zoom Happy Hour or lunch break together.” But teams that are celebrating success, small, big, medium is an indicator of a happy team.
It’s not a guarantee but that’s a positive sign to watch for for a team that will probably do well with their measuring happiness, not a guarantee. But on the other side, you’re watching for those burnout signals because that’s an indicator you’re probably not going to be … it’s not going to be a good response if you ask.
– [Steven] I love that. We got a bell upstairs in Bloomerang so, yeah. A little more practical than a big gong or something. I like that. I like that bell too, yeah. Speaking of Zoom, how has the pandemic changed this philosophy? Has it at all?
I mean, you’ve got over a year now, kind of, case study of Agile and Scrum at work in an isolated social distance setting. What were some of the findings? Did anything really change or was it just having to adopt technology? What do you think?
– [Diane] Yeah, so Scrum Inc., like Dr. Sutherland and his team used to say, you want to be co-located, that’s where it’s at. And you know what the data and the year have shown?
– [Steven] Didn’t matter?
– [Diane] No, no, you don’t. You can be amazing but you have to be hyper vigilant about communication. It doesn’t matter which tool, you have to be hyper vigilant about seeing each other, finding time to be on Zoom together so that it’s not just reading between the lines but rather, the nonverbal cues, right? I mean, we need to be more conscious of how and where we communicate and make our work visible so that we …
because otherwise, it’s very easy to silo yourself, right? I’m here doing my thing, I’m not seeing people, I’m drinking my coffee, typing away, that’s not helping. So it’s totally doable and it can be just as amazing as if you’re in person but it does take hyper vigilance on communication.
– [Steven] Yeah. That makes sense. Maybe one last thing, a lot of people are asking about multiple projects at once. You know, we’re all busy, we’re all wearing a lot of hats. Can a sprint have multiple projects? Do they just kind of need their own framework for each? What are some good guidelines there real quick before we run out of time?
– [Diane] So I mean, to me, Scrum is amazing because it’s almost all of us have a bazillion things happening and how do you get all the bazillion things done? The first answer is to prioritize so that you know the order that you’re thinking about. Start at the top and work your way down.
And if somebody says like, “Hey, can I help?” Cool, yeah, we’re on to priority number two, how can you help right here? Right? It’s very clear what we value as a team, what our leaders have given us as priorities, what we as a team say is then the way to get it done, and it makes it so we have an actionable plan. A colleague of mine loves to say, “Work the plan.” Actually, I think maybe you might know Aimee Sheridan too.
– [Diane] She [inaudible] …
– [Steven] Oh, yeah.
– [Diane] …work the plan. Yeah, this gives you a plan. You have all the projects, how are you going to get it done? The answer is not to work on them all at the same time. Work on one, get it done, move it over. Work on the next, move … It sounds simple but that is the way to work the plan and to make your way through it as a team.
So actually, it’s a great way to manage all the projects.
– [Steven] I love it. Dang, this was fun, Diane. I knew it would be but thanks for doing this. We’re about out of time but how can folks get a hold of you? You gave us a lot of good stuff on this screen.
– [Steven] What’s the best way?
– [Diane] Yeah. We’ll go back one. If you want to reach out to me directly, drop me an email at any time, happy to answer. The communities of practice are a great place to ask more questions. I know you’ve answered in the chat box, they’ll get the slides and the recordings. It’s a lot to take in and I offered a lot of book recommendations too, right? So as you dig in, ask questions.
I’m here caffeinated and ready to help.
– [Steven] I love it. This was super fun. Thanks for being here and thanks to all of you for hanging out for an hour. I know it’s a busy time of year and maybe some of you are doing this over the lunch hour so I love having a full room for such an important topic. This was fun. I want to, real quick, highlight next week’s webinar. We have a good one coming up.
Our buddy, Julia Campbell, is going to be here to talk about social media, what’s new, what’s coming down the pipeline. She’s one of my go-tos, she’s really my go-to for social media for sure.
– [Diane] Mine, too. I’m going to be there. I’m going to be listening.
– [Steven] She’s awesome. You better register, Diane. I’m going to look for you in the chat, and I just said that. But if you’re free next week, it’s exactly one week from right now. It’s a little later than this one started but next Thursday at 2 p.m. That’s going to be a good one. And if you can’t make it, that’s okay.
Register anyway because you’ll get the recording as soon as we’re done. Just like this one, I’m going to be sending out the slides and the recording of this session here as soon as I close the Zoom, so be on the lookout for that. And hopefully, we’ll see you next week but we’ll call it a day there. Have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a good weekend, stay safe, stay warm, and stay healthy, most important of all. We need you all out there.
And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. See you.
Author information Kristen Hay Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.
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