Random Thoughts on Life and Work

June 20, 2016

The Challenge Of Filters

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 9:01 am

From Merriam-Webster.com – “something that has the effect of a filter (as by holding back elements or modifying the appearance of something)

FiltersCommunication by its very nature is an exchange between two people. Without any conscious effort on the part of either individual, that which is said, and that which is heard, passes through one or more filters. These filters can be built on experience, environment, belief, and many other platforms and will affect the way we view the world around us.

Today’s communication has the added strain of brevity, short attention spans, and the various communication mediums that are part of our world. Over time, we have built an understanding and a belief system on less and less information and have allowed ourselves to filter our communication through tighter and tighter lenses.

I was recently intrigued by the rhetoric that arose after President Obama’s speech at Hiroshima, Japan. The actual text of the speech can be found here. It didn’t take long for comments to appear condemning the speech. An online news source published a picture with the following quote: “Obama does not speak for Americans. We are not sorry for saving a million lives and ending a war we did not start.” A friend of mine proceeded to comment on Facebook: “He called our dropping the bomb on Hiroshima “evil.” If that’s not an apology, . . . .”  Actually, there is no apology anywhere in the text of the speech. (My friend did recant and apologize for the comment shortly after.)

newspaperHowever, it illustrates the problem with the way we absorb information and interact with our world. We filter our news through certain sources. In this case the source deliberately misstated the text of the speech. Rather than reading the full text and evaluating for himself, my friend chose to use the filter of this news source. We choose certain responses based on our built up beliefs about a situation or an individual because over time we have filtered everything around us to provide us with only one viewpoint.

Using examples from recent political situations is easy to do. However, the filtering process is not limited to media, politics, or current events. Interactions at work, church, and social situations are all evaluated through mental or experiential filters – whether they are intentionally chosen or not. Your work life can be particularly impacted by your filters. Your education, past work experience, and the interactions with current and former supervisors or staff members all play a role in how you might respond to a situation today or tomorrow.

Work life can be really challenging if your filter is different than a co-worker’s or a supervisor’s. Additionally, choices are made as to what filters you are going to listen to. At some point, you have to step back and recognize that you may be filtering your understanding of a situation or decision and you need additional information. I would posit that the danger increases as an individual rises in the hierarchy of an organization. The temptation is to surround oneself with those individuals who think and act like we do. And as the volume of data increases, we have to find a way to manage it so we tend to require others to synthesize it for us – creating a filter based on someone else’s perspectives.

So . . . be careful of the filters you choose intentionally. Work hard to recognize those filters that have developed subconsciously. Shed those filters that are intentionally misleading. And be prepared to do some work to get a better understanding of the data before you. In the long run it will provide you with a more complete picture and understanding.

January 21, 2016

Audience, Purpose, And Clarity

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 3:46 pm
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There are two things (among others) to keep in mind when creating your communications piece. I’m making the assumption here that segmentation is not an option (for whatever reason) and we are dealing with print (physical or electronic) media that is delivered to the audience. However, these two items also pertain to other visual media as well.

  1. Audience – who are you communicating with? This can have great ramifications on the text and design of your piece. Age, gender, occupation, location, etc. All of this comes into play when writing your text, designing the graphics, and determining delivery methods.

    If you are not segmenting, your group will potentially cross a number of demographics. This is fine as long as you keep #2 in mind.

  2. Purpose – what do you want this audience to do? If you want one particular action from them, don’t muddy the water by including extra details or offering other options. If it is purely informational, don’t ask them to do something (except maybe to share it with others). If part of your audience might be interested in some other aspect of your product or services, avoid the temptation to add those options. Leave that for another day and another communications opportunity.

Remembering these two items in particular will help you keep your communications clear and concise and will increase your effectiveness.

January 8, 2016

The Effects of Giving

PBS Newshour had an interesting segment during the show on January 7. A University of British Columbia research team conducted a small study on the effects of giving in toddlers and then carried it beyond to college students and adults. In the study, they found that even young toddlers express happiness when giving something to others.

I suspect anyone in fund-raising/fund-development will tell you, “duh” to the concept that it is actually a pleasurable experience to give. One of the interesting (and again, not new) findings in the study is that people who have the opportunity to see and/or experience the impact of their giving are even happier than those who just gave to a general “fund”. However, how often do organizations get caught up in trying to raise funds so that “we can accomplish our mission.”?

You likely saw the UNICEF and/or ASPCA commercials during the holiday season. What struck me about those efforts was the fact that there was no impact of my gift. All I saw was a portrayal of a very negative situation with a statement – help us help them.  I have to confess, I was extremely turned off by the ads finding them very ineffective at telling me how either of these organizations do anything positive. Where were the impact/results pictures?

Watch the PBS segment and then consider your own communications. What are you telling your readers/listeners/site visitors? Are you telling them why they should support you? Or are you telling them that their gift has changed the life of Samuel who now has his own bed or Mary who can go to school because now there is clean water right in her village?

January 5, 2016

When Labels Go Bad

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 9:40 am
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Saw a funny one the other day.

I was out shopping at the local mega-mart and passed a shelf with peanut butter on it. One of the brands for sale had a front label that said in big bold font – 100% ALL NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER. Then in a smaller font in a breakout bubble – MADE WITH SEA SALT.

So wait – is it 100% natural peanut butter or is it peanut butter with sea salt?

Or maybe it should be pure peanut butter with added sea salt?

Words matter. As does spacing and punctuation. Design and choose wisely.

November 18, 2015

Care About Your Impact

Filed under: Non-Profit,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:52 am
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Seth Godin’s blog post for today was too good to not share.

I have worked with organizations that fall on both sides of the spectrum described in his post. And from what I have seen, those organizations that get it – the organizations that value the work their people do over the adherence to a set of prescribed actions – have a far more engaged and healthier team.

While some of the responsibility is on us to choose our tribe wisely, it is also a principle that organizations can use to impact their culture and drive the end result. As a leader, which set of instructions do you give to your team? Individually, what set of instructions do we tend to gravitate towards? One comes with continuing challenges. The other becomes rote.

I don’t need to say much more. Check it out here. Think about it.

November 11, 2015

When Need Meets Budget Reality

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 11:58 am
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I’m working with a small non-profit that had a unique need for donor management. The organization is only about 3 years old and has just a hand full of donors. Not enough to warrant expenditure on a donor management package. Yet, they still need to track income, contacts, etc. At the moment it is all done in the president’s head. To their credit, they want to be positioned for the future and so we needed to do something.

I tend to be an advocate for not reinventing the wheel and getting software that works. However, it is hard to argue with very limited budgets and so . . .

Solution – created a rather unique Excel workbook that I think will serve the needs for the time being. At least until the donor pool is on a significant growth curve. It isn’t terribly difficult to add new donors or new giving opportunities. However, it is challenging to provide the treasurer with the needed detail so it gets a little complex at that point.

Nothing fancy (no fancy macros or special data entry windows) but I think a good short term solution for a non-profit startup. I don’t think I would recommend it beyond about 40 donors or so.

Anyway, if you are interested in seeing it, I am happy to share. Just comment and we can connect.

April 22, 2015

Soccer and The Game of Work

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 12:18 pm
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I have the joy (okay, some might not consider it that) of being a soccer referee for youth club games and high school games. I grew up playing soccer and had some great experiences playing through my college days. My oldest daughter plays at the college level and will soon be wrapping up her playing career. So, you can see I’ve been around the game a long time. I’ve noticed how the game of soccer provides a picture against which our work can be compared.

  1. Soccer is boring. Okay, by nature and experience I disagree with this but many people say they find it to be less than exciting. (Frankly I find baseball far more boring.) How close does this description come to your work? Do you find it boring, tedious, or monotonous? I heard a TV personality say the other day that soccer was a game of boredom interspersed with brief moments of excitement. Maybe this is you at work? I would contend that soccer, and work, is what you want to make of it. If you aren’t being fulfilled because the rules are too restrictive, find a new spot where you can thrive.
  2. Soccer is about teamwork within designated roles. If you can’t develop a working relationship with your teammates, you won’t last long and the team doesn’t function at its optimum. Same with work. It is often difficult for the new staff member to slide into the new position. It is up to the manager/leader to ensure that happens as fast and as smoothly as possible. Witness teams who add new players at the professional level. There is often a period of time before that new team member is integrated into the starting 11 and contributing well. If they don’t integrate well, they are released to a different team.
  3. In soccer, there is an ebb and flow to the strategic importance of each role. At times the player in the center of the field will be key while at other times it will be an outside wing player. Top players will move about the field to adapt to conditions and the team needs at the time. If your work team has developed this kind of fluidity and recognition, I would hazard a guess that your team is working at a high level of efficiency and effectiveness. If not, maybe it is time to consider some alternatives to your structure and processes.
  4. In soccer, players have opportunities to take the lead with the ball and then pass it off to a teammate in a better position to move the ball strategically. In work, we have the opportunity to move the project forward, accomplish our role and then pass it on to the next person to accomplish their piece. At the same time, we take responsibility for the continued success of the project by moving into a supporting role, ready to be called on again to engage with the play.
  5. In soccer, when the team loses the ball, the focus shifts to defense and getting the ball back. But it is a team effort, not a solo effort on the part of the player who lost the ball. At work, if we lose the account, miss a deadline, or fail to accomplish the task in some way, how does the team respond? Is it an opportSoccerTeamunity to learn a new process or an opportunity to immediately blame an individual member? Focusing on the means to recovery keeps the team together and builds a morale that is hard to beat.

There are any number of additional examples that can be added to this list. Working hard to develop a cohesive team plays dividends both on and off the field. Feel free to comment and add any ideas you might have.

April 15, 2015

5 Considerations for Having a Planned Giving Program

First, let me define the term “planned giving” so that we are all on the same page.  Think of planned giving as the process of making a gift that requires an additional level of activity or planning due to a more complex set of issues.  They require more negotiation or counsel than current gifts. Planned gifts are often “deferred gifts” because the income to the charity does not materialize until sometime in the future.

Planned gifts can be simple and provide immediate income to the charity such as a gift of securities (bonds, stocks, mutual funds, etc). They can also be quite complex, involving insurance, various types of charitable trusts, and more detailed estate planning. Planned gifts can be simple outright gifts to charity such as a securities gift or they can involve multiple family issues, planning for special needs, retirement income, etc.

If your charity accepts gifts of securities, and actively promotes those kinds of gifts, then you are well on your way to a planned giving program. But why should you consider other types/methods of planned gifts, especially if you don’t have the capacity for the traditional planned giving staff?  Here are five things to consider:

  1. It’s about donor relationships. Planned giving initiates conversations with your donors in a deeper, more intimate setting. While you may not have the staff to engage with donors on the technical aspects of some of the gifting mechanisms, being able to provide resources to solve their challenges will help to cement the relationship you have built. Of course this also means that you have to be careful to properly steward those relationships.
  2. Reminding your donors that giving from their estate is a simple and easy way to make a legacy impact will cost you almost nothing. Add it in to any giving promotion, your website, your newsletter, etc. For the nominal “cost” of a few lines of text, your donors are reminded that they can express their appreciation for your organization even at death.
  3. In the past, it was thought that only large organizations could have planned giving programs because there needed to be someone to manage the process, invest funds, act as trustee, etc. With the growth of community foundations, there are now multiple ways for individuals to accomplish their goals without your organization needing to add staff. Establishing a relationship with a regional or national community foundation can be a very cost effective way of providing resources to your donors.
  4. Planned gifts that “mature” (or distribute their charitable remainder) can provide an unbudgeted source of income for special programs, additional initiatives or to offset expenses in the general budget. You can also set a corporate policy that deferred gifts will be designated for a specific fund or use.
  5. Planned gifts often provide the avenue to the largest gift the donor will make to your organizations. As you steward that relationship over time, older donors will gain an appreciation for your mission and may leave their ultimate gift to you to demonstrate that legacy lesson to their family and friends.

With these five considerations in play, is it time to implement a planned giving program for your organization? Contact me if I can help you develop a plan.

April 8, 2015

Scriptural Stewardship

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 1:19 pm
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I have been thinking a lot about the scriptural principles for Christian stewardship and life applications. As I wrestled with my own understanding, and searched the Biblical texts, I have boiled it down to the following 5 principles that I believe are at the core of Christian stewardship.

  1. God, as creator, owns it all. In the beginning of Genesis, God creates the world and everything in it. He then creates Adam to steward, or care, for creation. (Genesis 1:1)
  2. Money management is only part of Stewardship. Our call to be wise stewards includes our time, our talents, our relationships, and our finances. (1 Corinthians 4:2) “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (NIV).
  3. Our possessions are temporary. During life they may be destroyed or lost. At death they cannot be taken with us. Therefore, what we do with them today becomes even more important. (1 Timothy 6:7)
  4. Every spending decision will be, at some level, a spiritual decision. Our checkbooks provide a story of where our priorities lie. Biblical stewardship does not require that a Christian despise money or discontinue earning it. Money is a necessity for basic living. The Bible does warn, however, that the love of money creates evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
  5. Giving is not about the Old Testament tithe (or 10%). It is about the heart. The story of the widow who gives her two small coins in Luke 21:1-4 is the demonstration of this principle. The amount seemed trivial but it demonstrated her devotion to God.  2 Corinthians 9:7 continues this theme: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (NIV)

I hope that in some small way this list encourages you and is a basis for your own journey of understanding.,

April 1, 2015

Know Your Donors – The Value of Age Demographics

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 10:00 am
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Knowing your donors is a major step in targeting your communications effectively. There are a number of ways to slice your donor list and evaluate how you might craft communication across segments or groups of donors. Maybe your list isn’t large so segmentation may not be very efficient but to the extent that you can understand who your donors are, the better you will be able to communicate with them.

One easy way to understand your donor is to gather age demographics. Including a birth date field (even just month and year can be effective) on every response device is a simple addition that can pay off in a number of ways:

  1. Knowing your donor’s birth dates can provide you an opportunity to add a high touch to your donor communication. Sending birthday cards lets your donors know you are paying attention to them.
  2. Knowing the age demographics provides necessary information when considering the launch of a planned giving program. If you have a large portion of your donor file that is over the age of 55, planned giving marketing can be provide donors with an additional way to support the organization that they love.
  3. Understanding the proportions of your donors in various age ranges will allow you to tailor your communication language and style to those groups. Language and idioms that young people use will not resonate with older populations. Preferred color palettes are also different.
  4. Want to generate volunteer opportunities? Different age groups will respond to different opportunities. For example, older adults may appreciate the opportunity to volunteer in your office while younger adults will want to do “field work”.


These two charts can be used to evaluate some basic statistics on your age demographics. Determine the range groupings that make the most sense for your organization. Organizations with larger donor files can probably slice their segments into smaller ranges than organizations with smaller files.

Understanding the age demographics of your donor file will provide you with strong information about the profitability and lifetime value of various segments and ranges. It will also provide you with some indicators of the health of your donor file based on the spread of donors across the age ranges.

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