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Season 1, Episode 30

Amy and Andrea are joined by campaign expert, Kent Stroman, in an insightful discussion of how to make decisions and why it matters. Kent shares with us his thoughts on the importance of intentional and thoughtful decision-making. You’ll learn to consider the who, when and how aspects of good decision-making and why that matters to the success of your campaign.

 

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This podcast is the fifth of a special Summer Series featuring our immensely-experienced Toolkit Advisors. Our live webinars will return in mid-August; learn more at ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
Hello and welcome. I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m a co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit joining you from north central sunny New Jersey, as we do every week. I’m here, of course, with my co-founder Andrea, who will introduce herself in just a brief moment and one of our Toolkit advisors, Kent Stroman, and I am delighted that he is here as our guests today. Andrea, why don’t you introduce yourself? And then I want to say some nice things about Kent because we have known each other for a long time.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. I am Andrea Kihlstedt and I am indeed Amy’s partner and co-founder of Capital Campaign Toolkit. I’m delighted to be here today with you. I’m talking to you from the South Bronx, New York. Thanks for joining us.

Amy Eisenstein:
And Kent, I’m guessing that you are calling in from your home state of Oklahoma. And I just want to share briefly that I am so thrilled that you have agreed to be one of our toolkit advisors and have been for probably close to two years now. And we have known each other probably for a decade or more, and yeah, 11 years.

Kent Stroman:
That’s right.

Amy Eisenstein:
Our paths have crossed many times as speakers as authors, but my first big memory of meeting you a decade or more ago is when we were at an author’s conference. And we were both writing some of our early books. And I’ve been to visit you in Oklahoma and you here in New Jersey for conferences and various things. And I always learn something from you. So I’m super excited about our talk today. And we’re going to be talking about making better decisions, but why don’t you, Kent, just introduce yourself super briefly and then talk about why making decisions is so important.

Kent Stroman:
Wow. Well thanks, Amy. Boy, as I heard you doing that very nice introduction, it brought back some really fun memories over those years. In fact, this morning as I was driving to the office, I was thinking about Ted’s Escondido restaurant, where just a New Jersey girl in Oklahoma boy, man, met up at a Mexican restaurant, what fun? But I’ve long been an admirer and student of yours and Andrea’s, and boy, what a treat to share the microphone with you today.

Really our life is wrapped up in decisions of all kinds. It’s a constant process. And sometimes we’re so familiar with the decision process that we don’t give much attention to it, but I’ve come to believe that I really think how we make decisions oftentimes may be more important than what the decision itself is. Anyhow, as a result, I’ve put together these nine steps for a better decision. I wish we had time to unpack them all, but maybe we’ll focus on one. And who knows where we’ll go from there?

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. I mean, there certainly are a lot of decisions that people need to make at non-profits in their work every day. And of course, more specifically during a capital campaign starting with: do we have a campaign? And then how do we have the campaign? And all sorts of questions that roll from that.

Making Better Decisions

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Kent, let’s hear about your decision-making process.

Kent Stroman:
Well, as an introduction, here is, if I could just have one point, the guide to better decisions is before you decide, decide how you’re going to decide. So a framework for making a decision. So let’s pick something that’s, well, something familiar. How are we going to decide when to take the campaign public? Right? And so here is some of the kinds of controversy that often associates with any big decision. Well, who’s going to decide? And so let’s say, well, I decide. Well, who said you could decide? Right? But you decided and you didn’t even ask me.

Anyhow, I think all of us are afraid that somebody else’s decision, which is different than our own, is somehow going to either impose disadvantages or take away advantages. Right? So we’re dealing with the unknown. So what I found is regardless of the process that we use, whether it’s precise or random, just to announce the methodology, come up with a methodology.

So I know, Amy and Andrea, you guys have some big decisions coming up regarding the Capital Campaign Toolkits. And one way to do that would be to have everything be a yes, no. Flip a coin and the decisions made. Well, that’s expedient, right? It’s not necessarily strategics, right? But if that’s the process, if you say, “Okay, Andrea, you’re going to decide how we decide.” And Andrea says, “Well, we’re going to flip a coin.” Now it’s all simple. It’s understood. And we know how the process works. And I think, especially we see this concern as it relates to governments. A thing is going to be decided and the thing gets decided, and nobody wants to admit how it really happened, but it was a toss of a coin. Right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. Or deciding who is going to be the next board chair.

Kent Stroman:
Yeah. Exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
Is it going to be left to who raises their hand and says, “I’ll do it,” versus actually a process. Let’s go back to your example of deciding how or when to take a campaign public. I liked the idea of applying it to something that our listeners are really going through. Kent, what are some of the options? I mean, in addition to flipping a coin, which probably isn’t the best decision making process, unless you’re deciding who’s it in a game of tag or something. Right? But for serious decisions, like when and how to take a campaign public, what are some examples of options that people have in terms of the decision-making process?

Decision-Making Options

Kent Stroman:
Okay. Probably the most frequent I’m going to call this misstep that I see as it relates to when to go public with the campaign is we choose a date or an event that’s already on the calendar that we’re familiar with. And so let’s say that we have an annual gala. And so we say, “Well, we’re already going to do a big event. Then let’s use that to take our campaign public.” Well, that may or may not be a good approach. So that’s an example where we say the date determines the activity, the advice that I often use as it relates to, in a more general sense, when do we go public with a campaign, I say it has really more to do with the thermometer than it does with the calendar.

So, we all have these thermometers that we’re getting towards the top of. But when we get someplace in the 70 to 80% range of goal, that’s really when we ought to go public. Now, if that falls on the 4th of July, that’s a terrible day because we’ve got to compete with all the patriotism in the country. Right? And by the same token, I would say, generally speaking, if that falls precisely on the date of our annual gala, that’s probably going to dilute the impact of the gala and dilute the going public, the big kickoff.

And so again, if we have a framework, so that would be a framework. I said 70 to 80%. Well, typically when we’re, let’s say at, at 50 to 60%, we’re going to be able to engage about when we’re going to hit that plus or minus a couple of months, either way. And so anyhow, this takes back to who decides when, and we can say, “Well, obviously it’s the campaign chair makes a sole decision.”

Well, it’d be a lot of input by the campaign chair, but is that going to be the sole decision? Is it going to be the chief development officer? Is going to be CEO, the board chair? Is it going to be the girlfriend of the board chair? I mean, it’s a silly example, but if we start with: here is how the decision is going to be made. Here’s whose decision it is to make.

Let’s say, oh, I’ll go back into my experience as a vice president for advancement at the university, lots of input, but ultimately the decision on the timing for that sat on my shoulders, but I wasn’t going to make the decision in a vacuum and I wasn’t going to announce it as a way that it’s going to surprise everybody. And so some of those other steps to good decision-making have to do with once we have a framework who needs to be aware of it? Who needs to be involved? Who needs to drive the ship? Who needs to be just riding on the ship? When do we cheer from the sidelines?

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. And there certainly are a lot of people, especially when it comes to a campaign, who want to be involved or at least updated, in the know, in those decisions. Andrea, what are you thinking about when you hear Kent talk about these decision-making processes?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, I was just making some notes. So the first three things that came to my mind are that you really have outlined three ways to make decisions, Kent. Now I think there are more than that, but the three ways that I have down here are flipping a coin, which is chance. Right? Or Rock, Paper, Scissors would count in that sort of category of things. And it’s valid in some cases, as Amy said, to make decisions that way, but in many, it’s not that much. So another way to make decisions, and this would be like setting it with the calendar of the gala is convenience. Right? That is something that is convenient. It’s going to be fairly easy to do. So convenience is a perfectly good way to make some decisions, but not all decisions. And where you ended up in your example, Kent, I think is, is data. Right?

We’re going to look at the relevant data, and strategically, what is going to be most important and powerful for us. So those are three kinds of ways to make decisions. And I think it’s really helpful to actually to understand that they are all valid. You just have to think about them first. Then I heard you talk about, “Okay, whose decision is it to make? When does the decision need to be made? And how are we going to make that happen?” Right? Those are the sort of the who, when and how.

Making Capital Campaign Decisions

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Now I’m sure I’ve missed some things here, but it does seem to me that all of those are important as we think about decisions that are coming up, whether they are, when are we going to kick the campaign off? Or how are we going to identify our campaign chair? Or are we going to do a feasibility study? Right? In any of these questions that come up in a campaign, we have to come up with the right mechanism, the appropriate mechanism. So my question to you, Kent, is how do we do that?

Kent Stroman:
Yeah. Well, I love the way you distilled that altogether, Andrea, and I think one of the big things that’s helpful to me is, as we think about life or whatever the thing is, I think it’s important for us to really know what we’re trying to accomplish in the greater scheme of the thing. And that’s why I think that just making a decision, by itself, isn’t that hard. But if what we want to accomplish is to build unity among a group, in our case, unity within the organization, the staff, the volunteers, the board, the greater community. If we want to have unity on that, if we want to go on a journey together, and at the end of the journey, we still want to love each other, as opposed to we want to run from each other. If those are things that are values for us, then how we do what we do becomes very important.

I mean, all of us do a lot of work in advising campaigns. And a big part of what we’re dealing with there is that we want to avoid unhappy surprises. We also want to manage the momentum. We don’t want to burn up all of our enthusiasm in one day or one week. And so all those become important parts of how we make decisions.

So the topic that we’re talking about, when to go public, I like to talk about that in the very first conversation as I’m working with the clients, because there’s two fears. One person wants to go public with it today or yesterday, and it’s too soon. And then there’s some person who’s probably, kind of like me, they’re very conservative, and I don’t want to go public with it until after we crossed the goal.

Well, that’s too late. But if we just start early on setting expectations. “Here’s about when we’re going to go public. Here’s how we’re going to decide precisely when to go public. Here’s who is going to be involved in that decision.” So these people have input.

Ultimately, and again, I’m going to voice this from a standpoint of, let’s say the CEO that is in conversation with the board chair and this really isn’t a governance decision per se. This really is more, one of leadership. So the CEO might say to the board chair, something like this, “As much as I’d love to put the weight of this decision on your shoulders, I realized that the reason you hired a smart person to work here and to lead the organization is to make some of these important decisions, but I’m not going to make the decision in a vacuum. Here is the framework that we’re using. Here are a couple of key deciding factors that are going to help us decide whether it’s going to be on Wednesday morning or Thursday night. And I’m just curious if it was entirely up to you. I’m not asking you to do that, but if it was entirely up to you, what would be some of your considerations?”

And so, anyhow, with that kind of a conversation, we, in a sense, unburden them from making a decision, from taking an action that’s not part of the governance role. We burden ourselves with it, but we allow that other person to be engaged. We’re going to consider their input. And then also I will, in that kind of a setting, I’ll say one of the risks I know that that goes with an approach like this, I’m going to hear advice from a number of sources. I’m not going to be able to incorporate it all. And who knows? We may go a different direction than what your first choice is, but at least I will have had the benefit of your input. And I just want you to know that when the decision is made, when we have a date, you’ll be one of the first people who knows what it is.

And so, again, that, in my experience, if I’m that person that’s not making the decision, it really takes the pressure off. And it gives me a pre-understanding so that when the choice is made that’s different than my first preference. And that person circles back around, now, I know I was one of the first to know. I know how the decision was made. I’m going to be out of town that day. I sure wish I could have been there, but I understand why it’s going this other direction. I just want you to know I’m going to be cheering from the sidelines. So again, it’s managing expectations. It’s allowing people to all be part of the journey, even if they can’t all be present at each moment, along the way.

Amy Eisenstein:
Kent, I think that this topic is so important because we know, as capital campaign consultants and advisors, how important and critical it is to engage our donors in the process for a successful campaign. And when we do major gift works, and you and I both do work on major gifts with lots of clients, we always talk about engaging donors and building relationships and asking for advice. And this conversation points to exactly that. A capital campaign is a unique opportunity to ask your donors for advice, engage them in the process in a way that we can’t in our regular day-to-day annual fundraising. I hope that listeners stop and pay attention to how critical this is, in terms of engaging donors and getting their buy-in, and then ultimately getting those big campaign gifts. So I want to thank you for bringing up such an important topic. Andrea, you’ve been scribbling notes. What have you been thinking about?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I have been scribbling notes because I agree with you, Amy. I just think this topic you’ve come up with, Kent, is really important in all sorts of ways. It’s important in figuring out the stages of the campaign and so many things about the campaign, but it’s, I think, also important for just how we do our jobs, for thinking, rather than just trying to get the jobs done, to realize that we have some careful thinking to do beforehand, before we just dive in and make decisions because they’re easy for us to make and we can just roll ahead.

I sometimes like to roll ahead, I’m an impatient person and it doesn’t always serve me well to do that. If I could slow myself down and say, “Well, all right, who should be part of this decision process? Does it really matter if we have an inclusive decision process in this particular case?” Sometimes it doesn’t matter. Right? And then you should just move ahead and let everyone know that you just made a decision to move ahead. That’s fine, but you need to be able to evaluate which situation calls for which kind of a process. And even the thinking about that is, I think, just sort of realigning for me. It’s a reminder of how important it is to think carefully before you act.

Kent Stroman:
Good point. Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
We sometimes encounter in the capital campaign world, a campaign chair who thinks that he or she simply can make all the decisions and can move everything ahead. Right? That that is a type of campaign chair. And almost invariably what happens when you have a campaign chair like that is that everyone else either gets very passive or actively backs away. So there is a consequence to just having someone make decisions, without including and involving everyone else. Right? It doesn’t just happen that the decision is made. Everyone who might be involved in making the decision, but isn’t, then takes a step or two back. And as they take a step or two back, there are many consequences. They may not give as much, they may not show up in meetings. How many times do you hear that people don’t show up at meetings, that people don’t come to campaign meetings?

Well, you might stop to ask. All right, how are the decisions being made? Does it really matter if they come to meetings? Do they think it doesn’t matter because someone else is making all the decisions? You might be able to track that back to the question about how decisions are made in that campaign.

Kent Stroman:
Yeah, absolutely.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And I think it’s an interesting question of whether you could actually have a conversation with one of these, “I’ll do it all,” kind of campaign chairs and about the decision process.

Kent Stroman:
Absolutely.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That might be a way to turn that around.

Kent Stroman:
Yeah. You know, I think one of the big considerations, not just in campaigns, not just in fundraising, but in life, is this question. Is it about me or is it about we? And me and we, they’re pretty similar, but they’re a world apart. And there are some things that are just about me. I mean, I had to decide this morning what shirt to put on. I did not ask for anybody else’s opinion and you’re kind enough not to have given you the feedback yet.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It’s blue, for those of you who can’t see it, it’s bright electric blue. It’s great.

Kent Stroman:
My favorite color. But anyhow, that’s a me question, but so much of what we do really is we, and if we are going to cross the finish line together, then we’ve got to be engaged in the journey. Andrea, when you talked about the person that to decide everything for him or herself, pretty soon, like you said, the rest of the people in the room are just happy to back off and let them do it. And then it’s me and me cross the finish line and me is standing all by me-self and it’s kind of lonely out there.

Kent Stroman:
So if it is a we, I think it’s helpful even if it did define the “we.” Who needs to know the decision is being made? Whose input is crucial? After a decision is made, who needs to know the decision? And again, if we proceeded all that with saying, “Here is the decision that needs to be made. Here is how we’re going to make it. Here’s who I’m going to listen to. If it’s me, here is the recommendation. Here’s how we decided. Here’s what we decided. And here is what follows.” Then there’s a possibility for us to be together when we’re standing on the other side of that line. And we can celebrate together because we did it together rather than me did it me-self.

It’s A Lot of Work, But it’s Worth It

Amy Eisenstein:
Now I imagine that somebody listening is thinking, “Oh my gosh, that is so much work.” To engage all those people and ask for all those opinions and then tell everybody, and it is a lot of work, but in the end it’s worth it. There is evidence and empirical and data-based evidence that shows that the more you engage people in the process, the more involved and generous they’re going to be. And so for anybody who’s thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is a lot of work,” the answer is, “Yes, it is. And it’s worth it.”

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Amy, in the Capital Campaign Toolkit, as you well know, we recommend that people use a lot of ad hoc committees. We have core committees. We have task committees. We have campaign planning committees. There are lots of committees throughout the campaign. And it’s interesting to think about those committees as being decision-making structures. Sort of wrapping that idea that it is a lot of work, but it becomes less work when you actually have a group of people, the we, for that particular part of the campaign where you have certain decisions to be made.

You can think about these small ad hoc committees as decision-making structures and actually talk about that when you talk about that. Then because the structures are there and then it plays, it’s not quite so much work as having to go out and talk to 15 people who are out there, you simply have a committee meeting. And you say, “Here are the decisions that we have that we have to make. Let’s look at the factors that we want to consider in making this decision. Let’s think about whether there’s anyone else we need to engage, or whether we, as this group, can make this decision.” And so it seems to me that Kent’s idea of bringing to the fore the decision making process works really with what we recommend in the campaign with all of this structure that we already have a place.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. That’s the beauty of a campaign. There really is a structure and a strategy. And if you follow the structure and the strategy, which is what we, of course, outlined in the Capital Campaign Toolkit, then it really works. And that’s the amazing beauty of it all. Kent, I always learn things when I’m talking to you. You as well, Andrea, I always learn things when I’m talking to you. So both of you, brilliant. Kent, excuse me, what are some final words of wisdom you want to emphasize, or at least leave our listeners with?

The Final Step in the Decision-Making Process

Kent Stroman:
Well, just to touch on I’ve mentioned nine steps, here is the last step in the process. And that is to review the overall results. We’ve made a decision. We’ve communicated it. If we’re doing this all over again, would we do anything different? And that’s how we grow every day. I mean, we just shared that we love learning from each other. That’s the mark of being part of a great team. But I think a part of that is the review process. And again, if all we do is just bumble our way from one day to the next, I can make the same dumb mistakes day after day after day, but I want to learn every time. So anyhow, that’s the thing I’d say, as a wrap up, we’ve made a big decision. Let’s reflect on it. If I had this to do over again, would I do anything different? And then go ahead and incorporate that into my future plans.

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. Andrea, you want to bring us home?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Kent, thanks. Thank you so much. Like Amy said, every time I talked to you, you have a way of synthesizing material and making it clear and actionable. And I’m so pleased you were willing to share that with our Toolkit, and with our All About Capital Campaigns podcast people. Today, we have, as you know, a pretty big following and I know they’re going to be excited to hear this and to learn more. So I think once we get off this session, we need to talk to you about how you can share more of your strategies with our community. I know everyone’s going to be hungry for more.

Kent Stroman:
I’d love that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Stay tuned for a blog post, everyone. All right. Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you soon, Andrea, Kent, thanks as always. It’s been great.

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