Inside an 180DC Project
Updated: Sep 14
Written by Sophie Allen
Recently, consultants from 180DC embarked on a series of intensive projects during the winter holidays. Our usual model involves 12 weeks of part time work during the semester. But in the month of July, our teams worked full time for 4 weeks. It was 180DC’s first time running a program of winter intensives, or ‘wintensives’, resembling the true lifespan of projects undertaken by 180DC partner consulting firms. As content writer, I was tasked with shadowing one of our teams for the duration of their project to find out how it all works.
Here is my first-hand expose on what it’s really like inside a 180DC project.
Meet the Team
Profile of the Client
The client was an Australian-based non-profit that works to empower women in Africa through sponsoring girls’ education opportunities.
The problem they faced, broadly speaking, was acquiring broader and more secure donor channels. Since inception, the client had been dependent on a donor pool of family and friends. But these personal relationships dried up all-too-easily if relevant contacts left the committee. Thus, our client increasingly found their funding sources inadequate.
How can 180DC help?
180DC was hired to advise the client on how to change their donor strategy so that they might strengthen and sustain their community impact.
Of course, every client is different. It is up to us as the consulting firm to assess the problem at hand and devise an effective approach, in collaboration with the client’s goals. 180DC’s partnerships are unique in that they take a particular focus on not-for-profits (NFPs) and social impact organisations.
Read more about 180DC’s client relationships and the process of client acquisition in my interview with President, Jeffrey Xia.
Now, let’s take a look at the project.
Our Executive buddy, Jeff, held an inaugural meeting with the client to conduct an initial scoping of the project. Questions were asked about their current donor situation:
How would you describe your donor journey?
What are the characteristics of your ideal donor/sponsor/partner?
What sets you apart from similar organisations?
...and so on.
From this initial evaluation, it was realised that our client needed help formulating a unique, tailored value proposition to market themselves successfully to future donors.
With this in mind came the team began landscaping the client: identifying who the client is, what they do, and what they stand for. All of this would be important when formulating a true and authentic value proposition.
The team used an SCQ framework to formulate a general appraisal of the situation. This meant structuring the problem into its Situation, Complication, and Question:
Situation was based on the client's background - who they are, what they do, and how they operate
Complication was the issue the client needed help with
Question framed the issue and defined the team’s strategy and approach to solving the complication
Having brainstormed individual responses to these headings, the team combined their best responses into the following answer to show our client:
Considering that our client wanted to expand their donor base beyond family and friends, the team completed a preliminary segmentation of the corporate landscape. They devised a matrix to evaluate the field by company size and social engagement. By presenting the client with the types of corporate profiles that exist, the team figured they could narrow down which partnerships might be desirable for our client. And vice versa, which companies might be more likely to invest in nonprofits.
For instance, it was hypothesised that Laggards (small Company Size + low Social Engagement) would be easier to approach because of their size, but would be potentially uneducated on social impact causes. On the other hand, Troublemakers (large Company Size + low Social Engagement) would be more financially capable to donate because of their greater market presence but could be uninterested in donating.
The team also began desktop research on the competitor NFP landscape, since attracting sponsorship is a common problem in the industry. Looking at other organisations with strong corporate partnership strategies would help inform the potential partnerships offerings our client could extend.
For example, the team identified Room to Read as a model non-profit. A well-established organisation that supports literacy and gender equality, Room to Read offers clear pathways for donation and corporate engagement. Since our client was in the early stages of devising better donor engagement strategies, this was a helpful model of what they could work towards in the future. The team’s analysis of Room to Read is pictured below:
The team was also introduced to their industry mentor, Shawn Li, a current Strategy & Consulting Analyst at Accenture and 180DC alum. Being assigned a third-party, professional mentor is one of the ways in which a team receives support throughout the project.
While it was up to the team to establish regular catch ups, their mentor offered support and technical assistance by reviewing progress, sharing their professional networks, and using their expertise to answer questions. According to the team, Shawn was a great source of positive encouragement!
The team always sent the client their research before the meeting. That way, there would be no nasty surprises and the client would be prepared for Q&A time.
Client Meeting - Feedback, Collaboration, Progress
In this instance, the SCQ framework above was confirmed as “spot on”. However, one point of clarification was the focus on corporate donors, our client wondering whether corporations were the right approach for them. Going forward they asked the team to include a focus on individual donors, who formed their traditional donor pool.
To help with this, the client agreed to share their CRM data. Having a better understanding of the existing donor base, and learning what relationships had or hadn’t been successful in the past, would be key to guiding 180DC’s final deliverable.
Regarding potential corporate donors, Rising Stars were identified as the ideal partner. These were classified as Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) with an active engagement in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, but who were still on their way to achieving widespread social impact.
Refining the Scope
Background information in hand, the team set about constructing an issue tree. An issue tree is a form of brainstorming where the Question from the SCQ framework is developed into more specific MECE components. In the end, due to time constraints, the team decided it would be best to simply divide into two research groups: one for corporate donors and one for individual donors.
Mid-Cycle Presentations (Internal)
At the end of Week 2, it was time for mid-cycle presentations. This gave teams the chance to come together and share constructive feedback. Many of the Executive Committee have previously been Team Leaders and Consultants themselves. Having this kind of experience and guidance circulating through 180DC from the top-down ensures quality-control and a positive learning curve for all consultants.
At this meeting, my team’s primary feedback was to focus on data-driven deliverables. Ergo, not to make recommendations based on assumptions or intuition, but to back up proposals with hard evidence extracted from annual reports, surveys, and the like. This way, 180DC’s recommendations would be rock solid.
Following this recommendation, it was decided that the matrix comparing company size to social engagement would not form part of the final deliverable. While it was useful in framing the team’s initial research into corporate partnerships, it was not quantified with data about each company’s CSR spending, for example. Consulting is a constant process of brainstorming and refining, and not everything makes the cut.
So, what next?
Further Scoping of our Client
The team used this feedback and previous conversations with our client to devise their three Unique Selling Points (USPs). Some clients might have already decided upon these themselves, but in this case, our client had not.
Our Client’s USPs
From the client’s perspective, well-defined USPs would be crucial in future marketing strategies and help potential donors understand their mission and impact. But the client would now need to gather quantitative data from their projects to corroborate the above claims.
From the team’s perspective, confirming these USPs was instrumental in informing their understanding of the client and shaping the rest of the project.
In addition to these overarching USPs the corporate team developed a tailored value proposition, articulating why corporate partners should join forces with our client.
With this statement in hand, our client could approach potential corporate donors with clear, persuasive messaging. More importantly, it is our client’s assurance of accountability to their partners that they will uphold these promises and services.
Corporate Segmentation: A New Approach
To assess potentially suitable partners for our client, the team needed to go further in their understanding of the corporate landscape. They took the Executive Committee’s advice and adapted their original matrix, which lacked quantitative evidence. Instead, they designed a spectrum analysis of corporate characteristics. Drawing on reports published by PWC and Forbes, the team identified six key characteristics for a corporate partner. Through in-depth conversations with the client, they identified the level of desirability of each characteristic, allocating gold dots along the spectrum accordingly.
This was a helpful mechanism establishing a common understanding about the kind of corporate framework the client wanted us to deliver on. It was also used to justify the team’s final deliverable to the client’s board members, not all of whom were involved in the project’s development process.
Corporate Partnership Research: Interviewing the 180DC Network
The corporate team looked to 180DC’s contacts in the NFP sector for advice, interviewing two industry experts who had on-the-ground experience with corporate partnerships. Lennard Losif from Accenture recounted the difficulty of securing corporate donations, and recommended that a first-step be to approach companies offering a free service, with the view of later merging this into a funding partnership. These interviews also highlighted the importance of providing corporate partners with regular reports detailing their return on investment. Whilst individual donors may be moved by an empathetic story and altruistic reason to donate, corporate donors require more administrative reporting and formalised updates. Thus, a range of strategies are required to attract different donors.
Individual Donor Segmentation
The team focuses on individual donors began profiling the types of donors likely to engage. They initially evaluated three donor profiles whose motivations best aligned with our client’s USPs: philanthropic women, High Net worth Individuals (HNI), and youth activists. After deciding philanthropic women and HNI’s were not MECE enough, they zeroed in on the following two:
HIGH NET WORTH INDIVIDUALS
The largest donor demographic in 2019
Individuals donated 69% of all donations, as opposed to 5% by corporations
(Giving USA 2020 Report: Charitable Giving Trends).
60% of millennials donate an average of $481 to nonprofits each year.
Nearly three out of four young adults are willing to raise money on behalf of an organization that matters to them.
(McKinsey & Co., ‘True Gen’ Generation Z and Its Implications for Companies, 2018.)
With the client’s go-ahead, the team could delve into further research and formulate a targeted approach for these two profiles.
At this stage, the team saw our client’s UI/UX strategy as crucial for attracting third-party donors. Whilst charity galas and fundraising events are prohibited by COVID-19 restrictions, the online experience has become paramount. Thus, UI/UX for web platforms is not only a low-cost endeavour but has a big impact on users. Some suggested strategies included:
A smooth and functional website experience
Publishing quantitative data on the impact of donations
Giving donors agency by offering them a choice over the method, amount, frequency and project destination of their donation
Realising how fast the final deadline was approaching, Week 3 got hectic to say the least...
Client Meeting: Feedback and Progress
As part of their in-depth analysis of potential corporate partners, the team used a value proposition canvas tool, pictured below. This took the earlier-stated value proposition and broke it down further, to help the client understand what makes a corporate partner tick.
The team matched the perceived pains, gains, and jobs a company might wish our client to fulfil, with our client’s gain creators, pain relievers, and products and services. Some of these services currently existed, others the team proposed our client begin developing. The full breakdown stood as a ready-made partnership framework our client could present to companies in the future.
From there, the team expressed their idea of focussing on UI/UX strategy. However, in the meeting the client responded that they were already internally addressing website design, and felt 180DC’s energy would be better spent profiling donor target segments. For instance, listing who to approach in the corporate sphere and formulating a generic strategy on how to approach target donors.
Corporate Partnership Strategy: A Two-Tiered Approach
Letting UI/UX take a backseat, the Corporate team instead worked hard on devising a two-tiered donation platform. This tiered partnership model, pictured below, would encourage active engagement from corporate partners by offering greater benefits in return for greater donation commitments.
Our client’s first priority would be to attract gold-tier partners, beginning a sustainable progression towards long-term corporate partnerships. Hypothetically, the client would be in a better position to secure platinum partners once they had established the gold tier. The Corporate team fleshed out this strategy in full, the plethora of support tools they provided more extensive than can be simply expressed in this post. But as a summary, they ensured maximum organisational readiness for our client.
For one, detailing the benefits the client would make available to all partners, including impact reports, marketing support, and governance disclosure reports. Then, as seen in this infographic, a platinum partner would have access to extra rolling benefits, including a tailored employee engagement program and the opportunity to join a Steering Committee for greater oversight. The team also developed a flowchart outlining how to present an effective pitch to corporate partners, as well as a step-by-step guide to nurturing these relationships in the long-term. This meant that as much as possible, the client’s needs would be met from all angles in the final deliverable.
Individual Donor Profiling
In Week 3, the team went even further into forecasting the ideal donor demographic. Two mockup donor profiles were created: Melanie - the High Net worth Woman, and Peter - the Millennial Professional.
By understanding these two types of donors, the team could go on to identify their potential pain points, needs, wants, and gains. They used these profiles to create concrete steps for fulfilling these criteria. A snapshot of their framework table is outlined below:
Melanie: The High Net worth Woman
Peter: The Millennial Professional
Importantly, the team denied concerns that targeted marketing excludes people who do not fit into your criteria. They argued it allows you to focus your dollars and brand message on a specific market that is more likely to buy from you. Thus, making for a more affordable, efficient, and effective way to reach potential clients and generate business.
Tailored Donor Journeys
To turn these ideas into a step-by-step strategy, the team created a 5-stage donor journey for their client’s two target profiles: High Networth Individuals (HNI’s) and Young Adult Donors (formerly, ‘Millennial Professionals’).
The 5-stage journey involved: the donor’s First Exposure (Stage 1), their Exploration and Consideration (Stage 2), their Decision Making Process (Stage 3), making a Donation (Stage 4), and finally, achieving Long Term Engagement (Stage 5).
To see just how in-depth consultants go, they outlined four tiers of engagement to be addressed at each stage: Tier 1 - UI-UX Optimisation, Tier 2 - Effective Communication, Tier 3 - Credibility, Transparency, Accountability, and Tier 4 - Personalisation to the Target Donor.
180C’s recommendations were to optimise key areas in the donor journey. In this way, increasing the likelihood of donating to our client and ideally becoming a long-term donor.
For Peter, the tech-savvy young adult, impactful and engaging digital platforms were shown to make an important first and lasting impression. Therefore, suggested key offerings included:
Whereas for Melanie, the affluent professional, consultation with 180DC’s industry experts suggested a more personalised and direct form of engagement would be successful. The team recommended the Prepare-Pitch-Preserve process of acquiring her as a donor:
The final recommendation table, matching each of the 5 stages to the 4 tiers, formed a clear blueprint for the client to follow in approaching future individual donors. A snapshot example for Stage 1 is presented here:
Recommendation table for HNI’s
Increasing Website Traffic
To address the final problem of increasing traffic to our client’s website, the team sought advice from their mentor Shawn. He drew their attention to Search Engine Optimisation (SOE) tools and Google’s Ad grant for Not-For-Profits.
Recommendation #1: Search Engine Optimisation Tools
Use SOE tools to increase the quantity & quality of traffic to your website through search engine results. Free and paid services are available. The more content specific words, the easier it is for Google to pick up your post.
Recommendation #2: Google Advertising Services
Open a Google Not For Profit Account, free for any NFPs that register and are approved. This grants access to up to $10,000 worth of advertising material, plus website analytics and conversion tracking resources.
Week 4 meant finalising recommendations and preparing for the final presentation!
After many rehearsals and some final input from their mentor, the team was ready to present their findings to the client and wrap up four long weeks of hard work.
Client name and logo redacted for confidentiality
With all the preparation they had done, I would say the presentation was a success! Our client thanked the team for helping them kick-start the process of strategising for 2021.
There was also plenty of constructive criticism and an interesting discussion about the findings, since some of the board members had not been involved in the gestation phase of the project.
The client thought SMEs might not have the resources to engage in the suggested gold and platinum-tiered donor platform. The team had defined SMEs as companies with less than 400 employees, while the client noted smaller companies could have as little as 10 staff. This model can still be adopted and customised according to the client’s definition of an SME.
On donor profiling, the client asked which are the most popular social media platforms with the widest reach. They debated whether Facebook, for example, is still youth appropriate.
The team pointed out that whilst Facebook is no longer cutting edge, it is still a useful platform. Students often create groups and organise events on Facebook, and many have used Facebook’s new birthday fundraiser feature to raise money for charity.
Whilst social media is a tricky beast to master, the team recommended utilising all forms of online outreach so as not to limit your options.
Consulting From Home
Despite COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, consulting still translates effectively into a working-from-home scenario. Making use of online tools, whether it’s video-calling through Zoom, online messaging through Slack, or group brainstorming with online mind mapping tools - there’s a creative solution to almost everything.
A tick for teamwork
Working in a silo is nowhere near as effective as working in a team. The group I followed were in constant communication, which meant they were able to identify commonalities in their understanding or weigh up different perspectives as they arose. This made for a much more astute final deliverable.
No ideas are bad ideas
Sharing your thoughts always makes for a more productive group meeting. Even if an idea is unpolished, it makes a good starting point for the rest of the team to build from.
Collaborating with your client
Consulting is about working with your client to achieve a tailored approach. That being said, some clients may have more collaborative input than others. If their opinion on strategy diverges from the one you presented, pivot and redefine your priorities. Ultimately, you want to deliver a service that will be most helpful to them.
You don't have to be an expert
Projects are always different, it’s what keeps consulting new and exciting! But because of this, you may find yourself presented with a problem you’re not an expert in. Don’t worry. Consultants aren’t hired for their on-the-ground knowledge. What you as a consultant bring to the table is your training in problem-solving and analytical acumen that makes any situation more manageable.