Entrepreneurship Podcast post

How to Increase Capacity with Sarah Olivieri

George Grombacher November 17, 2022

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How to Increase Capacity with Sarah Olivieri

LifeBlood: We talked about how to increase capacity, a framework for helping nonprofits become successful, why systems are better than ideas, and how to get started, with Sarah Olivieri, Founder of PivotGround, an org helping nonprofits succeed. 

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You can learn more about Sarah at PivotGround.com, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Sarah Olivieri

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Hey what’s up? This is George G. And the time is right to look at today’s guest strong, powerful Sarah Libby, airy. Sarah, are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:21
I am ready.

george grombacher 0:23
All right, let’s go. Sarah is the founder of pivot ground their organization helping nonprofits make bigger impacts using simple frameworks. She’s a best selling author, former executive director. So I’m excited to have you on tell us a little about your personal life’s more about your work and why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:40
Yeah, well, you know, personally, I am a business owner, and I love my work. But I’m also a mom, I have a nine year old son, and I’m a sailboat racer. We’re just coming to the end of sailing season. That keeps me pretty busy. And all in my free time. Like those of us who are parents, single parents and owner own businesses have free time. But I do it anyway. And I live in the beautiful Hudson Valley, where I was just saying we’re coming to the end of our beautiful peak fall season where the colors are just

george grombacher 1:11
gorgeous. Awesome. Silver racing. Yeah. We could do a whole podcast on that. Good enough. Self oration is awesome. You love it. Cool. All right. And what about nonprofits? How? How did you find yourself in that world?

Unknown Speaker 1:28
Yeah, well, I kind of got sucked into it as probably most people who find themselves in nonprofits do. I was hired as a conference coordinator when I was just out of college. And that became program director. And that turned into being a founder of a nonprofit, which turned into being executive director of a number of organizations. And then I kind of left and started doing marketing for for profits, because I learned how to build websites and do marketing along the way. And then that sucked me right back into working with nonprofits, because they became my clients, I could serve them better than anybody else, it but then I came back to this challenge that nonprofits had, they couldn’t handle great marketing, because they couldn’t, not only could they not move quickly, but they couldn’t even like progress forward at a consistent pace. And that sucked me right into how to run nonprofits better. And I learned a lot running several for profit businesses in the meantime. And so you know, sometimes like you guide your business and other times your business like takes a turn, and then you’re like running to catch up with it. So I did that. And now I am squarely focused on helping nonprofits run better, I created a framework to help them do that. And so it’s such a pleasure to be teaching nonprofits that, but I have to say, you know, for all your listeners, some people are nonprofit people, some people aren’t another way to say what I do is I help businesses grow to seven and eight figures. And I’d like to just kind of throw that in there. Because we use that language for for profits all the time. And when we think of nonprofits, usually our mind doesn’t go to money. And but these are not necessarily teeny businesses, these are large, potentially large organizations with all the people problems and growth challenges and scaling challenges that for profits have.

george grombacher 3:24
Yeah, certainly, anytime there’s people involved, probably going to have the same kind of problems.

Unknown Speaker 3:29
Oh, yeah. And I like to say in nonprofits, there are more people per dollar. So you actually have to be better at business to do well running a nonprofit, then you do a for profit, you know, I still sometimes do some for profit consulting. And that’s just like so much easier. Just as a as a mob business model, it’s it’s so much easier working with for profits than nonprofits,

george grombacher 3:55
just because the heart is bigger, and they want to take care of more people.

Unknown Speaker 4:00
Well, no, because every nonprofit, even at its smallest stage has to have this two prong business model of both a fundraising business and a mission delivering business. And those two businesses serve different audiences. But they’re very interrelated, right? So like, if I told you, day one, you have to start two businesses at the same time. And even the smallest nonprofit has to have a board of directors of a minimum of three people. So that’s like, you know, already a lot of you know, cooks in the kitchen, trying to run two businesses at the same time. That is a heavy heavy lift to make. And then you throw two more things on top of that. One is, most people get into nonprofits for the love of their mission, not for the love of business. So they don’t necessarily come in with those skills or even that desire to be amazing at business, but they actually have to be really good at it. And then you have all these people, right? So we just talked about that initial board of directors, but you’ve got like, for profits don’t have to manage volunteers on top of their staff. And then you have this culture that says that it’s okay to tell nonprofits how to spend their money, right? So like, if I told a for profit business, oh, sell all you want, but your customers get to decide how they spend them. You spend the money that they pay for your products, you’d be like, No way, my customers wouldn’t put the money in the right place. They don’t know how to run my business. Right? And they don’t necessarily have the right interests in the right places. So it’s it’s very dynamic in the nonprofit space,

george grombacher 5:41
which explains the challenges. Yeah. And

Unknown Speaker 5:45
that’s why why they look messy on the outside, it’s really just that they’re complex.

george grombacher 5:50
If only somebody had created a framework to help organizations tell us about. So you are, you’ve you’ve you’ve done it, you’ve been on the inside and the outside, say, okay, there are certain certain areas that we need to address. And instead of me doing this one at a time, I can create some scale and repeatability by putting a framework in place.

Unknown Speaker 6:15
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s totally my thinking is, there are 1.7 million nonprofits in the US. And so far, I’m the only one who’s created a framework designed for nonprofits, right, we’ve got to try to do this at scale. And I really believe, you know, I was, I am a reluctant consultant. Meaning that, you know, if I bring my brain to your business, I probably know so much about business and have so much experience, you probably can’t use my ideas, I would rather help you have a system that helps you consistently generate better ideas for yourself, then for me to come in, get to know you give you my ideas. And then as soon as I’m gone, you can’t really implement as them as well plus, you know, they’re my ideas, whether they were better or worse anyway, they’re not your ideas, you’re going to be better at pursuing your own ideas. But a framework can really help somebody come up with a better idea. And I use my own framework to help myself come up with better ideas. Because having like, some constraints and structure to help you think helps you think better.

george grombacher 7:22
Yeah, yeah. Having the having the ability, time, Freedom headspace to be able to actually think and use our brains. What a powerful thing. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody talk about how great ideas are awesome. That’s, that’s fine. But I would rather give you the ability to create your own. So I think that’s like, that’s, that’s fantastic. So there’s operation things, there’s team building, there’s obviously fulfilling the mission and then making sure that people aren’t burning out. How, how big is this framework? How many parts?

Unknown Speaker 7:58
Yeah, well, there’s three main parts. I like to think of it so nonprofits are businesses who specialize in innovation, or they should write if you never thought of business of nonprofits that way, that’s fine. I’d like you to think nonprofits are businesses who are solving solving the world’s most complex, unsolved and relatively unprofitable problems. And so they need to be excellent innovators. So the three things that they need to be focusing on that the model are built around are having capacity, right, as much capacity, we need to be really slick and safe and efficient. The next thing is strategy, really good strategy. And when I say strategy, I also always think about acting on strategy, because the strategy that you’re not going to take action on like, that’s nothing. It’s just a piece of paper and improvement, you have to have a process around continual improvement, which there’s been plenty of work done on the past. And so within those three things we have in the capacity department, I’m always thinking about when I think about capacity, and what’s in the framework is a system for alignment, right? So most of what fuels an organization’s capacity are the people and then certainly money but money usually we translate into people or other tools in some way. It’s really people, if you will, all businesses and so if you want to have great capacity, when it comes to people, they have to be an aligned team, they have to all be rowing in the same direction. So we have to have clarity and have the right people on the boat and make it clear like what kind of boat are we on? Where are we all going? Of course, I’m a sailor, so I like to use the boat analogy, but you could use a car or a house if you want. And so we have to have alignment, and we have to have then clarity of roles and making sure that we have the right people in the right roles. And once we have those things, the money always as follows like I never say I focus on fundraising. And yet again, and again, like my clients start doing this, especially this capacity piece, and the money just starts coming in donors just start sending checks because they finally have the capacity and the focus to be doing the right thing. So that’s the capacity piece. And then a little deeper into the strategy piece is, you know, I really believe the for profit world has gotten much good at this, that we need to have iterative strategies, we need to be updating like our goals and our tactics regularly. This is a fast paced world, the nonprofit world sometimes still tries to do 10 year strategic plans, I certainly see people try to do five years strategic plans, goals just don’t. They’re just they don’t stay static like that, unless we’re talking about, you know, you just replaced your roof with a 20 year roof, then you can set a 20 year goal. But most things these days are not like that. And then just innovation, right, constantly being able to review and having a clear system for communicating ideas, learning to try experiments safe to fail experiments, nonprofits have been told for many, many years, that they’re not allowed to experiment. And I think that’s just that just breaks my heart. Because how can we solve the world’s most complex unsolved problems? If we’re not experimenting, right?

george grombacher 11:23
No kidding. These are all hard. Yeah. Is there an area where where people have the hardest time getting their arms around? Um,

Unknown Speaker 11:38
I think being willing to so most most of my clients come in, and they’re already to the state of overwhelm, that they’re considering quitting. And so to take that leap of faith, and say, I’m going to let some of the things that I’ve allowed to be busy, to make my time busy, and I’m going to let them go is really hard at first. But that’s where the peer element comes in. Because those clients who’ve gone before, once they have kind of let go and say, Oh, Cara, que sera, I’m just going to try it this way, I’m going to do it in the order that you said, and which is really broken down one step at a time. Because they’ve seen their peers get results so fast. But it’s that initial letting go and I like you can probably see behind me, for those of you who are on audio, I have these fire buckets that I keep in my office so that I can digitally hand them across zoom to people, they’re metal fire buckets. And I like to say like, there are a lot of fires right now in your business or in your nonprofit that are distracting you, but it’s okay to just put themselves and put them in the fire bucket and let them burn themselves out. Because if you keep focusing on those things, you won’t get there, right? It’s like a massive game of whack a mole that most people are playing. And I want to help people stop playing Whack a Mole. It’s not any one thing that’s so hard. It’s doing them all at the same time. That’s so hard.

george grombacher 13:14
Yeah, it is. And and turns out pretty much impossible, which is a recipe for burnout. We see time and time again. And it’s I mean, prioritization, that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. And it seems like such an obvious thing. But that really sounds easy and does hard. So when you’re just in the middle of it, and you can’t see the forest through the trees, being able to step back and have somebody say, these are the main tasks that you need to start following. And this is the first step that’s obviously proven to help people get through that.

Unknown Speaker 13:48
Yeah, you know, one of the ways I dealt with that in the framework, which is called the Impact method is in that part where we’re setting strategy is it’s highly structured. So there’s a very specific process for setting goals that forces you to prioritize your goals better. And you know, I for years I struggled people tell you know, or like set better goals or you smart goals. And I really struggled until I did a deep dive nerd dive into the academia of goals. And I had this like, realization is that some goals are outcome goals, meaning you don’t have control over them. And some goals that academics call them process goals. I like to call them execution goals are things that you can execute on. That’s why I call them execution goals. Right? And and if you see one of the steps we take, obviously I can’t teach the whole framework in a few minutes. But if you start to separate very intentionally, what is that outcome that I’m looking for? And you recognize that that’s a different kind of goal. Now I have to set a second goal which is what is the thing I can do That will probably have that outcome. Now we have this structure in place that helps us get much more clarity on our goals. And then we can start to ask questions, well, of these five things that I could do to try to have that result, which is the one that is most likely to have that result? And how much is that going to cost me to do that maybe there’s another one that’s less likely, but really cheap to do, whether we’re talking time or money. And so maybe I’ll try that really cheap one first, because there’s less risk in trying it, and maybe it will work. And so that’s like, one part that really starts to make a difference in focus. And then everything is very like slickly tied using a digital tool to make sure that your goals dump right into your projects dump right into your daily tasks. So that we are, we have a time to kind of look up and look at our big goals and the impact math, we do that every two months. And then in our day to day, we’re just like focused on the tasks. And we say, I know that every task on my task list is connected to a big goal that I’m working on. It was just that two months ago at the most. And I’m not going to let myself get distracted by adding other things. If I think I might need to add something else. I’ll do that. When I go back to my strategy in two months.

george grombacher 16:20
I love it. The outcome versus execution? Is that because I don’t have control over the outcomes, there’s other people.

Unknown Speaker 16:29
Yeah, so like, you know, one of the really tricks nonprofits is we say, oh, I need to raise money, right? Well, raising money. Another way to say that is I need to get somebody else to give me their money. Right. So you know, George, like, if I want, I can’t force you to give me your money. But I certainly could do a lot of things to try to convince you to give me so the things that I would do that would try to convince you to give me your money, are the things that are in my control, you know, I could call you and ask you for money 100 times, you know, maybe you’ll pick up half the time, maybe you’ll pick up once right? I don’t also have control over whether or not you pick up the phone. So that’s where we start to get really clear in breaking those apart. You know, another thing you know, if we’re talking nonprofits, I can’t, you know, or for profits, right? Like you can’t force your clients to buy your products or services. But you certainly can do a lot of activities to encourage them to do that. If we’re talking about, you know, someone who is homeless, and we’re trying to get them into stable housing, I can provide housing subsidy, I can find an apartment, I can offer them help in moving in, I can give them furniture, but at the end of the day, that person has to choose to accept the help, right? I can’t force them to be helped.

george grombacher 17:57
I love it. Please don’t call me 100 times and asked me for money.

Unknown Speaker 18:01
I won’t. And that would be a terrible strategy.

george grombacher 18:07
I love it. Well, Sarah, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And how can they engage with you and pivot ground?

Unknown Speaker 18:14
Yeah, well pivot ground.com. That’s my website, you can learn about the impact method. You can also find me I’m fairly active on LinkedIn. Just look for me under pivot ground or Sarah aviary. You can find me on Facebook too. I’m a little bit on Twitter. You know, I’m all around the internet background in marketing so. But do reach out at pivot ground.com. If you think the impact method might be a great fit for your organization, you can apply to get a free training where I go in depth around those three areas that we talked about today.

george grombacher 18:51
Awesome. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, share your appreciation and share today share with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to pivot ground.com pivotgrund.com and learn a little bit about the impact method. And if you think that it could help your organization by all means get in touch and I will list all the other ways you can find Sara on the interwebs thanks again, Sarah. My pleasure. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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