Last week I talked about the admirable foresight that transplanted American Lawrence Johnston had in planting a cedar tree in his English garden that he knew he would never see grow to its full glory. As I mentioned, I think of Johnston often when I am planning ahead for what’s to come here at HBG. [Read more…]
Back in July of 1907, an American named Lawrence Johnston bought an English manor house for his mother, Gertrude. Built in the 1600s, the house and its surrounding 287 acres of mostly farmland were a suitable place for Johnston to try out an experiment.
Over the next seven years (before he went off to serve and return from the Great War), Johnson and a small team of staff created something new at Hidcote Manor: a master outline for a garden containing a variety of rooms and vistas that would showcase the flowers, bushes, trees, and shrubs there, as well as the topography of the land. [Read more…]
An alumna of the university/donor to the museum/former grateful patient and her husband made a jaw-droppingly significant charitable gift that was in all the newspapers.
There were two problems with this:
- The gift was made across town.
- The alumna/donor/former patient hadn’t been a rated prospect.
Everybody asks: why wasn’t she on the organization’s radar? Her evident wealth should have been surfaced long before. Why hadn’t it? What was Research doing wrong? [Read more…]
Here at HBG, we have developed our own way of doing what I call “getting at information sideways,” meaning asking questions that help us get a better understanding of candidates. We ask a lot of open-ended questions that can be interpreted a variety of ways, and how the candidate decides to pick up the ball can be illuminating. [Read more…]
Last week I started this mini-series about Tom Kalil’s thought-provoking article, “Policy Entrepreneurship at the White House; Getting Things Done in Large Organizations.” Before I go on, I’d like to reiterate: don’t let the long title put you off reading it, nor make the mistake of thinking that it only has value for people in behemoth-sized fundraising offices.
Kalil puts forth 12 maxims that he and his colleagues found to be true for getting things to happen, and I’ve seen evidence over the years that each of these recommendations have been true for fundraising shops that are achieving strong results.
In most fundraising shops, the research, prospect identification, operations, and relationship management teams don’t tend to be located on the bridge of the ship. But that doesn’t mean that leadership can’t come from those areas, and – I’d argue – it’s important that it does.
So if you missed last week’s installment on how the first six maxims apply to our work, go take a look – I’ll wait here. When you’re back, just start below to catch up.
Maxim 7: Find and recruit allies
Kalil encourages us to develop and collaborate with a network of allies, including “idea people;” the assistants and chiefs of staff for the powerful in your network; “Doers” – people who follow up when they say they will; people with a lot of social capital; and people who are eager to make an impression or further their career.
It’s never a bad idea to build a collaborative network when you want to create change, and thinking strategically about who might want to help you in your endeavor – rather than going it alone – is always smart. Build up a network of supportive champions to help, especially when you may be rowing against the current.
My addition to Kalil’s list would be to include people that you trust to tell you the truth if a plan needs more work (or is just a bad idea).
Maxim 8: Think of the end at the beginning
I laughed as I read this, because I really think this should have been Maxim 1. Think of every time you’ve done a successful wealth screening, or planned a multi-stage project that worked, or been involved in a database conversion that actually went live on time. It was probably because your asked yourselves thing like:
What do we want our campaign reports to look like? That helped determine the fields you needed to populate in your database and the information you needed to know from donors and prospective supporters.
What do we want to learn from our wealth screening? Thinking about that first guided you in what records to send to the vendor.
How many prospective donors at what levels do we need to meet our goal? Imagine not having thought of that before planning your capital campaign!
Success isn’t ever guaranteed, but it’s certainly a lot more secure if you think of the end result first, and then back-fill the details for how you’re going to achieve it.
Leadership from the top, the middle, or from the lowest rung means that you’re helping think about these details for your department or for your specific position.
Maxim 9: Save the world one document at a time (or “write it down, make it happen).
Sometimes things become important – or accepted divisional policies – simply because they’re written down. They become codified and made routine. If a policy or series of activities are important for your department’s (or your entire division’s) success, consider creating a step by step manual, or road map for people to follow.
I can think of all kinds of ways I’ve seen this used in successful fundraising shops, from prospect research and prospect management manuals and user guides, to “Research For the Non-Researcher” links pages, to gift planning fact sheets, to gift processing manuals, to internal podcasts and presentations on key topics.
These documents can become especially helpful when there is a transfer from one person to another, or to solidify a process for doing something.
Maxim 10: Make the schedule your friend
Indefinite deadlines are the enemy of getting things accomplished, and in this maxim Kalil outlines the benefits of creating an event (or, sometimes, an artificial deadline) to move things along.
Certain people are brilliant at setting (what some might consider false) deadlines (say, for example, for when a profile is needed), but the fact is that setting a deadline – even if it’s a made-up one – is brilliant. Sometimes that deadline just a dart-throw at the calendar – “I would like the information on this date, but I could take it later if I needed to” and no one should ever feel bad about asking if a deadline is set in stone or moveable.
Creating false deadlines for yourself is also not a bad move if there a task that you wish would go away. Getting it over with by creating a deadline for yourself to move it off the schedule frees you up for more creative work after.
Maxim 11: Use standing meetings effectively
Many of us know the experience of Death by Prospect Review Meeting. Tom Kalil shares 4 direct questions to help you never have a 6-hour meeting again. (or maybe it just felt like six hours…):
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- Have you worked to “pre-sell” your position to key participants in the meeting?
- Should you bring a document to help shape the discussion and signal your interest in the topic?
- Are clear next steps and assignments coming out of the meeting and captured in minutes?
Answering these questions yourself well in advance of each meeting will help you provide efficiency and leadership that everyone in the room will appreciate, and your preparation will mean that your goals will have more of a chance of being met.
Maxim 12: Have a large and constantly growing “toolbox.”
This maxim hits me right in my core, because two things that I strongly believe in are continuing education and understating the context within which we’re working. As you’ve heard me say many times before, prospect research is a field where we have to take responsibility for our own learning – whether it’s advocating for our place at the table or our seat in a conference chair. It’s only through understanding what the tools are and how to use them that we will succeed professionally – and help our organizations succeed on a collective scale.
It also means taking ourselves out of our comfort zone to shadow a fundraiser or attend an event or read a book that informs our work. Or to look outside our normal wheelhouse – a White House, for example – to get ideas on how to be more entrepreneurial and serve as leaders, no matter where we sit on the org chart.
Hierarchically speaking, fundraising intelligence doesn’t usually sit at the top of any nonprofit organization’s organization chart. In fact, the most junior member of the Research team usually inhabits one of the boxes at the bottom of the chart, in my ongoing study.
But I’ve also known for a while that org charts can be deceptive. It’s the culture of a place and the specific people in the boxes that are usually the drivers of who has the ‘power’ and who doesn’t. Certain people, regardless of box geography, are able to reach beyond borders. [Read more…]
This week we welcome to the Intelligent Edge HBG Senior Researcher and HBG Book Club organizer extraordinaire, Angie Stapleton. Angie brought up the idea for this article way back in January because she was so intrigued by cryptocurrencies and their impact on philanthropy, and she has been reading up (and generously sharing her knowledge with the team) since then. It’s fascinating stuff, and if you’re interested in learning more, don’t miss Angie’s webinar – details below. ~Helen
If you’ve been reading the Intelligent Edge blog for a while, you may have heard the HBG Book Club has been on a roll! We’ve recently read The Givers by David Callahan, Capital Without Borders by Brooke Harrington, and Secrecy World by Jake Bernstein. At their core, each of these books is about the inherent relationship between wealth and power, the structures UHNWIs use to conceal wealth, and the ability of these structures to quietly shape the world we all live in. [Read more…]
Coming up with the value of a privately-held company is one of the hardest balancing acts that prospect researchers do. No matter how hard we try, we will get it wrong around 100 per cent of the time. The only consolation is that it’s very likely that not even the owner of the privately-held company has any idea what their own company is really worth. The value is simply what someone else is willing to pay on any given day.
The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council reports that the vast majority of companies in the United States – 99.7% of employers – are privately-held small businesses, and firms with less than 20 workers made up 89.4 percent of businesses in America.
That’s a lot of businesses that aren’t publicly-held, but when I talk with researchers about things that are hard to do, there are few who don’t express doubt in their ability to read and interpret SEC forms. Understanding them is important, but it’s not what a researcher is going to spend 99.7 percent of their time doing, and – to my mind – valuing privately-held companies is harder by about the same percentage.
Of special note is the fact that, according to a U.S. Small Business Administration report, women own 36% of all businesses and 20% of employer businesses. That figure continues to grow as entrepreneurial women, eager to sidestep short-runged corporate ladders, continue the trend of building opportunities for themselves. As these successful women become a larger part of our frontline fundraisers’ portfolios, understanding how to value their companies (and understand their philanthropic priorities) becomes increasingly important for us, too.
So, how do we value privately-held companies?
Normally when we want to value a privately-held company, we do one of a few things:
- We get lucky and learn that the owner has revealed the information themselves, either on their company website, or in a published interview, or in conversation with a fundraiser.
- We get lucky and see that Dun & Bradstreet has estimated a value for the company in its Business Information Report. (NB: this is a red herring. D&B estimates are to be trusted as much as an unsupervised Labrador with a coffee table full of appetizers.)
When none of those pans out, we start doing the hard work of estimating a privately-held company…
- We look for a comparable company or “comp,” which means that we try to find a publicly-held company that is in the same line of business with the same number of employees in the same geographical area with roughly the same sales. We then look at the publicly-held company’s market value, and…there you go. (Except there you don’t go, because finding apples-to-apples comps are as common as finding a lost Picasso print in someone’s attic. It happens, but not often.)
- We go through a highly scientific process to estimate value using betas, estimating revenue, expenses, etc. to come up with a value. To assist you in this venture if you dare, here is a 170-slide masterclass from NYU professor Aswath Damodaran walking you through four valuation examples. (It’s useful to know this, and I do highly recommend further education on how businesses work, and balance sheets, and P & L statements because you should know this, but we’re prospect researchers, not Goldman Sachs executives working out an IPO and we’re usually on a deadline.)
- Here’s my small business, private company, back-of-the-napkin estimating tactic to use if you don’t know the company’s sales. (If you do know its sales, stop now and go to the end of this article).
This technique won’t work for every company (the sole-practitioner attorney or the self-investing money manager, for example). But I think it’s a quick conservative baseline to use for companies with ~5-25 employees because we’re going to focus on how much a small company with employees has to generate annually in order to simply pay their bills. If they’re running a demonstrably successful company, then you can be sure they’ve got at least that much (and probably more besides). How much more you want to add into the calculation based on your – and your frontline fundraiser’s knowledge – is then up to you.
First, you calculate Payroll
How many employees are there? Check the company’s website, or D&B (caveat: see above), or LinkedIn, or the company’s Facebook page.
What’s the average salary for people in that profession? Check salary websites or job descriptions on search & recruitment sites for ranges.
Now, take the employee number times the average salary = S
Multiply S times .3 to calculate benefits = B (benefits cost ± an additional third of an employee’s salary)
If this is a profession that frequently rewards employees with extras like bonuses or commission, multiply that average amount per employee to calculate Extras = E.
Add S + B + E = Payroll
Second, look at annual Costs
Ignoring things that a business owner would only have to buy once (like computers, desks and chairs, etc.) what does it cost to do what this profession does annually?
- Rent/Mortgage payment/Upkeep?
- Software fees? (Lexis? Bloomberg? Salesforce?)
Add these together to estimate Cost = C of doing business.
Add Payroll + Cost to calculate Total Expenses
This figure is what the owner has to come up with every year simply to stay afloat, so you know the company’s sales are at least its Total Expenses. (And so, to circle back to my comment earlier, if you know the sales figure, you can simply use that as a baseline to spitball the value of the company.)
Voilà, a back of the napkin company value.
Caveat caveat blah blah caveat
This isn’t perfect, I know that. But there are a lot of things we’re never going to know, like a privately-held company’s sales, its debts, and if the owner is offshoring profits.
But if we have a pile of profiles to work on and need to come up with a baseline estimation, I offer this rough estimate as a good place to start.
I’d love to hear if you have other off-the-cuff valuations that you use!
It may be the end of ski season for another year, but we’re always trying to figure out what factors impact the value of real estate in those wealthy areas. This week, Colorado-based HBG Researcher Josh Ostroski shares his insider information on three things he knows really well: skiing, real estate, and prospect research! ~Helen
I grew up in a skiing family in New England and it has been a passion of mine since I can remember. One day a colleague at HBG was researching someone that had a house in Lake Tahoe which had a market value drastically lower than what they paid for it. My colleague asked what some of the factors could be that might cause this, outside the obvious decline due to the housing crisis that hit California especially badly. The more we discussed it, the more it became obvious that there were more things at play in these specialized locations than elsewhere. I decided to look more deeply into the factors that impact housing costs in resort towns, and I thought you might be interested to know what I found. [Read more…]
As #ResearchPride Month comes to a close I wanted to say thank you to everyone – practitioners and our kind vendor colleagues alike – who participated with loads of tweets, podcasts, blog posts, articles, and even re-posting oldies-but-goodies from years past. It’s been another great month of sharing.
One of the main themes that I noticed this year was the outpouring of gratitude for the way our profession is generously collaborative, and I think that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted. [Read more…]