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Brady Josephson thinks about how charity: water is building better donor relationships

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In RKD’s new donor relationship study, “Listen Up: The Nonprofit Marketer’s Guide to What Donors Want,” we set out to gain a better understanding of the age-old struggle of donor retention. To do this, we took a deep dive into donor feelings. In this series of Group Thinkers podcast episodes, we’re sitting down with donor relationship experts to discuss the findings and provide insights on how nonprofits can apply them to their programs.    

In this episode, we chat with Brady Josephson, Marketing & Growth Lead at charity: water, to discuss the importance of qualitative data and listening to your donors and how his organization has used that to grow their program. Tune in as we cover: 

  • A peek inside the walls of charity: water (6:00) 
  • Highlights from RKD’s “Listen Up” research study (9:58) 
  • How nonprofits can build strong relationships and connections with donors (11:55) 
  • How charity: water is using qualitative data to build better relationships (15:51) 
  • charity: water’s direct marketing testing mindset (20:21) 
  • How nonprofits can innovate and try new things without impacting their bottom line (31:25) 


Meet our guest 

Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson 

Marketing & Growth Lead, charity: water 

“You have to understand the limits of data. And if you didn’t understand it before, the last year or so has been a big old slap in the face with the limits of data and data modeling, especially on the paid social side. The time is here … and you have to start thinking about your zero-party data and your survey data and modeling things off of who people are as opposed to just what they do.” 


Podcast transcript 

Justin McCord: It's, Ronnie, we're getting close to ... I've lost count of our episodes. We're getting closer and closer to, like, the 100th episode mark. And what you didn't know is that I had a special episode in mind that I intended to be your soccer conversion episode. And so, that's actually what today is all about. 

Ronnie Richard: Many have tried before. I took a test online once to see who should be my team and feel like it was Tottenham? 

Justin: That's a good choice. That's a better choice than many other choices. Brady?  

Brady Josephson: There are worse choices.  

Justin: Yeah. If you're not watching this episode, if you're just listening to this episode, you can't see that our guest today, Brady Josephson, has got on a lovely Liverpool jacket. And has got his silly little Anfield sign on the back.  

I think as much as Brady and I have ever talked about any version of nonprofit marketing, we’ve probably traded jabs about Tottenham and Liverpool more.  

Brady: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's a little bit more fun sometimes to take things outside of our professional world and talk about our hobbies and interests.  

Justin: So, so today, just by hanging around us, Ronnie, I think that's why we're not going to try very hard. It's going to just seep in, and you're going to find yourself awake at 6:30 tomorrow morning at a pub and watching games.  

Ronnie: It's just like osmosis of being near you.  

Justin: Yeah, right. That's right. That's it. So, welcome to Group Thinkers, the podcast from RKD Group. Very delighted to have our guest on today, Brady Josephson. Brady, good to see you.  

Brady: Good to see you, too. Thanks for having me on.  

Justin: Yeah, yeah, delighted. It's, the way that I'll put it is, because Brady, you know, you've sat in our shoes previously. You have been a podcast host, you've been a podcast guest, you've been a speaker. You have worn a lot of hats. And so, I appreciate that about you. And I hope to have you to put on a couple of different hats today as a part of our conversation.  

But just at the outset, I mean, just, you're currently a little more than a year in at charity: water, serving as the lead for their marketing and growth team. And so, one, I want you to unpack what the heck that means, and then, two, I want you to tell us, how did you … how did you end up there?  

Brady: Yeah, great. And, you know, I think I'll start with the first one and then kind of work back because it all hopefully makes sense. But leading marketing and growth at charity: water is, you know, a bit of a dream job. I started out in international development right around the time where charity: water came to be, you know, started in 2006. So, for most of my career, charity: water has been there. And if you're in international development and marketing and fundraising with a focus on digital, a lot of that is charity: water. 

And so, my journey to charity: water meandered through technology. I worked for a software company for a bit. I worked for a tech enabled donor advised fund in Canada. So, really got to know the philanthropic space, not just the fundraising space, which is really interesting. I did some consulting and research, as you know, at NextAfter and really got a good picture of what was going on at a high-level view across the industry in the U.S. and even did some research in nine different countries around the world.  

And so, a real kind of broad-based application of knowledge of what's going on in digital. I worked in international development for a startup nonprofit in Zambia and then a microfinance organization, working for the Canadian arm. So, kind of, that is really where my heart and passion is and has always been. And some startups, I had my own agency, I helped start an agency with a technology company, and that technology company had a startup that ended up getting kind of merged into one.  

And so, you know, charity: water is a bit of a blend of a lot of those things. It is an international development nonprofit, but it's very tech centric. It doesn't think and act a lot like a traditional nonprofit, which is partly why I wanted to work there and partly why I think it's really, really interesting. And it's, I think, a blend of a lot of my knowledge and experience kind of combining to hopefully let me do a good job for the organization. So, that's kind of my career in a nutshell and maybe how it applies to charity: water.  

Justin: You start off by saying it's a bit of a dream job, and so there's the … we all had those experiences from, like, let's say, I might say 2008 to 2010, up until 2015, where you would sit with a client, you'd be talking about a strategy, and somehow they would say something like, “Well, we just want to do what charity: water is doing.”  

Brady: Yeah. 

Justn: And at one point, we actually had our equivalent of a swear jar that if charity: water was referenced, you had to put money in. Yeah, and so, talk to me ... Like talk to me about your perception on the outside versus coming in. What are some things that you didn't know or didn't anticipate that you thought would be the case? And that were spot on? Give us a little peek inside the walls.  

Brady: Yeah, I mean, the organization is very different today than it was back then. Right? It's $100 million nonprofit that's been around for over 15 years. And so, it's a pretty different stage in its development than kind of early on. 

And so, I think a lot of my perception, or maybe your perception, of charity: water is from, maybe, a different era. So, there's some of just organizational life stage. But you know, one of the things that was surprising, even though I thought it was going to be this way, is the level of competency and creativity. You know, you see things, and you hear things, you know. Wow, there must be some really sharp, you know, amazing people. And then you get in, you're like, oh, my gosh, these people are even smarter, better, more creative than I had even imagined. You know, the talent level is pretty, pretty crazy. So, you were kind of expecting that. And that was surprising.  

The thing that you also maybe knew that has blown me away is the level of care and empathy that the organization has internally for its people. But externally, the core fabric of the organization has such a love and connection and devotion to caring for donors. And it's a bit cliché, and we all say, oh, let's care about donors. But probably more so than any organization I've ever seen and been around. There is, it is, like, legit passion care. This is what we do. Doesn't matter what your wealth score is, it doesn't matter what your predicted LTV is. There's things that we do because it's right and because we believe it's part of our mission and vision. That was kind of mind blowing, you know, to see that played out.  

And then the thing that was maybe surprising on the other side is maybe a lack of some data use or some more traditional performance marketing sophistication type things because it's such a big program that is so effective, you maybe assume they're doing a lot of those things in, maybe at a time, but at least when I came in, it was surprising at how they weren't doing some of those things. And so, it's an opportunity. But it's also interesting, like, if you do the big things right—great brand, great care, great people—some of the smaller things, like, oh, a little gift or a suggestion on a donation page, it doesn't get a lot of, it’s not going to move the needle for you. Yeah, so it was a real interesting reset for me of, like, the main things. And I think charity: water has done that so, so well that it covers over a multitude of little things that maybe aren't perfect.  

Justin: Yeah, that's so interesting and so well-said because that, sometimes results can lend to cutting corners. Like, that's not a nonprofit marketing indictment. That's life.  

Brady: Right.  

Justin: You know, there are times, too, where if your team's winning and you're on a roll, then it might be really hard to be going hard at draining. Right? It's like those sort of little nuances that still play into the space that we work now.  

So, one of the things that caught my attention recently was your 2019, I think it might have been, like, a closing keynote essentially at NIO, I think it was 2019. And you were kind of challenging rethinking what philanthropy, and generosity in particular, look like. I know for years, a part of your pursuit has been redefining generosity and those pieces.  

And so, and I understand that you even referenced some of our research in your time on stage last week at NIO. Can you share with us a little bit about what from our Listen Up research piqued your interest?  

Brady: Yeah, I think any time there's a good piece of research done well, and there's a lot of research that's not done well. So, you know, partnering with Josh McQueen is obviously a good step to do good research. I think it's, it's imperative that we, we do read it and listen and check it out and more of my pursuit is on the qualitative side more than anything.  

I think the more that you work with quantitative or data, you, you love it, it's great. There's a lot of opportunity. And then you kind of quickly realize, oh, there's a lot of limits and flaws to this. Or if you just take doing what data says to the end, it leads you to not a great place. So, pursuing more of the qualitative research has been something that's been more on my plate in the last couple of years. And this... your research would be in there as well. You know, layering in the commitment level or the engagement or the self-described connection level from low, medium, high was a really cool way to think about it. Because I think, you know, people like Adrian Sargent and whoever, there's a lot of research around commitment levels and loyalty levels and how imperative it is. But we as a sector have done very little about it.  

So, to see that show up in some research and try to provide some more insight into the differences even between high commitment and low commitment or really engaged and low engaged is really interesting and something that we as a sector, and me as a professional, and probably us as an org need to make some steps and some progress to really say, “Oh, it's one cool thing to read, research and talk about it, but we're getting to the point where it's not that difficult to implement some of those things.” And we really need to do that.  

Ronnie: So thinking about that, Brady, just exactly what you were mentioning there, how, I mean, I'll just kind of throw it out there, how do we do better? How do we build stronger relationships with donors and make them feel more connected to nonprofits? I mean, just big open question, how do we do it?  

Brady: I mean, it's, I don't know if I have the answer. You know, I think I'm a big culture person. You know, the expression culture eats strategy for breakfast kind of thing, for sure. And I think culturally, our pursuit of data has come at the expense of listening to donors or really understanding donors to a degree. And data helps you understand donor behavior to a degree. But knowing what people say and what they want is huge.  

So, the use of survey data intentionally, with some sophistication, you know, it's not just, “Oh yeah, we got a survey.” Like, what are you asking? Why? What are you going to do with it? Just because you have a Survey Monkey login doesn't mean you know how to do a survey. And me as well. I don't know how to do surveys. I'm not an expert in surveys. We hired other people. We have a lot to learn, but I think that's the starting point.  

Because the other thing, too, it takes a long time to accumulate enough zero-party data, or data that donors willingly give to you directly, for it to be worth taking action on. Right? Just saying, “Oh, we have 50 survey responses. Let's do this.” That's risky. You know, you need to accumulate that data over a series of time. And then for us, we need to then model it to say, this person said this, here's what their behavior looks like now, this insight is trustworthy or not.  

So the thing, the long answer short, we have to start, and start today, because it takes a while. If you're not collecting that information, if you're not exploring modeling of commitment levels, you're never going to end up at the right place. And it is not something where you can just, “Oh, we rented a list and we sent the email out. Fine.” This is a very different bucket of strategy. That is a long-tail, long-term type of thing. And if you haven't started, you're just one day away from being able to actionalize that.  

So that's the biggest thing, is you have to understand the limits of data. And if you didn't understand that before, the last year or so has just been a big old slap in the face with the limits of data and data modeling and especially the paid social side. So the time is here. It was here a while ago, but it's definitely here. And you have to start thinking about your zero-party data, your survey data and modeling things off of who people are opposed to just what they do.  

Justin: Yeah, that's the, I think, the thing that I've observed from recent years is that there has been two camps, right? There's been a camp that will come in with anecdotal evidence. So, not qualitative; anecdotal evidence of, “We heard from someone or we've heard from our donors this.” And then you start to press on, especially if you're trying to defend a strategy, like, how many people said that to you? Under what context did they say that they are getting two emails or that, you know, you're mailing them too much or, you know, sure, one person 1 times 10 in a cinder block with the BRE, you know, duct tape to it.  

And so, you have these anecdotal things, which can sometimes too often switch your strategy. And then on the other hand, I know for myself, I've even found myself trying to defend the strategy and defend anecdotal evidence. And I think it's frustrating that we're not better at surveying and that we're not better at building that zero-party data because it does fill in this gap that I think is unique to the nonprofit space.  

When you're talking about relationships with brands, it's different than the relationship with nonprofits. Like, there is a human connection between a donor and the cause that they're giving to that's different than where you shop for groceries or the type of car that you're going to purchase, those sorts of consumer intent elements. And so, man I'm totally tracking with you that the need to build that zero-party data, the need to better listen, is now. In your 15 months at charity: water, what have you observed in terms of how they have been, or what have you done in terms of trying to spark this in and handle this challenge now?  

Brady: Yeah, I think one of the things in charity: water's success was just, like, an unbelievable intuitive sense, you know, Scott in particular, uncanny sense of what will work and resonate or not, you know, and it is a little gut instinct, like a lot of founders who build a lot of visionary products. It's not always founded on data, otherwise they wouldn't do it.  

So, there's been an element of that. And same thing with our creative team, just a real in-tuneness. I think what's interesting, though, is as this core team has gotten older, right, people are starting to have families. They're not living in New York, and our audience isn't maybe as homogeneous as it used to be. That strategy gets harder and harder to do, or it only works with a segment of people. So, what you intuitively know or understand. Great, it can still resonate with a huge chunk of people. But there's a lot of people that don't sit-in that bucket and even thinking about things, like, you know, TikTok or next channels. I have no idea. I have no idea. It's not my world.  

So, that's where being more focused on some data and research is really important. And so, I think we've kind of felt the pain to a degree of saying, we still know this core and our core is amazing, but your core can only be so big. At some point, you have to start learning how to communicate and market to other types of groups and probably in slightly different ways. And this is the challenge that most organizations and brands suffer from. I think we were really lucky when we kind of looked at our audience and indexed them. We basically index very similarly to America in terms of age profiles, interest profiles. We're, we're pretty linked to just general America, which means we can probably do more of just the same old, same old and just reach more of America. And it will still work. Not a lot of organizations index that way. Not a lot of people have an accessible cause like clean water that most people can understand and get behind. We're not faith based, we're politically agnostic, so we're pretty approachable in a lot of ways. 

So, I think we've been able to put that off a little bit more than a lot of organizations who maybe tap out that core sooner, but we're still feeling some of that. So, the need to develop some new audiences based off some of our qualitative research and our quantitative research is really, really, really key. And I think we're just getting better, too, at developing our culture of experimentation and testing. So, even if it is anecdotal, it doesn’t mean that we can’t try something. Just, the margin of error off anecdotal evidence is massive. And then you get narrower when it's qualitative and narrower when it's a pool of qualitative and narrow when it's quantitative and narrow when it's a pool of quantitative and, you know, there's a pyramid of trustworthiness in, I don't think we should say unless it's the top of the pyramid we can't do anything because then you lose a lot of really good ideas.  

It's just understanding the risks and the margin of error of what's informing your idea. That's really, really critical. So, you know, someone says, “Hey, I saw this from an organization.” Great. We got nothing else in our testing queue. Let's run an experiment. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. But that's a very different way to approach our growth strategy over the next two years. It's not, oh, someone has an idea, let's do it, you know. So, depending on how important it is, the margin of error is really critical to keep in mind too.  

Justin: I love that. I love that. One of the things that you had shared with us previously when we had chatted was just the, golly, it's the maturation of charity: water to now be investing more into direct marketing. And so, obviously, the success over time around the brand, and the growth, and the awareness and all of those things which has been transformative, that's been, you know, I think it's safe to say that it's a new model. But you hit a certain point to where you got to start to build a foundation around direct marketing and grow that. Can you talk a little bit about your approach in helping shape that direct marketing strategy and how this testing queue, this testing mindset comes in to building that out?  

Brady: Yeah, I think, you know, a lot of things that led to our success were really organic, right? People fundraising on our behalf. We had a lot of notable support early on, our founder's very charismatic and has a strong following, like, a lot of those things were great, but they're also tough to replicate. And the big shift to developing this spring, our monthly giving program in 2016, was just that. Scott has a quote saying, “Starting from 0 is untenable.”  

And it was like, man, the calendar would flip over and the team would be like, Oh my gosh, we have to do this all over again. And hope people fundraise and hope that we do this, and it was like, we cannot scale and grow if we're in this position. And so, that's where the monthly giving program in particular was invested in hard, aggressively and a huge focus. And then, developing more of the traditional major gifts, mid-level gifts, those types of things.  

So, at least on our side, so me and my team, we’re responsible for the consumer audience, so people who give $1,000 or less, essentially. In the spring, our monthly giving is the biggest focus of what we do. And we have about 70,000 members and about $22 million in annual recurring revenue. So, it's a fairly sizable program as it is. And what you see with larger programs, or with volume, is you don't grow at the same rate. You can't just be, like, oh, 100% growth. Like it tails off. And even to the point where you can even shrink or flatline when your growth strategy—ours was primarily paid social, paid digital-media-heavy—once you start running into issues that we ran into, it really curbs your growth. So, a little background in context.  

So, what we're trying to do now is say not only what can get us back on a growth trajectory, but one of the things I love about Scott and this organization is saying we are trying to end the water crisis. We're not just trying to grow 5% year over year, that kind of thing. It's not this incremental approach. It's trying to say, how can we 3x this program in a few years? How can we 5x as an organization? And that shifts the type of thinking. As opposed to, like, oh, we got to do whatever we can to just make sure we hit our targets this year, which is a tough struggle, say, what do we need to do today? So, we have the chance to 2x, 3x, 4x our program three, four, five years from now.  

And that type of mindset is really rare in our space. You know, I've been doing a lot of learning from venture capital, and it's unfortunate that we don't have those types of markets to tap into that basically say, we'll give you a big old pot of money, and we'll give you three years, and you've got to meet some milestones. But we don't care about performance until you're three, right? And as much as we can, we're trying to adopt more of that mindset. And so, you know, we can prove an idea, like newsletter sponsorship, for example. We've done that a few times. It seems to perform well. The challenge is, 40 monthly donors here, 40 monthly donors there; we need a bunch of those for us to actually grow the program and to source them, execute them ...the admin just goes up and up and up and up, and we can't sustain it. So it's highly efficient, very little scale. So, it's kind of this narrow target of trading off efficiency and scale, and it depends for every organization where you're at. And so for us, we need some very highly scalable strategies, which moves us into things like TV because there is unlimited scale to a degree.  

Justin: Yeah, yeah. 

Brady: But trade off on efficiency. So, we're standing up all these little pilots where we're making these little bets to see, is this an opportunity? Is this an opportunity? You know, like gentle pushes on the door to say, well, this door opens if we push harder, and then at some point you go, we can’t make 12 little bets. We’ve got to make a couple of really big bets and commit to them over a series of time. Because where we are in the growth stage, again, we're trying to 2x, 3x the program in a few years, not just grow 5%. So, very different mindset, very different stage, but I think that mindset should be more applicable to more nonprofits, or I wish it was.  

Justin: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, you see a lot right now, whether or not it was in your previous time at a couple of different agencies, that, you know, a lot of the mindset is about incremental growth annually, not 3x in 3 to five years and not an end goal of an end game of ‘put ourselves out of business because we've solved the water crisis.’  

And so, I love that aspirational aspect. In fact … and I've got to think that plays into the culture that you referenced earlier with respect to care for the donors because you're asking for them to be invested in the cause. So, as you think about these bets, these small bets and these big bets, how does it connect for me? Listening and surveying, or understanding, or building affinity data, connect for me that part into the bets that you're making.  

Brady: Yeah, I think there's a little bit of a difference on the acquisition and the retention side. And so, you know, even going back to the first question around what does marketing and growth mean? We were intentional. I was intentional in the discovery or hiring process, and we've been intentional about making it marketing and growth. And growth is, the difference being as growth roles have more responsibilities across the whole lifecycle of a donor, or full funnel, whereas a lot of marketing, traditionally, is like top of funnel or one part of it, and then you kind of hand it off to another team.  

It's, like, now it's your job to keep them and grow them. And I think that's very problematic. And so, we said, if we're going to build a monthly giving program, we should use more growth models that subscription, high volume subscription products have. And I want, we want as a team, to be responsible for the acquisition, the retention, the monetization full cycle.  

So, how that relates on the acquisition side, we don't … the listening is somewhat important because you can piece in some attribution data. So, people maybe say, “Oh, I heard about you on TV,” but they show up from a paid ad. So, it helps fill some of that gap of saying, wow, a ton of people say they heard Scott speak or saw us on TV, and it never shows up in our attribution models or the end last kind of thing. So, that's kind of important. And then you can model a little bit off of that.  

I think where the listening becomes more important is on the messaging and positioning of the offer that you go out with, right? If we know that more people connect with the vision to end the water crisis or the impact on women and girls or those types of things, then that can shape maybe how we position ourselves when we go out to new audiences, if we know that's what resonates most to our core audience. But honestly, a lot of it is kind of like, now that you're in the community, what can we do to best serve you? Do you want to hear less? Do you to hear more? What type of content do you want? You know, those types of things.  

So, I think that's where a little bit more of the value lies, in those two different sides of the same coin. If you acquire a bunch of people and then they all churn out, what's the point? You just wasted a bunch of money. So, I think, you know, it's not like, oh, this is acquisition information, this is retention information. Those two things are linked inextricably. Yeah, so it plays a role in each, but it probably means a little bit more on the retention side.  

Justin: Ronnie, I know, I know you had a thought there. I could see it jumping forward, but just, I have to jump in and say that, you know, it's interesting when you think about more organization, as you mentioned, but then you take that same place, and you put it down to a small organization. Maybe it's a local food bank. And one of the challenges that they've found themselves in the last couple of years is just by the nature of what we've all walked through, they have acquired a ton of new donors and were already short staffed pre-pandemic, and now they're wearing so many hats in a time of increased program need that it's hard for them to even set aside the time to figure out the strategies to say, hey, how can we get you, new donor, to be more involved in the organization? 

So, that's what you are seeing some organizations really struggle with, that retention; it’s because they've had to pick and choose where to apply their own resources, including their own time. And sometimes that just results in spilling off of donors that you just acquired, which is highly unfortunate.  

Brady: Yeah, I mean, there's some donors that they just purchased. They're not committed to you, right? Local food bank. You need? Boom, you provide water. Saw your ad. Boom, that's it. Like, we can't fool ourselves. Like, everyone wants this deep relationship and, like, I think sometimes we overdo it, almost like we've got to know all the donors. And there's a ton of donors who’re just, like, “Oh, I heard about you. I want to do good. You had me in the moment, I gave,” and they will never give to you again.  

You know, there's a huge chunk of retention that is impossible to retain. Like, and so what going back to retention models or high commitment, low commitment or your research, what we need to do a better job modeling is saying, this person we absolutely can and should retain, or this person will retain if we do nothing, or this person is at risk of never coming back again, and then changing the mix or the strategy based off those things as soon as we can. And not saying, like, everyone is, you know, everyone's the same kind of thing, so.  

Justin: Yeah, and I think that that's actually, that a part of the formative idea behind it is, you know, Ronnie and I and a couple of other team members sitting around saying, like, what, this whole retention crisis, what do you make of that? And actually, to your point, what did donors think? Because they don't think they're in a retention crisis. You know, it's that, you know, a cause comes in and out of their life. Or maybe it's come into their life. And it's saying it's important. Super interesting. Ronnie, I knew you were going to jump in with something.  

Ronnie: Yeah, I mean, like, like I was curious about the same kind of thing asked. It's, like, this scale of, you know, there's limited amount of resources that a nonprofit organization has, and how do you, how do you choose what to focus on, which, Brady, you described it very well. So, another thing that I'm kind of thinking about is, which you've described about charity: water in, you know, as an organization grows, it's kind of like, you know, a ship, you know, as you're the small, little craft in the water, you can turn and maneuver very quickly, and then you become this big cruise ship, and all of a sudden you can't make these big changes. With limited resources and having to apply those resources as a larger organization in a way that, you know, can't hurt you, how do you go about taking these risks and trying these new things in a way that doesn't really hurt you and, you know, impact your revenue?  

Brady: Yeah, I mean, that's what we're going through. So, I can only share what we're trying to do. It takes a while for it to kind of bear fruit. But I know, I think one of the things is to just not buy into the narrative that because you're big and have scale, that you're now a big, cumbersome ship. There's some realities. But I think you can fight against it in how you structure your team. So for us, for example, we've structured a cross-functional team across our creative team and our product team to fit under marketing and growth, where there's a few direct people on the team and then a lot of people from other teams.  

And we try to operate on a, on a sprint cycle, and it's a bit of a work in progress. But instead of saying, “Oh, here's what we're going to do three months from now, or six months from now,” we kind of have a roadmap high level, but it's really, what are we going to do in the next two weeks? What's the most important thing? We bring it into the queue. We try to execute all of it, and then we kind of see what's going on in the next two weeks.  

And so, that's a way to kind of combat getting too caught up in end of years. You know, four months from now, it's great. But also, what can we do today, and not get too hung up on the big thing that's coming on the horizon? And I think, the bigger you get, you have the temptation, and it's like, OK, Giving Tuesday, end of year, and you start walking it back, and now you're planning for end of year a year in advance because you have two in print timelines and whatever. And what gets lost in the middle is all the other stuff that you should be doing in the meantime.  

So, I think how we do work, the cultural side of things, you know, there's a concept at charity: water called safe to try that was in existence long before I ever got there. And it's just saying, look, if you want to take a risk, let's do some quick analysis and do the risk trade. And if the risk is low and great, people will kind of give you thumbs up. So, I think it's safe to try.  

And so, keeping those things in the culture, and I know Scott is trying to imbue within all of us his sense of risk taking. And it's one thing for your founder to take a bunch of risk. It's another thing to be kind of a cog in the wheel saying, can I also take risk? But when you look at really innovative organizations or high experimentation organizations, that cultural side of things gets pushed all the way down. So, people all feel this sense of, I can do things, I have autonomy, I can run experiments where we're not afraid to fail. And so, it's again, it goes back to this real cultural thing because without it, it ends up being the only person who can take a risk is the person at the top.  

And then the whole thing slows down. People feel like they can't. Oh, we won't be able to do it anyways, you know, all those squelching things. And honestly, that's why I left the nonprofit space. At first I was leading marketing at an organization I loved, and it was just, like, I could not do anything that I thought was cool or innovative. And I probably could. I mean, I was relatively young, but I felt like nothing I wanted to do was ever going to see the light of day. And that's what crushes people more than salary and comp and is, like, I can’t do cool work that I care about, that my skill set can do. And I feel like that's, that's so sad, you know, like maybe we can't compete on, on comp and those things, but we should absolutely be able to compete on autonomy, and risk, and freedom, and those kind of things. But we often are the opposite of that and the impact.  

Justin: Right you know, obviously, there's a lot of folks that end up here, here being the nonprofit marketing space, whether or not you're on the nonprofit side or on the agency side, because they want to see impact, and they're leaning into their purpose. And I love the idea of empowering people to lean in to that purpose in a way that really makes a difference. That's cool stuff, man.  

So, OK, so just in terms of landing the plane, what I think is so interesting is the relational aspect of what we heard in our Listen Up study—which again is available at—that relational aspect of trying to better understand what makes for a strong or a weak relationship. How do weak relationship donors versus strong, how do they relate back to the nonprofit? Something that you said there, Brady, I really gravitate towards and that's your reference of the use of a sprint cycle. And when you're thinking about building relationships, you're probably in some ways thinking about a high-level roadmap of 6 to 12 months.  

But more often than not, it's like, hey, what can I do today? Right? Or this week, do I need to check in on this person or what? So, there is something that's about the culture of how we apply performance marketing, direct marketing, and not getting lost up in those, those high-level, long-term decisions versus thinking in the now and being nimble and being open to data right now to make decisions. And man, that is hard for us in a control-based, long lead time industry.  

Brady: Yeah, it's way … but you know, honestly, that's one of the things that I was interested in. You know, when you consult, it's hard to get in there, like, get in the guts. And that's where so much of the opportunity lies, you know, on the culture side. And what, like, you can say things all day long as a consultant. And you can only get in there so much. But being internal, it's kind of like, well, it's no one's responsibility other than mine for some of these things. And it's not necessarily tactical. It's more, you know, on the cultural side, which I think is really, really interesting. 

You know Courtney Gains from NextAfter did a good talk at the Nonprofit Innovation Optimization summit last week, and a lot of it was just that human element of checking in on people. You know, there's a hurricane going on in Florida. Who are your donors that might be in that zip code area? And just send a note, be like, hey, we're just thinking about you. You know, it's like those little touch points that maybe seem cheesy, and donors will say, I don't want that, but then you do it, and it's really powerful for some folks. You know, it's combining some of that with also some of the strategy of saying, we basically have 30 days for the most part to win over a new donor.  

Generally speaking, like, that's essentially it. You have, the acquisition is normally the biggest indicator of whether someone will stay, it’s how you acquire them more than anything. And then you have a very, very narrow window to shift them. And once that window is closed, there's actually, yes, there's things you can do, but in reality, there's not a ton you can do of significance outside of maybe your year end and a seasonal, right? You know, it's blending these two things, which say we should always care about donors, even if we're, like, the likelihood of them giving now is so small, it doesn't mean you don't care about them. While also knowing the statistics in the data of saying we got to win this battle real quick, you know, it's blending those two things that's most critical.  

Justin: So interesting. Good stuff, man. We appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. I'm really certain by now that Ronnie has found a team. He can’t use Tottenham, can’t use Liverpool. But I think just by the end of this conversation that he’s probably lined up. And by the way, we both agree that you can’t choose Chelsea, Man City, Man United or Arsenal, like, you got to go outside of that group. I was going to disappoint you all by choosing Manchester United. I figured that was probably the worst choice, right? No, it's fine. No, like the Yankees, right?  

Brady: I mean, if you want to go to hell, you know, you can. I don't know if you could say that on this podcast. I don't know where … I'm just kidding.  

Justin: Oh, I mean, that's you're, referencing the Red Devils. So red up.  

Brady: Yes, there you go. Yeah, correct.  

Justin: Yeah, I mean, like, honestly, right now it would be. You could choose Wrexham, you know, and if you're, if you watch the great series, by the way, I'm loving it. Yeah, yeah, Yeah. It's good stuff.  

So Brady, if someone wants to dig in with you further to talk about either some of the, the tests that you all are running, understand how you're using a sprint cycle internally, to figure out why you have such a beef with Man United or why you have such an affinity for Liverpool, where can they find you? How can they connect? 

Brady: Personally, its Twitter and LinkedIn, probably it's just @BradyJosephson or /BradyJosephson. And then, honestly, I think I know a lot of people do this, but check out sign up for email. I mean, if you want to make a monthly donation, I'm not opposed to it, but just check out the infrastructure. Don't necessarily just copy things blindly because some of the stuff isn't working. But, you know, check it out because I do think it's always good to see what other organizations are doing. And we’ve got a lot of room to improve. But, by and large, I think we do a lot of things, you know, pretty right. So, if you want to see it for yourself, I think that's always a great way to do some personal research.  

Justin: Right on. Appreciate that, man. Thanks so much for spending time with us today. For the listening audience, the viewing audience, just a reminder that the full research study is available on You can check out all the other podcasts and see other content that we put out. So, appreciate it. Thanks so much for checking out this episode. We'll see you down the road.  

Group Thinkers is a production of RKD Group. For more information, visit Special thanks to our production team, including the talented Ryan Mellinger for his work on mixing every episode. Also a shout out to the content team that helps pull together research and guests, puts the marketing efforts behind Group Thinkers, Suzanne, Ronnie and others for their work on this and every episode of Group Thinkers. 

RKD Group

RKD Group is North America's leading fundraising and marketing services provider to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, social service, disease research, animal welfare, rescue missions, and faith-based charities. RKD Group’s omnichannel approach leverages technology, advanced data science and award-winning strategic and creative leadership to accelerate net revenue growth, build long-term donor relationships and drive online and offline engagements and donations. With a growing team of professionals, RKD Group creates breakthroughs never thought possible.

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