Cool news! We've been selected as a semi-finalist for the 2013 Nonprofit Exellence Awards! See our application below and gain some insight into the inner workings of DoSomething.org.
PART ONE QUESTIONS
1. Please provide your mission statement. Explain how this mission guides the management of your organization. If your mission statement does not make clear what your organization aims to do – its core purpose – then state in 1-2 sentences what change your organization is trying to make in the lives of the community(ies), people and/or cause(s) you serve. Cite specific examples.
DoSomething.org is the largest organization in the US for young people and social change. We believe that teenagers can change the world. It is our mission to empower young people, 25 and under, to find a cause they’re passionate about and then take action to create a measurable impact. Our core focus is on middle school, high school, and college students with the greatest emphasis on 14-18 year-olds. When young people volunteer, they have more self-confidence, do better in school, gain leadership skills, are more likely to vote and often become life-long volunteers. Not to mention the fact, that the millions of young people in this country, have the ability to affect any and every issue.
Every month, we launch 2-4 national campaigns around particular causes (homelessness, poverty, animal welfare, etc) that make it easy for any young person anywhere in the country to make an impact on the issue that they care about.
This mission guides the management of our organization because we believe you are never too young to do something – young people are the leaders of today; they don’t need to wait until they are older. We include them in every aspect of what we do, from utilizing high school and college interns throughout the year, to turning to our Youth Advisory Council for advice, to making our programs teen-friendly by using text messaging (sms) instead of email as our preferred method of communication, because its their preferred method of communication.
We want to give all young people, not just the privileged young people, the ability to volunteer and give back to their local communities.
2. How does your organization’s management focus on results? Give specific examples of regular planning and feedback that have led to measurable results in advancing your mission and other organizational goals. Summarize your track record of mission-related and organizational results over the last 3-5 years. How are results or outcomes defined, verified, tracked and reported? Who follows up and/or tracks results, how often, and what does this encompass? How has impact been sustained? How will you sustain and/or improve key results going forward?
DoSomething.org is an organization that cares about data, results and success. Our management focuses on results in a few specific ways –
● Quarterly Reviews. Each person on the team has a quarterly review with their manager every three months. During these 60-120 minute review sessions, a manager and their direct report discusses the person’s goals from the past quarter and then sets 3-5 measurable content goals and 3-5 methodological goals for the next three months. Each goal is tied to a larger organizational goal. In this way, employees can see how their goals relate to larger organizational goals and also be guided by what is most important for them to achieve in each three month period
● Organizational Goals. DoSomething.org sets 3-year and 1-year goals for the organization on a variety of measures (approximately 40) including number of members, mobile members, campaign participants, social media goals, website goals, etc. These goals are reported to the board and the staff on a monthly basis.
● Transparency. We just completed a data overhaul so that now all staff can see any organizational goal, at any time, without the help of a data analyst or developer. Further, we have screens in our lobby that will now display our goals in real-time. We also issue a quarterly dashboard to the public (that is also posted on our website) that gauges how we are doing in our metrics, campaigns, buzz and management measures.
Two very specific way that we have looked at our goals and improved include:
● Churn. We were very concerned with the number of young people who were “churning” through our sms (text message) list, meaning that they join, but then opt-out of the list. We put churn on our list of organizational goals. We saw that churn was approaching 40% and we were concerned. We therefore assigned a team-member to “QB” churn and she then put together a task-force of people to figure out how we can lower churn. She presented a plan to staff at innovation meeting (every Wednesday morning) to lower churn from 40 to 20% over the next year. We are currently 4 months into the plan and we are on track to hit our churn goals
● Campaign sign-ups. When we put together our yearly organizational goals, we also give each campaign (we run 25 campaigns a year) a goal for participants and new member sign-ups. Recently, we were looking at our Don’t Be a Sucker Campaign (focusing on “vampire energy” in schools) and saw that less than 10% of the young people who came to the microsite were signing up. We were concerned because we saw that with current web traffic and conversion rates, we would not hit our campaign goals. We then A/B tested various photos, colors and content on the site to see what would make young people more likely to sign up for the campaign. Through this testing, we increased our conversion rate from less than 10% to over 20% and are likely or nearly likely to hit our campaign goals due to these timely changes.
The most important goal to Do Something is the number of young people who are members and take action through our programs. Every year for the past 3 years, we have hit our member and participant numbers, with 1.4 million young people across the US being members of Do Something in 2012. We are currently on track to hit our 2013 goal of 2.5 million Do Something members.
3. Cite specific examples of how your Board of Directors adds value to your organization and helps it perform better, and how the Board leads in concert with management?
DoSomething.org shrunk our board in 2011/2012 from over 20 spots to just 9 as a way to ensure that our board members were more engaged and informed. It has been an excellent shift and we find our board members are more engaged than ever before.
● We hold quarterly board meetings and regularly meet with board members via phone and in-person between meetings.
● Our board members have a give or get policy of $50,000 and sign annual conflict of interest policies.
● The chairman of our board has annual conversations with board members to evaluate and measure their performance.
● With our larger board, we had a board committee charged with vetting and attracting new board members. Since we shrunk our board to just 9 members, we have been steady with no board members leaving or joining and we don’t expect any much turnover in the next few years as we want to keep our board at ten members or less.
● Each board member is paired with a senior level staff in the organization who is responsible for having regular phone conversations and keeping them up to date on the organization so that the board members can have relationships with staff other than the CEO. Board members also receive monthly updates from the CEO or COO which include our monthly metrics.
Our board members provide value in three main ways –
● Financial. Whether through their direct contributions, introductions to potential partners or the giving of their organizations, our board of directors is responsible for a significant portion of our budget.
● Technological advice. As a growing technology company, we need to be talking to the top experts in the tech field. With a third of our board based in Silicon Valley (including Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn), we have ample opportunity to speak directly with our board members about our tech issues and be introduced to their expert colleagues in the industry
● Oversight. Whether its reviewing and setting our CEO’s salary and performance or signing off on our 990 and quarterly finances, our board of directors provides management oversight for the organization.
4. Describe the roles of your Board and senior staff in creating, approving, reviewing and revising your budget annually and throughout the year.
DoSomething.org undergoes an extensive budgeting process that involves the entire board and entire staff. Every single budget line is assigned to a different person in the organization, typically a senior staff member. Our Director of Finance meets with each staff member who is assigned a budget line to discuss the revenue and expense projections for the upcoming year. As she is creating the budget based on previous year’s actuals, new organizational goals, and input from the senior staff, she meets with the CEO and COO regularly to oversee this budget creation process. Once the CEO and COO approve the budget, the Director of Finance convenes a finance committee meeting (they meet quarterly) to give her feedback on the budget. The Director of Finance then meets with the board treasurer and the budget is finally presented at the board meeting for discussion and a vote. At each board meeting, the budget, balance sheet and cash flow are presented. Annually, we also present a 3-year budget to the board so they can see the trajectory of the organization.
At the end of the 2012, DoSomething.org had 12 months cash on hand. The CEO, COO and Director of Finance meet monthly to discuss the cash flow, which is presented at board meetings on a quarterly basis. Our annual audit is reviewed annually at the board meeting – Do Something received either no management letter or a fully clean management letter in each of the past 3 years. We also received 4 stars on charity navigator for each of the last 6 years, something that less than 3% of not-for-profits have achieved.
Our biggest financial challenge in the last 3-5 years was 2-fold –
We tried to execute an ambitious individual donor fundraising plan in 2008 and (unfortunately) launched this plan the day that Lehman fell. This plan was ill-advised because of the timing and because we did not have a strong individual donor base nor a plan for how to grow and increase this population. We had a plan to raise $8million through individual donors and succeeded in raising less than half of that. The exciting part of this was that even without the funds, we were able to hit the ambitious goals that we had set out to hit with that influx of capital. In light of this failure, we realized that individual donors were not a good source of revenue for us and instead we decided to double down on large foundations (we were already very successful in the corporate realm, being 80% corporate funded). This led to two large foundation grants, each for $1.5million dollars that enabled us to ultimately expand our budget from ~$3-4million cash to ~$6million cash. The second challenge has been the financial growth of the organization. Previously, we had been growing modestly, essentially staying within $2-$4million a year. This large influx of capital meant that we had to put systems in place to track this money (some of which was restricted), hire additional positions to manage our growth, and then ultimately increase our corporate fundraising so we wouldn’t be left with a huge whole in our budget the year after the foundation money ran out. We have now successful sustained our organization at this new $6-$8million threshold, using the growth capital to grow and now, not needing it to sustain our regular operating budget.
At the end of every fiscal year our financial statements are audited by an independent audit firm. Their audit involves performing procedures to obtain audit evidence about the amounts and disclosures in the financial statements. The procedures include risk assessments and evaluation of internal controls. The auditors then present their findings to the management team and our board of directors. Once the financial statements are approved, the form 990 and NYS CHAR 500 are completed and filed by the May 15th deadline. Copies of the forms are also uploaded to our website and also made available upon request.
5. How does your organization ensure that its staff and volunteers are diverse, culturally competent, and responsive to emerging issues or communities? Cite specific examples of inclusive and culturally competent service delivery, outreach and hiring and promotion policies and practices. How does your organization assure that it effectively addresses its changing needs and those of the community(ies) it serves? How has the diversity of your staff and board changed in the last 5 years? Cite current numbers and percentages in Checklist 2.
DoSomething.org programs never require money, an adult or a car. In this way, we ensure that all communities, whether they be city or rural, and all types of teenagers, low-income and more fortunate are able to take part in our programs.
One key way that Do Something ensures diversity is by being an open and progressive place. We have a culture of openness so that all people feel welcome in the organization.
When we shrunk the board (as aforementioned), diversity was a key component to crafting who would be/become current members. Diversity is important here not only based on ethnicity (as 60% of our board is Caucasian, 20% Black/African American and 20% Other), but also diversity in skillset and professional fields. We are always looking for new perspectives on our work, and also work with advisory boards and consultants to provide us with new ideas and things to think about. One of our favorite quotes is “the smartest idea is not always in the room”; this helps guide us to reach out to different and diverse people – whether they be board members or our Youth Advisory Council.
At DoSomething.org, a quarter of our staff is consistently former interns. Because of this, we know it’s important to have a diverse intern class to then create a diverse staff. To ensure the diversity of our interns, Do Something posts our internships at historically black colleges, offers a $3,000 stipend for the summer so that low-income young people can afford to intern with us, and asks each staff person to interview people of all backgrounds before they decide on an intern to hire. In fact, our incoming intern class is 61% Caucasian, Non-Hispanic, 13% Latino, 13% Asian, 10% Black/African American, and 3% other. This focus on diversity in our intern class will ensure further diversity in our staff, as we hire former interns on a regular basis. In addition to our college internship program, we also run high school internship programs year-round. High school students come to our office twice a week after school for 2 hour sessions during the fall and spring, and are here 28 hours a week in the summer. We cycle the high school interns out for 2-week sessions in the summer to engage as many diverse skills, opinions, and ideas as possible. These high school interns are invited for brainstorms, and besides the work they actually do, serve as great focus groups to make sure we are staying on-brand and accessible to all types of teenagers.
Do Something rigorously assessed the technological needs of our young people. One reason we use text messaging is because nearly all young people have access to text messages even if they do not have a computer or internet connection at home. Due to our reliance on texting, we have seen that our campaigns over-index for low-income and minority youth, with our most engaged young people being Latino youth especially in low-income communities. We also continuously monitor where various groups of young people hang out, whether that be in the virtual world or the real world. We partner with companies and utilize celebrities that reach a diverse array of young people, everything from hip hop stars to country music artists. The diversity in our member base is something we are not only proud of, but are engaging constantly to craft new campaigns and marketing strategy.
6. How does your organization utilize and care for its human resources? Cite specific examples of how your policies and practices recognize the importance, expectations, availability and needs of staff and volunteers.
● All Do Something employees sign an employee handbook upon joining the organization. This handbook is reviewed quarterly by senior level staff and shared with staff on a quarterly basis as a reminder to be up to date on company policies. It includes both a whistleblower and conflict of interest policies.
● All employees have written job descriptions that are updated after job changes and promotions. Performance is reviewed quarterly, and employees are able to ask for raises at any point throughout the year when they feel they deserve it, not just on an annual basis. Raises and promotions are based on whether employees are hitting their quarterly goals, which are mutually agreed upon by each staff member and their manager
● DoSomething.org has excellent benefits including full healthcare benefits with no financial contribution from the employee. Employees’ spouses and children are similarly covered with no employee contribution. DoSomething.org also offers dental, vision, life insurance and a 4013b plan that matches, starting immediately, up to 1% of an employee’s annual salary. Do Something employee’s receive 3 weeks vacation plus the week between Christmas & New Years, all regular holidays plus Valentine’s Day, their birthday and a half day on Halloween.
● Do Something has extensive internal and external professional development opportunities which are overseen by the COO and include speaking at conferences and speaking with experts and mentors that are truly at the top of their fields.
● DoSomething.org also offers a sabbatical program after you have been with Do Something for at least two years. Employees are permitted to take off a month paid to volunteer anywhere in the world as long as they commit to another year within the organization. This policy allows Do Something’s (often young) employees the opportunity to travel and see new organizations and have new experiences while promoting employee retention
7. How do your organization’s policies and practices appropriately manage your information technology resources? Cite specific examples of how you regularly use technology and other resources to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Cite specific examples of how technology planning is integrated into short- and long-term strategic operational goals. Does your organization invest in appropriate equipment, up-to-date, compatible hardware and software to enhance your ability to achieve your mission? Do you regularly back up important electronic files and check to see if those back-ups actually work? How else do you protect users’ confidentiality and security? Is there at least one staff person responsible for updating software and hardware? Is staff adequately trained in the use of technology to carry out their responsibilities? How is technology inventory tracked and managed? (Also see Checklist #2)
DoSomething.org has a full-time staff member dedicated to IT as well as a Data Security Plan reference document that codifies processes and best practices for keeping our data secure. Since DoSomething.org is a web-based, tech-focused company, technological resources as well as planning are part and parcel of what we do. The DoSomething.org tech team consists of eight developers, one IT specialist, and a CTO. The tech team uses project management software, daily intra-departmental scrum meetings as well as weekly inter-departmental meetings to coordinate with the rest of the staff to plan, build, test, and deliver both internal tools to help everyone do their job more efficiently, as well as the public-facing Campaigns websites that are at the core of our mission.
The tech team, and the IT specialist in particular, regularly implement new hardware and software, whether these be new servers to host our databases, new modules for our Drupal CMS, design software upgrades for the Creative team, or simply updates to our internal network infrastructure. Naturally, we use a variety of tools to back up important files, from MozyPro for our file server, to Apple Time Capsule for local data on Macs, to Google Drive for individual documents. Staff are always encouraged not to save documents on their local hard drives and to use cloud-based storage instead. Our developers regularly audit our website and databases to ensure that sensitive user data is not exposed to the public, and the tech team yearly invites an outside white-hat security expert to do penetration testing and evaluate the security of our website and other assets.
All new staff are given a tech orientation upon starting with the organization, to familiarize them with the technological tools and resources we use, as well as the data security policies. The technological inventory is regularly audited and updated by the IT specialist using both basic tools such as Excel spreadsheets as well as more advanced tools such as Spiceworks.
8. How do you communicate with your constituencies? Cite specific internal and external communications with key stakeholders that clearly convey your communications strategies and your results from these strategies. Are you effectively telling the core story of how your organization makes a difference? Do you have a communications plan that is integrated with your programmatic and development efforts and that promotes your organization’s brand consistently through print, broadcast, and online materials? How are social media and technology integrated into your strategic communications objectives? Do your plans, practices and actual communications assure that regular, accurate information reaches your various publics? How do you know? Cite examples of how you regularly listen to key stakeholders. How do you regularly assess the impact and reach of your communications relative to your competitors, clients, donors and others? Cite evidence that your messages are understood or “working.” Describe your strategies to protect consumer privacy and confidentiality. Cite evidence that your organization actively and effectively “brands” itself and maintains its brand (public identity and reputation) in telling its story.
On a regular basis, Do Something communicates to our stakeholders both about the organization as a whole, and perhaps more importantly, to our young people on ways that they can take action through our campaigns.
● Do Something runs 25 national campaigns each year and for each campaign, we execute a comprehensive communications strategy that includes –
○ Owned channels. Getting the word out through Do Something’s main outlets including our website, Facebook page, twitter page and YouTube channel
○ Partner media. Do Something creates beautiful and impactful marketing materials and PSAs that our marketing partners regular run on such high profile outlets as Fox during primetime TV, Seventeen.com, People magazine, in movie theatres across the country, on VH1, etc.
○ Earned media. Do Something selects 12 of our best campaigns each year for heavy public relations outreach including a national press release, entertainment & business press outreach, a closing press release with our results and local market outreach to focus on the stories of our amazing young people.
● Social media is increasingly important to Do Something and we focus our efforts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Tumblr. We are the 5th largest charity on twitter and regularly have more than 1million people talking about us on Facebook. We are one of the top 100 most influential brands on Facebook (out of all Facebook pages) and 1 out of every 3 Americans either likes us on Facebook or has a friend who does.
● As mentioned above, Do Something creates a quarterly dashboard that assess our metrics, our campaign goals, our buzz and our management and financial practices. This dashboard is shared quarterly via email, via our social channels and also available at all times on our website, just one click from the homepage.
● Do Something loves listening to young people. Annually, we conduct a survey of 5,000 young people from across the country to ensure that we are in tune with the pulse of teens in the US. Further, we use this survey to gauge our brand recognition and have seen this number steadily grow over the years, currently nearing 50% brand recognition among our target audience. In addition, we do follow up surveys after our campaigns to ask our members how we could improve our campaigns for future years, inquire how they felt the campaign impacted them and get at their motivation for participating. We also look at extensive implicit data from how our users navigate our website to ascertain what causes and issues are most important to them.
● Privacy is of the utmost importance to Do Something, especially as we work with young people. Do Something works hard from a technical perspective to ensure that our data is safe and clearly states on our website that we would never sell or share in any way our users’ data without their express, written permission.
9. How does your organization effectively and ethically develop resources? Cite specific, concrete examples of how you assure sustainable revenues as well as ethical and transparent fundraising practices and communications. With what results? Describe your fundraising policies, strategies and actual practices for leveraging financial and other resources. What roles do your Board, organizational leadership, staff, volunteers, constituents or clients and community(ies) play in resource development? Are your development plans, policies and activities ethical, effective, regularly reviewed by the Board and accountable to donors? How do you balance between publicly recognizing contributions and donor confidentiality when needed? What practices do you have in place to ensure that donor names are not shared or traded without donor permission? (Also see Checklist #2)
As we do very little individual donor fundraising, donor confidentiality is rarely an issue. The bulk of our financial resources come from our partnerships with Fortune 500 corporations partnering on our cause marketing campaigns.
● Our corporate funding has been more or less sustainable throughout the last 3-5 years, even as we have significantly grown our budget, with somewhere between 50% - 80% of our large-scale corporate funders coming back year over year. A great example of this is our partnership with Aeropostale which is now in its seventh year, so we now we can count on this revenue from year to year. Similarly, we have had five-year-long partnerships with both Sprint and VH1. These long-term partnerships allow us to grow our programming in a sustainable way and are also a signal to other corporate partners that we are a reputable and beneficial organization to partner with.
● Corporate fundraising at DoSomething.org is led by the COO along with the business development team with regular help and introductions from both the CEO and the board of directors. Corporate targets are reviewed by the COO, CMO and business development team on a weekly basis with input from the board at quarterly board meetings.
● As far as ethical fundraising goes, we have a policy of not working with “vice organizations” such as alcohol and tobacco. We also often ask questions of our Youth Advisory Council and our Facebook page to see if a certain partner would be acceptable to our membership.
● DoSomething.org has a strong non-discrimination policy and ensures that all of our partners have non-discrimination policies on the books as well before we partner with them.
10. Highlight up to three specific “best practices” of management excellence in your organization over the past three years that you believe merit consideration for this award. Cite concrete examples of creative program or organizational management practices that distinguish your organization’s work. How might these practices be taken to scale? Each example highlighted can cover one or more of the management areas identified above
Our culture. While it is almost impossible to define a “culture” or what makes one great, this is absolutely one aspect of our management excellence that distinguishes us and leads to our excellence. I’d say there are two aspects of our culture that make us especially great – fun and caring. Just take a look at our culture book and it is obvious that we have fun. We regularly have karaoke nights when an employee is leaving or create a massive roast for them. We’ll buy ice cream sandwiches for the office on the hottest day of the year or have spontaneous dance-offs at company events. We have an organization song – Toto’s “Africa” – and we blast it every Tuesday at 6pm to make sure that no one stays late that day. We only hire people that are good to the core and it shows in that we all like to hang out with each other so much. And that’s where the caring comes in. Every manager is tasked with knowing their employees, really knowing them. A manager should know which employee is next to get married or have a baby and which of their employees is dealing with a sick mother. This leads to a workplace that is more like a family and a situation where a massage gift certificate can be given to the employee who’s been worrying about a sick grandma or a bridal shower can be held for someone with impending nuptials. It drives us all to work harder, smarter and be happier in the work that we do.
Accept failure. Do Something is not a place where we put rigid standards in place and they never change. We accept tinkering and we accept failure. In fact, every 6 months we hold a “fail fest”. Several employees (self-nominated or nominated by their manager) present at fail fest in front of the entire staff, while wearing a pink boa. These employees present on something they failed at over the previous 6 months and then give three lessons that they learned and three lessons that the organization learned. This creates a culture where you’re allowed to try new things and innovate and if it doesn’t work out, well the worst thing that could happen is you get to practice your public speaking skills while wearing a pink boa.
Age doesn’t matter. Many companies have strict seniority with promotions available on an annual basis. Absolutely not for Do Something. Not only do we promote 25-year-olds with potential to C-suite positions if they deserve it but we let everyone have a voice in what we do from the youngest high school intern to our CEO and Chief Old Person. Every Wednesday morning we have an Innovation meeting that the full-staff is invited to. Anyone on staff (or an intern) can ask the COO to present at innovation meeting with a new idea that they have. They present to the staff who respond with rigorous questioning and then at the end of the presentation either decide to not approve the idea or to “ship it”, in which case a quarterback is assigned and the idea becomes a reality.
1. How have your organization’s overall results changed in recent years? How have these combined to improve organizational and mission-driven results? Cite specific results or outcomes over the last 3-5 years of the management strategies and practices described in your Part One application. How do you project your organization’s overall results will change in the next 3-5 years? What do you project that you will change over the coming 3-5 years to improve results?
DoSomething.org’s results have changed in recent years in that 1. We are growing substantially and therefore reaching significantly more young people than we were 3-5 years ago. We just surpassed our goal of 2 million members (something unheard of even 2 years ago) and are on pace to hit 2.5 million members by the end of 2013. In addition to more members, our members are doing more good for the world. A great example is our Teens for Jeans campaign where we empower teens to donate jeans to clothe homeless youth. In our first year, 6 years ago, we collected a respectable 125,000 pairs of jeans for homeless teens. This past year, we collected and donated over 900,000 pairs of jeans, effectively clothing half of all homeless children in the country. Teens for Jeans is just one example – with every single campaign that we run (the bread and butter of what we do), we aim to increase the campaigns impact by a minimum of 20% year over year. For 80% of our campaigns we achieve this increase and for the vast majority, we surpass that 20% goal.
Another huge area of improvement is our website – its attractiveness to young people, its ease of use, its breadth of social change activities and its use of the latest technologies to ensure that young people are getting a top-notch user experience. This is important to us because we know that millions of young people come to our website for social change ideas that they then execute on their own. Five years ago, our website was constantly crashing (at least once a month), we only had information on 30 causes, and we received less than 200,000 unique visitors a month. Now, we’ve won several Webby Awards for our website excellence, we haven’t crashed in the last 6 months, we have over 25,000 pages of content and we receive upwards of 1 million visitors to our site each month (a 500% improvement over 5 years ago). Much like the churn example in the part one application, we set out an aggressive strategy to improve this area of our business through staffing changes, meetings with outside experts, and focus groups with young people to ensure that we were improving and hitting our goals.
Looking to the next 3-5 years, our results will change based on 4 main factors – technology, international expansion, financial sustainability and breadth of opportunity for our clients. We will be using the management practices that have served us so well thus far – culture, transparency, clear organizational goals and quarterly reviews – to get us to achieve even more success.
· Technology. In order to continue to reach teens, we need to be on the forefront of technology. While mobile technology may matter today, there could be a new method of communication or social network out there that hasn’t been invented yet that we must keep up with. We stay on top of this in two ways – First, constantly speaking with our target market and second, ensuring that we’re constantly having a dialogue with experts in Silicon Valley (including 3 main board members) who have their fingers on the pulse of what is going on.
· International Expansion. As we expand globally, we have an exciting opportunity to scale and increase our impact. One key area is that we will become less US-centric, utilizing and disseminating research and information about countries around the world to better inform ourselves and of course, always using local people, in-country to run Do Something’s operations there. Our international expansion is based on an affiliate model where local people or organizations in-country apply to become a Do Something affiliate and go through a thorough vetting including business plan submission, demonstration of need and demonstration of expertise.
· Financial Sustainability. A few months ago, Do Something introduced TMI, a subsidiary consulting agency focusing on young people, technology and social change. This is a vehicle to 1. Share our best practices with non-profits and socially conscious brands and 2. Monetize a core competency of ours to create an additional revenue stream. TMI is expected to hit our goal of $500,000 in revenue in 2013 and an expected $1,000,000 in revenue in 2014.
· Breadth of Opportunity. One very exciting change that we are making to better serve our young people is to pivot from 25 to 300 campaigns in Q1 2014. We want to ensure that our young people (who are accustomed to anything they want, when they want it) always have a campaign live on the Do Something site that fits their cause. We will be better servicing our end-user and impacting a much wider variety of causes than we ever could before.
2. How is your organization preparing for natural and inevitable changes in organizational leadership at the staff and board levels?
We feel very good about where are in terms of staff and board changes. At the board level, we have a few long-standing members that we have spoken to and we are going to be able to retain. We do also like for people to rotate off the board to make room for new breadth. As we don’t rely heavily on any one board member for the majority of our fundraising, we are confident that we could deal with any turnover there.
With the introduction of our sabbatical program – one month off paid to volunteer anywhere in the world after 2 years as long as you commit to a third – we are seeing greater rates of retention. We have 6 people scheduled for sabbaticals in the upcoming 6 months which gives us a greater ability to plan for the future. Likewise, we know if an employee is not taking a sabbatical, it might be a signal that we have to look out for a potential replacement in the near future.
While we are not expecting much change at the organization or board level, since Do Something gives so much responsibility to our new young members, we almost always have someone who is incredible & talented waiting in the wings to take over when a more senior person leaves. For each senior person that we deem indispensable, we ensure that we have someone in mind (either inside or outside the organization) who we know could take over if there was a sudden and/or unexpected change.
3. What have been the 3 most significant changes or challenges in the community(ies), population, issues or other external environments of your organization over the past 3-5 years? Describe the combination of management strategies and actual steps that you used to address these changes. With what results? What key change(s) or challenge(s) in the community(ies) or population you serve or issues you address, if any, do you anticipate in the coming 3-5 years?
1. The racial diversity of young people. Obviously the entire US population is undergoing a major demographic shift and has been for several years. Diversity can be a challenge but is also obviously a huge opportunity. While we don’t explicitly ask our members for information on their race on our website, we have seen that we over-index for both Hispanic and African-American young people and under-index slightly for white young people as compared to national average for young people 13-25. We are very excited by this data – we never want to be an organization that reached just one region or race or type of people – and we have used it to better serve our young people.
We dug further into the data and saw very clearly that our Hispanic members preferred our campaigns about family and community like I Heart Dad (which empowers young people to take their dads to get their blood pressure checked) almost two to one over our environmental campaigns. Conversely, we saw that our white members, especially in homogenous areas like Utah, preferred our summer Scavenger Hunt almost 3 to 1 compared to our I Heart Dad campaign. As our population continues to get even more diverse, we must be very purposeful about the campaigns we run and ensure that we are serving all of our young people in every part of the country thoughtfully. We continue to hire a diverse staff so that we have life experiences that match all of our members. We also put a policy in place where any staff member can take an extra day off to visit a middle school or high school to interact with diverse young people and get a new perspective. For instance, if you are a staff member who went to an elite private high school, you are given the opportunity to visit a low-income public high school that perhaps has more diversity than the one you are most familiar with.
2. Changing technology. As an organization that focuses on the digital space as a way to reach young people (to then activate them offline) there have been incredible changes, challenges and opportunities in the technology space. From young people leaving facebook in droves, to picking up snapchat, to the rise of the smart phone, DoSomething.org constantly has to be on the cutting edge of these changes. We’ve faced this challenge head on and turned it into an opportunity for us, specifically focusing more of our efforts on mobile (we have 2 people who are full-time dedicated to the medium) and discovering that it is more than a communication tool to push out marketing messages but an incredible way to engage our young people in two way communication and learning. We now accept either an email address or a mobile number for someone to become a Do Something member.
We have built up our technology team – we now have a third of our staff that releases product or touch code every single day. We are truly best-in-class when it comes to technology. We added several Silicon Valley heavy hitters to our board over the last 5 years including the founder of Snapfish, a tech expert from the Omidyar Network and perhaps most high-profile, Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. We use these connections to ensure that we are staying up to date. Young people don’t give non-profits a break; young people demand that our technology is just as sophisticated as anyone else’s.
3. Financial Literacy & Education. DoSomething.org only focuses on issues that young people truly care about, whether it’s helping the homeless or saving the environment. Six years ago we discontinued our financial education campaign because young people weren’t interested in learning about financial education themselves or volunteering to help other people understand it. That has changed dramatically. With the onset of the 2008 recession and the subsequent awareness of the skyrocketing cost of college and amount of student debt, paying for college has surpassed getting into college as the number one worry for our teen members. We’ve also seen a greater recognition that financial education is important to young people’s own future and the future of those around them.
We vigorously monitor youth trends – through explicit data from national surveys of young people to implicit data that we collect by monitoring where on our website young people spend the most time. When we saw a spike in interest in financial education, we decided it was such an important issue that we had to act. Last year, we launched a robust 3-pronged financial education campaign that combined on-the-ground tutorials in high schools nationwide, an online social media sharing effort about raising awareness and a mobile experience via SMS about learning and sharing facts. It was enormously successful, and we plan on continuing this initiative, searching for more funding to expand it, and actively monitoring our data so we can see what other causes are popping up and gaining traction among our target demo.
4. How does your organization assess the impact of its communications? What are some notable results? How are communications practices coordinated with other aspects of management? Cite examples of ways that your communications have contributed to mission, financial, development or other organizational goals.
We assess the impact of our communications in many ways, differently for each communication type.
· Mobile & Email. Over the past 5 years we instituted a system where every single text message and email that we send out to our over 2.3 million members is A/B tested for effectiveness – every Tuesday morning we send out 3 different versions of those communications to a small subset of our list and whatever performs the best, we send out to the full list. Through this A/B testing, we have increased the effectiveness of our communications by over 40%
· Website. The communication on our website is similarly rigorously tested, this time through a program called Optimizely. We use Optimizely (an A/B testing service) to improve the conversion (likelihood that someone on that page will sign up to take action) rate on all of our most highly trafficked pages. We are typically able to increase conversion rate from 15-20% to 30-40% for a new campaign, a massive increase considering that tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of young people are seeing those pages. For example, on one of our anti-bullying action guides, we changed the picture on the page and that led to an increase from 52,0000 to 104,000 young people taking action on bullying that year alone.
· Dashboards. From a management perspective, we have put in place many communications measures to ensure that our staff, board and general public know what we are up to. Each quarter, we create a 5-page Dashboard that updates the public on our goals, citing key highlights, wins, areas for improvement and upcoming events. Every person in the organization is responsible for sending the dashboard out to their contacts, it is shared via social media and it gets permanently posted on our website (you can see them at http://www.dosomething.org/our-sexy-financials-and-impact). Similarly, once a month, the management team sends out our monthly metrics – an excel spreadsheet of our top 40 numerical goals and where we stand against them – to the staff and board with an accompanying narrative so a person can become up to date with our progress very quickly.
· PR & Marketing. Press coverage and marketing have been a huge way that we a. reach our millions of members to take action around our campaigns and b. attract corporate sponsors. In the past year, we’ve decided to bring all PR & marketing in-house as we believed that a centralized, on-brand team internally would be much more effective (and cheaper) than paying an outside firm. We’ve seen that we have become much more creative, faster, and more agile with keeping everything in-house. We have also received feedback from our sponsors that they prefer dealing with our in-house folks.
Communication is coordinated across the management team through the use of an “initiatives google spreadsheet” that tracks all of our important initiatives, who is “QBing” them, what are the significant milestones for each.
5. How does your organization learn from its successes and mistakes? Cite at least one example of a specific success and at least one example of a specific mistake and how the organization learned from them.
The best example of how we learn from our successes and mistakes is the “fail fest” that I cited in part one of the application. If people are allowed to fail and encouraged to share their failures to learn from them, you will create a much-more dynamic, exciting environment. I would absolutely encourage all NGOs to hold a “fail fest” and I’d be more than happy to help them institute one!
One example of a success is our Pregnancy Text campaign. It was a “first of its kind” campaign where young people “impregnated” their friends’ cell phones (with permission of course). That person then went through a one-day text experience where we were texting them as if we were a baby, eg “wake up, its 6am and I’m crying” or “can’t go to the movies tonight mom, you need to watch me”. We then surveyed the young people to see what they were learning and gave them additional resources on teen pregnancy if they wanted information on contraception, abstinence, were a teen mom themselves, etc. It was an innovative way to deal with a tough topic. We had over 100,000 “phone babies” delivered in just 5 weeks. With this success, we had a meeting and parsed out exactly what made this campaign successful and then we replicated it. We used the exciting new technology of “SMS experiences” to create similarly awesome campaigns around bullying, immigration and most exciting (to many of us) a text experience that brought young people through a “day in the life” of a 1960s activist in the civil rights movement. During this campaign, you were sent pictures of a “white only lunch counter”, given the choice between sitting in the front or back of a bus and received a phone call with a snippet of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It was incredibly powerful and this “Activist Text” would never have been born (excuse the pun!) without our first success of “Pregnancy Text.”
An example of a recent mistake was how we ran our prom dress donation campaign last year. Because it was so unsuccessful, the campaign manager had to present on it at fail fest. The campaign was simple – collect prom dresses for under-served teens that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a dress. We made SO many mistakes. We didn’t have an easy way for young people to drop off their dresses, just a clunky database with lots of different addresses/hours/etc. We realized to run this campaign successfully we needed either a shipping partner or a national retailer for drop off. We launched the campaign in April, during prom season but WAY after most magazines cover prom and without enough time for us to distribute the dresses to girls in need that year. We saw that to get needed media coverage and best serve our ultimate prom dress beneficiary, we need to launch this campaign in January or February and start talking to press & marketing even before that. We’ve learned from these mistakes and our preparing to launch the campaign in 2014, but only if we have solutions for these two problems. Last year, we collected about 8,000 dresses, which is nice, but not nearly up to our standards of success.
6. How would you assess the financial health of your organization, particularly with regard to adequate liquid reserves (excluding fixed or donor-restricted assets), and your ability to anticipate further financial needs? How does your financial management coordinate with the other areas of management in your organization? How is financial information communicated to key stakeholders?
We feel very confident about our financial health. We have 12 months cash on hand, not including a reserve fund of approximately $1million. Most of our cash on hand is in saving accounts so that it is extremely liquid. We’re currently undergoing some exploration into investments if our cash on hand rises above 12 months. Our board instructed us that it is prudent to go after slightly higher returns with any funds over that 12-month barometer. We will be presenting a plan at our October board meeting.
We are lucky in that the vast majority of our funding is unrestricted. This comes in through two primary sources - our annual gala, where we raised over $1million this year, and through corporate donations. The restricted money that comes in is typically restricted for a specific campaign, a specific type of technology (ie mobile) or more recently, restricted for our exploration of international expansion.
Our three-year plan does not project significant financial growth as we believe that efficiencies gained in certain areas due to technology will more than offset any further financial needs. Our CEO, COO, and Director of Finance meet monthly to look at cash flow and how we’re doing against our budget. Our Director of Finance also meets quarterly with every person on staff who owns a budget line to ensure that they are not over-spending and have an accurate understanding of where they are against our budget. All of our financial docs – cash blow, balance sheet, year to date against budget, etc - are sent to the board of directors and examined on a quarterly basis at our board meetings.
7. Looking forward, name up to three major management challenges facing your organization.
One of our largest management challenges is preparing our young staff for managerial and more senior positions and keeping these terrific people. All three of our best practices – culture, accepting failure and promoting for merit, not age – help us prepare our managers for the future and help us retain employees.
We do this in a number of ways.
· During our quarterly reviews, every single person’s manager discusses their direct-report’s future “path” at Do Something so that person can clearly see what skills he/she needs to gain to move up.
· I mentioned in part one our sabbatical program that lets employees volunteer for a month anywhere in the world after having served two years with the organization as long as the commit to a third year. This helps us retain young people who are looking at the “two-year-itch” to leave or go back to grad school after their first job
· Every other Friday we have an early morning breakfast meeting for any of our employees that manage other people so we can discuss topics that are important to managers – everything from how to say no to a raise request, to how to motivate a tough employee to how to increase transparency across the organization.
Another management challenge that we are really addressing head-on is systems. Since we grew from less than 20 employees to nearly 50 full-time over the past 5 years, we clearly needed to put new systems in place to handle this more complex organization and communications challenges that come with additional staff members. We did a few key things to address that and we will continue to work on this challenge –
· We hired a new senior technologist. We have always had incredible people on our tech team, but we did lack some resources in sprint planning, management, and systems because everyone on our team was fairly young and inexperienced. Our new CTO has 20 years of experience in the industry and is making us more efficient and effective.
· We templatized our campaigns. This may seem like a small thing but our campaigns are the bread and butter of the organization and are worked on by every single person on staff. Previously, we would brainstorm new ideas with no guardrails and the tech team would be responsible for building microsites for these new outlandish ideas every month. It was completely unsustainable. To solve for that, we put each of our campaigns into one of four buckets and created a microsite template that would be followed for each of our campaign types. This system has reduced the time it takes the tech team to build a campaign from 2-3 weeks to less than 2 days. Further, it has actually increased our creatively as our favorite saying “creativity loves constraints” really comes into play here & our campaign ideas are more creative than ever.
8. Has anything significant happened in your organization since your Part One Application submission that the Selection Committee needs to consider? (E.g., key staff change, funding change, board leadership change, legislative impact, etc.) If no changes, state “none” on the application.