Wednesday, January 13, 2016


I wrote a short piece on my LinkedIn page about transitioning to a startup called "Run!"

Cross posting it here for archiving sake...

I'm a huge fan of Zombie shows like The Walking Dead and it's new spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead. Running is a big part of being in a zombie apocalypse. 
It turns out, running is also a bit part of working for a startup. After many years and several industries (non-profit, tech, consulting), I find myself back in what I call "startup land' - that magical place where chaos reigns and everyday brings a new set of challenges, each of which feels more important than the next.
As it turns out, I thrive on that sort of chaos. Even when I was at PwC working as a consultant, the most interesting projects were the ones where there was total chaos. I'd look around and see everyone scrambling for cover and I'd just revel in the madness. 
Now that I'm back in the thick of things working for a very small technology company, I feel an amazing energy and sense of urgency in my gut. At PwC, I learned to slow down and take carefully measured steps in presenting solutions to clients. At SpendBoss, slowing down means the zombies will eat you. Run. Don't stop. Don't look back.
It's exciting, and scary and it's not for everyone.
Do you remember this scene from the movie Parenthood where Gil and Grandma are talking about roller coasters?
Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.
Gil: Oh?
Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!
Gil: What a great story.
Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn't like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.
I'm with Grandma. I like the roller coaster. I get more out of it. As for my latest professional journey, I've got my hands full in running both sales and marketing and am absolutely loving the challenge. I feel sick and excited, all at once. 
Catch me if you can Zombies!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Future of Non-Profit Fundraising is Already Here, and You Are Not Ready

This blog post is loosely transcribed from a talk I gave as part of a Future of Non-profits meet up hosted by my buddy David Neff. I was asked to do no more than 5 minutes and came up with the following. I'm also posting my hand scribbled notes I used to plan the talk, may as well show you my doctor like scribble. The notes were written on my iPad mini using Penultimate in case you were wondering.

And now... the talk...

Hi everyone and good morning (In my head there is awesome music playing!). My name is Marc Sirkin and I'm currently a Director with PwC, focused on helping organizations transform their digital marketing and social media. I spent 10 years in the non-profit sector, with large health charities such as March of Dimes, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Autism Speaks. Most recently, I've been volunteering and doing pro-bono work for much smaller organizations focused on mentoring and youth.

Before I jump in, let me warn you, I'm extremely enamored with Peter Diamandis's latest writing, his books Abundance and Bold heavily influenced this talk - specifically by putting the notion of exponential vs. incremental growth into my head...

Let's take a trip down history lane to get started.

2500 BCE - tithing was the pre-dominant method of giving - 10% of what you made was typical. Today tithing is rare, and giving has been pegged to around 2% GDP in the United States. More on that later.

1643 - the first real fundraising campaign is run at Harvard. It raises 500 pounds and major giving was born.

1913 and 1935, two critical dates in the United States where tax laws were changed, allowing both individuals and then corporations to deduct their charitable giving.

2010 Bill Gates announces the Giving Pledge exciting billionaires worldwide.

Philanthropy has not been massively disrupted by technology, yet. 

I wish it had, I spent most of the 2000's trying to drive fundraising online to new heights, helping to launch the March of Dimes and LLS's Team & Training digital platforms raise a ton of money.

So where is fundraising today? As I mentioned, giving in the United States is at about 2% give or take for the past 40 years. Despite the creation of the Internet, ice-bucket challenges and new giving models, that number hasn't changed much.

Fundraising has been growing, but doing so incrementally and not exponentially either at the sector level within many organizations. Most organizations I've spent time at actually plan for incremental growth - 8-10% is good, a few points more is great. Yes, there are some fast growing organizations, mostly younger, more nimble ones like Room to Read, Charity Water and Kiva.

Things are about to change, new technologies are coming online (they are already here, we're just not embracing them well enough yet).

We are stuck in traditional giving models that we continue to lean on as if they were the answer. Major Giving continues to be  challenge, event fundraising has been uneven and direct mail will never return to it's glory days.

Individual donations make up some 72% of all donations in the US, and there is massively disproportionate giving to faith based organizations.

So what's the future you ask?

I'll get there in a minute but let me point out 3 models that have to be addressed before we can fully move to the future.

  1. We must start to address the age of our databases - we have to find ways to engage younger donors across the board. We must find ways to meet those younger donors shifting expectations as well.
  2. Direct Mail has fallen from grace. Like all technologies and platforms, it won't necessarily go away but it is time to address the increasing costs, and generally speaking poor response rates. There are some really cool new ways of using direct mail, but it's incremental at best.
  3. Shifting consumer behavior, such as the adoption of mobile devices, eagerness to use new and emerging payment types and social media adoption in particular will trip up many non-profits in the short term.
So the punchline to all this is obvious, you are not ready. Maybe some of you are, but most organizations are going to wonder what hit them when these waves get bigger and bigger.

First, crowdfunding. In 2013, there was more than $5 billion transacted on crowdfunding platforms according to one study. With 3 million new people coming online in the next few years, crowdfunding may very well become the dominant giving method for donors. Can you imagine a day where crowdfunding accounts for 50%+ of all your donations? I can.

Second, loyalty and alumni programs can help you address "leaky buckets" of donors. Consumers expect loyalty programs and when done well, they can reduce donor churn significantly and can increase the lifetime value of your donors. Do not dismiss this just because your cause is short term, work harder to build relationships with donors instead.

Third is shifting major giving expectations. Are you ready for increasing donor directed funding? Are you ready for pools of large donors to come to you as a group and want to not only write a check, but help you design your organization for success?

Last is infrastructure. The conversation about impact is going to shift because it must. It's misplaced right now by only focusing on program ratios. Already, donors are asking for proof that you have built a platform, and an infrastructure to manage donations, programs and staff for the future. No one wants to give money to an organization with a great mission but no way to execute it.

Thanks for listening!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creative Reboot

I don’t know about you, but somewhere along the line, my creative spark, the twinkle in my eye and the ability to see a great idea through a mess of bad ones got lost a blizzard of Kim Kardashian, snow-storm breaking news and too much time on the road. I felt like a creative zombie. A few weeks ago, I spotted a copy of The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron on my bookshelf from years ago. It’s a 12-week “course” designed to help you rediscover your creativity.

What the hell I figured. So I get started that day, some 4 weeks ago. Last week, Cameron drops a big bomb and says that it’s time to cold turkey on reading. Updated and translated from when it was first published, this now means no books, magazines, news, TV or social media. After a few minute freakout, I resolved to give it ago. After all isn’t giving up social media a thing these days? I had read about a few people doing this sort of experiment and had some good laughs at their futile efforts. Baratunde did it why can't I?

From January 18-24 I committed to going all in and wrote the following rules for myself like Morgan Spurlock. 

The rules
  1. Check personal email infrequently (ideally 1x in AM, 1x at night) and scan for bills, job hunting replies or personal emails from friends only)
  2. Check work email as needed
  3. No social media
  4. No TV/Movies outside family TV time
  5. No newspapers, magazines 
  6. No reading research papers, articles etc. unless it’s critical for work reasons only

Getting Started
At first, my week was littered with launching social media apps on my phone as if I was Pavlov's Dog looking for a Scooby snack.. Side note, what was the dog named anyway? In any case, if my iPhone could talk it would tell me that the first few days I launched Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at least 20x each, then quickly double tapped and closed it. Turning off notifications helped a lot but what I noticed was an almost automatic response to my phone. Pick up. Unlock. Open work email. Scan for important stuff. Reply if needed. Back to home screen, open personal email. Scan for important stuff. Home screen - Facebook. Quickly close it, damn, think “damn, I’m not doing social media that week.” Involuntarily repeat for Instagram. Put phone down, remind myself I’m on a media diet. This happened at least 3 or 4x the first day exactly as I’ve just written! Addicted to my phone much?

If Siri was a therapist she’d clearly think I was ADHD.

After a few days though, all that stopped and I suddenly had a new problem. As the hours of not reading the news, checking social media and watching TV piled up, I needed to do something.

So what did I do with all the time then?

The book recommended a few things and within a few hours I was already peeking at the list, seeing things like exercise, shopping, cleaning and meditation as options. I had recently heard on the Tim Ferriss podcast about Tara Brach’s guided meditations and had started doing those a few weeks earlier. So Tara and I spent a few hours together last week. I learned about mindfulness, presence and practiced meditation. A lot. I estimate I spent 3-4 hours last week meditating.

I work out pretty regularly and this week provided ample time to exercise. I spent some quality time with the new U2 album and Spotify and got to running. I ran 5x, for about 30 minutes each session plus 2 cross-training body weight workouts for a total of about 4 hours give or take. 

I had wanted to write a short story or a novel and sure enough, that very first day I was joking around with my daughter about a silly idea that I promptly turned into an outline for a novel. I completed all the character sketches and the basic outline and started writing the first few chapters. Total time 4 hours at least, but maybe more since I wasn’t really keeping track.

I have been cooking family dinners on Sundays and continued that by stepping up my game and trying some new recipes. Nice! 1 hour. 

I offered to hit the mall to do returns and pick up a few things. I also needed a new pair of shoes. While I was out, I took myself to lunch at Panera. 2 hours.

I cleaned out 5 or 6 boxes of old computer junk. If anyone needs a mouse, a keyboard or an old 4-port Ethernet router let me know. I have more wires that I don’t know what they connect to than any one person should have in their basement. 1.5 hours at least, maybe more. Now I just need to find time to go to the dump and get rid of all this junk.

Sleep, and more writing
I went sleep each night without my iPad to read and found myself falling asleep almost immediately. That’s a good thing because I had set an alarm for 5:30 am each morning to do my “morning pages” which is a part of the Artist's Way. I did that every day, 20 - 25 minutes each time - close to 3 hours if I did the math right.

That’s something like 15-20 hours I invested in myself in just one week! 

So now that my week of deprivation is over, what is it that I learned?

I found that I really did have more time than I knew what to do with. As the week wore on, I slipped a bit - a few episodes of Helix may have slipped in. We may have gone to see American Sniper and Whiplash. But we also sat at dinner and had some of the best discussions in a long time.  I found that after a few days, I wasn't compulsively reaching for social media. I found that practicing mindfulness is hard - clearly that’s why you have to practice it. 

The time I spent not reading, not checking social media, not reading the news kept me focused all week and really did unleash creativity that has been hiding for far too long. It has opened up my brain, and reminded me that while getting lost in a TV Show or a great book is terrific fun, it’s fundamentally not exercising my creativity. I need to remember to feed that beast more often and for longer periods of time.

You will see me less on social media, and my nose will be buried in books less and more in creating my own worlds in the future. 

So how did I do… my report card

  1. Check personal email infrequently (ideally 1x in AM, 1x at night) and scan for bills, job hunting replies or personal emails from friends only
    • Grade: C- I wasn’t able to untether from email very well. Part of the problem is during the day while working it’s just too easy to check personal email at the same time. 
  2. No social media
    • Grade A After a few days of reaching for it, I just stopped. Easier to give up than I thought. LinkedIn was the exception, but even on that platform I didn’t post and only checked for messages.
  3. No TV/Movies outside family TV time
    • Grade B- I slipped towards the end of the week with Helix & HBO’s new and most excellent Togetherness. Managed to avoid 12 Monkeys.
  4. No newspapers, magazines 
    • Grade A+
  5. No reading research papers, articles etc. unless it’s critical for work reasons only
    • Grade A+

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Power of Community

Yes, after all these years, we're still talking, debating and waxing poetic about the power of community. That's because when you do it right, it works. I had the unique opportunity this week to develop a short talk focused on leveraging the power of community and ended up scripting a brand new talk that I wanted to share. I haven't blogged in ages, so I figured this would be a good way to try to make a comeback.

I recorded myself doing the talk to practice, then had to deliver it 3x back to back to back for small "rotating" audiences of about 15 -20 people each. I can't share the client name, nor can I share any images (we had a scribe!) but I can share the core ideas and content.

I'm going to blog this as if it was actually my talk minus my "Hi I'm Marc intro and background" and minus the wrap up part where I got super client specific. What remains is the guts of how companies can leverage the power of community.

The topic of today's talk is "Leveraging the Power of Community." Instead of spouting stats to you about how big Facebook is (1.4 billion users) or how many Instagram photos are posted every day. Stats are great, but I'd prefer to share some stories instead.

What I'm going to do in the next 8-10 minutes is walk you through some examples of incredible use of online communities and talk about what makes them work so well. Then, I'll walk you through some of the core design principles and common attributes each of these communities share, and encourage you to think about how can weave these design principles into any and all of your existing efforts. We'll wrap up with a brief discussion of how you can apply these in some specific ways and take any questions you may have.

Each story uses a core "mechanism" that describes what the community, company or brand is using to drive success. As our first story, let's talk about communities that use customer data to create massive value - Facebook. While to marketing and social media nerds like myself, the average person may not fully grasp the extent that Facebook is using your data, each click/photo/poke is helping them build their knowledge of you so they can create advertising value and deliver better and better experiences to you as you engage with their platforms.

Some communities use their customers intelligence and ideas to create, refine and unlock massive value. The best examples of this may be Starbucks and Dell, who collaborate with customers, partners and employees to create new products and services. Co-create is a massive opportunity once you start to think about ways to leverage your customers, and your communities.

Some brands use what I call (and I need a better name for this) "Integrated interactivity" to drive sales, loyalty and engagement. Nike+ is my favorite example of this - their app not only allows you to track your fitness but allows you to share (and receive feedback) from your own personal network of friends on Facebook and Twitter. Nike has transformed itself through this approach and competitors such are now following their lead - by developing or buying their own apps. I believe, and I am paraphrasing that Phil Knight who runs Nike has been quoted as saying that "Nike is not a sneaker company, we are a technology company." (Bloggers note... I desperately searched for a source for this with no luck. If you have a source, please leave it in the comments).

Using social proof to leverage a community is a popular tactic these days. Quickly defined, "social proof" is behavioral concept where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to "be like them" - Nike's original "Be Like Mike" campaign is one that you may all remember. Do you remember those bright yellow wristbands - the ones for Livestrong? They sell them in packs of 10 or 100 - prompting the question - why do I need 10 or 100 of these things? Social proof. Apple includes a sticker or two in every box - why? Social proof. Even driving a Prius is a bit of social proof - I mean, I'm not totally sure that owning a Prius saves anyone money (maybe it does, maybe it doesn't) but it absolutely makes a statement about the driver and spurs some to want to say they same thing about themselves.

Some communities are built to solve intractable or super hard questions. The XPrize Tricorder is a great example - $10 million to the winners. And of course, this builds on their original prize focused on space travel. There's a "classic" story from the early 2000's where a mining company bought a gold mine and realized they couldn't figure out how to get the gold out. They created a prize mechanism and "open sourced" the data allowing anyone who wanted to try to help them solve their problem. 

So the question I asked myself, and what I want to talk about next is, what are the design principles and common attributes of these divergent ideas. There are lots of ways to leverage community, but as I was thinking about this talk, I wanted to develop a few common elements to give us a short hand way to think about community.

Here's the list:

  1. Obsessive Customer Focus every minute of every day. 
  2. They all use data as a strategic and tactical "weapon" to build value.
  3. Each community has sharing built right in - the sharing community is a core part of the DNA of these communities.
  4. They are all platforms that create new ways for engagement, revenue and value.
  5. Agility is at the core of how they operate - moving quickly, doing more of what works and less of what doesn't work.
After this, I did a round of specific client examples (can't share those!) and took some quick questions. And there you have it... a good chunk of my talk. Do you have other examples, or other principles I missed? Other good examples of how brands or ideas are leveraging the power of communities? 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The New Digital Age

Just finished reading "The New Digital Age" which had me thinking of picking up my original copy of "Being Digital" to compare and contrast. Maybe later.

It's a good book, thoughtful and smart but at times a bit out there. I wanted to capture here some stats they throw in to set the stage for their assumptions, all stuff we know but it's more good data you can use and quote. The book focuses on BIG issues around digital - statehood, terrorism, politics, society etc... worth a read but it is dense. I admit, I flipped past some of the sections on statehood and politics.
  • Number of people connected to the Internet worldwide increased from 350 million to more than 2 billion
  • In the same period, the number of mobile-phone subscribers rose from 750 million to well over 5 billion (it is now over 6 billion)
  • By 2025, the majority of the world's population will, in one generation, have gone from virtually no access to unfiltered information to accessing all of the world's information through a device that fits in the palm of the hand.
  • If the pace continues, most of the projected 8 billion people on Earth will be online

Now that's scalability.