Back arrow
back to all episodes
September 26, 2023
Matt Scott
Unleashing Nonprofit Growth: Strategies and Success During Challenging Times with Matt Scott

Unleashing Nonprofit Growth: Strategies and Success During Challenging Times with Matt Scott

Show Notes:

In this episode, Matt Scott returns to the podcast for a second time and discusses the importance of having a growth strategy and hiring the right people to execute it in the nonprofit sector. He emphasizes the opportunity to stand out during challenging times, such as the pandemic, by focusing on growth and hiring. The conversation delves into the changes CauseMic has undergone and the challenges they faced during the pandemic. Matt also touches on building brand awareness for small nonprofits, managing organizational growth, and the significance of culture and communication in driving success, as he outlines in his new book, The High Growth Nonprofit.

“I think that it's actually a moment of opportunity when everyone else is running for the hills. It's a great opportunity to say, hey, here's our growth plan. This is where we're focused on hiring.”

Topics covered:

(00:06:31) The Challenges of Building Brand Awareness for Small Nonprofits

(00:13:13) Rewarding Employees in the Social Sector

(00:19:37) Nonprofit Culture and Incentivizing Employees

(00:25:44) Culture and Growth

(00:31:32) Instilling a Sense of Urgency and Growth Mentality

(00:37:24) Importance of Communication and Growth in Change Management

(00:43:44) Leveraging Systems and Frameworks

(00:49:49) Proud Success Stories

(00:55:58) Fast Forward Program

Links mentioned:

The High Growth Non-Profit book

Guest links:

Episode Tags:

Subscribe to Cause & Purpose
on your favorite platforms:

Link to YouTube.Link to Spotify Podcasts.Link to Apple Podcasts.Link to Google Podcasts.


00:00:03 - Matt Scott
If you have a really sound, like, growth strategy, you're going to need people to help execute that plan. I think that it's actually a moment of opportunity when everyone else is running for the hills. It's a great opportunity to say, hey, here's our growth plan. This is where we're focused on hiring.

00:00:21 - Mike Spear
Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the show about leaders, innovator and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. Matt Scott is joining us today. You may remember Matt from last season, where we covered a great many topics related to growth and shared some stories from his time working in house at nonprofit organizations and the inspiration that led him to start Cause Mic. A lot's changed since our last conversation, and Matt is back to share new perspectives on the social sector, insights from his work helping social good organizations scale, and talk about the book he published earlier this year, the High Growth Nonprofit. Hope you enjoy. All right, Matt, welcome back on the podcast. How have you been, man? Great.

00:01:02 - Matt Scott
Yeah. Thanks for having me back, Mike. Appreciate it.

00:01:04 - Mike Spear
Yeah, my pleasure. Give us an update. It's been about a year, I think, since we last recorded. How have things changed for you guys? What's new with you? What's new with Cause Mic?

00:01:11 - Matt Scott
I think, like so many organizations coming out of the Pandemic, we had quite a few pivots during the pandemic. Thinking back on that, that was kind of wild. Like, overnight, our pipeline reduced by 65%. It was rather terrifying to navigate. We had a great year. We grew top line by 85% and expanded our staff quite a bit. And we really kind of sought out to try and start the year off last year by eliminating single points of failure. That was one of our key objectives, making sure that we could fill all of our necessary roles, like, with the best possible people we could, and then hire backup people. And we ended the year accomplishing that. I think that that's probably one of the biggest game changers for us this year. Coming into this year, knowing we had the capacity and capability to serve clients nonprofits in a more holistic way. So that was kind of cool.

00:02:06 - Mike Spear
How much has your team grown? Like, how big are you guys now?

00:02:08 - Matt Scott
We have 16 as of right now. We're hiring five positions right now.

00:02:14 - Mike Spear
Have the organizations you guys serve changed as well, or has that remained pretty constant?

00:02:19 - Matt Scott
That's a good question. I would say that when we first got started and kind of going into the pandemic, our ideal customer tended to be a little bit small to mid sized nonprofits organizations that were anywhere from a half a million to kind of 3 million in annual revenue. But coming out of the pandemic, we definitely are serving mid to large size nonprofits. The majority of our clients are between kind of three and 25 million in annual revenue and are looking to double their revenue and impact in a very short period of time. So that's been another fairly substantial shift because it's moved us away from what was our core business, which is really running fundraising campaigns and focusing much more on growth consulting and kind of the digital transformation that's involved with growing at that speed.

00:03:10 - Mike Spear
When I first saw it, or when we spoke about it originally, you had the very ambitious goal to fully fund every nonprofit organization in the world. I noticed that how you talk about on the website at least, is a little bit different. It's fully funding every organization that aligns with your values. Can you talk a little bit about that change and kind of why that seemed important, how it came about?

00:03:29 - Matt Scott
We're all kind of dedicating our professional lives, which make up the majority of our life, to one thing or another. And as our team, as our crew, kind of reflected on what we want to be doing, it became clear that we want to support organizations that align with our values. So whether that's gender equality, pay equity, access to health care, those sorts of things. And so that's been really useful for us in terms of it's particularly useful on the long days when you're burning the midnight oil and you're thinking about cool. The work that we're doing right now is helping planned parenthood provide access to health care as opposed to some other causes that our team is not that inspired by.

00:04:14 - Mike Spear
What other areas are you guys really focused on and what really led to that expansion beyond just the size of the organizations that you serve?

00:04:22 - Matt Scott
We, of course, always did salesforce implementations, and the way that we did those were different coming from the nonprofit space. We always felt like salesforce consultants oftentimes sold you this Ferrari when what you needed was like a kia and a pit crew to get around the track. And so we always approached that differently. But over time, we realized, wow, what we're really, really good at is helping nonprofits that are midsize very quickly grow their revenue. And in order to do that, we've identified that it's less about your marketing or your fundraising tactics and more about your people and your process and your technology. So while we still have four core pillars strategy, where we help people define and implement an actionable strategy very quickly. Marketing, where we do everything from lead acquisition to everything from cultivation, et cetera, to fundraising campaigns where we're actively soliciting for contributions. And then technology, where we do these implementations, it all sort of falls under this umbrella of a rapid growth program, where in year one of the rapid growth program, we're really evaluating the current state, helping you define a growth strategy, make the technology and infrastructure changes required. And then year two, it's all about looking at your people and your process and how you run as an internal kind of agency. And then what ends up inevitably happening, we've seen pretty much across the board is that there's tremendous traction between months 18 and basically 36, where you just have this explosive growth because you've got the technology in place, you've got the systems in place, you've got the process and the people in place. Then it's just a matter of scaling messaging, right? You've kind of built like that fire and you're just stoking the fire, putting oxygen on it, if that makes sense.

00:06:16 - Mike Spear
How much, if at all, do you guys get into impact consulting or revamping the program side?

00:06:21 - Matt Scott
We do a lot of on the technical side, like how you measure your impact and how you track it, how you analyze it and apply resources against it. We have not done, nor do we really do maybe like what you're thinking, like a net Promoter Score development of that sort of work around programming. We haven't done that kind of work before, but we've definitely worked in parallel with other consultants who help establish how to measure impact. And then we make that come to life inside of their technology stack so that their program team can quickly access information and understand the impact of their programs and then communicate it, report it, and communicate it out to supporters, be it mass market or individual or institutional funders.

00:07:06 - Mike Spear
How much of that story of programmatic impact really comes through in the fundraising messaging? How important is that to you guys?

00:07:14 - Matt Scott
I think it depends on the audience, the individual donor and the organization and the culture. Right? So some of our clients, their donor base is fairly educated and sophisticated donors that are looking for outcomes based type of reporting. Others are just more emotionally charged, like they have a shared experience or they're moved by a story. It tends to be the case with mass market individual donors that what draws folks in is that emotional appeal. I think what upgrades them and makes them stay is oftentimes like as you trickle out more and more of that impact data and storytelling, the stories kind of humanize or quantify that impact. So they work in parallel. But if you look at like institutional funders or family foundations, more sophisticated donors, I think that they are more looking like on the initial investment in the organization or donation. They're looking for impact in how that's measured and how scalable it is and things like that.

00:08:18 - Mike Spear
I think the stat is 90% of first time donors give for emotional reasons. I think that's validated by psychology. People make decisions out of emotion. People make decisions based on the why rather than the nitty gritty of the what. I think a lot, especially these days in what I'm working on now about philanthropy, big philanthropy, a lot of it's really just the feel good stuff. But I'm trying to align the feel good stuff with the actual tangible data, the actual impact being done on the ground I don't think it has to be either or. I want to align the two personally, but I think you're right. I think the initial hook needs to be emotional and then part of the retention, part of how you keep folks around, justify in their minds larger donations. A lot of that really is rooted in the data and the nitty gritty of what's actually being done on the ground.

00:09:06 - Matt Scott
The stories can just bring to life that impact data over time and humanize it a bit.

00:09:13 - Mike Spear
It's almost like a pendulum. I mean, you have to start out with the emotional storytelling side. Then you get to the understanding of the data and then to sort of keep that in persistence, keep people dedicated. You need to keep that emotional stuff going.

00:09:25 - Matt Scott
Yeah, exactly. The combination of the two.

00:09:28 - Mike Spear
How much are you getting into now? Major gifts, foundation, corporate grants, stuff like.

00:09:32 - Matt Scott
That, the technology that's available out there and just the shared knowledge. I think the game has been elevated. So almost everybody's doing the basics right, at least in our ideal customer kind of range, right? Like they have new Supporter welcome series, they have donor acquisition campaigns. Lots of them are running multichannel, lots of them are running retargeting ads in that when everyone's doing it a lot better than they were when you and I kind of got started in this space where basically nobody was doing it well, except for, like, St. Jude's and Charity. And that was it's. Just I feel like everything has been elevated. Right. I mean, when organizations aren't doing that, it's because they lack capacity. I mean, it's usually that simple for us. We look at helping an organization double their revenue over a very short period of time. So that does mean looking at a holistic strategy. Major donors, corporate partners, institutional funders, foundations, and individual from a mass market mid level. And we try to help clients identify key markets where those audiences overlap. Right, and where they might not necessarily be big primary markets, they could also be secondary markets where multichannel is a lot cheaper and where competition isn't necessarily focused. I use the word competition. Obviously, nonprofit is a very welcoming space compared to for profit, but the reality is we're all kind of competing for limited donor dollars and attention. We look to try and find those secondary or judiciary markets that really make sense, where those different audiences overlay. But I would say that there's a lot of opportunity in corporate partnerships and major donors and family foundations, et cetera, in addition to mass market. So yeah, we definitely focus a lot on how to really run. What does the total lifetime value of the supporter look like? How do you nurture and cultivate them over time and kind of connect with their unique reason for supporting the organization? And I would say our focus has shifted to expand to multiple audiences, for sure.

00:11:43 - Mike Spear
When you have a client that's a little bit lesser known. How do you get them the mind share in terms of those larger gifts, the bigger movements to drive funding to a program or an organization that might just fit that category, lesser known where startup be high potential but unproven.

00:11:59 - Matt Scott
I think it's really hard for a small organization to gain traction. Right. We all know that like a solo entrepreneur, solo ed essentially, right, is running this small nonprofit. They got to tap into their friends and family, they got to build a board hopefully that then connect into their friends and family. And unless you have to drive website traffic, you have to have brand awareness. Right? So when I'm thinking back to like Team Rubicon, when I was there and we were nothing, we were small, it was 275,000 in revenue. We had these major natural disasters and we had the veteran hook and so we got tons of earned media and free PR that was critical to driving brand awareness and driving website traffic. We could have done so much more to capture those. I wish I knew what I know now then that would have been amazing. But it didn't, so but in reality that's so interesting because the reality is it's just really challenging for a small nonprofit to build brand awareness and drive website traffic in the early days. It's like even harder now because all of the social platforms of course have monetized everything. You have to be putting spend or no one's going to see any of your content. So it really makes it challenging. And that's why I think more than ever, if you're a small nonprofit working in a specific sector, could you be a program of a larger, more established nonprofit like that you respect? I just had this conversation the other day with somebody where I was like, wow, you have a really cool program and I think it should be a part of this other client of ours as a program because you're doing this amazing work. It's so in line with what they do, but it's different. And they have all the infrastructure to raise money and they have brand awareness.

00:13:42 - Mike Spear
Most organizations feel like they'll go to like a community foundation or something and become a pending 501 or just be a fiscally it's different than what you're saying, right?

00:13:53 - Matt Scott
Yeah. I'm thinking much more in the traditional for profit sense of this merger or acquisition. I live in Portland, Oregon and locally Oregon Humane Society just acquired the Willamete Valley Humane Society kind of for this know, it's like OHS has this huge brand awareness and it was easy to absorb. They had all this infrastructure, expanding campus, et cetera, et cetera, but they weren't able to reach the potential cats and animals, dogs and whatnot in that region. Right, so what a cool way to expand their programming but also for that organization to be able to take advantage of this massive infrastructure.

00:14:28 - Mike Spear
I'm curious with the organizations that you work with, how you handle that part of the conversation as they grow exponentially. How have you been able to stay relevant and improve your own leadership of the organization as it's grown?

00:14:41 - Matt Scott
For me, when I transitioned from Team Rubicon to Cause Mic, I really remember at the time my good friend Jake Wood, who's CEO and co founder of Team Rubicon at the Know, we talked about when I would move on, and I always felt, hmm, I'm a builder and a doer, not a maintainer. I love the growth phase at NWA, that nonprofit, and I loved it at Team Rubicon. And once we kind of became larger and more established and more bureaucratic because that's naturally what happens in the evolutions and revolutions of organizational growth, I was like, oh, I should probably leave. So when talking to clients about that, I think we do two things that really help. One, there's an article that was written in the 70s by a famous researcher, Larry Griner, in the HBR Harvard Business Review, about devolutions and revolutions and what you can expect from that growth and how whatever solution you have to one phase will inevitably lead to crisis in a next. You know, we rewrote that for nonprofits because we do so much change management work. Now, we share that article, but then I also share with them the skill that I've learned over time this compassionate directness. I think that I've become a better leader and I help clients lead through transition, through compassionate directness, where being direct is a strength, sharing with people exactly what is coming and what they can expect and what their role needs to be and what it won't be anymore. But to do it in a way that's compassionate understanding that it's always harder to receive news of change, as difficult as it is to give it. And the combination of that compassionate directness allows for conversation to happen within the organization in the bottom five and top 5%, if that makes sense. So what I mean is, most conversations happen in the 90 percentile. It's not really all that deep, but if you can get into the bottom five and the top five, you can really understand how somebody feels about this change. And are they fearful? If they're fearful, why understanding? Is it because it's what they know, what they're comfortable with? Do they not understand what's happening? So just coming in, it when I say compassion, I mean trying to get deeper. And when I say direct, it's like not hiding things, being honest about it, including what you don't know about what's going to happen.

00:17:05 - Mike Spear
Maybe it should be something that's somewhat routine, maybe at the annual performance review, or when you reassess the values or the operational strategy of the organization is to give people that choice, say, here's what we feel the organization needs in this next period of time. Is that something that you're excited about? Is that a good fit for you personally? Is that what you want to take on or grow into or whatever? And if not, that's great, that's okay. But it's not so much of a good fit anymore.

00:17:33 - Matt Scott
Something I've learned over time is how important as you go through the phases of growth, or I guess even if you're stagnant it's, ultimately everybody who works for your organization deserves to understand this is the capabilities that are required for this job, this role that you're in. These are the capabilities that are required for the next growth within the organization. And then the important thing to remember is those two needs have to come together. And the two needs are that you're ready for that growth. Like, you've done the work personally and the organization has supported you to get to that next capability. And that the organization needs that skill at that time. And when those two things come together, then you have this awesome opportunity for promotion from within. And I think it's pretty easily forgotten whether it's because people are at capacity and they're stressed out and they don't have time to manage that proactively. But the cost of losing talent because you're not doing what you're sharing there, right? Like, you're not direct and you're not thoughtful and you're not continuously sharing with the person what the needs are now and where you see them in the future and how they can help get you there. That's a lot of deliberate management, and that takes a lot of practice and skill and attention you shared.

00:18:54 - Mike Spear
Recently on LinkedIn, I noticed that Cause Mic had awarded just over $2 million in rev share to employees. I'm curious about what feedback you got, if any, from organizations you work with and also in the work that you're doing in the change management consulting work if and how you encourage organizations to reward their people internally within what's seen as acceptable in the social sector.

00:19:18 - Matt Scott
What we actually did was we have a profit share program where the profit share is distributed into our employees four hundred and one K, and we hired a Fiduciary, which is of the financial advisors, about 95% of them are not Fiduciaries. They're not legally obligated to be in your best interest. So Cause Mic invested in a Fiduciary in order to help build out funds that are in our team's best interest. Basically, the way our profit share works is that we distribute money into the our fund performs that at about a seven and a half percent year over year return. So looking at the average time before retirement for a Cause Mic crew member is 31.75 years, and our fund returns seven and a half percent. We distribute 225,000 in profit. So that equates to a $2.2 million profit share future value. So that's a big difference, obviously, than making $2.2 million off of our clients this year. But I think the question is still pretty valid, which is like, how do people perceive profitability when our clients, our primary clients, are nonprofits, right?

00:20:28 - Mike Spear
I think nonprofits should pay their folks more and incentivize them for good work. So how do you advise them to do that within the limitations of the nonprofit culture in general, I feel like.

00:20:39 - Matt Scott
I've only worked at fast growing nonprofits, but at NWEA nonprofit organization, the baseline contribution for 401K from the employer does not require employee contributions is 15% of salary. At Team Rubicon, we always had performance bonuses from the very beginning. And so that's very much like a for profit mindset, I think, in both cases, right? Like, those are huge payouts 15% retirement, or we had really sizable bonuses at Team Rubicon, and I think it had a big contributing factor to two things. One, attracting the best possible talent to grow the organization, and two, to help retain that talent and to help reward certain behavior. And so I've really kind of carried that over. At Cause Mic, we pay competitive salaries, and I'm really proud that our median salary and our lowest salary and all that, the highest paid people on our team, it's within $10,000. So it's not a huge difference in compensation, but we leverage profit share to basically incentivize and reward certain behaviors. So there's a frontline person on our team who directly drove a huge amount of profit and received a sizable profit share that's going to be worth close to $200,000 when they retire. So, yeah, it's sort of an innovative way of thinking about it, but I do think nonprofits can think like that, right? Like, NWA pulled it off, Team Rubicon pulled it off. I think it's just a matter of prioritization. Like, do you want to have executives that are being paid far out that of those who work on the front lines, or do you want to distribute some of the know? It's a big choice.

00:22:20 - Mike Spear
Why do you still love what you do? What keeps you going every day doing this kind of work?

00:22:24 - Matt Scott
Gosh, the client work is amazing. The challenge is awesome. Just thinking about the work we're doing with World Bicycle Relief, this incredible organization that empowers communities around the world with a bicycle to gain access to healthcare and education and so much more. So there's like the actual pull of that mission work, which is critical, but then there's the challenge of it. It's exhausting and it's difficult and it's hard. And running to a meeting later today with them where I'm going to be working through the reorg together and how we're going to grow. And I mean, it's so challenging. It's such a brain puzzle every day. I think that those two things like the mission work and the brain puzzle bring me in day in and day out. And then this other surprising thing for me has been the Cause Mic culture. We're big enough now. We have enough people working here now that I can see how our company is going to make everybody who works here. It's going to unlock real wealth for them. It's a supportive environment. People really care for one another, and we have full control over that. We have total control over that in a way that I've never had when I've worked anywhere else, even at a place like Team Rubicon, where I was there earlier enough and the expectation was there for me to help contribute to the culture. At Cause Mic, it's like, ultimately the culture is my responsibility and I have ownership over that in a way that I haven't before. And that's really cool too. So I guess those three things mission, challenge, and then we have our own identity now. That's just kind of cool.

00:23:57 - Mike Spear
What have some of your biggest epiphanies been? What are some of the biggest surprises? And then as you look to bring on five new people, I think you said taking it from 16 to 21, what's the culture that you're hiring for? You and I both, I think, hire for culture. So it's culture you want to create at the end of the day and.

00:24:13 - Matt Scott
The importance of culture, like be deliberate. Be deliberate about defining your cultural principles and living them, use them as a filter to run every single decision through. That's something I learned at Team Rubicon that has paid off in dividends here at Cause Mic. The second thing is, I remember when it was Bobby, Franny and I sitting in a room and I said to Franny, who still is on our team, and you know, there's going to be a moment in time when I'm not in the room, when Bobby's not in the room. We're going to be too big for that. And I need you to be the storyteller. I need you to share the stories that demonstrate our cultural principles and our values, because there's going to be moments when people feel like, what the heck? Why is this decision being made? And I think we've passed that point now, right? So it's kind of crazy and it's like, we're not that big, but we're big enough that I don't make hiring decisions, I don't make promotion decisions. I'm not involved with most of our clients. I'm not involved in a lot of what we do anymore. But the culture that we've built deliberately, I can see that that is used to make decisions and to fill people in. So that's kind of surprised me, even though I knew it would happen. It's just weird that it's happening right now, if that makes sense. Like, we're there. It's kind of bizarre.

00:25:35 - Mike Spear
How did you feel when you noticed that for the first time?

00:25:40 - Matt Scott
I would say it is a mixed emotion, right. At some point, your ego kind of takes over and you're like, oh, shit, we did it. I'm not involved in not the crap, but just like in the volume. It's just overwhelming. It's an overwhelming volume when you're growing a business. I think it's a mix. It's a bit of surprise and relief and pride that goes into it and then yeah, it's definitely scary because sometimes decisions are made that I don't agree with. Then you always have to ask like, did you filter this through the cultural principle? Yes. Okay, cool, that's fine. What's the worst that could happen?

00:26:12 - Mike Spear
Once you're done with this current hiring phase, what's the change in the culture that you hope to see once it's complete?

00:26:19 - Matt Scott
Greater diversity. Our team is already very diverse, even though we don't look that diverse. If you look at our site, we actually have a ton of diversity, but we're really seeking more, and I think that's going to bring a unique that's going to bring about new things, new thoughts, new ideas, new perspectives. So that's exciting. Also, I think we're pivoting more and more to being a remote first team where before the pandemic, we were very much in person. Now a lot of our team actually is remote. So something I'm keeping my eye on is how do we make sure to maintain the culture that we've spent so much time deliberately building?

00:26:59 - Mike Spear
Are you worried about it? How do you think you're going to do it?

00:27:02 - Matt Scott
I'm definitely worried about it because I think it's part of our secret weapon, but little things like brack one of our team members who's amazing. So we do our hot start. We do this twice a year where we gather one time it's remote, one time it's in person, and we go through everything in our one page strategic plan and we evaluate what's working, what's not, what's missing, what problems do we need to work? You know, something that brat did that was really cool is he just through what seemed like sidebar conversations identified, like, oh, what's your favorite road trip snack, what's your favorite music? Just little things. And he sends care packages to everybody for the hot start with their Cheez Its or whatever, gummy bears, and everybody got their own pack. And it's stuff like that that makes people feel like somebody notices them and they care. Our team is burning at 100% almost all the time. I handwrite everybody birthday cards and anniversary cards and I try to call everybody whose utilization ticks above 75%. I try to pick up the phone and call them and just check in with them and say, hey, how are you doing? So I think it's little things like that in a remote first culture that you can do. And when you're in an office, you can see somebody and you're like, oh yeah, you look kind of stressed out, how are you doing? Here's a coffee. You can't really do that remotely.

00:28:27 - Mike Spear
I think that culture really comes through. I mean, it's not in just working with him on this project, it's clear that he's excited, enthusiastic, wants to be thorough and take ownership over the situation. Congratulations on instilling that throughout the culture.

00:28:44 - Matt Scott
Thank you. Yeah, it's been fun to. See, and it's evolved right as we've brought people on, like Brack and others. It's still our culture, but it's just so much better, if that makes sense.

00:28:55 - Mike Spear
Congratulations on the book. High growth nonprofit.

00:28:58 - Matt Scott
What is it?

00:28:59 - Mike Spear
Why'd you write it? What can people take away from reading it?

00:29:02 - Matt Scott
Yeah, the High Growth Nonprofit is sort of a collection of just the battle tested frameworks, concepts, ideas, thoughts that I've had over the past decade that seem to continuously work to help nonprofits grow, to help leaders build high performance teams. Some of it is lessons that I learned in working within nonprofits. Others, it's consulting for nonprofits. But I'd like to say it's also a quick read, which is good. It's meant for a busy person. So I try to get right to the point and not bore you. But, yeah, I want to get into.

00:29:36 - Mike Spear
The weeds on the book. I've got some specific questions to ask you about it. One of the first things that stood out to me from the book was your idea of get to yes. What does that phrase mean to you and how does it factor into your work?

00:29:46 - Matt Scott
At Cause Mic, it's interesting because it comes up a lot, but this year it felt like it came up more than any other time. Right. Sometimes get to yes comes out of a place of we need to get to yes because our utilization is low and billable is low and we need revenue. Sometimes get to yes is because we're totally strapped and it's easy to say no to projects. So it's sort of about trying to find a way defaulting to yes instead of no and then getting creative about how you're going to pull it off. Right. Like something's going to have to give. But if you default to, okay, if we said yes to this, how would it work? How would we pull this off? Could we deliver value? What would change? What would have to change? Right. So I think it's just a really good filter to run all of your ideas through is what happens if we just say yes to this? Where do we go?

00:30:36 - Mike Spear
It has to be a get to yes. It's not, should we do this? It's like, we're doing this now. How do we make that happen?

00:30:41 - Matt Scott
Getting to yes still requires focus. It still requires identifying where you want to say yes, right. And what's just completely out of target for us that's become more and more narrow over time. At first when you're starting out a business, you're sort of grabbing at anything. You're like, I could do this and this and this and how about this? But over time, you start to kind of like, hone in and figure out what your identity is and what you're really good at. And then from there, it is important to get to yes. Once you've figured out that you're heading to the know, it's like, okay, let's get to yes. But you just have to figure out if you're doing that and not scuba diving to Atlantis or something. And so it's like having that. Does that make sense? Like once your destination and you know what your identity is, I think it's critical to get to yes.

00:31:29 - Mike Spear
How do you take that mentality of getting to yes? Take the mentality of transformational growth, exponential growth, and so much of what you do I think is change management. How do you instill that sense of urgency, that sense of we can do this, it's just a question of how we want to commit to it and what the most efficient way is. How do you instill that sense of urgency and abundance and resourcefulness into the culture and the people that work at the organizations that you support?

00:32:00 - Matt Scott
We're a growth consultancy, so we try to bet early on if a client really wants to grow, we do that during our sales process because if they don't really want to grow, then we're probably not the right fit. There's lots of other agencies out there that support help fill a capacity or capability gap for incremental growth and that's really not what we're about. So once we've aligned there, then what we do is something that I love to do at Cause Mic. We do it with clients all the time and I think it's the number one thing to kickstart growth, which is ask your team literally just answer this one question, how do we double revenue with half the resources over the next three years? And what I found is that for incremental growth, you really don't have to do anything differently. You just have to optimize. You can optimize your way to 510 15% growth, you really can. You could just do what you're doing right now just a little bit better. But if you want to grow exponentially or even programmatically right, like, okay, we got to drill more wells. Okay, cool. And I don't mean to dismiss that, but if you want to grow exponentially, if you answer that question, what it forces is like a resource constrained environment. Forces creativity, innovation, ruthless prioritization. It fundamentally forces you to change your business. So when I was at Team Rubicon, we would develop these strategic plans like every six months and we would look back and literally laugh at where we thought we were going to be. Sometimes we defined something crazy and then other times we would look back and be like, oh man, we thought we were going to be there, but actually we're much further down. Or it was sort of a good place to deviate from, but at the end of the day, we were always striving to be bigger and better. We were trying to be the best disaster relief organization in the world and that sort of required us to double our resources, right? So everything that we were doing was on the table, to be cut, to be changed, to be modified to be done differently. And so I think that that's like the first step to exponential growth in flipping your mindset is just have your team answer that question. What would we do if we had to double our revenue with half the resources in a short period of time?

00:34:04 - Mike Spear
You talk quite a bit about a tool that you use, the Opsp, the one page strategic plan. Can you talk a little bit about that and kind of how that evolved and why it's important to your work?

00:34:13 - Matt Scott
Yeah, I think across the board, all of the tools and frameworks that you deploy should be understandable by a third grader. So the simpler the better, really. Don't make it overly complex. So the one page strategic plan is essentially the idea is like captured in a single page. What's that big audacious goal? We're going to double revenue in the next three years. Okay, how are we going to do that? What are the key strategies? Right, so at Cause Mic, I'll just talk about our own Opsp. We're seeking to double again this year as we have last, and we have key strategies on how we're going to do that. One of them is productizing. Everything that we do, we're not going to be a custom shop anymore. Everything has to be a part of a product that we offer as an example. That's one of ours. So last year it was to eliminate single points of failure. Like, that was one of our hows because we knew that if we did that, it would really help unlock growth. So just as an example of how to go about something and then who are you targeting? Where are these folks located? We talked earlier about the different types of audiences. So corporate partners, major donors, mass market, et cetera. What are the key markets where those folks overlap, where there's already brand affinity, where you already have staff or programmatic folks there, that's really useful because it helps you hone in on where you're going to spend your limited marketing dollars and then getting alignment on your drum beats. These are the moments throughout the year when you've got really big milestones that everyone's focusing on. So we got several Water clients, World Water Day, right, as an example, where everyone rallies because it's a campaign. So I love the Opsp because it's just a simple way for everybody to get aligned. And as new ideas, new opportunities come up, they can simply look at it and say, does this roll up to the Opsp? Is this one of the key strategies that we outlined? It's just an effective tool, and it's something that we start all of our clients out off on, and everybody loves that.

00:36:17 - Mike Spear
If you can't articulate something clearly and simply to a three year old, as you put it, it's a sure indicator that you don't understand it well enough yourself and actually aren't ready to do the thing, whatever that is.

00:36:28 - Matt Scott
It shouldn't take you forever either to get that thing defined. Decision making is critical and that's one of the hardest things for anyone to do, is make tough decisions. And I think we have other frameworks that I outline in the book that I find useful for helping to prioritize different things. And just another really simple one is having people put ideas down on postits and put them up on a board and say, okay, measure the impact versus the effort. Is this thing a high impact or low impact? Is it high effort or low effort? And that allows you to prioritize things. And not everything can be high impact, low effort. Right. Your executors will hate you. Like some things are hard. I think it's the simplified methods towards getting to complex decisions is really useful.

00:37:13 - Mike Spear
Well, I think it's one of the same. I mean, I think having an OPSB is important, having a strong ethos is extremely important. But it's easy to forget. It's easy to assume that, hey, we did this exercise, we have it written down. Like we got it and it's really not enough.

00:37:27 - Matt Scott
I would say change management, particularly in a fast growing growth phase, requires over communication, overly communicating with the team, where you're headed, why decisions are being made. We talk a little bit about Spade. You mentioned that. That's what I like about Spade is you have to make hard decisions and the decider is actually the person who's responsible for making the thing happen in spade. And folks have to be consulted, right? And so it's really critical that people have a sense of why was this decision made? And that doesn't mean they have to agree with it. But if people understand the why behind it, they're more likely to get on board and move forward. So I think over communication is one of them. And another thing is keeping it simple and sticking to whatever tools you do. Right? I'll use like, Strengths Finder as an example. We use strengths finder at cosmic a lot. So I know when I need an empathy check I can hit up Bobby. I know when I need someone who's really responsible for not only their work, but my work too. I can hit up like three people on our team. So that's like really clutch is to understand what people's strengths are as an example and then use it all the time. If you just have one Strengths Finder workshop and then you never bring it up again. It has to become a part of your culture, a part of your DNA. In meetings, you have to reference it, you have to talk about it, call it out on Slack and those sorts of things. So picking like, what are the five things that are really going to move the needle for you? What are the things that you're going to use and build muscle memory around them and have people do all of their what happens if you run every meeting in a structured way? Then people will be able to just fall into action and you won't have to explain what's going on and talk in circles, if that makes sense.

00:39:14 - Mike Spear
Why do you think it's important for organizations to invest in growth and transformation, particularly when things might be uncertain?

00:39:22 - Matt Scott
It's sort of the time of opportunity, right? Like right now, you've mentioned earlier there's a significant amount of tech layoffs. Every day we open up our newsfeed, there seems to be headlines like inflation. And even the people who are responsible for the soft landing seem to have no idea what the hell is going on. So it's this uncharted chaos, right? But at the same time it's clickbait. And so business is still happening. Your nonprofit is still hopefully growing. You're focused on what work you're going to be doing. And so if you have a really sound like growth strategy, you're going to need people to help execute that plan. And so I think that it's actually a moment of opportunity when everyone else is running for the hills. It's a great opportunity to say, hey, here's our growth plan. This is where we're focused on hiring. And then you have to fall back to the culture that we've already talked about. It's like hire slow, fire fast is sort of something that it's a bit controversial, but it's talked about in different industries. I think it's great because you want to be hiring for growth, but then you want to take your time. Don't take the first person that comes along. Be really direct and honest in the interview process. Tell them exactly what type of organization they're coming into. Ask them questions to understand if that's their jam or not. We're always tempted to basically bullshit with each other in interviews on both sides of an interview, sort of like making stuff up. But I think it's a really cool opportunity when during tough times is like the time that you can get out there and get some really great talent.

00:41:06 - Mike Spear
How do you normally have that conversation with leaders? Because I'm sure it's not easy.

00:41:10 - Matt Scott
People have a hard time letting people go. Is it because I try to get at the why, the deeper why. Is it because they're your friend? Is it because it's really deep? Is it because it's a knock on your hiring practices? Is it a reflection of you as a leader or your onboarding or your support structure? There's a lot of those things that could be at play, right? Is it legal? Like, are you afraid you can't let this person go for some legal reason? But I think you're absolutely right. I've seen time and time again that low performers and people that are misaligned. So it's not just low performers, but just people who aren't the right culture fit for where you're at right now. It's so obvious and it's apparent to everybody else. And when you put up with that. Whether it's poor performance or you make really big accommodations for folks who are not culture fit for that phase of growth, it really drains on everybody else and everybody else knows it. Like, this person is not pulling their weight or this is the person is not like the right fit for us right now. And I find that the person who is let go, the person who does the letting go, and the team around them all feel a sense of relief when a bad fit is identified and dealt with. So I try to encourage people that when you have to let someone go, be compassionate. You need to be compassionate because being fired is always harder than firing someone.

00:42:45 - Mike Spear
One of the other things that I really liked in the book is you really explore the way high level vision interacts with on the ground, in the weeds, tactical stuff. What are really your thoughts on this?

00:42:55 - Matt Scott
I think at the core, I'm very much like a visionary. I like starting projects, not particularly finishing them. I fly at like 30,000ft and I'm looking out at the horizon and we have a lot of executors on our team, and so do clients, right? Like, maybe you're at a nonprofit and the executor is the person who's merging your contact records or sending out donor acknowledgment letters or drafting and firing off that email, whatever. And I think the magic really happens at 10,000ft. That's where a vision comes together with the executors. And I think it happens with two key pieces. One, you actually have an operator, like an implementing partner. And for me, that's Bobby at Cause Mic. Like, she's amazing at that. She loves finishing projects. I like starting them. Right. She likes clarity. And I don't really care for so, but having that person is really key, but then also having frameworks. So what are some of the ways you can fall back on systems and process to scale? So the Bau's Business as Usual is probably one of my favorite, and it's just so useful for any organization, right? It's like this idea that you gather everyone around a whiteboard and you just write down all the tasks that need to be done, right? That no thankless tasks like merging contact records, like I already mentioned, or sending off those emails. And you identify who's like, the primary person responsible, who's the secondary person responsible. And if you only have one person listed, then you have a single point of failure and that needs to be corrected. Whether you need to hire, cross train, sub out, whatever. But by having a sense of what everyone's doing, it's really useful because you have a good idea of like, okay, who has the capacity to take on special projects, right? And then you do that. Prioritization that. We talked about high impact, low cost projects. Now you have like, okay, cool, I've got my Bas and I'm chugging along. Now I can jump into a special project because my Baus are healthy. Just as an example of two frameworks of the many we talk about in the book, it's kind of full of actionable frameworks. But I think that the magic happens at 10,000ft, where you connect a vision to an executor, and you do that with having a thought partner, having an operating partner, a manager. But you also have to leverage frameworks because that allows you to kind of make it things come to life, ideas happen.

00:45:14 - Mike Spear
Technology and data versus intuition in the gut. But how do you think about sort of that dynamic and how to be productive with both of those influences?

00:45:24 - Matt Scott
We do a lot of digital transformations, right, moving people on to various different CRMs. And everybody wants all this historical data to come. And I mean, let's be real. What is actionable, right? What are the KPIs like, the five KPIs that matter? And what are you really going to use this for? Are you suddenly going to have this massive amount of capacity to hone through every email that anyone has ever opened or clicked on or whatever? Let's be honest. No, you're absolutely not. So I think first and foremost, don't waste your money on a massive data migration that involves all this historical data that literally no one's going to be able to use and will be outdated in like two weeks when nobody looks at it. So that's one thing. Then it's like, okay, well, what are the KPIs like? They're key performance indicators for a reason. There shouldn't be a Bajillion of them. What are the few things that if let's take online giving. We both know this. It's kind of repeated in the industry, but it's website traffic conversion rate and average gift amount. If you can increase any one of those, you're going to have growth in revenue. If you can increase two or three at the same time, that's when you're going to have exponential growth. But you don't have to measure like a KPI is not does a B test one or two outperform. But people get so caught up on like because I think their expectation of themselves, we should have this, we should know this. Everybody else has figured this out. Everybody else is doing data driven. And I'm telling you, nobody else is doing that shit. Literally nobody. We work with some of the biggest nonprofits in the world and nobody is doing that.

00:47:04 - Mike Spear
I'm curious, what are some of the things that you learned about yourself, about your take on the space, about the strategies that you were talking about as a result of the writing process for this book?

00:47:17 - Matt Scott
Not every idea is worth sharing, I think is probably one of the things I learned, right? The book is half as long at best as the number of words put down to paper. And so it's like kind of filtering through. Is this going to change the game for the reader? Right? Or is it some version of budget dust like some guy on our team calls things budget dust when it's just.

00:47:37 - Mike Spear
Like, is that a transformational idea or is it just going to help a little bit?

00:47:41 - Matt Scott
Exactly. So we try to only put in there things that were really battle tested. And then I think I learned too, throughout the process of everybody knows that they learn more from their failures than their successes. But I think it's throughout the book, a lot of the things, the frameworks, the lessons, like I said earlier, I wish I knew what I knew right now. And was at Team Rubicon and it was 2011, oh my gosh, I would be so stoked. Right? And so it's the failure part. I think that's been really useful for me too. And I think I've also identified my weak spots in writing this book where I need help within my organization and where I need help to help our clients. So that sort of discovery has been kind of interesting.

00:48:30 - Mike Spear
What are one of two of the favorite stories that you have went into the book or otherwise in terms of working with clients over the past few years?

00:48:38 - Matt Scott
We were leading a rapid growth workshop, which is basically four half days, where you build a strategic plan in a few days. And we were leading this workshop for a global organization, people from all these different countries. And I wasn't prepared for how difficult it would be to put all of those in four subsequent days. Normally we break it out over three weeks and you do four half days. The tax that that was on ourselves and the team was just so high in the room. And I think that had it not been for the late night beers, it was the moments when we were all singing and dancing together and what we've kind of dubbed now is tea time. There was a lot of tea time scheduled in the agenda. And I'm such a doer that I was like, what the hell are we doing with all this tea time? Literally, like, time to drink tea. But in reality, I give the guy credit. Who. I was kind of like joking around like, this seems like a waste of time. And in reality, it wasn't a waste of time at all. It was pretty critical. And learning that for me is a story that stands out because it's a story of humility. It's a story of like, oh, you're going into this thinking that it's going to work one way and you have to be willing to pivot and learn in the moment.

00:49:56 - Mike Spear
No offense to any organization that you don't mention here, but I'm curious, what's the story of one that you're just really proud of for whatever reason? Maybe just something that you had additional inspiration for or when you started the project you had misgivings that were really turning to a success story.

00:50:12 - Matt Scott
Basically when the pandemic first hit greater good charities. We were scheduled to do a huge digital transformation for them, and it got put on hold and pretty quickly, noah, their now COO at the time CMO, called us up and was like, hey, we work with 6500 shelters around the country and they're closing and they're being forced to euthanize animals. And we need a way to pair potential fosters with these shelters in a program called stay home and foster. Bobby and I and Franny were sitting in a room, and Bobby and I just leaned into our disaster response right, like, moment, and we said, all right, shit, we got to go. So we built in a four day design Sprint, ultimately a tool on the salesforce platform that matched 96,000 fosters with these animals that were going to be euthanized. And they weren't euthanized. They were distributed very quickly out in the community. And I think it was this super awesome high. It was like, wow, we built that together really fast. And the times changed. But then a couple of week and a half later, we leaned into our cultural principle of success is not final. And we said, we got to do better than this. And they needed help because it was like animals were just sort of being paired with anybody, right? It was that moment of cris. But then we started to get better, and we started to rebuild the system so that it would match, like, can you handle dogs or cats, behavioral issues or not? Do you already own a pet? So we started to get more and better and better and close in the radius that we could serve. And just as an example and now that's called Good Home, and it's a major program for Greater Good Charities, and it's fundamentally shifted the way that fostering works. And I think that is a moment that I'm just so proud of from our team because it required us to work around the clock. It was like our NASA moment. Like, we had to bring these animals home, right? And then the other thing I'll just share is I am blown away. And we have a dedicated channel now because it's just so often that I go to conferences and I speak or do something or just like, my inbox is filled with clients pouring out their admiration for our support and our partnership. And by the way, these are clients I do not work on, have never worked on, and I'm like, wow, that for me, also is cool because our team is just so much more talented than I am, and they're doing some incredible work. And when I see these emails from somebody like, Access Fund, we just relaunched their site and they're like, in nine months, you've completely changed the game for rock climbers around the world. I'm like, Damn, dude, that's really cool. So I feel like my cup gets filled with that, if that makes sense, as well.

00:52:58 - Mike Spear
What have you learned in the past year, not just in terms of the strategy work that you do, but in terms of the general social sector? How do you see the space differently today? What have you learned about the space that's maybe different or evolved from the last time we spoke?

00:53:10 - Matt Scott
I think AI is going to fundamentally shift the way nonprofits do their work and for profits. And I don't know how exactly yet, but I think we're probably six months away at most from people having jobs descriptions and hiring people that are specifically AI focused. I think that's truly probably the biggest disruptor in the last year to the nonprofit sector in a really positive way.

00:53:37 - Mike Spear
What's the biggest thing in the social sector that everybody believes that just isn't.

00:53:41 - Matt Scott
True, that people working at nonprofits should make as little money as possible? It's just such bullshit.

00:53:52 - Mike Spear
What's one thing that you personally hope to see for yourself, for Cause Mic, for the social sector at large? In the next phase, I'm looking to.

00:53:59 - Matt Scott
Bring on someone to run the agency, run the consultancy, so I can focus on other work within the organization that's like for me personally, for Cause Mic, I'm so excited for the growth potential for our crew, the capability of where they're currently at and where we need them to be. We're striving to grow really fast again next year and the year after. So I'm excited for that and the impact that we can have on business. We're going to be launching in Q Three. We're going hard into social impact businesses and expanding there. And I'm excited about that because I think that the way that we're running business is different. We're growing faster, we're more profitable than our peers, and yet we care about our people in a way that most companies think they can't afford to or they choose not to. So I'm excited to see what kind of impact the way that we run business can have on social for profit businesses and then for the sector, man, I mean, I already talked about it's so controversial, but I think the sector needs some consolidation. I think you have a lot of passionate, smaller organizations that are doing really good work on a micro level that should team up with other organizations doing great work on a micro level and make something that is a little bit more sustainable for them and everyone else.

00:55:19 - Mike Spear
Combining forces can really create a ton of synergy there.

00:55:22 - Matt Scott
Exactly. Yeah.

00:55:24 - Mike Spear
So great to see you. Thanks for your time and for all the insights sharing your stories. Great to catch up as always. High growth nonprofits, you can get it for free, I think @ We'll talk to you soon, brother.

00:55:34 - Matt Scott
Thanks, Mike.

00:55:38 - Mike Spear
That's our show for this week. Big thank you to Matt for joining us. If you like the show, please follow, subscribe or leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts and share the link with any friends. Or colleagues you think might find it interesting, we have a great show in store for you next week. We'll be speaking with the founding CEO at Restore Eco, clara Rowe. We met Clara through the tech nonprofit accelerator program at Fast Forward, which has referred several Cause and Purpose guests, including their co founder, Shannon Farley, who was one of the first people we had on last season. Clara has a compelling personal story and lots of great insights to share, especially for the leaders of startup technology based nonprofits. Just getting started. Hope you can join us. Until then, Cause and Purpose is a production of On behalf of myself, Matt, and our entire team, thanks so much for listening, and we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

People in this episode

Mike Spear

Social entrepreneur, consultant, and podcast producer, Spear has been a member and critic of the impact sector since 2006. His work spans product, innovation, impact advising, storytelling, and go-to-market strategies. Part of the founding team at, specializing in helping social good organizations build amazing products, increase their impact, and scale.

Matt Scott

I’m a builder and doer with a track record of helping nonprofit leaders quickly grow revenue past the $10M mark.


Keep on Listenin'

Latest episodes in your mailbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Search podcasts, blog posts, people