Bridging the gap between data integration vending and non-profit fundraising, with thought leadership.
An interview with Stu Manewith about thought leadership in the non-profit sector, and the importance of clean data to sustainable fundraising.
Welcome to Leveraging Thought Leadership! Today’s guest is Stu Manewith, Director of Advocacy and Thought Leadership at Omatic Software. Omatic Software deals in data integration for non-profits, helping them maintain and grow donors and donations. His thought leadership changes lives!
Before joining the team at Omatic Software, Stu worked as a fundraising director for non-profits for 16 years. His deep experience gives him an exceptional view of the sector, and taught him to understand the needs of both software vendors and fundraisers. By marrying those two interests, Stu was able to create incredible insights. His work became a turning point, helping non-profits achieve even greater mission impact though using cleaner, more integrated data and finding effective pressure points.
Stu talks about the epiphany that made him realize that non-profits could better serve their customers by studying past stories, tracking data points, and comparing the outcomes. Utilizing this process, he’s been able to better deploy software into non-profits, helping them create case-studies, assess previous assumptions, and create new, stronger methods of fundraising. In turn, those case studies have shaped informational blogs, webinars, and internal training documents to raise awareness both inside and outside non-profit fields.
Thought leadership practitioners often debate the advantages and challenges of top-down versus bottom-up approaches to organizational education. Stu chimes in with his thoughts on why bottom-up has worked better for him and his clients. He uses that approach to learn about customers and their problems, taking those issues to heart. In this manner, he helps non-profits place the customer’s needs first, allowing the organization’s success to grow naturally from that good work.
If you deal often with non-profits, or if you seek to understand the importance of data integration to thought leadership, this conversation offers clarity and inspiration. Stu offers a ton of valuable insights, so you might want to listen to this one twice!
Three Key Takeaways:
- If you want people to listen to your thought leadership insights, be sure to present yourself as a trusted subject matter and domain expert.
- Never undervalue the importance of listening! Through understanding a client or customer’s needs, you gain an intimate knowledge of their problems, making it easier to create custom solutions.
- Get out those case studies! Study them, challenge the outcomes, and turn that content into blogs, webinars, and other great learning tools.
Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.
And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!
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Bill Sherman How can we improve thought leadership through better customer advocacy today to investigate that question? I sit down with Stu manner with. He’s the director of advocacy and thought leadership at Omatic Software, which focuses on data integration in the nonprofit space. And we’re going to talk about learning from your customers to create better thought leadership. I’m Bill Sherman. This is Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready. Let’s begin.
Bill Sherman Welcome to the show, Stu.
Stu Manewith Thanks, Bill. Glad to be here.
Bill Sherman So, I want to start with the question around understanding the context you come from a background of professional services in tech. Is that correct?
Stu Manewith So it’s a little more — it’s a little more detailed than that, but I’ll I’ll give you the elevator speech. I actually started working in the nonprofit sector as a fund raiser, and I worked for 16 years as a fund raiser, primarily focused on what we call annual giving, which is low level, high volume and data focused fundraising. So working with what we call the bottom of the pyramid, high cost or low cost, high volume, lots of people, lots of different data points, lots of segmentation. And I did that at two different nonprofits in the Midwest. I live in St. Louis, Missouri, and then in 2003, I went to work for a company called Blackboard in software consulting and implementation professional services. And then in 2015, at the end of 2015, I went to a medical medtech software to run that companies professional services team technology that nonprofits use to support nonprofit data health and integration.
Bill Sherman So in professional services, let’s talk about running that space and that practice with the clients. Tell me a little bit in terms of the engagement, who were you working with? Who are your clients and what are the touchpoints commonly?
Stu Manewith Sure, sure. Great question and thank you for asking it. So a blackboard was a company that provided, provides still provides to this day nonprofit CRM and accounting software for nonprofits and semantic software. Where I work now is a company that provides data, health and integration solutions for nonprofits. So in both of those arenas, I was working with nonprofit database specialists, sometimes fundraising directors, sometimes accounting directors. But the primary customer are the people who work in the nonprofit organizations with databases and with data and need to manage data and want to make sure that their data is right now.
Bill Sherman Your title? If I understand correctly, your director of advocacy and thought leadership, is that correct?
Stu Manewith That is correct.
Bill Sherman So let’s explore there for a moment here. What’s the intersection between advocacy and leadership? How did you come up with that title?
Stu Manewith So it’s a great story how we came up with the title because we actually didn’t know what to call me. I’ll go back and tell you that about two years ago, it’s really it is. It’s coming up. Just about two years ago, our CEO who was you were to the company he had. I had he got there. After I did, he had observed me in professional services and he called me to his office and one day and he said, I’d like to talk to you about taking this new role in. He didn’t even articulate it as advocacy, but he what he the way he articulated it was, he wants someone who can keep, who keeps their ear to the ground of the nonprofit sector and listens and understands what the sector needs in the world of data, health and integration. And we talked through it and we talked about what some of those job responsibilities would be, including being a subject matter expert and a domain expert in nonprofit for other leaders in the company. And obviously being a customer advocate and being able to talk to customers and make them feel comfortable that we as a company know the sector, know what we’re doing and know what we’re talking about. And so we weren’t really I was actually without a title for about three months or maybe two to three months, and then someone in our marketing team said, Why don’t we have a contest? And we’ll ask people, what to name you, what your title should be? And so we did that. We sent out an email survey to what we call our Omatic fanatics, which are basically our customers who love us best to raise their hands. When we asked for volunteers, that kind of thing. We asked them what the name should be, what our what our what the title should be. And we came back with advocacy nonprofit advocacy director, and that was actually my title for maybe another six months. And then we hired a new VP of marketing and she said, thought leadership is really what you’re doing, even though even though we’re calling it advocacy, she said. What you’re doing is really thought leadership. Let’s call you director of advocacy and thought leadership, and that’s how the title was born. And I know it’s a mouthful, but it really does a good job of. Describing what I do for Omatic and really for the nonprofit sector overall.
Bill Sherman So let’s start digging into this because this is where I really want to focus. Give me a definition of how do you see advocacy for customers?
Stu Manewith Well, it’s a lot of things. It is first setting the expectation that we know the sector, the nonprofit sector is unusual and the reason that I can talk about it, I think fluently is because I’ve seen both sides. I worked for six years as a nonprofit fundraiser and a nonprofit, a nonprofit manager. And I know how tight budgets are and how mission driven the volunteers and the boards of directors are. And then I’ve also sat for since 2003 on the side of being a vendor. But vendors can vendor can sometimes be a dirty word in the nonprofit sector because there’s a level I don’t want to call it distrust. I want to call it a level of wariness or healthy skepticism. And so one thing that we can do that I pride myself on doing is bridging that gap and showing non-profits that companies like ours and other technology vendors that serve the sector really are partners and advocates and not just vendors. We’re we understand the nonprofit motive, and we want to help them deliver mission impact as much as, frankly, to be blunt, we want to make a profit ourselves. So does that. It’s your question?
Bill Sherman Yeah, I think so. And let’s continue down this line. So you were telling me in an earlier conversation about a time when you had a struggling client and this was sort of your first step into this realm of advocacy and thought leadership? Can you tell me a little bit about that story?
Stu Manewith Yeah, sure, certainly. So as we’ve been discussing, I cut my teeth in professional services, which is another way of saying in the tech world. Software deployments and implementations. But for non-profits, but very tactical, we thought of it. It’s funny because we thought of it as strategic and we took what we thought was a strategic approach, but it really was very tactical. Yet the software deployed get the customer trained, getting up and running and then go on to the next one. But because the sector tends to be cautious, as I just mentioned about its vendors, we were used to establishing strong relationships, which in many cases came back to benefit us down the road and at the risk of repeating myself. I’ll just say that I was I myself was trusted, perhaps more than others, because I had worked in the sector. Myself and I walked in their shoes and felt their pain and felt their budgetary constraints, et cetera. So we had a customer, a very large nonprofit, national in scope, a major non national fundraising organization, and they were struggling with processing online, giving donations and images, scanned images of gifts that came in by check that would keep them in. And it would take a lot of time, and there was always a lot of overtime and gnashing of teeth, and they came to us for a better approach in integrating this data from other sources into their main database. And we offered a tactical solution that we deployed and that we implemented, and it was everything that they hoped for saved them time. It was more of the data that would come into their database was more accurate. No more working weekends or over holidays or hiring summer interns. All of that stuff was a thing of the past, but the strategic benefit was really something that I had never thought about. The director of their operations team cornered me at a conference and was just gushing about so many strategic benefits. The fact the data was in their system faster meant that fundraisers had access to it faster and could use the new updated information more expediently. And the fact that data was error free meant a better customer experience for the donors who made contributions. And it also informed better donor retention and the fact that online and offline gifts were all in the same system quickly meant that fundraisers had a more complete picture of donors and could build engagement messaging for better engagement in the long term. And this was just an epiphany for me as a as a consulting leader, something that I learned from the customer, but that I had not really, to be honest with you, I had not really thought much about. My job was to effectively deploy software and ensure that it did what they were, what it was supposed to do. But frankly, I never really thought much about the fact that the customers would achieve these strategic outcomes in these strategic benefits.
Bill Sherman So this leads to almost a moment of epiphany for you, right?
Stu Manewith Yes, for sure. Yeah, yeah.
Bill Sherman Talk about that moment where you’re like, OK, I’ve been heads down and I’ve been tactical, and now I see that I can make a much deeper impact.
Stu Manewith Well, it was like it was like a, you know, a Homer Simpson moment that — Duh! You know, the next thing that I thought of was we really start need to start listening to. The customer stories more closely and looking more closely at these relationships and start studying these customer outcomes, and there were a lot of similar stories. Some organizations were less forthcoming.
Bill Sherman Let me pause you for a second. Yes. When you said you started studying, how did you do that?
Stu Manewith So it was anecdotal.
Bill Sherman OK. So was it interviews or did you go back?
Stu Manewith So part of my job and I should have said this earlier, part of my job at Omatic is to interview customers and write case studies. So I had a great opportunity to test this assumption or to test this hypothesis with customers that we were building case studies for. So part of the research, the anecdotal research was in those type of interviews and those type of relationships. But part of it was, I’m not sure what the term is reactive. I guess where you hear organizations saying after a year of using our software, what did we ever do before you? Our fundraising is up, our donor engagement is up, our retention, our donor retention is up. The people that renew every year and our costs are less and we can use the time that we’re saving to do other priorities that we then have been sitting on a back burner for years because we can never get to them. So part of it was proactive and part of it was reactive. If that if that answers your question.
Bill Sherman Absolutely. And so that sounds like those first steps are moving from that tactical implementation role to more of the strategic analysis and saying, what do our clients need? How can we help them see opportunities? Because I think one of the things that you have when you start working with multiple clients is you have the opportunity to see patterns that are occurring client to client, to client that an individual client wouldn’t see.
Stu Manewith That’s absolutely right. And then, I guess, into the more traditional thought leadership approach. We took that information and we started writing blogs about it. We started doing webinars about it. We started doing internal training. So again, part of my job is to do internal training to, for example, our sales team or people who are less familiar with the sector. They may be great engineers or great account executives or great marketers, but they’re unfamiliar with the sector. So we built webinars and we built we did internal trainings and we took all of this information that we’ve gathered and morphed it, I guess, or wove it into how we spoke to the markets and how we spoke internally and how we were better able to help customers use products that that prior we had only thought about from a deployment and a implementation function.
Bill Sherman So if I understand this correctly, it’s changed for leadership and customer stories and advocacy is changing how you go to market, how you sell, how you serve the market and how you partner with it. Is that fair?
Stu Manewith All of those things, all of those things say so. Say that again, because I just want to make sure that I’ve got them.
Bill Sherman So how you go to market, how you sell, how you serve your customers?
Stu Manewith Yes. How we go to markets because we use we use what we learned to create messaging, how we sell. Same thing. We use those kind of stories and those kind of testimonials. And even if we can some statistics to demonstrate to organizations how what their peers have done and how we serve customers, both in terms of deployments, but also in terms of ongoing information and nuggets and best practices that we post, that they can then use that build on what they already have.
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Bill Sherman So, Stu, with that. Has it been an easy process of change within the organization? What how long has it taken and where has it gone well? And where has it been a surprise or two?
Stu Manewith Well, so it’s still ongoing. I think it will always be. I think it will always be ongoing. It has been slow because it’s new. It is not an approach that we had taken in the past. We’d never had. We’d never had a professional dedicated to this aspect. It had always either fallen to marketing or sales enablement or or someone who just had a good idea. And now, now we have dedicated thought leadership that can support the entire company. And that’s I think that’s awesome. We also have a dedicated leadership team myself who can answer customer questions right about topics that customers ask us about. We’ve in new information that we get in order to tell stories that will benefit customers, whether it’s in blogs that we post on our own website or guest posts. In fact, it’s funny and I’m almost afraid to say it, but I will. Just today, I finished a submission for Salesforce on this exact topic. Salesforce has been growing its nonprofit markets for the last five years, at least maybe longer, but we’ve been it. We’ve worked with Salesforce over the last five years, and we just finished a guest post for them on this exact topic. And and so we can we give our customers that type of information as well? And then we also have been leveraging it in internal professional development. So annual or semiannual sales kickoffs? And we can again take this what this information that we have obtained and weave it into training messaging or this is how to better talk to a customer messaging.
Bill Sherman So you talked about the sales training. Are you also on call for the sales team so that if they’re having a conversation or question, they can pick up a phone or send you an email? Absolutely. Serving in a sales engineering sort of way and thought leadership, what did they mean when they talked about ethics?
Stu Manewith No, that’s exactly right. So I don’t know. I’d call maybe a little, too. It’s not exactly on call, but yes, right? Yeah.
Bill Sherman Yeah, you know, you don’t have a pager. I don’t think, you know.
Stu Manewith Yeah, right. I didn’t go back to the 90s and get my pager, but I always want to make myself available. I always want to make myself available, and I’m expected to for sales calls or sales enablement reviews, sales enablement content for review of marketing content. One of the things I’m sure this is a secret sauce for anybody, but you know, one of the things we do is the sales development team do have their scripts, their telephone scripts and their email scripts, and I do a lot of reviewing of that content to make sure that it’s articulate and that it is using the verbiage and the language and the terminology, et cetera, that this market is going to understand. So again, they get the idea that we know what we’re talking about and that they are comfortable with us as partners and not just vendors.
Bill Sherman And that also draws on your experience of having been someone in the buyer shoes. Right?
Stu Manewith Well, for me, I can absolutely say it’s I can say, by the way, I know what it’s like to run an annual giving program, especially if it’s a health care organization, because my last seven years before I went to the dark side was as the director of development for a large hospital foundation, and we work with a lot of hospital foundations, so I can I can talk the talk. But even in any of the nonprofit sectors, whether it’s Faith-Based, or arts and cultural, or animal welfare, any higher education, any of those sectors, food banks, oh my gosh, 2020 was the year of the food bank. With the pandemic. I am proud to talk about the fact that I had legs in both camps that I had been where these fundraising administrators, database administrators are sitting and I can see the best of technology that’s been, frankly. It’s been in place already in the commercial sector, and the nonprofit sector is now bringing it to bear.
Bill Sherman So let’s turn a little bit into the advocacy piece, and you mentioned something that your CEO sort of gave you a mandate to do was to keep your ear to the ground for the. Customer as well as for the industry. What are you doing on a regular basis and how much time are you spending putting your ear to the ground? Yes, picture that.
Stu Manewith Yeah, so not enough, not enough time because there’s a lot of marketing and sales needs that I fill. And you know, it’s unfortunate because, you know, 2020 was the year of the virtual conference, right? So when we talked about this role, one of the things that we said was, OK, Stu, you’ll go to conferences, you’ll be able you will meet, you’ll be a meter and greeter. You will be at the at the exhibition hall and you will be delivering content to the market in person and talking about your experiences and talking about best practices. So that was in July, August of 2019. And so there were no conferences in 2020 and in 2021 there haven’t been too many. And the big one that we go to every fall is to is going to be virtual again. So I’m hoping that in 2022, I will be able to go back to that vision of really meeting the market in its in its comfort zone. And it’s natural.
Bill Sherman But you couldn’t close your ears for the last year and a half as well. So how did you adapt and how did you keep that pulse?
Stu Manewith No, no, we didn’t. Of course not. So, so we did. So we did virtual conferences and we did. We kind of bent over backwards to reach out to people because you can’t say, drop your business card in our fishbowl, right? So we bent over backwards to collect information and to collect questions. And in and you know, I don’t know whether this sounds, but is something that everybody does. But we certainly did as we made sure that when we delivered marketing focused webinars, a lot of the content of which I wrote and delivered that we always had time for questions and that we always made sure that we captured the contact information of people who ask so that we could follow up with them in person and really understand what their needs were. And then further, if those were if that was if we heard trends or if we were hearing something that we’ve heard from other customers, that we send that information back to the products team and said, we’re these are what these are some things that we’re hearing. Can you improve the product to do this or can you improve the way it’s implemented to do that?
Bill Sherman So you talk a little bit about the difference between bottom up and top down from a perspective of thought, leadership and advocacy.
Stu Manewith We’ll see a little bit about that. Maybe. Sure. I think it’s a good question because when I. Not having been, I’m using air quotes a thought leader prior to two years ago, I I didn’t really have a good feel for what it was about. And so I did a little reading and I did a little trolling. And what I observed was that a lot of someone once said to me someone a thought leader when other people say they are. But what I would say is what I observed was self-styled thought leaders were, I don’t know. I don’t want to be insulting to anybody, but I would say a little preachy and top-down. This is this is what I’ve learned in my experience, and this is my recommendation for how you do things. And what I observed from working as a on the ground, in the field, in the nonprofit sector is that it has to be much more bottom up. And what I mean from that is listen to the problems of the sector, learn what is important to them and build your thought leadership by taking that to heart, taking to heart what’s important to the people who are working every day to make the world a better place to deliver mission impact? They want to see investments. I’m not sure if I’m articulating this clearly, but they want to see that you know what it’s like to walk in their shoes, feel what they feel, and that if you’re giving recommendations or suggestions or things that they can do to you, they’re things better. It comes from a place of knowing what they’ve been through.
Bill Sherman Well, and I think here you touch on a few things in terms of where I think the beauty of customer advocacy and thought leadership sits. If you approach from humility and a mindset of service where you look and you say, we are going to be of value to the industry, we are going to be of value to our customers, whether or not they’re buying from us now. But we’re not going to presume that we know everything they know me. We’ll listen to them and we will serve where they were. They need us.
Stu Manewith Well, certainly, I mean, I don’t think anybody would disagree with that, but we want to meet them where they are. And on the topics that are important.
Bill Sherman Exactly, exactly.
Stu Manewith And and not necessarily what’s important to us. And one of my colleagues who runs our product management division. She’s a very wise woman and she’s been able to veer and propel our product management team to again, to listen to what customers need, not necessarily what our high tech professionals think is necessarily the next great thing.
Bill Sherman So let’s talk about measuring success a little bit and measuring impact. How do you know you’re being relevant to your customers? How are you?
Stu Manewith Assessment in a number of ways, it’s a good question in a number of ways. I would say the most obvious is what they tell us. But for everyone who tells us there’s five who don’t, but that are still experiencing positive experiences or they’re getting a lot out of the products in the software that our company provides. So what we have to do is we have to reach out. We’ve got to, we’ve got to reach, we’ve got to reach out into the market and ask questions about are your tools now better than the tools you were using before? And it’s a bunch of it’s a bunch of shows. If so, how are your processes smoother and is your data cleaner? OK, if so. Are you engaging with your constituents, with your donors and prospects and supporters and event attendees and members and students and parents and congregants and whatever your customer is? Are you engaging with them more effectively because your data is better or your processes are better? If so, are you raising more money? And then if so, are you impacting more people, whatever your mission is? Are you feeding more hungry people? Are you giving more scholarships? Are you researching diseases more effectively? Whatever it is. And then and then the opposite. There’s a whole bunch of shows that are that are kind of go down the other way are your tools that are no. Well, then is your data still bad? Yeah. Well, are you engaging? Are you having problems engaging your constituents and your donors? Well, yeah. And therefore, is your fundraising decreasing? Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to turn that on its side that negative way, but I think I think the listeners will hear where we’re going. We want to we want to kind of work up this chain. We want to work up this. Imagine a pyramid or chevrons that say, start by looking at the tools and if the tools are working, is your data better? And if your data is better, are you engaging people better? And if you’re engaging people better, are you raising more money? And if you’re raising more money, are you delivering your mission better? And that’s and it’s by asking those kind of questions that we are measuring, whether we have impacts.
Bill Sherman So let me ask you a question about the road of. And I know that you mentioned before that your clients often have limited budget resources, et cetera, as a nonprofit. But that’s true for for-profit businesses as well, and certainly even for a thought leadership team. When we’re recording this, we’re in just after the middle of the year and 2021 or in July. My question to you is where would you want to invest more time on the thought leadership side? If you had the magic wand, what would you be doing?
Stu Manewith I chuckle because I can think of about five things, but I think that the most important thing would be to get out in front of a customer base, get out in front of the market and really be able to, in a dedicated fashion, get my ear to the ground, but not does have to be to the ground. Doesn’t have to be surreptitious. It could be. It would be more open. Having open conversations, having forums, finding out what the issues are specifically in the areas of data, health and integration and finding out is what we’re doing, really making a difference. We think it is. Our hypothesis is that it is. But what is it? And then the other thing that I would want to do since we do have so many people whose hearts and brains are wanting to people who work a dramatic software who wants to see their customer succeed. For me to just make myself available to them, to answer questions, to help them understand the sector, help them understand the market, to help them understand the nomenclature, give them the words to use when they’re talking to different buyer personas. Because a database administrator has different objectives than a fundraising director and she has different objectives than the CFO. They all want the same thing. They all are in it for the same thing, but they’re coming at it from a different place and I I can help. I can help our team put all of it in perspective.
Bill Sherman That’s really, really good. So as we begin to wrap up, Stu, you mentioned earlier the conversation that two years ago, you weren’t quite sure what this thought leadership thing was. And that’s true for a lot of people who fall into this role. Your story is very common to many. Some of our listeners may be where you were two years ago, taking on the title of thought leadership and trying to figure out what it is. If you were to offer one piece of advice for them for the first 90 days, what would it be?
Stu Manewith I’m putting my thinking cap on. I guess it would be to see if at all possible. And I know this is not always possible or even probable, but it would be to get out of the weeds if you can for three months. I’m not saying a going on. I’m not saying take a reading vacation. I’m saying pull yourself out of the weeds so that you’re not distracted by the day to day. I’m going to sound like a hypocrite because what I was about to say was so you’re not disrupted by the day to day people that need your help because it distracts you. I think sometimes I know. I don’t know if I to say this right? Sometimes you have to slow down to go fast. Is that is that the right thing? So that’s what I would say is if you can pull yourself out of the weeds, if you can slow down for three months or maybe even a month when you get back. You’ll be in and during that time, during that month or three months, figure out the five things that you really want to make a difference in and figure out how you’re going to do those things. How are you going to make that difference? And then, you know, that could be research or it could be learning something new or could be digging deeper into something that you already know. And then when you get back to the weeds, you’ll be in a better position to help all those people that need your help.
Bill Sherman So last question, Stu, if someone wants to get in touch with you, how do they find you and reach you?
Stu Manewith I’m happy to thank you for that. I’m happy to talk to anybody. My email at Omatic Software is Stu S-T-U dot Manewith, M-A-N-E-W-I-T-H at Omatic Software dot com, that’s O-M-A-T-I-C software dot com. Or please don’t hesitate to call me at area code 843, 580-5937. That’s my direct line.
Bill Sherman Wonderful. There’s much we could talk about, Stu, but thank you for taking time today.
Stu Manewith Yeah, good. Thank you very much.
Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL Newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website orgtl.com and choose Join our newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.