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Cheat sheet: Convince your leadership to invest in data services in 4 steps

The art of convincing. Some might call it the art of negotiation. Call it anything, but nothing changes how difficult it is in practice. It is hard enough for front-line Fundraisers to convince prospects to give a gift to their mission (it is so competitive out there!), but it becomes even harder for the data enthusiasts in this field to convince the leadership in investing in data-related services. And, I am sure you know what I mean. So, what do you do? Forget about it entirely before even making your case? Or wait to hear how something else is a priority for now, and this will be considered in the future?

I am going to share a 4-step cheat sheet that you can use every time you want to make your case for investing in data services. It can be to change your database, or it could be investing in a new program management tool or something even fancier, you might want to explore the opportunities from data analytics for your firm.

Here it goes:

Note that 'situation' from here on refers to any use case where you want the investment of data services.

Step 1: Decode the situation

You work with data often enough that you understand the day to day operational challenges. However, your leadership is not working closely with data that they can understand the gravity of the situation without your help. So, your work in convincing has to be strategic.

Your leadership won't care unless the situation you want to address needs to be the priority. Use this table below, first, to understand the relationship between your leadership's current understanding of the situation vs. the urgency of attention it needs in reality:

If you fall in those green color-coded categories, then go to step 2. Because in all other cases, you don't need any extra preparation to move forward.

Step 2: Document the situation

Now, it is time to create urgency and expose the situation. Document both the situation and the impact. Bold and underlined. You cannot convince without your research on the effects. Make thorough documentation -

- what is the situation?

- why is it so (i.e., break-down the situation into missing pieces that led to the current challenge)?

- what is your suggested solution?

- Comparison of what is happening right now, without those investments, vs. how that investment can impact those numbers. These numbers can be in time, dollars, revenue, profit, number of human resources, etc.

Remember, your research is just as important as the format of your research. Do not make it a 100-page word document, text-based report. Make it no more than an 8 to 10-page short report. Try to include charts, tables, and figures as much as you can. Human memory retains visual information faster, and hence its processing is more impactful than purely text-based content.

Step 3: Present the situation

Now you understand the situation, and you researched it as well. Time to talk to your leadership. But, hey, wait! Do you know whom are you presenting? You are lucky if it is just 1–3 people, but if it is more than that, then you have to be strategic again, my friend. Firstly, talk to someone you trust in your organization (if you are unable to make that judgment), and find out whom you should present. It could be one person, or it could be several members of your leadership team. Once you know the names, then you need to decide your communication channel. Know this; communication is probably the most, most, most significant piece of any project. Apple product launches are an exemplary example of how they use their communication power. The point is, you need to decide how you should convey your research document? A meeting? A call? An email? Well, the best option is, find an hour on their calendar and talk to them. If your leadership is not in the same location, make a Skype call, but speak in person (virtual or physical). Post call, share your research, and wait for their response.

Step 4: Prepare for the outcome

Alright, so you waited. Maybe you are still waiting. But, the key at this step is only patience. Sometimes your leadership comes back with follow-up questions, and sometimes they take their own time in understanding the impact you want them to see. Either way, prepare for all three outcomes below:

If your leadership gives a green signal: Congratulations! But, it is still not time to celebrate. The main work lies ahead. Take out a pen and paper to start preparing the next steps, to-do lists, and proper planning to implement the data services you want.

If your leadership gives a yellow signal: This is not entirely a green signal but more like when your leadership says they are not sure/maybe/they are still thinking/they might do this in future etc. Well, don't get disheartened. Here is what you could do:

- Offer to host a question-answer session for your leadership that can help them to ask you any questions

- See if you can arrange an external resource who can come and comment on the services you want. This external resource could be the sales team, for example, of the organization offering those services

- Offer more written research on how you and your overall firm is going through the challenges without those data services that can impact not just the present but the future as well.

If your leadership gives a red signal: Well, sometimes the timing is not right. Do not get disheartened. You tried your best. Here is what you can focus on at this point:

- Continue tracking the situation. The more research you continue to add, the better your case would be next time.

- Use online help resources like AFP, APRA, NTEN, etc. that offer free forums to ask questions and get help. Talk to people to see if they have some excellent free alternatives to help your situation in the time being.

- Give short updates to your leadership on how the situation is without the investment intermittently. Your leadership could use some help in keeping this at the top of their memory.

- In a few months, re-send this proposal to your leadership once again for consideration.

Let me know if you were in the same place and how you dealt with it. Your story could help many others.


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