Led nonprofit pivot in order to capture new markets

Case Study Overview

To tackle a set of key challenges we were facing at UNIHACK, I led the team to pivot the timing of our flagship to test a hypothesis about the way we were making sales. We were cutting our preparation time by half (12 months to 6 months), had a significantly smaller team, and had to navigate accessing the annual budgets of our sponsors before the end of the financial year.

We were looking to move our event from a Q3 event, to a Q1 event. Deciding this in August 2018 was risky because this meant we had to immediately start organising (with significantly less time), there were unknown risks like fundraising throughout quieter months like October, November, December, and we risked double-dipping in sponsors’ annual budgets.

However the potential benefits for us outweighed the risks. Starting a fundraising cycle in the beginning of the year meant we could capture sponsor budgets just as they get replenished for the year, we were able to provide direct recruitment funnels to grad jobs (instead of just internships) - in which all of this would potentially allow a more scalable and sustainable cadence in revenue.

So I sold the dream, brought some people along and here is the journey.

Key constraints

  • Prep time cut from 12 months to 6 months
  • Less team members, from 33 to 12

Preparation

First, was team selection I purposefully downsized our team so that the team members would recruit volunteers only if need be, and be purposeful with the selection. Having more team members doing less work made nimble teamwork difficult in the past.

Second, was team culture We started with a heavy focus on team bonding and reflection in our first month. It was an imperative that we a) worked well together and b) that the why, what and how was crystal clear. The rationale takes from the concept of high-performing teams - that if you have a team of high-performing individuals, you can break the time-cost-scope paradox.

So I ran longer workshops (than our usual 1 hour meetings) so that we would be investing that time up front to get to know each other. Our workshops were on the following topics:

  1. Redefining mission statement and goals for the year
  2. Reviewing the user journey of different stakeholders at our hackathons
  3. Identifying gaps and potential for improvement
  4. Discussing our own leadership style and preferred ways of working

Third, detailed onboarding manuals To double down on the ‘high performing’ individuals, I wanted to ensure each portfolio lead started with everything I could possibly prepare for their success.

At this stage, each lead

  1. Feels familiar and trusts the team
  2. Understands the goal (what can be fixed, what needs to be done)
  3. Understands how to do it (what was done in the past, lessons learned)
  4. So that they can adapt it to their own approach

Execution

Over time, I slowly stepped back from general overviewing the team as we had our Melbourne Lead for this.

What this meant was the team could form their own way of working, and work autonomously towards the goal.

Outcome

We broke the time-cost-scope paradox. Our shift from an August to March event captured new sponsors – leading to a 15% increase in revenue with 66% less team members and 60% less preparation time. Mentors and sponsors of the event gave outstanding feedback!