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Creating a Culture of Optimization

Published by Jeff Giddens

How a culture of optimization leads to optimized culture

In a previous post, I explained how optimization compounds returns of your online fundraising. Then I made the bold claim that the revenue lift is perhaps the least significant benefit of optimization.

We’ve noticed something fascinating with our clients that have committed to systematic optimization. It’s not long before our optimization methodology leaks out of the online fundraising program and starts to impact the culture of the entire organization.

People are first interested by revenue growth; their interest is sustained, however, by how the growth is achieved.

The contrast of the process makes them curious: the absence of strife, the peace in planning, and the consistent, incremental wins.

These are the beginnings of the cultural impact of optimization.

Optimization is about more than just growing the list or boosting revenue. It is about scientific inquiry, insight, and conclusions that are transferable. It’s the methodical process that fuels improvement across the organization (even offline). Experiments are not just the only reliable path to growing revenue—they are the only path to a breakthrough for the entire organization.

Why Culture Matters

Here’s a practical example. How do you make strategic decisions (especially when there is disagreement)?

  • Arguments during meetings?
  • Special committee?
  • Departmental jockeying?
  • Deferral to HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), even on matters in which that person may be the least qualified to decide?

What’s the culture of your organization like? Is it working? What’s the process? Is it pleasant? Does it reliably produce good results?

Usually, the answer to those questions depends on who you are and what role you occupy in the decision-making process. So let me ask it another way …

How are those tactics working with your Millennial employees? Is the culture around decision-making clear and motivating?

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting you should try to eliminate dissent. You should have conflicting opinions. That’s healthy.

I’m talking about a constructive way to embrace disparate ideas and validate a path forward quickly. I mean the process to virtually eliminate pointless arguments and delays.

The first step we must make is to admit that the task before us is impossible. We must acknowledge the futility of making perfect decisions with incomplete information. And the information is always incomplete because, fundamentally, …

You’re trying to predict and influence the future.

No one knows for sure. No amount of experience or wisdom is sufficient to account for every variable or to predict the future.

That single admission that we do not (and cannot) predict all things is the beginning of powerful change.

The Key Cultural Advantage: Humility

The optimization process introduces a sense of humility throughout your organization. No one is expected to predict the future. Instead, we research ways to reliably improve it.

The humility inherent within the research process creates a deep unity. Concentrated responsibility is replaced by shared goals.

Solving the future begins to resemble a research project with many co-authors rather than a battle for authority, credit, and control.

Stakeholders are united, working together to predict and influence the future. They may have differing hypotheses about the best way to do that, but now conflicting ideas are welcomed because they can be validated.

Team members (and that’s what they are, after all) no longer have to argue about what no one knows.

The result is a refreshing freedom: Hypotheses are ideas, not identities.

The Envious Epiphany

This all starts in the online fundraising team. But soon, inevitably, we hear a variation of this from leaders of other departments:

“We need to stop making decisions based on committee, personality, or the highest paid person’s opinion. . . . We need to start making decisions based on honest DATA—just like we do in our online fundraising.”

Having seen the process of sequential hypothesis and experimentation that leads to insight and consistent improvement in the online fundraising program, other leaders want to adopt the process for their department.

This is one unique thing about online as a living laboratory—you CAN get this data. You still can’t know the future, but you can make better predictions.

Think carefully about that.

Sequential experimentation produces incremental insights you can build upon. So, your opinions actually improve right along with the clear and simple process you use to validate them.

Disagreements about the future are simply contrasting hypotheses formed from different presuppositions. They may be right, or they may be wrong. Arguing won’t resolve the future, and the highest paid person may be wise indeed, but they remain as bound to the present as all of us.


Yes, online fundraising is unique for what it allows you to do: turn the Internet into a living laboratory. The methodical, scientific process of experimentation within that laboratory begins to change the culture.

A culture of humility creates a distinct unity. There are no more fights or arguments or delays, even when there is strong disagreement.

The solution is simple: Let’s run an experiment.

Because ideas are no longer conflated with identities, there is no more bickering or politicking—just a clear, fast path forward to valid insights upon which you can build momentum.

Optimizing revenue is the task at hand, but the real work before us is optimizing entire organizations so they can make a bigger impact, faster.

Will you join us?

Published by Jeff Giddens

Jeff Giddens is President of NextAfter.