Today we're speaking with Alexandra Mannerings of Merakinos, a data services and analytic education company devoted to helping nonprofits and mission-driven organizations amplify their impacts through data. She also has a podcast called Heart, Soul & Data.
And Alexandra is working on something pretty big. Her superpower is using data to help organizations raise more money and make better decisions. She loves all things data, and she's trying to transform the way nonprofits use data and analytics to be more successful with their chosen mission.
Unfortunately, her services cost a lot, but she doesn't want to exclude the vast number of organizations that can't afford the services of a data analyst.
I help Alexandra brainstorm how she can validate the unique “consortium” model she has in mind for making analytics more accessible to the nonprofit world. We come up with some interesting ideas and experiments for her to run, and she comes away with some questions she's really excited to dig into. (She even convinces me that I am in fact “data-driven”—even though I've always thought of Matt as the “numbers” guy and myself as the “ideas” guy.)
AP 1213: How Do I Help Those Who Can’t Afford Me One on One?
Pat Flynn: Hey, hey what's up everybody? Pat Flynn here and welcome to episode 1,213 of AskPat 2.0. You're about to listen to a coaching call between myself and an entrepreneur just like you. And today we're speaking with Alexandra Mannerings and she is working on something pretty big in fact. And we talk about a lot of things with relation to data, which is her business, it's her love. She also has a podcast called Heart, Soul & Data. And her superpower is using data to help organizations raise more money, understand better decision making, all that kind of stuff. But unfortunately she costs a lot but she doesn't want to leave out those who might not be able to afford her. So we come up with some interesting ideas in fact and she has some ideas of her own that we dive into and I help shape it a little bit. And we come out of this with some amazing energy. And I hope you enjoy this episode. This is Alexandra Mannerings. You can find her on LinkedIn too. And here we go.
Pat Flynn: Alexandra, welcome to AskPat 2.0, thanks for joining us on the show today.
Alexandra Mannerings: Thank you so much for having me here today. I am thrilled beyond words to join you.
Pat Flynn: I'm thrilled to learn more about what you do and how I might be able to help you and everybody else who is wanting to know. Alexandra, what do you do and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Alexandra Mannerings: Thank you. So the reason I get to be here is that I am the sole proprietor of a company called Merakinos, which is a data services and analytic education company that is devoted completely to helping nonprofits and mission driven organizations amplify their impacts through data. Now, when I'm not wrangling data I'm also the mother of two toddlers three and five year olds. So my life is very full and very busy. That's a little bit of my background.
Pat Flynn: Nice. So very data driven. Were you always sort of a data driven type of person growing up?
Alexandra Mannerings: The funny thing, you always think that your life is normal. Like your family is normal until you get to high school or college and you see this diversity. So my mom's a food microbiologist. My dad's a psychologist. My brother went on to be like a rocket engineer. He works for Lockheed Martin so I've always been surrounded by science. But I also have this deep appreciation for literature and the human soul. And in fact my company's name is a made up word from Greek roots that means Meraki, to do something with all your heart and soul. And Nos which is the root for deductive logic like cognate. So I always joke that it means like heartfelt logic or soulful data.
Pat Flynn: That's really cool. I love that. How does that play into your role as a parent? Being very data driven. Do you involve any of that? Because I know some people who are very data driven and then they had kids and they're like, oh my gosh, I can't data my way through this.
Alexandra Mannerings: There's this concept in using like data driven decision making of different system levels. And there are simple systems, complicated systems and complex systems. Complicated systems are launching rockets where there's so many moving pieces but there are formulas that can have something land exactly where you intended it to 4 months and 9 billion miles from now. You actually do know exactly what's going to happen when you launch your rocket. And then there are complex systems like kids. And so science and data certainly play a role because they can recommend things that have worked for a group of that population before. But yeah, you really have to give up that you're going to somehow know what's going to happen or be able to figure out from your data exactly what you should do next.
Pat Flynn: That's so funny, awesome. So tell me a little bit more about your business specifically. You said that you help and target nonprofits which is so incredible. How are you specifically helping them? Take us through maybe an example if you can.
Alexandra Mannerings: Right now, a hundred percent of my business is consulting and that's part of the problem that we'll get into with some of my questions, but I work basically to provide any kind of data services, analytic strategic planning, program evaluation, development of dashboards for leadership. So for example, I am helping on the Colorado Naloxone project right now which is this incredible program to help Colorado hospitals dispense Naloxone to at risk patients that show up in their ED or hospital sites. And so I get to help implement the data collection side of that to make sure that we're actually doing what we say we're doing. How many at risk patients are we having and how many of them are getting Naloxone that they need? So Naloxone is the drug that can reverse overdoses. It's like a miracle drug. So that's an example of how I can use data to help measure is a program doing what it's supposed to be doing and if not, how do we get it back on track?
Pat Flynn: Gotcha. As a consultant, what is selling like to you? Do you walk in the doors and sort of have a pitch and go, here's how I can help you, or how does that work?
Alexandra Mannerings: The majority of my business and you've actually helped me with this before, actually comes from groups that I have worked with in some capacity or another before. And they have a data need that arises and they go, you know who could help us with this? Alexandra. And so they might call me up and say, hey, I have this project. I'm putting this grant in. I need data analysis. Or I work with a group of hospitals and I joke that I'm their like data consultant on retainer, they'll just call me up and be like this new financial policy came out and we need to understand the impact on us. Or we're trying to figure out why our insurance premiums just went up. Can you help us understand the demographic data behind it?
Alexandra Mannerings: Other than that, a lot of times it'll be also looking for like a particular challenge. So I knew that a program was coming out from our state Medicaid agency that had this huge data component to it. And so I reached out to a lot of the smaller hospitals and said, I know you guys are being asked to submit all of this data. Can I help you with that? Here are my experiences working with the Medicaid data and the Medicaid programs. And a number of them said, yes please, come help us.
Pat Flynn: That's great. Do you have any public facing, content platform or hub where you're showing up to sort of demonstrate this expertise which could obviously support any of these pitches that you're offering?
Alexandra Mannerings: Yeah. So I have a podcast called Heart, Soul & Data. Again, sort of a play on Merakinos. So I mean, it doesn't have a huge following at the moment but that is a place definitely where I talk with other experts in the field and really try to create approachable, open conversations about analytics. This isn't a place where you're going to learn super technical things. This is where you're going to realize that data is something we all can do. And honestly, we do it in our daily lives we just don't always recognize how we're interacting with it.
Pat Flynn: Thank you for that. I think I have a nice overview of what it is you do and how you do it. Where can I help you, where are looking to grow into and let's kind of uncover this.
Alexandra Mannerings: So here's the big problem. I said that a hundred percent of my business is consulting and that's because the way that the nonprofit space works right now is it is hugely reliant on consultants. This is just how it's been. And there's a couple of reasons for that. One is that data as a central pillar of the organization has not really been what nonprofits do. It's showing up in the business sector, becoming a data driven organization, I put quotes around that. Has been very popular in the corporate sector but it really hasn't landed yet in the nonprofit sector even though the funders are starting to go that way. So the operations of the nonprofits haven't quite gotten there but funding is starting to really go towards, "can we measure impact? And we're going to fund places where we get a lot of impact." So this sets up a problem which is you have these organizations that are not equipped to be able to do sustainable analytics because they've been dependent on this one-off consulting model.
Alexandra Mannerings: Then the second problem is, is that consulting is greatly and you have the budget for it. So if you get a grant to cover your like one off project, or you're one of the like 3% of nonprofits that has a big enough operating budget, great. But if you look at the IRS data, I'm data driven after all, 92% of nonprofits operate with less than a million dollar budget. And over 88% spend less than 500,000. There is no room in that budget to be paying for a huge consulting project or even hiring analytics staff. One, I want to bring analytics to that 92% of organizations. I don't want it to just be the domains of like the huge universities and the museums and like the Gates Foundations who I love, not knocking them. But I want this to be something that everybody does regardless of your size, the size of your budget.
Alexandra Mannerings: And so I've come up with this idea that is influenced by a couple of groups that I'm really lucky to work with right now which is you can't afford to hire an analyst but I bet you could afford a tenth of an analyst. Maybe you can't afford to put in a Tableau server, but you could afford a 20th of a Tableau server. The idea would be to either create formal consortiums of nonprofits that formally share these resources. We all sign on and we agree that we're going to share this analyst we'll hire, or we're going to agree to share this analytic infrastructure that we put in place. Or it could also look something more along the lines of fractional services like HR departments will do. You can get a fractional HR to support your organization if it's not big enough to need a full HR person. Or CFOs they'll do this or other C-suites. Our organization doesn't justify a whole CFO but we'd like to have a quarter of a CFO. There's sort of those two possible models that I'm exploring and there's a lot of challenges with trying to move towards those slots.
Pat Flynn: Yeah. I mean my question is if you're doing for example, fractional offerings of yourself to many, are you able to do divide your time fractionally in the same way or are you going to be 20X what you're doing and only receiving a 20th of the payments right?
Alexandra Mannerings: Right, exactly. No, and I think if we did this approach of like the fractional, it wouldn't necessarily just be me fractionally dividing my time but building up a network of people that we can divide that time across. And that's where the consortium model would work where I would help them hire somebody that they would be sharing. So they would get a full blown analyst that they would be splitting across that work. The other thing that has come up and I've had some really fun discussions with other solopreneurs out in this space is what if you created a network of specialists in these areas and then people basically could join this community. It's a mirrored consortium or you have a consortium of individual experts. You have a consortium or a community of nonprofits. They get a pool of hours. And when they need help with a survey, they could ping the survey writer and they get five hours of the survey writer's time. Or if they needed help setting up a dashboard, they could get the data visualization expert's time.
Pat Flynn: Okay, I like that option. It feels a little bit cleaner and easier to manage I would think. And plus it gives you access to the group and that's highly valuable. And the tradeoff is you're not getting a single person to devote all their time to your needs as a nonprofit but you also are able to flip that and go, well despite not getting access to a single person who's devoted to us, we have access to all these amazing talents and are able to essentially utilize them on demand as we need them. And that sounds to me just off the cuff a lot easier, nicer, cleaner to manage. Now the setup of that and the contracts with the others who are in there I mean that's going to be a little bit of a mess to figure out. And there could be things where there might be one person in there who's just getting asked to do things all the time when others aren't getting asked to do anything.
Pat Flynn: So managing the expectations and managing on both sides, the nonprofit side and the sort of consultant or expert side is going to be a challenge. But that model feels really good to me. The fractional model it might be hard to really uncover exacts within that to make it work financially but this other model is great. And also it gives you the opportunity for a little bit of more passive opportunities to offer value. There might be a person who's an expert on something who develops a template that might be easily shareable and that's kind of the benefit that might make sense for 80% of the people who are in there, 80% of the organizations.
Pat Flynn: There could be opportunities to have group calls. And opportunities for, well hey you don't get access to us on demand at any moment in time but once a week we're going to come together to talk about these things. Or hey, here's an organization within our crew here who just has a specific need that we see many of you need also, we're going to help them through this publicly so that you can follow along and get things done alongside. So how far along are you with this or is it still sort of conceptual?
Alexandra Mannerings: I've been enrolling people into the idea, like finding my network of superheroes that could support this. And there's a lot of really high interest in it. And I work with two consortiums right now that do have a formal consortium structure to share analytic resources. So I have some case studies to show how coming together can reduce your cost by about 10X in certain areas and how you can create these efficiencies by not repeating something that you need to do 10 times across the 10 organizations but just do it once and share the findings across that.
Pat Flynn: Right. So that's a huge benefit for the nonprofit. How are you on the other side, on the people coming in or the experts or other analysts, what's the benefit to them? Because that's going to be if I was one and I'm like, okay, well you're going to make me put a little bit more time here. I could do one on one and make more, what's the benefit for me? How has this helped me in the end? Have you thought about that? And have you actually asked people to see if they'd be interested on that side?
Alexandra Mannerings: Yes. So I've talked to several people on that to see if they're interested and they really like the idea because I think we all recognize that making analytics available to more organizations is a really critical social benefit. One of the things that I've thought about as a way of offering something that people might not have access to on their own would be that if we don't go the formal consortium, you're not creating these formal connections between them but more just say here, let's have a network that accesses a network that you could have a virtual university as part of it. So a place where there are either on-demand or cohort based courses. And the experts that we bring in could submit a course basically to that. And then you share again, sort of it's like the drinking the Kool-Aid, you're sharing the burden of having to maintain a course site and all of that across all these individuals. But then you're also centralizing the resources for all of the nonprofits coming in. So it's a win-win.
Pat Flynn: For sure. I think there's also the ability for you to, if you were to create this from scratch which you are, you could essentially put a stake in the ground and say, this is for heart centered analysts who want to come together. And here's a little insignia that you get or a thing after your name that you get, or a placard that you can put on your website or next to your bio that shows that you're a part of this and this is coming. You could command it. I mean it's not going to happen right away but you can command it as having a little bit of authority play. If you are a part of this, you are now sort of leveling up into the space where everybody's going to know that if you are a part of this, you actually care to help those in need who don't normally get to afford your services.
Pat Flynn: And that can be very neat as far as the group. It reminds me of even back in my day with the LEED exam, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, these are essentially if you qualify to be LEED certified it means you get access to certain things. But as a LEED certified person, accredited professional, that adds to your resume, it adds some credentials to you. So I could see it being very similar in a way that you essentially can create that credential. And then the cool thing about this is maybe, I mean this is maybe separate but it also kind of reminds me of like I don't know if there would be some sort of number that a person would not need to exceed in order to qualify to get access to this group. It almost becomes like low income housing. If you make too much, you don't get access to low income housing but if you need it, we're here to help you kind of thing.
Pat Flynn: So it could really make a name for itself in this space I think. I think if you position it as such and as heart centered, but also it's qualifying these people who are also wanting to be a part of this, it could really take a name for itself and not just be like a private little group but really becoming something that if an organization knows that they can't afford it, they know to come to you, it just becomes known. It's going to take some time for it to sort of permeate into the space in that way but that could be really neat. I don't know, what are your thoughts and responses to that?
Alexandra Mannerings: Well I mean, you're sharing why I'm so passionate about this. I do believe that this can fundamentally shift how we're able to drive impact in nonprofits and amplify the impacts that they have. That's why I get so excited about this idea is exactly what you're saying. And I like the idea of creating sort of a credentialing thing or saying that we represent this, as a group we've come together to represent this and we're going to of share something that shows that you're also committed to this cause. And I agree completely in the participation qualification that either it's tiered. That we have like a tiered rate that if you fall into this category you automatically have like 50% off the going rate on this. We can work with the bigger ones, but you're going to fund then us being able to have these reduced rates for everyone else.
Alexandra Mannerings: One of the things that I'm struggling with a little bit though is this is such a big paradigm shift for how we do analytics because like I said, everyone's in this space has done it based on like we have these one off consultant projects or we don't do analytics or we're just too small, we don't have to worry about that. And I feel like this is more than just selling a new product, it's having them fundamentally change the way that they see and value and approach. How am I willing to actually execute on analytics? So I was wondering if you had some advice on how to take people through that journey. I don't feel like just good testimonials is going to convince them. They might either say, but that's not how we've done it. Like yeah, sure that worked for them but that's not how we do it.
Pat Flynn: Right. You need to uncover the specific objections that they have about why this won't work for them and you need to flip it on the head. And you can use instead of a testimonial which are often very surface level and just about how well of a job you've done. I think that taking a person into the story of somebody who had the same exact objections and where they were to where they are now and showing what has happened and what's opened up. I think the truth here is we have to realize and remember that people don't want to do the analytics. They're not waking up in the morning and saying, I want to do data analytics for my fundraisers and organization. It doesn't work like that. They want the outcome of what the data can offer them. That is what you are selling.
Pat Flynn: So in the positioning of this and in conversations with those who might not feel like they need data, you might be able to even as clearly say, well would you want more funds for your organization? Well of course. Well let me show you how data is the key that can unlock more. And when you tell stories about that, people then can go, ah, I see myself in that now and I can see how I felt just like that person. But when they opened up, look at where they are now. Okay, where do we go from here and how can you help me? So that's how I would sort of structure any sort of positioning because you were just laughing but I think it's because you've probably heard that before. Well, what's what's data going to do for us.
Alexandra Mannerings: Right. No and I'm also laughing because I wake up very excited about data and I get that that is not the norm at all. And so yes, no one wants to talk about data. It either scares them or bores them or they feel it doesn't apply to them.
Pat Flynn: Right. Similar to going to the gym. I mean most people don't want to go to the gym. I mean there are some people who are obsessed as just going to the gym as you are obsessed with data and that's fine. But most people who need to go to the gym don't want go to the gym but they want that rocking bod. They want the energy. They want to feel confident. They want that relationship or what have you. That's what people want, that's what you're selling actually. The key is just data.
Alexandra Mannerings: So on the lines, one of the things that I've struggled with and my mastermind group through SPI Pro, right, has been really good at helping me think about this is what are some of the quick wins that I can give either for free or to get people engaged and really recognize that I'm not just blowing the smoke. That this really is impactful. And I struggle with this because the only quick wins that I can come up with are very tactical because the transformation that people want takes time. Yes, I know you'll get more grant money when you do this but you're not going to get a grant in a week. And yes, I know you're going to drive more impact when you do this and you are going to save more lives or you're going to heal more people and that's not going to happen in a week.
Pat Flynn: Can a person apply within a week for a grant? I'm trying to take this bigger goal of receiving a grant to what would be the first step that they aren't even taking yet and how can we get them to at least get excited about that, taking that first step. If I was teaching fitness, a big quick win would be maybe buying your equipment or it might be I'm not even at the gym yet. Or it might be getting my gym membership. That's a huge win that's confidently helping you understand that this is the direction you want to go. That can be a quick win, just that first baby step that you take. And again, when you position that as you are now starting to unlock these things that are now possible for you, maybe the win is well, where do these grants even exist? Oh my gosh, you showed me a website that I didn't even know existed, huge. And in three minutes you gave me something that could potentially change my organization.
Alexandra Mannerings: That's a good point. And I think one of the things that I've struggled with is that they don't necessarily get the value or the transformation that I'm wanting to get them to then but they at least see progress towards it. And buying your gym membership is not going to improve your six pack but it's a step on the journey.
Pat Flynn: Here's what I would say. If you want to change a person's life or in this case an organization's life, start by changing their day first. So what's something they could do today. It might even be maybe not necessarily the grants but maybe there's something organizational that they can now unlock and see, wow, I didn't even know that. Maybe taking them through a calculator, you can even automate this. Like there's a website called outgrow.co that you can kind of create these formulas and equations that people can input numbers. Maybe they input the number of employees they have or how much money they've been making or their goals. And then it spits out this calculation that says, here's what you need to do from now till your goal. And then it might lead to questions like, okay, well, how are we going to do this?
Pat Flynn: Well data can help you. Let me show you as an example and spitting out that number. Much like how again fitness analogous it would be a quiz that would allow me to put my age, my weight and sort of a few other things. And it spits out a BMI which then enables me to go, ah, here's my body type and here's the kind of foods I should eat. Or here's now the workouts that I should do for my goals. There might be something similar potentially you might be able to do with these organizations that could be automated and scalable.
Alexandra Mannerings: Right. And it would help them kind of figure out where in the journey they are or what their next step might be. Like you said, you'd figure out your body type. So you could figure out your organization type and then say right, what kind of analytics are most appropriate for me to pursue given these goals that I want to achieve.
Pat Flynn: Yeah, you could even automate the answers. If this then that. If they are within this range, here are the pieces of content they should listen to. Here is where they should start. Here is the phone number to call so we can get on a discovery call together. Or hey, you're not yet qualified to have one on one with me but we have this really amazing group of heartfelt analysts who are here to serve you, here's where they are.
Alexandra Mannerings: Right, go there.
Pat Flynn: Yeah. So how are you feeling? Are you feeling better, more confused? How's your data analysis of this conversation?
Alexandra Mannerings: It's funny because I always say for my podcast that a successful episode has people leave with more questions than they came in because they're thinking about things that hadn't dawned on them before. So I think I have written down a whole bunch of questions for me to go through and try to really dig into. One like that you said, this is a cool idea. That makes me feel good that it's not just me coming up with this and that the other conversations I've been having with other people are validated as well here with your deep experience in ideas and concepts. So I really appreciate that too.
Pat Flynn: Oh my pleasure. You know I'm not into data analysis. In fact, Matt, my CEO will tell you that very strongly that I'm not into the numbers at all because I'm more of the creator type. But I can definitely say that it doesn't matter what business you have, a lot of these principles are universal in terms of what works and especially with regards to the transformation of these organizations and what they really, really are looking to get and how you have the key to help them unlock that. And a few stories here and there can really change that and a few quick wins as well. So I'm glad you brought that up too. But yeah Alexandra, this is awesome.
Alexandra Mannerings: And I would say, I would argue that your methodology is actually heavily "data driven" because you do a really good job of taking an approach and seeing if it works and then saying, I know this approach will work so it can work for other people, that's science.
Pat Flynn: Right, that's true.
Alexandra Mannerings: So you might view yourself as a creator but this is what I mean is this is how success happens.
Pat Flynn: That's true. Maybe it's because I'd simplify it so much that there aren't huge spreadsheets. It's did this work? Yes, no. If yes, talk about it. If no, talk about it. That's it great.
Alexandra Mannerings: And adapt it, try it again in a different way.
Pat Flynn: Exactly, exactly. Ah, this has been such a great way to start the day, Alexandra. Thank you so much. Looking forward to chatting and seeing you in Pro and seeing how this progresses. Where can people go to follow along or see what you have going on?
Alexandra Mannerings: You can find me on LinkedIn. I'm pretty sure I am the only Alexandra Mannerings on LinkedIn. And I also have my company page Merakinos there, which is M-E-R-A-K-I-N-O-S. And you can go to merakinos.com for my main website. And if you want to join the conversation about data, please do check out Heart, Soul & Data. It's on all of the podcast platforms, Heart, Soul ampersand Data and it has its own website just heartsouldata.com.
Pat Flynn: Love it. Thank you Alexandra. Appreciate you and look forward to seeing your success.
Alexandra Mannerings: All right. Thank you so much for your time, Pat.
Pat Flynn: Thank you.
Pat Flynn: All right. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Alexandra. Again, you can and find her on LinkedIn and definitely check out her podcast, Heart, Soul & Data. And I love the approach. I love her superpower and being able to use it for good in this way. And the ability to use not only her superpower but her network to be able to create something that might be of benefit to both her network and the community of people who she's looking to serve. So well done Alexandra, I cannot wait to see where you go with this and how far it stretches. This is going to be awesome, and I'm so grateful for you and I'm so grateful for you, the listener for making it all the way through and I appreciate you and I am so, so grateful for all the amazing reviews that have been coming in continuously here throughout the year, it's just amazing.
Pat Flynn: And it keeps me fired up to keep publishing these episodes for you. And I just want to thank you for that. So if you haven't yet done so, make sure you hit subscribe and don't miss out on next week's episode. We always have some amazing guests coming on who come on asking for a little bit of help but they're so, so willing to be able to help you by allowing us to share this publicly. So a big shout out once again to Alexandra and I look forward to serving you next week. Cheers, peace out. And as always, team Flynn for the win.
Pat Flynn: Thanks for listening to AskPat at askpat.com. I'm your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. AskPat is a production of SPI Media. We'll catch you in the next session.