From Donor Management to (Remote) Business Analyst: Lane Malone

It’s my honor today to introduce you to Lane Malone, who transitioned from Donor Management in the Non-Profit Sector into an official Business Analysis Role.

Watch or read to learn how Lane:

  • Proved the value of business analysis by analyzing a complex business process.
  • Discovered that business analysis was her favorite aspect of work, and found more ways to bring it forward in her role.
  • Made the move from Donor Management to Business Analysis, and the host of transferable skills she brought forward with her.
  • The types of projects a larger non-profit organization has happening, and how they need business analysis skill sets.
  • Successfully navigates a remote, work-from-home business as a business analyst.

 

For those who prefer to read, here’s the full-text transcript of the interview:

Laura Brandenburg: Hello and welcome. I’m Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap. Today we’re with Lane Malone from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Hi Lane.

Lane Malone: Hey, how are you?

Laura Brandenburg: Good, good. So grateful for you to be here today and share a little bit with us about your BA career journey. I know you recently moved into a new business analyst position and so grateful that you have agreed to share more about that.

Lane Malone: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

Laura Brandenburg: Do you want to take us back, maybe, to where you were in your career? What were you doing most recently and whatever you can share where you’re working and what the situation was there before you got into that BA position?

Lane Malone: At the time, I was in a role supporting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society on the Individual Giving Donor Experience Team and this was an interesting tangent in my nonprofit career because for the prior 14 years, I had been doing a ton of direct donor engagement and fundraising to support mission-based organizations.

I was ready for a change and wanted to return to my more operational capacity building roots from early in my career. But the way that I got involved with Bridging the Gap was funny. I literally stumbled into it.

I saw a need in our organization for a visual tool for a process flow diagram and I was searching on line thinking, “I haven’t done this kind of thing in a really long time.” I’m sure we’ve moved far beyond the very elementary software that we used to have.

So I was searching for process diagrams, BPM, the business modeling process and Bridging the Gap came up pretty high on the list. Somewhere in your information it referred to Microsoft Visio, and I realized, wow, we have Microsoft Visio as part of our National MS Society Enterprise scale contract with Microsoft. So I’ve got the tool.

Then I saw one of the blog posts that referred to something like 42 reasons you might want to consider a business analyst career. I got distracted and I ran through that list and literally there were only three or four out of the 42 that didn’t 100% apply to me, but the other 38 did.

So I simultaneously started down the road of using Visio for the project that I needed to work on and started exploring the Bridging the Gap resources and just found a wealth of information on the website and realized that my employer offers funding for certain professional development opportunities. I was able to leverage that and enthusiastically signed up for the Business Process Analysis course and the BA Essentials Master Class.

Laura Brandenburg: At that point you decided you wanted to pursue a business analysis career?

Lane Malone: Exactly. I didn’t realize there was such a thing. But I knew that many of the transferable skills involved leveraged the parts of my career and the activities that I always loved the most. So this was an opportunity to get back to those roots and to build more competence and be more current and have a language and a framework that I could share with other people so they would understand the value of what I could bring to these projects.

Laura Brandenburg: Right, because if I understand, you were doing fundraising. Were you actively soliciting donations?

Lane Malone: I had been for about 14 years, but a lot of that work was done in smaller organizations before I came to work for the National MS Society. In those small organizations, I was a one person development shop. I had to do all of the logistics, the marketing, the PR, and the actual donor engagement and solicitation. I was always forced to, as quickly as possible, create good systems, analyze processes, and enhance what’s going on because I didn’t have extra resources.

I had to squeeze every little bit out of what I had, but the majority of my work, the metrics upon which my success was based was strictly revenue and that’s a particular kind of stress that can be very rewarding and very helpful for the organization. But it’s particular kind of stress after 14 years that I didn’t want to manage anymore because I felt that while I was good at it, it wasn’t leveraging my true strengths. When I read that list of 42 items, I thought, “Wow, this would be my happy place.”

Laura Brandenburg: That’s awesome. I love it. Wanting to leverage the strengths and already I can tell you we’re starting to see this is new role or a new path, but I have a lot to bring with me, like you had a lot to bring with you.

What were some of the strengths that you felt that you had?

Lane Malone: Well, it’s interesting. Every employee for the Society does the Clifton Strengths Finder and my five signature strengths are learner, input, maximizer, connectedness, and a ranger. That combination of things in the strategic domain and in the relationship domain, it creates a mix that really fits well with the requirements of a business analyst role, and especially the learner and maximize part. I am just hard wired to want to take something that’s good and make it even better.

Laura Brandenburg: Gotcha. That’s a great attribute for a business analyst.

Now, you are now in a formal business analyst’s role, right?

Lane Malone: Well, I am in that not with the title as such. My title is a manager title, but the job description, the whole role is completely new and it’s intended; I had been doing some work that was more operational logistics and event support for donor engagement events.

In this completely new role, it’s all focused on using specialized business analysis skills, which the leaders of our team knew I was formalizing through my Bridging the Gap coursework, to optimize the business processes, the systems, and the analytics to help enhance donor engagement and increase revenue.

Laura Brandenburg: You said not the business analyst title, but very much the business analyst responsibility in a promotion to a manager title. Is that right?

Lane Malone: Yes, and it’s a role that is much more cross functional because we’re in the midst of not one, but two, enterprise scale software transitions at the Society. One is our CRM and the other is the ERP for the finance side of the house.

So, a big piece of my new job description is helping optimize that CRM environment and nail down the business process requirements and plans in concert with my colleagues on the CRM team, the IT folks, who are doing all the architecture, the technical side of it. This is very much an analyst role focused on business process improvements, not the technical side of things, which is a good fit for me because I don’t have the IT background, and I’m not sure yet whether I want to go down that road anyway.

Laura Brandenburg: Yeah, and you don’t have to. But you would be working with those IT analysts, right?

Lane Malone: I have been, very closely. And I’m learning a lot about…in fact, the Bridging the Gap coursework that I had helped expose me to some of the language of that part of business analysis, so when I’m hearing user stories and they’re talking about wireframes and agile and sprints and things like that, I wouldn’t have been familiar with any of it had I not had the coursework from Bridging the Gap.

Laura Brandenburg: You mentioned that this was a new role kind of created for you. How did that come to be?

Lane Malone: It was one of those things where I volunteered for something. I saw a need. There is a very complicated process involved in managing restricted giving. When people say, “I want to contribute $100,000 to the National MS Society, but I’m most passionate about and committed to this particular project,” research, let’s say, there are a whole bunch of cross-functional stakeholder steps in communication and documentation that needs to happen from the moment that the relationship starts with that major gift officer, who is potentially going to solicit Mr. Jones all the way until the audit happens at the end of the fiscal year.

That complicated process had been documented in a spreadsheet that was very complicated and was trying to stuff a nonlinear process into certain boxes. I just remembered thinking, okay; this documentation might make the auditors happy in the long run.

When I was asked to cut and paste a bunch of data in that big spreadsheet because somebody had corrupted the file and I had to restore it from a backup, that’s when I got a look at it and I thought, “Yikes, this is not a user-friendly tool,” other than being able to check the box and say that the auditor, we have a process. The staff can’t use it. It’s just not useful.

I immediately could visualize it in terms of a process flow diagram or some kind of graphic tool. That’s when I went looking for software that I could use that was more sophisticated than when I had done 20 years ago when I first played around with this. I volunteered; I really stuck my neck out because at the time I didn’t know how to use Visio. But I looked at it long enough. I played around with it. I went to my boss and said, “We really need a visual tool if we’re going to truly fine tune this process and then be able to implement it consistently over time and across functions. I can create a draft diagram. How about if I do that? And then could you pull me into this larger stakeholder group and allow me to show them that and solicit their input and see where that goes.” And she said, “Wow, that would be great.”

I ended that meeting and thought, “Oh boy. I guess I better learn how to use this tool really fast.” And I was able to. It’s amazingly user friendly considering how sophisticated it is. That tool; that was the beginning of the whole process. That helped people visualize it. It helped raise additional questions, and so on and so forth. And it went from a single diagram into a multi-tab Visio document with about 12 different sub processes.

It’s a huge piece of work that a very smart and engaged team of people helped me illustrate. It’s now published on the Society’s internet and can be used in training and on-boarding new staff and will be the foundation upon which the integration of that restricted giving business process in to the new workday ERP will be based.

Laura Brandenburg: How did that lead to this new role?

Lane Malone: I think it was the combination of leadership, seeing that I had a really solid foundation of skills, being willing to invest in the further training, and then the convergence of that with the need. Because we recently completely restructured the individual giving team of 33 people or so and really needed some clarity on a lot of different functions and processes.

Laura Brandenburg: Essentially, you demonstrated the value of that kind of work and then they’re like, we want some more of this.

Lane Malone: Exactly. Yes.

Laura Brandenburg: That’s awesome. At what point did your coursework come into play with this?

Lane Malone: I kind of pushed it along right as those projects began. As I got pulled into the restricted giving process, I was already in the queue and talking to you about registering for the classes and getting that all on board and getting it confirmed.

They asked me when I was able to demonstrate enough value and some deliverables in that restricted giving process, then I was asked to take on the, they called it the tax receding process. Of course, I flipped that around and said, “The receding made your gifts process.”

There was another piece and those things just kept falling my way and I was a veracious learner and really wanted to take it on.

Laura Brandenburg: Awesome.

Lane Malone: Continue to expand.

Laura Brandenburg: Great. I love how you just dove in and made it happen and didn’t let the tools or the skills or all of those things get in your way.

You did mention, before we got on, that you really did appreciate some of the aspects of the course. What really stood out to you? You took both our BA Essentials and our Business Process kind of side-by-side.

Lane Malone: I did.

Laura Brandenburg: That’s a bit unusual. We usually suggest people do one at a time, but you were very adamant that you wanted them both together.

Lane Malone: Yeah, and I think it was because I liked that the BA Essentials really looked at the big picture context of the whole process including the stakeholder engagement and navigating lines of communication and establishing expectations and credibility and buy-in and so forth.

And then the Business Analysis class really dug in to the details of how do you do the analysis part of it, as well as some of the other components as well, but it was very much kind of macro and micro option. I liked that there were both the combination of video and transcripts because depending upon the day and my energy level, sometimes I want one, and sometimes I like having the documentation.

A lot of great templates so you never feel like you’re starting something from scratch. And then knowing that there were opportunities for questions and coaching with the instructors, if needed, and at the end, getting the feedback specifically on the workbook was great. It always felt like I had plenty of support.

Laura Brandenburg: That’s great to hear. Thank you for all of that. Thank you. I’m kind of curious to hear about how the new role is going now – what kind of projects you’re working on and how it’s off to a good start.

Lane Malone: It is. Once we got past the transition, you know how those things go. You’re still doing part of your old job description while you’re taking on the new job description. Now that I’m fully into the new position, it’s been really fun and interesting.

I’ve been pulled in as a co-lead on a project to clarify and document all the business processes for the individual giving and foundation relations team using the new Salesforce CRM and even pulling together the project charter for that and really thinking through what are the deliverables? What is in and out of scope? A lot of the coursework was rattling around in my head as we were trying to make those decisions and to be firm and clear with leadership that here are some of the risks involved, and these are some of the dependencies that we’ll have to address down the road. That was really useful information.

I’ll be involved in a couple of other major projects, but the one that’s noteworthy is we are in the process of adopting a new project management software tool to help manage some of these donor engagement events. We’ll have 27 events going on concurrently. While I’ll no longer be involved in the logistics and the marketing of those, I’ve been asked to help select a tool that does not involve any significant investment of money or commitment in the short run, but I’ve had to figure out, what are the requirements? What do we need that project management tool to do and how should we set it up and we’ve ended up using as part of the Atlassian package that the IT team uses.

And it’s not, intuitively, a great fit for the individual giving team because a lot of that framework is based around IT projects. So the whole concept of sprints and so forth is not intuitive and yet working with a colleague on the IT team who’s much more familiar with it, she was able to take the requirements that I pulled together with input from our team and configure our data in that system so that it will work for us. We will have sort of the GANTT chart view and the boards and be able to track resources and deadlines and so forth.

That’s been really interesting process as well.

Laura Brandenburg: And save your company a ton of money of investing in another separate tool by being clear on what your requirements were and that it could get merged into that.

One other thing, you had mentioned this before we started and I forgot to drill in to it yet. You are lucky enough to work from home. People always ask me how that works as a BA and how you get started in remote work. Do you have any tips or aspects that you can share around that? I’m assuming it wasn’t something that started with this BA role. This had been something you’d been doing prior.

Lane Malone: Correct. Part of it, in this situation, wasn’t within my control. It was really an organizational shift because in 2012 – 2014 there was an opportunity for me to work for the National MS Society in a planned giving role, so in fundraising. I was so excited to do it and it was based in the Denver office. For various reasons, in those two years, it didn’t evolve to where it made sense for our family to relocate because, of course, you’ve always got your spouse and your children and you have to put all that together. After two years of commuting weekly…

Laura Brandenburg: That’s six hours, right, if I remember?

Lane Malone: Seven hours round trip on dry roads and two mountain passes between Steamboat Springs and Denver. It was not sustainable. It was a risk on many levels to be doing that kind of driving and time away from family. So I reluctantly resigned after two years and refocused my professional work back to Steamboat with fundraising for an organization here.

In 2017, I was very intentionally making a shift realizing I’m 20 years in on my career. I really want to be leveraging my true strengths. I was just starting to try to figure out what they were and then this position with the Society came up that was supporting the Donor Experience team mostly in terms of event support and reporting and logistics and operations. It wasn’t the ideal job for me by any means.

It was a step down several levels, but it’s an organization I cared deeply about with a mission that matters to our family and beyond. I realized that during those three years when I wasn’t working for the Society, they had done a massive organizational realignment to a more matrix structure and all of this technology with Go-To Meeting and Skype and so forth, had really taken off and become very effective and they realized that one of the best ways to attract and retain the right people for the right positions is to have some level of flexibility where needed.

Because I had already worked for the Society, I was sort of a known entity and I was able to come back and be based full-time from my home office, more specifically, as a BA, it works really well as long as you have the skills and understanding that I’ve recently obtained from Bridging the Gap, to be very intentional and disciplined about how you frame some of the conversations, especially those that you lead, and even as a participant, because so much of the work is done online through webcam and learning to be very nimble in whatever your process flow software might be – Visio or something else – is helpful because you can share your screen and, literally, diagram things on the fly.

Then on occasion, it’s been necessary and justified for me to travel and meet for kickoff meetings and discovery sessions for the second phase of our CRM process, for example. It completely made sense for me to go down and meet with the different stakeholders involved and with a third party consulting group that was really managing, they were serving in the official BA role, and I was more a stakeholder with BA experience, but being a person with those people, that made a lot of sense. Now I’m continuing to participate in that work through online web conference meetings and so forth.

Laura Brandenburg: So having that blend at the beginning makes a lot of sense.

Lane Malone: It’s very doable.

Laura Brandenburg: Good. Well, thank you for sharing that because I get that question often, too; like how to make that happen as a remote business analyst or in general.

You get to live in a very beautiful amazing place of the world in Steamboat Springs.

Lane Malone: I am so grateful for that. Every day I’m looking out, right now, out of my office window at the mountains and thankful for the opportunity and to be able to do work that matters that I feel more confident in because of this training.

Laura Brandenburg: Well, thank you. You’ve given us a great deal of time and insight. Is there anything else that you’d like to share before we close things out?

Lane Malone: I guess only that I encourage people to embrace the really open ended process that this kind of a transition can be. I think there are such extraordinary resources available online to learn to connect to get certification, which I’m planning to pursue.

More and more every month, every year, there are companies and organizations that realize the value of these kinds of skills. It can be tremendously rewarding.

Laura Brandenburg: Thank you so much. Thank you Lane.

Lane Malone: Thank you Laura. Have a good day.

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