For the last five years, the pace of change (including in the fundraising environment) has been greater than ever. And since the pandemic began, it’s felt turbo-charged.
Since change seems unlikely to slow down any time soon, it is now more important than ever that we embrace learning as a key value. Unless we make time to keep learning, as individuals, fundraising teams and organisations, we will fail to adapt to all the new opportunities and challenges.
In this episode Rob explores four powerful reasons why learners get rewarded for the effort they put in, and then shares 8 ways you can do it in practice. Most of these ideas are relatively small shifts and tactics that anyone can apply, regardless of resources. They are mostly about what you give importance to and how you choose to approach life and work.
If you want to get in touch or share this episode – thank you very much! – I would love to hear from you, on Linked in or on twitter, where I’m @woods_rob.
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Quote from this episode
‘Clearly the pace of change is as fast as its ever been, and not simply because of the pandemic. So now more than ever we need to value learning. It’s a crucial mindset now. If we don’t learn and adapt to the ever-changing context in which we raise funds, we cannot possibly make use of all the new opportunities.’
Full Transcript of Episode 56
Hello, brave fundraisers and welcome to episode 56 of Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is a show for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, really enjoy their job, and make a bigger difference especially during the pandemic. And this time I wanted to do a slightly different show in terms of where the content is coming from. There’s no special guest this time, but I’m going to use this time to share some ideas that I’ve collected over the years and especially over the last 10 months that I think are especially powerful and pertinent right now at this stage in the pandemic.
And it’s all about the power of making learning a key value of yours personally, and making it a key value of whichever team or charity or department you work in. To be honest, this has always been something that I believe has helped you be happier, have less stress, and also indeed, to get better results and raise more money. But it’s also true that now with so many urgent challenges and really difficult problems coming out to you to do with the fundraising you need to do today, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ll make time for learning later because we haven’t got time now because somehow we just need to get some cash to make this budget for this quarter or whatever.
I think that urgency that has come in during the pandemic could potentially cause some of us to not quite get round to the very healthy habit of making time to prioritize some learning at some point in your week or in your month. The quote that I really like I think is sometimes attributed to Darwin but according to what I researched, it’s actually an economist called Leon C. Megginson many years ago, said something along the lines of, “It is not the fastest or the strongest of the species that survives, the species that is most likely to survive is the one that is best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” And I think he is paraphrasing from Darwin’s Origin of Species there.
And the reason I’m making this episode right now is because very few people would disagree with the notion that we’ve had a time of a phenomenal change, not only in the last 11 months during the pandemic but also in the last five years in terms of global politics, local politics, technology, economics, that all these factors seem to be coming at us, speeding up the kind of change in our own lives and therefore in the fundraising environment in which we operate and certainly the pandemic has sped all that change up.
And frankly, the best fundraisers have always managed to make time for learning because change has always been happening. But given that the pace of change has ramped up and it’s only going to carry on over the months and years to come, I think now more than ever unless we decide to make time for learning in the way we live our lives and in the way we do our work, I think it’s going to be ever so hard to keep up and to continue to find ways to successfully raise money to help pay for the valuable services and research and education that our organizations provide.
Now, one of the classic examples you may have heard of in terms of an organization that did not adapt was the example of Kodak who apparently I’m told were a pioneer or the pioneer in the creation of digital photography technology. And the R&D department of that organization were doing great things but the leaders in that organization did not choose to adapt their business model or their paradigm for what the company was about. They felt they were a film producing company and this digital was not for them and history has shown that the success and power of that company has radically changed and dwindled because of that failure to adapt.
Another fairly famous example, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this one, but I’m currently reading a book, a really interesting book called That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph, who is one of the two founders of Netflix. And one of the interesting anecdotes there is of a stage really early in the history of Netflix when they were as yet a really pretty small company and they were growing fast and they’d overstretched, so they desperately needed cash flow. And so they went to their number one competitor, the mighty Blockbuster which at the time was worth billions of dollars and they had thousands of stores.
And there was Netflix as a mail-order DVD company going to Blockbuster offering them a large share in the value of Netflix. And apparently Blockbuster, it would have been relatively small change for that huge company to invest in and have a large share in what Netflix were doing, but at that time they didn’t adapt their view of what their business was about and where the future in film and entertainment viewing was. They didn’t see it, they didn’t adapt, and now my goodness, where is Blockbuster now and where is Netflix now in terms of success and the value they provide and the value of the company?
Said differently, through all of history companies and all organizations that don’t adapt with changing times and changing environments and changing needs of their customers and donors, if they don’t adapt, either they radically struggle or even they ceased to exist. Now more than ever, unless we decide to make learning a key value of our team, of ourselves, of our charity, I think it’s going to be ever so hard for us to surf these new waves that are coming at us in terms of how change is happening.
Looking at the charity sector more specifically, if you’re a regular listener to this podcast you’ll know that I’ve been able to seek out a bunch of smart fundraisers and people who work in charities who’ve found ways to keep adapting their approach and still raise really good levels of fundraising income this year. This year I found examples of people who’ve managed to keep learning, keep adapting. One of the ones that I’ve most recently talked to is the wonderful Paula Radley who’s head of face-to-face supporter equipment of Greenpeace UK. And in episode 53, I was able to talk to her.
And I mean, to cut a long story short, last year in terms of door-to-door or face-to-face fundraising, most charities in the UK and I think most of the world, door-to-door and face-to-face has been phenomenally difficult or non-existent in many places. And yet Paula tells the story on that episode of how her group of fundraisers, her senior management team who were very supportive were determined to keep looking at if there is a way for us to get back out there and talk to people who can care about the environment and care about the work at Greenpeace, let’s find a way to do it and do it safely.
And they tried a bunch of things, but one of the things they ended up doing was a really successful campaign in which they crucially solve the problem of concerns on the behalf of the fundraisers and the householders as to whether door-to-door conversations would be safe off after the first or second lockdown. So people were allowed to go out and about but how could they keep it safe?
And one of the innovative twists they did was to create a two-meter long mat which they unrolled on the doorstep of an any household they were going to talk to. And on that map there was a lovely, emotive picture of an orangutan with its arms open in a lush green rainforest so that if they rang the doorbell and a householder wants to talk to them, the first thing they would see is the reassuring sight of not only the Greenpeace UK fundraisers stood back at least two meters, but also this lovely prop, which was wholly consistent with a value of caring about the environment and the importance of that, and a wonderful icebreaker it was too.
And on that episode 53 there’s a bunch of other things Paula talks about including doing a door drop ahead of time to enable people to opt out of having such a conversation at all, a range of things, creative things they did. Metal hooks to open gates with so that they’re not touching things and so on, all kinds of interesting clever things. The upshot of doing these innovative approaches meant that they were able to manage potential fears, reassure people, get the fundraisers at the door, have conversations with people who cared about the environment, and the upshot of that was a successful campaign in which they actually, as I understand it, raised 20% more than they had in previous years during a non-COVID campaign.
So when you hear a story like that it’s really tempting to get excited by it or I get tempted to get excited by some of the techniques. But one of the most telling things is early on in the story, Paula talks about how, I think it was right from the early in lockdown they initiated an information-sharing group not only across the UK but internationally for various charities and indeed agencies involved in face-to-face and door-to-door fundraising in which everyone would share ideas, share concerns, share particular strategies so the sector as a whole and that segment of the fundraising industry, people were helping each other come up with ideas to solve these problems.
And interestingly, I think the idea of having a two-meter long mat to reassure householders and fundraisers actually I think every on continental Europe, I think it might’ve been the Netherlands because the pandemic was developing in that part of the world ahead of the UK at that time so they were already having a chance to try some of these ideas out. So, if we make time for learning personally and as a value in the culture of our team, I think it helps you to be more likely to adapt to the changing opportunities and challenges that are coming at us.
There are several other reasons why being a learner couldn’t help you out. One is it makes use of the priming effect, and I haven’t got time to go into depth about what psychologists have learned about the priming effect, but at its simplest, something that you’re exposed to or that you do early in a day I have found can have a sizeable effect on how you react to subsequent events later in the day.
And in my own experience on a morning in which I’ve made time to listen to a podcast or do some reading, do some learning of some kind, especially if it includes examples of people managing to find a way, managing to be resilient, managing to be creative, managing to overcome the challenges and raise more money or what have you, if I’ve studied those examples earlier in a day, then later on in a day if I am faced with some kind of challenge there’s something about my brain is more likely to react to that new challenge more creatively and to persevere for longer with more expectation that there’s probably an answer here somewhere than on mornings in which I’m not studying something or listening to something that gives me that belief. So learning helps you adapt, learning achieves this priming effect so that you react to new challenges differently, more positively.
Thirdly, if you are regularly engaging in learning personally or as a team I think it feels good. Maslow and various other models of the human needs, one of the ideas in those models that I’ve taken from my psychology research is that we have a need to grow and make progress and often our unhappiest times in life is when we feel stuck, and often when we’re making progress in our job, in our relationships, in our studies or whatever, if there’s a sense of progress often that releases endorphins and it tends to feel good.
You probably know this to be true in your own life. One of the standout examples to me in this last few months was episode 26 of this podcast when I was talking to Stevie Nicholson. And she talks about how at that stage in the pandemic to help people keep learning and stay inspired even though they were locked down in their homes she would do regular sessions in which she’d encourage her team to listen to an episode of this podcast, and then for the second half hour they would just have a chat over Zoom and talk about what they could learn and implement from those things.
And on that podcast episode she does give examples of how it’s solved problems, raised more money and so on, but the standout thing to me was the energizing effect she reports it had on her team at Diabetes UK where she works, because the act of being given hope, optimism, being engaged in the problem-solving in a positive way, it does energize us. So that’s the third reason. I think making time for it even though we’re phenomenally busy can pay you back.
And maybe the fourth one is that if you’re a learner then I think you’re likely to have somewhat of a growth mindset. The more growth mindset you have, the more resilient you are likely to be, researchers have shown including professor Angela Duckworth. Again, if you want to unpack that then in episode six I talk about various things you can do to help yourself be more resilient, especially during the pandemic. And clearly there are a few things as valuable to us as leaders, as fundraisers, as people who are doing their best for charities, there are a few things as valuable I think as resilience right now. And so if you can somehow in your busy week make time for some learning, I think an extra reason to justify that is you know that in some way it’s contributing to helping you be a more gritty and resilient person.
There you are. I mean, the truth is now many of us have not more time right now but less time. We’ve got extra responsibilities in terms of maybe looking after elderly relatives or homeschooling or looking after small children, extra concerns in terms of finance or health or whatever. I know that many of us have more pressure and less time now than we normally would. So I totally get if in the last few months you haven’t managed to fit much learning in, I get that. And yet what I found is if somehow busy, there you are, you can squeeze something in even if it’s something you’re listening to a podcast while you’re doing something else, I have found it tends to give gifts back to you. And the four specific gifts that I’ve summed up in the first half of this episode are it can help you be more likely to adapt to the changing environment and the changing challenges and opportunities you’ve got.
If you’ve done some learning it can prime your day or your week to be more likely to solve problems optimistically, especially if in that learning there are examples that show that success is possible. If you’re making time for learning I think it strengthens a growth mindset which boosts resilience, and also growth and progress in and of themselves can often feel good and release feel good hormones in your system.
So what can we do to strengthen the value of learning? I’ve got several ideas to share in this episode. Some of them are things that you can do at an individual level and some of them are to do with helping that be a value in your team and in your culture. The first one is at an individual level and I’ve been doing it for several years now. And it’s simply, every day with a little notebook or a journal I ask myself what have I learned recently or what have I learned in the last 24 hours?
And there’s some days when I can’t think of anything but more often than not the act of asking that question reminds me of a particular mistake I made or new thing I did differently and better the day before. It might be just something really obvious to do with the using of Zoom or Teams more efficiently, or sometimes it’s a bigger, more strategic discovery I’ve made or idea I’ve had. But the act of everyday asking myself for what the learnings might be A, it means I capture things that I’d already noticed but I’m much more likely to really take them into account and potentially do something useful with them next time, not repeat the mistake. And B, the other thing I’ve noticed is as I go through my day, because of this habit of looking for the learnings when I do this little habit, as I go through my day I’m more likely to spot the learnings that are happening all the time that otherwise I think in the past I would have just moved on from.
Especially for instance when something goes wrong, now I think I’m more likely to see some hidden value, some benefit even in a mistake I’ve made because the question in my brain is still live, what could I learn from this situation? So that’s the first habit that I’ve developed over the last few years that’s really paid me back. And one thing that’s great about it is that it doesn’t take loads of time. You don’t have to sit for half an hour and listen to a thing or read a thing or go on a course, just that two or three minutes most days helps me feel that I now value being a learner, looking for the benefit, looking for the learning ongoingly, that is now stronger in me in return for that two or three minutes that it takes most days.
The second idea to help you make time for or value learning, in part it comes from a podcast episode I listened to fairly recently by Tim Ferris in which he’s interviewing the actor, Hugh Jackman. And Tim asked Hugh for a key part of his daily routine that he’s founded massively helpful over the years. And what he talks about is the advice he was given years ago by the actors, Patrick Stewart, who said something that really helps him is to make time in the morning for reading something that you want to read or you know you’ll really get value from reading.
And Patrick’s key point was for years and years he never got round to reading as much as he wanted to because the day would be upon him, he’d have pressures in the morning, he’d have to go and do rehearsals or auditions or acting or whatever. And in the afternoon and evening he never got round to things, whereas the one time you have most control of your day is what time you decide to get up and whether to build in 15, 20, 25 minutes for reading time, for your reasons. And initially he had to make an adjustment because that affected what time he decided to go to bed and or what time he decided to get up. But since doing it and loving the habit and it paying him back massively that’s something that served him. And he told Hugh Jackman this years ago and over time Hugh said this is the key thing that has helped him keep progressing in his career, keep learning, keep stress down, keep enjoying developing himself in the ways that he wanted to.
And it’s consistent with a book that I talk about in my ebook, in my ebook called Power Through the Pandemic, which you can download for free, I’ll mention where you can get that in the episode notes of this episode. In that ebook I talk about a brilliant hard copy book called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and I talk about how various successful fundraising leaders I’ve been interviewing during the pandemic with so many other challenges coming at them during the pandemic, with lockdown, homeschooling, pressures at work and so on. A key thing they were doing is making time for themselves, something that would be good for themselves, for their spirit, for their feeling okay with life.
And they were crucially making time for it in the morning because if they didn’t do it in the morning then at breakfast time or the team sharing challenges the day would get away from them. Whereas they could control as they got up building in either 10 minutes of cycling on a bike or yoga, or for instance, writing in a journal as I mentioned for point one, or reading something or learning something that they enjoyed. That’s my second key idea for you personally making definitely your habit to be a learner in these troubled times we’re in.
The insight from The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod says, “If you’ve not done it already, just try out for three or four days building in 10 to 15 minutes first thing in the morning and potentially changing the time you get up in order to build that in. Try it for three or four days and see if your day goes better as a result. If it doesn’t then you’ve done the experiment and then you know. But if you like it then I think you’ll carry on doing it.” If you’re interested in researching that then I really recommend the book called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. I read it years ago, it inspired me to quite deliberately develop a morning routine that sets me up for the rest of the day. And one of the habits that really will pay you back I suggest is making time for reading.
And then the next idea I’ve already alluded to because I talked about how helpful it was in Paula’s example is to join a group or community, probably it’s going to be an online group. In Paula’s case she was instrumental in setting up that organization for face-to-face fundraisers. Clearly you don’t need to be the leader but you could join some kind of online group depending on your fundraising discipline, be it corporate fundraising or individual giving. And there are many IOF groups institute to fundraising groups and other ones as well.
Just recently I did a talk for a Facebook group for corporate fundraisers that was recently set up. There are lots of these groups, there are regional groups as well, just being part of that community. As long as you discover that it’s a very positive community rather than one which is more cynical, as long as you’re getting a positive vibe from it I believe that being part of a group like that. A, because you can pose questions and often get really helpful answers, B, because you get a solidarity with being part of a like-minded group, and C, because many of these groups give you access to various resources sometimes either free talks or very affordable talks, so clearly that is a sensible option.
Then my fourth idea, it’s not so much what you do but how you do it which I think makes a huge difference. And I noted that when Suzie from the Royal Northern College of Music was telling me about the wonderful difference she and her team have made this year. She said, “Partly a thing that helped was listening to this podcast, Fundraising Bright Spots.” But what stuck in my mind was just the way she said, “Whenever we were listening we were looking to find at least one thing from each episode which we could implement, and most times we managed to. Sometimes they were very small things but we managed to find things to actually go away and do.”
And I’m not suggesting that you’re going to find that’s true of every episode you listen to, but I would say that there’s a mindset there of being proactive in the way you digest information, asking yourself the question, “What hair could I actually use? What could I go and do differently?” Even if it’s just one small thing that’s quite a different mindset compared to just sitting back listening to be entertained.
Now, a challenge with the podcast medium is often you do listen, and certainly I do, whilst exercising or while doing something else, that’s one of the great benefits of this medium, you can do it while you’re doing and something else. So I would pair this idea with my first idea which is deciding to make learning one of your values. And if learning is one of your values, and once a day you find three or four minutes to sit down with a journal and ask yourself what have I learned, that’s a time when you could quite deliberately make sure you’re potentially answering the question, did I learn anything from any book I’ve read or any podcast I’ve listened to in the last 24 hours?
And then as I move on down my list more of the ideas that I’m about to share move away from just you taking personal responsibility for making learning a key value and more to how you could influence your team or your department to prioritize learning as something that really matters within your charity. And a one of the obvious tactics you can do is to create some kind of learning club or lunch and learn session, albeit at the moment maybe in an online way. And if you listened to episode 26 of this podcast you would have heard an interview with Stevie Nicholson talking about how she found listening to this particular podcast helpful.
So what she did was she was scheduled on a particular time each week or each fortnight with her colleagues all across the country at Diabetes UK, and it was a learning hour and the first half hour would be spent listening to an episode that she felt was a pertinent and useful to most of her team. They would listen to that and then the second half of the session they would spend online on Zoom discussing ways to implement and make use of the ideas that were covered. So again, she’s realizing just as in my previous point it’s not just about exposure to new content, part of the learning loop involves reflecting and deciding how could I use this? What could I possibly do?
And again, she found not only various ways that turned into new action and then indeed new fundraising results, but also an energizing effect when people were connecting and discussing and trying to seek out ways to create the progress out of the content. And various people who attend my Breakfast Club for Fundraising Leaders over the last couple of years have told me that they’ve created a version of this. Not least because a while ago I did a session on this kind of topic and I talked about the wonderful effects achieved at SolarAid in part by a book club that Richard Turner, who was then at SolarAid created.
And it wasn’t just for fundraisers it was for anyone in the charity who was interested in once-a-month meeting and talking about a book that anyone had read that in any way was relevant to their mission and to their strategy of especially influence in storytelling in the modern world. And Richard shared one particular example of how one of their best ever fundraising results was created because a non-fundraising colleague had spotted an opportunity that Richard and his immediate team had not and Richard really felt that that colleague was interested and noticed the opportunity because of his involvement in the book club.
And like I say, various charities that come along to my Breakfast Club have told me they found this works really well. And the key thing I’ve discovered is it doesn’t have to be about books, the SolarAid example was about books, but nowadays there are wonderful Ted Talks, there are wonderful podcasts, there are wonderful free online conferences, there are so many places you could get great content. But the key distinction I’ve noticed when leaders make this work is they do make it a regular event that happens at least once a month. There’s a hospice in the South West that has been getting wonderful results. Anyway in part Paul, from that charity said to me, “Part of it is because every single month we make sure we meet online and we do a learning session inspired by whatever content P or someone else has found.”
And then the sixth option open to you and it’s maybe the most obvious of all because traditionally if a charity has any budget at all to spend on development this is where they tend to spend the money, it’s you could go on a one day course or a one day conference. Clearly there’s some benefits to this because you can go deep for six or seven hours and that can improve your skill level. But I think my main point is if this is all you do then really life becomes difficult to continually improve.
When I look at successful fundraisers that I’ve interviewed over the last many, many years, the ones that have done consistently well are the ones that are treating fundraising progress and success more of a marathon than a sprint. I said differently early in my career I would hear at some kind of conference situation about a big success and I had the impression that that success was achieved by one fabulous meeting, or one great pitch, or one wonderful piece of a good fortune, or scale on a particular day.
What I’ve since learned from studying lots of people who do really well consistently is that success is not achieved by one or two extraordinary moments, rather success is achieved by doing relatively ordinary seeming things consistently well day in, day out. It’s the building of the habits rather than being really brilliantly creative or hard working on the day of the pitch or the big meeting. And if you put that together with how we learn, my view is just going on a course or a one-day conference is really unlikely to support you in achieving those kinds of consistent, excellent habits.
My seventh idea and the thing that’s closest to my heart is if you can get yourself somehow access to an ongoing learning environment, for Bright Spot you might know we’ve got the Bright Spot Member’s Club where we’ve got lots of my best training films and downloads and notes and access to a like-minded community that helped each other out. And since the pandemic, every single week we do a one-hour live training session or masterclass or problem-solving session so that the whole time as you are ongoingly implementing your fundraising projects you’re being able to learn, solve the problems that are coming up, implement, and keep learning and keep making progress.
And the other thing you might know that’s most close to my heart is our six-month mastery programs. Again, because just one day of great tactics of corporate fundraising aren’t going to catch it, but if we keep sharing those across six months and keep giving you a chance to try something and then reflect back with me in the group or with your coach through the program or with the community, across six months we’ve found that makes an amazing difference to your ability to feel confident and carry on implementing building momentum and indeed getting results. So by all means, get in touch with me if you’re interested in finding out more either about the Bright Spot Members Club where you can literally just try that for one or two months or the Major Gifts Mastery Program or the Corporate Mastery Program. And you can find out more about any of those options by going to our website which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services.
And then the ninth idea is to spend a minimum of 30 minutes talking to your line reports who you work with in your team every single week. And this comes from Richard Turner in an interview I did with him years ago, and I said, “What are the things that have made the biggest difference to you and your team and your leadership success do you think?” And he said, “Well, it sounds so obvious and so simple but it’s something I wasn’t doing.”
And he said, because until that point he was so focused on creating a wonderful experience for donors, that he would often not get round to having a regular catch up with the people in his team and he decides to do an experiment whereby he would literally every single week have 30 minutes with the people in his team, and crucially he would split it up. So for the first at least 10 minutes he would listen to whatever the other person would just talk about. Usually, then for a third of the meeting for 10 minutes he would be able to talk about something that was a priority that he wanted to share with the other person.
But crucially in every one of these 30 minute meetings he would on the agenda have 10 minutes in which they could talk about anything to do with development or self-development on the part of the person he was managing. And maybe occasionally they didn’t manage it but can you see how rare this actually is in terms of the way our meetings with our people on our team usually go, and can you see how if for up to 10 minutes every single week you are giving someone too a chance to reflect on what they’re learning, what they’re currently wanting to learn more about, what they have learned from the last event?
If you make time for that 10 minutes every single week can you see how you truly would then be implementing learning as an important value in amongst the other values to do with results and focus, to do with the strategy and everything else? I’m saying that’s easy, I’m just saying if you could, A, implement that weekly meeting and, B, include some time for looking at learning, we have found it makes a huge difference and I invite you to give it a go and see what happens if you do.
So, there you go. What I think I did in this episode was to not only share why I think now more than ever personally and as members of teams and leaders of teams we need to make time for learning if we’re to do our very best for achieving our goals and our mission. And I went on to share eight or nine tactics and distinctions that I’ve seen other people doing effectively to help live those values. Now, if you found it helpful and you want to check out the episode notes go to the blog and podcast section of my website at brightspotfundraising.co.uk.
If you enjoyed today’s episode please hit subscribe so you don’t miss out on all the other ones we’ve got coming up. Of the eight or nine tactics by which people can live this value more deliberately, almost all of them I hope you could tell were really a mindset shift and about things you can do without needing any budget. So I hope you felt that and can apply something if you’ve got no budget whatsoever. If you have some budget and you would like to potentially find out more either about the Bright Spot Members Club, or the Corporate Mastery, or the Major Gifts Mastery Program, then go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services, and then check out whichever of those particular programs or clubs you can find when you scroll down there.
If you’d like to get in touch or share this episode, then I’m on LinkedIn, and on Twitter I am @woods_rob. Thank you so much for listening today. I really hope it was helpful and I look forward to catching up with you very soon when we share some more Bright Spot ideas.