BY WILL PORTER, MANAGER, JAMES TRUELOVE, ANALYST, AND HANNAH WIMBERLY, ASSOCIATE
Sendero’s “Community Rocks” Program provides pro-bono management consulting work to non-profit organizations. These projects are heavily specialized to each organization’s unique needs. One of our many Community Rock Success Stories is highlighted below.
The unique challenges presented by the unprecedented events of 2020 have necessitated a significant shift for many companies—both for-profit and non-profit.
Over the past several months, Sendero has partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) to research and deliver recommendations to amp up their fundraising practices for a robust and actionable strategic plan that will help them navigate fundraising challenges this year, and beyond.
As part of the project, Sendero conducted interviews, surveys, and benchmarking research with similar non-profits to determine the Resource Development (RD) activities that are working best across the industry. What transpired were a multitude of fantastic conversations that provided a unique glimpse into the world of successful non-profit fundraising.
Here are the seven actionable steps gleaned from these interviews that any non-profit can deploy to enhance their fundraising activities, and to position their RD teams for success—even in challenging times.
1. IDENTIFY YOUR STORY
While this point may feel like a given, identifying stories is a crucial step in communicating effectively.
First, identify your target audience and determine the key message you want to share. Do not be surprised if you identify multiple audiences, and thus develop multiple stories—you are likely not going to share the same information with the community utilizing your services as you would with donors supporting them financially. This could even go as deep as defining stories to be communicated to each tier of donors, depending on the level of sophistication of the organization and the extent of its donor base.
Scenario: Consider a non-profit that delivers healthy meals to families in need. They already have a compelling story that makes an emotional tie with the families utilizing their services, highlighting that they provide dependable, healthy meals.
But the organization needs to tweak this story to fit different audiences. Take donors–they want to know why their involvement is needed, and how it can change outcomes. In this scenario, the goal is not merely to deliver meals, it is to provide nutrition and stability to improve health, education, and help break the cycle of poverty.
Whatever the message, it is essential and foundational to have it clearly defined and understood across the organization.
2. COMMUNICATE YOUR STORY
When an organization has identified and conceptualized its story, it is time to share it. This is a foundational step in ensuring a non-profit is able to reach as many individuals as possible. After all, what good is having a story if no one knows about it? When communicating the story, the team should consider the following questions:
– What audience(s) are we trying to reach?
– What platforms are my audience(s) actively engaging with already?
– What is the cost that we are willing to incur to share our stories?
– How can we package our stories to make them engaging and compelling?
– Who will communicate our story?
– When should we communicate our story?
Answering these foundational questions will help to identify how, when, and where you can most effectively reach your audience. Many organizations are finding success with the following platforms:
– Short, easily digestible videos featuring individuals impacted by the organization
– Handwritten notes to donors from individuals impacted by the organization
– In-person contact (events, office visits, site visits, etc.)
– Partnering with like-minded community groups, events, and newsletters
– Engaging with schools when appropriate (both K-12 and universities or trade schools)
– Direct mailers
– Email marketing
– Social media
Many respondents reported success with shifting towards digital story telling. A Development Officer from Atlanta summarized it best: “Our digital programming has been great. We are realizing that people are watching short clips over engaging with long text and pictures.”
Tip: Digital story telling does not have to be difficult. There are a wide variety of free and inexpensive tools available. Focus first on creating great content that delivers the story in an impactful way.
EXAMPLE: BGCMA - THE OTHER CHRISTMAS GIFT
We had just begun the daunting process of strategic planning when I met the Sendero Consulting team. As the Chief Development Officer, it was my team’s task to uncover our revenue challenges and to begin building a plan that would solve them. Kicking the process off was daunting. But through Sendero’s work, the obstacles began to crumble. Sendero’s team interviewed our stakeholders (board members, staff and donors). They researched market trends in philanthropy. And they spoke with other non-profits and other Boys & Girls Clubs across the country. All of this research led to a collection of findings that helped to shape an amazing plan – a plan that will lead Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta to financial sustainability and push the envelope of traditional fundraising.Nicole Pietro, Chief Development Officer, Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta
3. ENGAGE CONSISTENTLY WITH LEADERSHIP
Most non-profits have a volunteer leadership team to lend their experience, their outside perspective, and their contacts and networks for fundraising—typically a Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, or Senior Advisory Team.
Many respondents reported that they have been grappling with how to get the most out of their relationship with their Boards. Teams that expressed a strong relationship with the Board all had one thing in common: they had established clear expectations and frameworks for engagement from the moment new Board members joined the organization.
“Board members need to commit to active engagement at the point of the spear, where services are delivered, and through building relationships with those that deliver them,” says Sendero Managing Director Scott Miller, who is also past Chairman of the Board for Camp John Marc. “It is critical to make these opportunities available and easy for new board members to attend in their first few months of service.” This type of hands-on experience is a critical element in resource development: leaders can be more effective fundraisers when they have personal stories to tell.
Respondents reported several other examples of successful practices to engage the Board:
– A bi-weekly or monthly email update with a simple form to capture helpful contacts
– An internal page (even a simple Google sheet) that becomes a portal for the Board to interact with the RD team. Set the expectation that if they have an idea, contact, or helpful input, that it is proactively recorded there
– Expand the definition of Board engagement — a Board member should be more than a source of a donation; there should be clear expectations for how they lend their time and expertise to support the organization.
– Keep it simple! Board members are typically very busy people, so if you want any level of engagement to succeed, it has to be easy for them. Help them to help you.
– Create a system that allows for seamless, convenient engagement with your Board, and then set clear and actionable expectations for everyone to follow. As President of the Board of Chase’s Place, Sendero COO Ruth Farrar notes that “the relationship between the Board and the Executive Director is very strong due to a set cadence for meeting and communication, defined roles, and an expectation that each person will meet their commitments. We collaborate while being mindful of ownership and accountability.”
Tip: Clarity and consistency are key to creating a positive, beneficial working relationship with leadership. After all, everyone is on the same team!
4. GET CREATIVE WITH REVENUE GENERATION
All too often, we find RD teams pigeonholing themselves into traditional forms of revenue generation: donations from individuals and corporations. Many non-profits reported exploring alternative revenue generation avenues to great success. Consider the following questions:
– Do we own/operate a physical space? Do we use it 24/7?
– Does our team have a unique skillset that could be useful in the marketplace?
– What products or services could we offer for additional revenue?
– Are we fully aware of the different types of planned giving that exist? Are we communicating that appropriately with our donors?
Sendero interviewed several teams that answered these questions and found alternative means of bringing in revenue. Some had success in opening their spaces to outside rental, others in offering consulting services for a fee on the open market, and others having high-margin “swag” items offered to their donor base.
One RD team member shared an anecdote about a conversation with a donor. When he took the time to outline all of the planned giving options, the donor was quite surprised and “had only heard of about 30% of these tools”—things like estate planning attorneys, financial planners, charitable rollovers, and more. In that moment, the donor agreed to shift his strategy and gave a very generous gift that was also beneficial to his tax situation.
Be strategic with your communications, be aware of what resources are available, and think outside the box.
Tip: RD teams sometimes report hesitation with asking these types of questions, but now is not the time to be timid. Often a fundamental shift in mindset is required to think outside of the traditional sphere of fundraising. Resource Development is fundamentally about revenue—it is not just donations. Many organizations have found alternative methods to bring money in the door, while still maintaining their identity and staying true to their mission.
5. UTILIZE TECHNOLOGY TO MAKE YOUR PROCESSES SEAMLESS
Sendero’s benchmarking revealed multiple organizations feeling stuck with too many paper-based processes. Other groups struggled with finding ways to fully utilize or fully integrate their existing tools and technology. These are fundamentally the same frustration—a struggle with antiquated processes, but a lack of time and resources to transform to a digital workspace.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of technologies that exist specifically to make the work of non-profit organizations simpler and more efficient. The initial (and sometimes daunting) work associated with implementing a new technology is worth the time and struggle it saves a team once its potential is fully realized.
Tip: No matter what technology your organization utilizes, ensure that your team members understand the benefits of and intend to use it. An organization could have the best tech in the world, but if no one utilizes it, the technology is not helpful. Our respondents frequently reported issues with training, turnover, and inconsistency. Start with the basics: do we have a standard process to follow, and does everyone actually know and understand it? From there, you can start talking about technology as a tool to gain efficiency and simplicity.
Example: Genesis Women's Shelter
6. RECOGNIZE THAT YOU’RE NOT ALONE
The specialized nature of many non-profit organizations can cause leaders to feel as if they are walking a lonely road. While it is true that each non-profit provides a unique service and purpose to their community, we found that these organizations are far more connected than they thought.
Many non-profits have both local and national models. Respondents shared that they “learned a lot” by interacting with other local chapters in [their] area. One RD team member reported that “there is a lot that we do differently and can share, even though we are a part of the same national organization.”
Every organization that Sendero interviewed spoke favorably about their connections with other non-profits, even those that served a vastly different purpose than their own.
Tip: If one does not exist already, consider creating a meet-up or mastermind group for local non-profit leaders to network and share ideas. At a minimum, utilize your network and ask for help. Realize that you are not the first person to experience a problem and that others have found a way through.
7. THERE IS NO ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL APPROACH
Each organization serves its own unique purpose and mission. Inherently, this means that your actions can and should be tailored to what works best for your organization. You may not get it totally right the first time. That’s okay! When implementing any change, ensure that you are also reserving time to observe, evaluate, and adjust. Over time, these shifts will prove to be beneficial to fundraising and, ultimately, the good of those who the organization serves.
Tip: A period of change is an excellent time to utilize testing. Rather than implementing a strategy in isolation, testing allows you to observe, measure, evaluate and adjust to optimize your outcome. Make sure any new strategy or change has a tangible way to measure results.
The services that Sendero provided to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta are part of Sendero’s “Community Rocks” Program—a pro-bono consulting program intended to enrich and give back to our community.
Interested in partnering with Sendero on a pro-bono project? Contact us using the “Drop Us a Line” form at the bottom of the page.
Working with Sendero Consulting has been a wonderful experience. Now, rather than being overwhelmed by the financial landscape, we are poised to transform revenue generation for an organization that serves thousands of young people every year.Nicole Pietro, Chief Development Officer, Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta