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See You on the Frontlines: A nonprofit consultant’s resolution for a new year

in Nonprofit, Volunteerism by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment

By Jeanine Black – Director of Marketing and PR Services

One of the main reasons I love where I work and what I do is that we help nonprofits; in fact, we specialize in it and have made it our company’s primary mission to provide thoughtful, honest advice combined with excellent quality work to help nonprofit organizations be successful. I truly cannot think of a more fulfilling calling than to assist organizations who are trying to change the world in a very real, altruistic way. And, even more impressive, they do it on shoe-string budgets, with minimal staff, limited resources and never enough time. I am awed by their passion, commitment and the love they have for those they are trying to help.

However, as marketing and fundraising consultants, much of what we do is behind the scenes. Meaning, we work closely with nonprofit leadership teams, helping them determine how best to raise awareness of what they do and how to raise the money to do it. We consult with them, often privy to the inner workings of the organization, whether we’re writing a fundraising or marketing plan, developing content for their website, working with the media on their behalf or developing compelling materials that help them tell their stories. It’s wonderful work and there is no doubt we are assisting them in their missions.

And until recently, I thought it was enough.

Shortly before the holidays, my 16-year-old daughter, Emma, and I volunteered to make blankets for the homeless with a group called Because I Said I Would, Akron. (We live in Akron, Ohio, so I try to focus our volunteer efforts in and around our own community.) The blankets were, in turn, to be donated to the Akron Snow Angels, who deliver much-needed supplies to the city’s homeless population during the cold winter months. It was a nice night. She and I made two, heavy-duty blankets with material that we donated ourselves (this was not a requirement). I was proud of our efforts and felt good about taking time to help make what looked like about 100 blankets to be distributed throughout the city.

But then I started to think about who would get those blankets – where they would end up – and wondered if we couldn’t do more. The next day, I signed Emma and me up for an Akron Snow Angels mission. We would take our volunteering one step further by handing out blankets and other supplies and, most importantly, meeting those we were helping.

Although we’ve volunteered for other organizations before, this was an experience neither of us will ever forget. It was Sunday, Jan. 7 and it was about 6 degrees outside. The weather was brutal. We visited Second Chance Village and Summit Park, located by Haven of Rest Ministries in Akron. Second Chance is a homeless village in Akron and Summit Park is frequented by many of Akron’s homeless. We met men and women, young and old. Our duty was to hand out pants – sweats, jeans, overalls…anything to add another layer. Everyone was pleasant, polite and grateful for all we were doing for them. And it broke my heart. At one point I was in tears. Whether it was the man who was beaten up on the bus or the woman with her teeny, tiny bedraggled dog or the teenage girl, same age as Emma, who got to me, I don’t know. I think that young lady got to Emma, too. “She’s so young, mom,” she said to me, as the girl walked away. But there was also laughter and hugs and hot coffee and lots and lots of thanks given.

Since that day, I’ve been thinking about what more I can do to help – there’s always capacity for doing more, right? And I realized maybe it should start at work. Like the blanket-making, our work is meaningful and helpful and valuable, but, again, it’s behind the scenes.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes what a nonprofit needs most is an outside perspective to help them determine where they are and what direction they should head. And we provide them that. But daily, our clients are fighting housing discrimination; serving homeless families; ensuring our kids get a quality education; advocating and educating on behalf of those they serve in an effort to create a better world…the list goes on. And we need to understand that side of their operation as well.

As a nonprofit marketing consultant, I think it’s imperative that we experience the frontlines  – to roll up our sleeves. For them, they are living and breathing their work, day in and day out. If we can join them in the trenches, whether it’s a client or another area organization, we enhance our knowledge and our expertise of nonprofits, while doing the world a bit of good. We can say to them, “Okay, we get it. We really get it.”

So I resolve to do better this year – to make strides to get to know the people our clients are serving. We can serve them that much more effectively and help them in their missions to build better communities.

 

 

 

 

Four reasons nonprofits should engage millennials

in Giving, Nonprofit, Volunteerism by Lauryn Rosinski Leave a comment

By Lauryn Rosinski – Marketing and PR Account Coordinator

Let’s face it: In this day and age, millennials get a bad rap. I have personally heard the following statements about Generation Y from a variety of demographics:

“Millennials are selfish.”

“Millennials are lazy and unmotivated.”

“Millennials eat too much avocado toast.”

While I will admit that many of my friends and I have enjoyed large quantities of avocado toast, the other statements could not be further from the truth. In fact, research shows that millennials want to give back and change the world around them. Because of this, many industries can benefit from what millennials have to offer.

Nonprofits are among the sectors that can be positively impacted by “Generation Now.” Here are some reasons why millennials are the future of philanthropic donating – and why nonprofit organizations should reach out to them.

#1: Millennials donate time and money.

This might be shocking to some readers. After all, millennials are oftentimes using their money and resources in order to pay off student loans, find affordable housing and seek a well-paying job.

However, it is true. Millennials are volunteering and contributing to the nonprofits they care about – and they are making a big difference.

According to the most recent Millennial Impact Report, 52 percent of the millennials surveyed made a charitable donation within the month. The same report showed that millennials are more likely to increase their giving year-over-year compared with other age groups. Finally, 46 percent of millennials volunteered for a cause they cared about within the past month.

These statistics show that millennials are willingly giving to nonprofit organizations they care about. The report also reveals that, although millennials might not be able to initially contribute much financially, their contributions increase as time goes on. Therefore, nonprofits should take the opportunity and market to these audiences.

#2: Millennials use social media.

Social media has changed the way we communicate with one another. Channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have made it possible for individuals and organizations to reach audiences they would not have been able to in the past. Nonprofits have reaped the benefits of increased social media usage by advertising events, encouraging donations and sharing stories.

They should also use it to market directly to millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, a whopping 90 percent of millennials use social media. And they use it for more than sharing memes and dog videos.

Millennials use their platforms to engage with friends and amplify their voices regarding social issues. According to the Millennial Impact Report, 51 percent of millennials use their social media accounts to take action when it comes to causes that they care about. By engaging with this generation, nonprofits have the opportunity to find audiences that care about their key messages.

Although it is important to reach out to millennials on social media, nonprofits cannot merely tweet, “Donate now” and expect results. Millennials crave human interest stories and depth behind content. In fact, 60 percent of millennials enjoy reading nonprofit’s successes and how they positively affect the individuals they serve.

An anonymous person once said, “The essence of social media is knowing your audiences and engaging them in something they love.” If nonprofits create the right content and direct it toward millennials, they would effectively tell their stories, share their call to actions and, therefore, be more successful in the online world.

#3: Millennials are the largest generation.

We have all heard the classic saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Members of nonprofit organizations understand this sentiment better than anyone. In order for a mission to be a successful, a nonprofit needs people on their side.

Well, the millennial generation is one big village. In fact, it is the biggest village.

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are approximately 83.1 million millennials in the U.S. In 2016, the number of millennials surpassed that of the Baby Boomers. The larger a generation is, the more influence it will have on society. Due to its sheer size, the millennial generation will completely change the country and the issues surrounding it.

This is good news for nonprofits.

#4: Millennials want to help others.

In order to determine if the “me generation” really is as self-centered as people say, the University of New South Wales conducted an experiment on millennials. Researchers put headsets on the participants, which studied their brainwave activities. The participants were then asked a series of “Would You Rather” questions, including:

“Would you rather take a selfie with an Instagram star and a quiche, or share a bit of your grandma’s famous quiche with your friends?”

“Would you rather be one of the first to have a blue algae latte with random people, or have tea and a meaningful chat with your mom?”

These questions encompassed a larger issue: Do millennials prefer activities and topics that relate to their own self-interests or do they prefer activities and topics that involve others?

The results of the experiment may shock you.

Yes, millennials would rather have a cup of tea with their mother than a trendy drink with strangers. The study also revealed that millennials would rather give food to someone in need, raise money for charity and volunteer at a soup kitchen than have a large number of social media followers, fame and selfies.

Now, you might be wondering: “How does this help nonprofits?”

This research study showed that millennials have a desire to help others and make a difference. Nonprofits are constantly in search of donors and volunteers with the drive and enthusiasm that millennials have. If nonprofits were to create relationships with this generation, both parties would mutually benefit.

In short, everybody wins.

 

Millennials are the future of this country, whether it is because there are so many of them or because they are influential both online and off. However, they are not just the future… they care about the future.

If nonprofits work with millennials, they will not just create donors and volunteers. They will create partners and brand ambassadors, who will use their time, energy and passion to influence change and inspire others through your nonprofit’s mission.

We promise that we will put down our avocado toast in order to do so.

5 Things I learned at my first Cleveland GiveCamp

in Volunteerism by Sara Lundenberger Leave a comment
A project near completion

A project near completion

by Sara Lundenberger, fundraising and marketing strategist

A few weekends ago I got the chance to volunteer at the Sixth Annual Cleveland GiveCamp. GiveCamp is a chance for local nonprofits to work with graphic designers, content writers, developers and other volunteers to create a new website, GPS based walking map and even a 3D instructional game for free in 3 days.

Here are the five things I learned that can apply to any job.
1- Preparation is key: As with most projects, a little background work can make a huge difference. The nonprofits that came to camp with content, photos and logos ready to go were leaps and bounds ahead of those that showed up with a lot of excitement, but nothing prepared.
2- If at first you don’t succeed…Pivot: I had the chance to sit in with three different teams throughout the weekend. The common theme on every team was changing directions. If the first idea you have doesn’t work, change it and keep changing it until it does.
3- The tech world isn’t run by 20-somethings: Yes- there were a lot of very young code writers and developers working all weekend. But they weren’t the only ones. Don’t assume that because someone is older than 30 they can’t possible understand CSS or PHP. Knowledge and experience are a pretty unbeatable combination.
4- Think outside the box: Just because you haven’t seen it done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I saw a lot of projects that started with a “It would be great if our site could…” and ended with a site that can do that and more.
5- Teamwork always wins: Whether you were on a project team, the security team, a floater and/ or Team Z (the non-technical, everything else group of volunteers) nothing would have been accomplished without teamwork. One team had 19 people working at all hours of the night to finish its project.
5b- Know your strengths: This sort of goes along with teamwork, but is a little different. Everyone has strengths, whether its web development, graphic design, social media or just being a worker. Use what you know and don’t be offended or upset if you aren’t needed.

Ask me what I did over the weekend. Really, ask me.

in Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment
GiveCamp team working on a new website for Urban Vision

This is one of the projects I worked on at GiveCamp.This team worked on a new website for Urban Vision (urbanvisionministry.org)

For those who know me, they would probably immediately guess soccer and baseball games, family functions or catching up on client projects.

Most weekends, this would be true. But as I have done every year since 2010, I spent my weekend on the shores of Lake Erie helping Northeast Ohio nonprofits in need.

I am fortunate (yes fortunate) to be a volunteer organizer for a phenomenal event called Cleveland GiveCamp, a group of about 200 tech, marketing professionals and designers that come together over the course of the weekend to complete projects for nonprofits from Northeast Ohio. These are amazing people who dedicate an entire weekend to make life better for residents throughout the region and I cannot say enough about how proud I am to work with each and every one of them.

What we accomplished

When I talk about the event to colleagues, friends and family, I usually talk about projects in terms of the number of projects completed. But this year, for some reason, I looked at the event in a different way. This year, what struck me most was what we accomplished on a higher level, not just the number of projects completed. (For those who are curious, we completed 19 projects including new websites, a GPS-enabled web app, an educational game and database applications.)

What our work means to those we help:
  1. An organization has improved data collection and reporting capabilities, which frees up a full day for a staff member to work on other agency projects.
  2. Children have a new online game to help them understand the importance of healthy eating and how worms help food grow.
  3. It is now significantly easier for an organization to track the equipment inventory it loans to its program participants.
  4. Individuals who are looking for affordable housing in Akron have an online searchable database that features up-to-date listings in real time.

And I have 15 other stories I could tell.

We all have our stories about the organizations we helped. But like all the others who attended and volunteered for GiveCamp, I learned some things as well.

  • I learned how a promising young doctor’s life was cut short, but his legacy continues. As I watched his mother cry telling his story, it further solidified my reason for choosing my career path and my dedication to helping nonprofits like theirs whose passion for their cause is unparalleled.
  • I learned more about the tireless work of nonprofits that exist in my own back yard, many of which I had heard of in name only.
  • I learned to appreciate the selflessness and dedication of our volunteers. Egos are checked at the door at GiveCamp. Often, many of us leave the event knowing the people on our teams, but never even considering asking them where they work. We know for those few days, we are there for something greater and we are focused on the task at hand.

 

Each year, there are returning volunteers and newcomers who have never experienced GiveCamp before. But I can tell you everyone who’s ever been to GiveCamp comes away changed in some way. Whether it is a new appreciation for the development process, or new personal and professional connections, GiveCamp has just a magical quality about it.

I can truly say that GiveCamp has changed me as well. Well I have yet to learn how to code, each year I gain a new appreciation for the work that is done here and for the people who dedicate themselves to doing it.

Thanks to the nonprofits and amazing volunteers, GiveCamp is, hands down, one of the best things I do all year.

10 ways to improve the board, staff relationship in a small nonprofit

in Boards, Giving, Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment

I hear countless stories from small nonprofits who are frustrated with their boards.

Surprise, nonprofits! The boards get frustrated with you too.

I tend to see the biggest frustration with smaller nonprofits for several reasons:

  • They don’t have internal resources to manage a board effectively.
  • They are often run by individuals who are passionate and capable of running the organization, but have received no training in managing a board
  • They have little board turnover. This leads to stagnation, boredom and apathy.
  • They are not strategic in their board recruitment. As author Jim Collins would say, nonprofits “need to get the right people on the bus.”1 Many do not.

 

Unfortunately, this frustration can be detrimental to the organization over the long term. So, here are some suggestions to help nonprofits AND their board members develop a successful relationship.

Suggestions to nonprofits:

  1. Have an outline of board member expectations – and stick to them. Financial support, meeting attendance and volunteer expectations are key components of this outline. If they don’t agree, they shouldn’t be a board member.
  2. Communicate regularly and clearly. One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a board member. “Remember that you live your job every day. We don’t and we forget some of the things you tell us. So, if there is something important you want us to know and learn, keep telling us,” she said. Ergo, regular communication is critical.
  3. Delegate. Your board is there to support you. If you outlined expectations, you should be able to delegate tasks. So, don’t just talk at board meetings. Create action items.
  4. Have a nominating committee. The job of this board-led committee is designed to recommend potential board members with specific skills who will help your organization move forward.
  5. Set term limits. It doesn’t matter how well you implement suggestions 1-4. There will always be board members who aren’t effective. Term limits help you rotate “underperformers” off the board.

 

Suggestions to board members:

  1. Make a gift! Period, done, end of story. If you are a board member of a nonprofit, you must write an annual check to the organization. Make it meaningful. • Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. Your question may help the organization run more effectively.
  2. Offer your personal or business expertise. Do you know how to write business plans? Are you an accountant? Do you understand marketing or social media? These skills can greatly benefit a nonprofit.
  3. Don’t just offer suggestions, offer solutions. Smaller nonprofits are often operating at capacity. Provide ideas that will help solve problems without overtaxing the organization. You may have a good idea, but it may be impractical to implement. (i.e. an additional fundraiser may solve the financial issues, but be totally impossible to implement due to limited staff time.)
  4. Be present. Attend meetings, be an active participant and advocate for the charity anywhere you can. Being on a board should not be about status. It is about doing things for the greater good and helping forward the mission of the organization.

 

Like any relationship, a successful nonprofit/board partnership must be a two-way street. There must be open communication, clear expectations and a shared vision. When this occurs, nonprofits thrive, boards become engaged and the community as a whole benefits.

For additional resources on board development for nonprofits and board members we suggest the following resources:
• Board Source: http://www.boardsource.org/
• The National Council of Nonprofits: Article on Board Development: http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/resources/resources-topic/boards-governance/board-development
• The Nonprofit Expert: Article on Board Development http://www.nonprofitexpert.com/board_development.htm

1 Jim Collins “Good to Great” multiple references

Finding passion as a volunteer

in Volunteerism by Amy Wong Leave a comment

I worked directly in the nonprofit sector for 17 years before starting Dot Org Solutions so I know how important volunteers are to successful nonprofits. When I managed and worked with them, I appreciated their time and energy. I valued their help. But I never fully understood how they could be so passionate about their roles. Why did they continue to commit so much time and energy? What made the organization so special that they would donate hundreds or thousands of hours of time each year?

I had spent a great deal of time volunteering myself. But I never seemed to find the passion they did. I started wondering if I was insensitive, too busy to really care or just really not interested. Nothing ever really seemed to give me that spark.

That was until the summer of 2010. I had just completed my first year in business and I came upon an article in the paper looking for volunteers to help at this new event called Cleveland GiveCamp. It was an event to bring together the tech community with nonprofits in need. I thought, hey, I have nonprofit experience and I am sure my writing background may be helpful. So, I signed up and made the 30 mile trek to Cleveland on the first day. I thought I would help for a few hours, but my time there extended way into that night and I turned around and came back on Saturday.

That was three GiveCamps ago. I found that spark and passion I was looking for as a volunteer. I am now a planning committee member and am proud of how the event has grown since year one. We just wrapped up our Third Annual Cleveland GiveCamp on July 22 and have generated more than $1,375,000 in free help since our first event. I work with amazingly dedicated, talented and creative people. I feel challenged personally and professionally. And the event itself is just very cool to be around!

The thing I learned first and foremost is that volunteerism is very personal. Everyone has a different reason for volunteering. Everyone has a different passion. I found mine. I encourage you to find yours.