Homeless youth

Homeless youth
People we don't see.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Corporate giving

As a non-profit that receives a lot of support from local businesses and national companies I have always been grateful for business people who truly care about supporting our mission in serving youth experiencing homelessness. There are a lot of non-profits out there doing amazing work, and when a company chooses us as the recipient of a financial donation, I celebrate them.

As every individual has their own, personal reason for giving, so too do corporations. Some give because it is their community, some give because someone on their staff is on the board, some give because they are having a public relations problem and some give because they have a desire to make positive change. I could add dozens of reasons to this list.

My approach to asking for support from the business community is one of pure relationship. I don't like simply asking for a donation. As I do with individual donors, I want to be in a life-long relationship with the business. That of course looks different for each business.

Aside from an annual donation, what can the relationship look like? For me it starts with a tour of our space and introducing them to our mission. It continues with letting them know the variety of ways they can support us aside from a financial donation.

Then the fun really begins. How can we, as the non-profit, benefit them?

This is a question only the business can answer. I like to get creative. Would their presence at our annual dinner benefit them? Would having our staff speak to their employees be something of interest to them? What about social media? Remember that every business is different and their partnership with you is going to be different than the next business supporter based on why they are supporting you and what they want from a partnership.

For me it's important to be clear and for me to understand exactly what the business would like from us. I recently had a conversation with a potential corporate supporter who has been using the term "strategic partnership" for some time. I still, after many conversations, do not have a clear picture of what that is.

It's also important to know when there is just not a fit. Every business is not going to want to partner with you, regardless of how amazing your mission is. That's OK. Remember that just because there might not be a fit now doesn't mean that there can't be a fit in the future. And remember that a partnership is not only about a donation. We have dozens of businesses that have employees who volunteer with us all of the time. We couldn't be as successful with our mission without these folks. Each one of them is equally important as a financial donation.

I work for this agency because I firmly believe that we completely rock in our mission to serve youth experiencing homelessness. I take that belief and make sure that comes across in every dialogue I have with a potential supporter. That can help. After all, who wants to give to someone who doesn't come across as 100% enthusiastically supportive of the mission they are representing. When I am meeting with potential corporate donors I must remember that I am the voice for those who have had their voice taken away from them.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 13, 2014

I don't like meetings. Unless...

If you know me personally, you know that I do not care for meetings.

This reaction to meetings hasn't always thrilled my bosses.

I have worked some places where I spent way too much time in meetings.

What I have realized in the past several years is that I sincerely do not have a problem with meetings, as long as the meeting is productive and a good use of my (and my teams) time.

These are the things I think are crucial to a meeting:

First and foremost, an agenda. I want to know what we'll be talking about so I know in advance what might be expected of me and what I need to be thinking of before the meeting. Walking into a meeting without an agenda definitely takes the meeting down a few notches in regards to how strongly I can participate.

Please start the meeting on time. If the meeting is a weekly or monthly meeting and there are folks who consistently arrive late, please address them (privately of course) and let them know how important it is that we begin on time as a group.

Please don't have a meeting just because you always have a meeting on that day at that time. If you as the person charged with the meeting believe that all is well that week or month and that meeting isn't necessary, make the leadership decision and cancel the meeting. Brilliant!

Please make your meeting a safe place for expression. If the meeting is about asking those attending for an opinion, pleas ensure that the meeting is a safe place to express such an opinion. I have been fortunate in my career that this has always been the case and it certainly adds to the honest productivity of a meeting.

If you have a meeting over the lunch hour, please serve lunch.

If you are planning to go over something that those attending needed to read, please make sure you have given them ample time for the reading. I personally would like one week. There is nothing worse (except not having an agenda) than being in a meeting where more than half of the attendees have not read what you are discussing, especially when you took the time to read it. It's important to give folks ample time.

Please keep the meeting on topic. Believe me, I know how difficult that can be. I love the words "let's discuss that outside of this meeting"! That's a great way to honor the point but continue with a focused discussion. I also think it's fine to create another meeting from the current meeting so folks present can talk further about something that has come up.

Please honor people's time. So important. And in my view just plain courtesy. People plan their days around meetings and in many cases go from your meeting right to something else of equal importance.

Thinking of all of this can make your meeting more productive, and create an environment where staff actually want to attend!

I would love your thoughts of what makes a meeting better.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Special Event is not dead

To be clear, I mean the big Gala or dinner. I mean the event where your guests get all gussied up to spend an evening supporting your organization.

I have heard everything there has been said as to why to not have an event like this:

Too much time.

Too many staff.

Not really worth it.

Time, energy and money can be better spent elsewhere.

Exhausts volunteers.

All of these can be true. But I believe that they don't have to be true. I believe that the Gala or dinner is not dead. I believe that you can plan a hugely successful event and wake up the next morning feeling really good about it.

Here are some things we do to create an event that rocks it without destroying us, our volunteers or our budget!

Create an event that is as far away from your typical fundraising dinner as possible. Make it fun. Honor someone. Invite someone special to speak.

Get board buy-in. Get them excited about supporting and selling the event. Their support is crucial.

Invite staff to not only be there, but to help with the event. Donors LOVE to engage with staff who are doing the work of the non-profit. Hanging out with staff makes a big difference for donors. Our staff wants to help, and their help doesn't just mean more engaged dnonrs but it also can mean that you spend less money on services that staff can help with.

There are dozens of wonderful companies in your community that want your business. They want to run your auctions, run your check-in, charge your credit cards and decorate your room. This year we are trying something different and inviting staff to run our check-in and check-out as well as being there to support our auctioneer during the paddle raise. I have seen it done successfully before and I really want to try it.

Table sales/sponsorships will make or break the event. If you rock it in sales you have a really good chance of having a successful event. This is an all-hands effort: board, staff, donors, local community supporters, past board members, etc. As someone who very much values relationship, be sure to bring value to sponsorships, real value. Being acknowledged in the program is not really value. Get creative.

Take care of yourself! Self-care is uber important when planning an event.

Location. Location. Location. Plan your event at a hotel or conference space that honors your business and the fact that you are a non-profit. I like choosing a place with a catering sales person who I like to work with and who gets what we want to do.

Continue honoring your donors and supporters. This is big for me all year and I make sure we keep our eyes on this prize when planning our annual dinner. Quick thank yous, immediate invoices when asked for and ensuring all benefits have been taken care of.

A special event such as an annual Gala or dinner can be quite the benefit for your non-profit and your mission and it doesn't have to be a nightmare!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

An amazing non-profit employee

For those of us who fundraise for a non-profit, working at an agency filled with amazing, committed staff makes our jobs so much easier.

I am one of the luckiest guys in fundraising as I get the opportunity to fundraise for an agency that is filled with employees that bring it every day and are incredibly committed to the cause of serving youth experiencing homelessness. Every day I am blown away by their work and by their effectiveness in changing lives, in supporting youth, and in simply just showing up to serve those who are in need.

One of our employees that consistently rocks it for the youth and for our mission, and one who on a daily basis blows my mind with how incredible he is in supporting the youth we serve, is Clayton.

Clayton works in our Drop-In Center and supervises the staff there. The Drop-In Center is open Monday- Friday and is a place where youth experiencing homelessness can come by for a hot breakfast, to do laundry, take a shower as well as receive any of the dozens of services that our staff is there for to provide them.

I have met amazing youth at the Drop-in Center and spend a lot of time there as it's just across the street from my office. Sitting in the office for even the shortest of times one gets an immediate feel for what the youth we serve go through every day as well as the challenges brought to staff every day.

I have watched Clayton for almost a year and his patience, kindness, directness, empathy and compassion shine through in every interaction he has had with a youth. A youth could be screaming at him and this wonderful man, a veteran of the Iraq war, will simply stand there and listen. And listen. He then calmly will give guidance and support to the youth, and in a very calm and quiet tone take a situation that would freak most of us out and end it with there being some kind of resolution within the youth.

Watching Clayton invigorates me and strengthens me. It makes me want to be a better person. He 100% makes me a stronger fundraiser as after watching him in action I come back to the office and share what I have seen or learned with donors.

Clayton is also a rock star in my eyes because of his team. Our employees who work in the Drop-In Center are rock stars, each as an individual and as a team. Every day they are they for the youth we serve, in so many ways. And every day they greet me with kindness and a smile, the same way they greet the youth.

I'm sure your organization has a Clayton, or several Claytons. Thank them. Let them know they rock. Let them know you as a fundraise are way grateful for all they do. Introduce them to donors. Your entire fundraising world will change for the better.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Don't be afraid to share your mission

I have been wanting to write a post about this for some time.

Then this morning I saw an encounter between one of the youth we serve and one of our staff.

We serve youth experiencing homelessness and youth on the verge of becoming homeless. 98% of the youth we serve have experienced some type of trauma. Many of them feel safer on the streets than they did at home.

In my short time here I have met some amazing youth.

And the work our staff does is not always pretty. I hear the "F" word often, and when a traumatized young person is trying to express what they need it does not look like a scene from the "Sound of Music".

Having given hundreds of tours here, I realize that what happens here does not always leave a good taste in someone's mouth. Our work is vital. Our staff change lives every day. I would even say that they save lives every day. They give hope to someone who has none. They give a voice to someone whose voice was stolen from them with brutal violence.

This is the reality of our mission.

And I try to talk about it with donors just as much as possible. I also spend a lot of time bringing donors here to see for themselves the amazing work our staff does.

As fundraisers it's vital that we tell stories. I believe that it is also vital that we tell a variety of stories. Not just the "Sound of Music" stories but the brutal, raw, reality-based stories that are so ingrained to our work.

Homelessness is not pretty. Nor is sexual trafficking, rape, drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, physical abuse and many other horrible things that happen to youth you are experiencing homelessness. These are important parts of our stories because they show the "why".

Success comes in many forms. The obvious ones would look like a youth entering our shelter, moving into their first apartment, celebrating a few weeks clean. The not so obvious ones look like a youth walking into our drop-in center for the first time, a youth looking at a staff member directly in the eyes, a youth breaking down.

Don't be afraid to share your mission, to share the stories of what really happens at your non-profit. You might be surprised in the affect it has on those who support you.

Thank you for reading.