Last week I had a stimulating conversation with a group about the economy. We talked about the Occupy Wall Street movement and what it stood for, the need for fiscal responsibility within this struggling economy, and the value of entrepreneurship and its necessary role in a global economic recovery. This was not a one way conversation as all parties involved were extremely informed and well equipped to discuss complex issues. This conversation was not on CNN or in the green room, it was not for a graduate program at a major university, nor was it for a group of prominent intellectuals. I was speaking to a group of homeless teenagers in Brooklyn.
Yes...homeless teens in Brooklyn who were all living in the shelter system in New York City. They were part of a program that does tremendous work in preparing an underserved population to integrate into society and avoid becoming a negative statistic.
This is not an isolated occurrence for me. As an activist who teaches financial literacy frequently to underserved populations, I have to partner with those nonprofits who can give me access to groups of captive audiences in this demographic. I can talk for hours telling you about the great work and strong testimonies of peoples' lives who have been changed through these organizations. The substance abuse battles that have been won, the transformation of lives of someone who was homeless and is now a tax paying citizen, or the formerly incarcerated people who had lost hope but now feel they have a new lease on life. However, amongst the diversity of positive testimonies there seems to always be a singular theme amongst the smaller grassroots nonprofits doing great work...NO MONEY!
I am sure most can share some stories about a local organization, or a few, doing great work but having problems with funding. There is another common thread I came across amongst these high impact but underfunded grassroots nonprofits...they are all very humble.
I love humble people. They are the salt of the earth and let their actions speak louder than their words. However, many people often mistake the trait of being humble with the lack of a need to have a marketing plan. Often times, these nonprofit organizations have no marketing plan at all because they feel it exerts a level of egoism which is contradictory to their core value system. Below are the types of statements about marketing I have heard from these saints doing such great work:
• "There is no need to market what we do because I will let my work speak for itself."
• "I don't need any recognition or praise for the work I do."
• "I don't want to exploit those people I serve."
All of these statements are very noble but are also very wrong and destructive to the core mission of the organization. What many leaders in these local, high impact, grassroots, but underfunded nonprofit organizations fail to have a strong grasp on is the importance of visibility as it relates to funding. Think about a wealthy and philanthropic individual. That person is rich because he/she works hard and probably has limited time. They want to help and give back but don't have the time to research those organizations that are doing great work. What is their answer? They give to organizations THEY KNOW ABOUT. They give to friends within their immediate network, their church, or to the Red Cross and/or United Way because they saw a television commercial highlighting an initiative that needs additional funding; these organizations get the nod when it comes to donations. If they were a fly on the wall in the workshops I have conducted in the urban communities I am sure they would reach into their pockets immediately to contribute to the cause. However, they are not a fly on the wall. They are rich and too busy to venture into the depths of these neighborhoods to find and to fund your mini movement.
It is time for these local nonprofits to understand that marketing is the most essential component of your nonprofit. How are you to raise funds if you don't market or highlight your programming / initiatives? Putting together a marketing plan does not mean you have a large ego or are any less humble...it just means you understand the importance of getting your message out to more people, which will generate more interest, which will lead to more dollars, which you can use to empower those people you serve. Self-glorification only applies if you are glorifying your work for the benefit of yourself. You are not doing this for yourself; you are increasing visibility to better serve your constituents.
So it is time for you to...
• Create a channel for your nonprofit on Youtube.com.
• Purchase a flip cam to record the workshops and programs you are doing so you can put up clips of these initiatives on your channel for the entire world to see.
• Make sure you get video testimonies every workshop of the participants so funding organizations can see and hear for themselves the impact you are having in the lives of people in the community.
• Start blogging about your experiences and regularly posting the written pieces on various sites.
• Allocate a significant piece of your budget to advertise to the public events/program/initiatives instead of relying solely upon word of mouth.
• Form partnerships with other nonprofits in your community to enhance your outreach.
• Create a few sweatshirts, t-shirts, polo shirts, and hats with your company name, logo, or a slogan on it so people will be intrigued to ask you about your organization and you can begin branding your image.
• Upgrade your website regularly with the work you are doing and make sure it is professionally done.
• Send out regular emails to your database using www.constantcontact.com to keep your network abreast of your efforts. Spend some time to make sure you are sending them something they will actually read and doesn't sound so "sales pitchy".
These tips and more are just a few suggestions that can lead to increased visibility which can lead to increased dollars. It hurts me to continue to see people struggling to raise funds especially when they are doing such great work. I don't want to see another leader of a nonprofit have to close his/her doors because they don't have the money to remain open.
To the public...it is time for you to step up to the plate and support those nonprofits you see doing the great work. I am sympathetic to those nonprofits who say they are so busy doing work they often forget to do the crucial job of marketing their efforts. If you see someone doing great work, do more than give them a praise...give them a dollar. Praise is great, but dollars keep the organization you were praising viable. Find a local organization in your community doing great work and pay them a visit. If you feel they are worthy, set up a regular donation schedule to support their efforts which are supporting your community. If you have time and really appreciate their mission, ask to join their board and offer your insight and assistance to help grow the organization.
The government is extended beyond its means and nonprofits are doing the work in areas the government can never reach. We need them to help feed our children, clothe the homeless, provide job training, educate the formerly incarcerated, fight against cancer, raise funds for STD awareness, and many services to those who lie beyond the scope and reach of President Obama and the federal government.
We need less talk and more action. Nonprofits are a crucial component of implementing the action necessary to empower our communities. Let's get to work!