Perspective Requires Evolution

Ideas are considered a deliverable in our industry. It can be hard to sell an idea, people might say, “But it didn’t cost you anything.” I suppose to a certain extent that’s true, but in reality, any idea is a result of our perspective, whether that is how we grew up, the education and training we’ve had, or simply a part of the unique way that we think. An idea cannot exist without being sparked. Most of the time it isn’t a problem, people will say, “I don’t know how you come up with this stuff,” and we go along on our merry way creating different impressions for the desired platforms based on the idea.

When we consult or participate in speaking engagements, the value we have is our ideas. Recently I had the opportunity to speak on a panel:

Nonprofit Symposium: Creating and Fostering Relationships Between Non Profits and the Business Community

It was hosted by the Adirondack Nonprofit Business Council, whose mission is:

To integrate nonprofit businesses and their leadership to further develop the region. The Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga County Region is a dynamic community in which nonprofit organizations, government, education and for-profit companies collaborate to improve our economy and quality of life. As an initiative of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, the ANBC provides a forum for peer to peer interaction, programs that strengthen the business capability of its member organizations, and promotes the impact of the nonprofit sector on the region.

They provided a list of questions, many of which had to do with what inspires or motivates for-profit businesses and their employees to give to nonprofit organizations. Most of what we do as an organization manifests in in-kind donations of services. I sent out a request for responses from our team. Their replies were largely related to the satisfaction of being able to use one’s craft to support an organization. A close second was the creative latitude that is often enjoyed on these types of projects. I shared both of these notes at the panel. “As a creative agency, Trampoline can’t dangle some of the conveniences of larger metropolitan areas, but we can create opportunities to have meaningful relationships that allow our team to feel part of a bigger movement.”

 

During a panel, hosted by the Adirondack Nonprofit Business Council at the Queensbury Hotel, Amanda Magee spoke to the importance of sustained efforts of outreach and promotion for non-profits to survive. Kathie Duncan, Regional President of the North Country Region for Adirondack Trust Company sits to her left, beyond Duncan is Frank Dittrich, General Manager of the Inn at Erlowest and Co-owner of the Courtyard by Marriott at Lake George. Michael Bittel, President and CEO of the ARCC moderated the event. Also on the panel were Elizabeth Miller of Miller Mechanical Services, DOTY Machine Works, and the Park Theater, and Ed Moore of Moore & Co.

I took things a step further and suggested that the individuals in charge of securing these kinds of alliances might consider a less structured approach to direction or, at least, an open mind to negotiating distinct arrangements based on the interests of the partner. The conversation began to shift to how some companies need to know what kind of bang for the buck they are getting. It was a very candid conversation and having been on both sides, I can appreciate all parties needing to understand what’s in it for them, there is no shame in that.

“I want to know my dollars are going to research.”

One gentleman talked about the concern of larger nonprofits not sending 100% of donations to the cause. Administrative costs, marketing, and CEO compensation all came up as undesirable elements of certain organizations. I grew up in a household with two non-profit executives, who earned a living in leadership positions—first at a United Way, then at a PBS affiliate, a theater, and a hospital foundation. We were not wealthy and, I would confidently say, they deserved their paychecks.

As I straddle the lines of business owner offering in-kind and monetary donations, family member volunteering with organizations, and an invested community contributor, I have a different perspective on the percentage of each donated dollar and where it goes. I will not base my philanthropic decisions on who has the least amount of overhead. Expenses exist, quality employees cost money, awareness demands investment.

I want a capable CEO.

I expect sound and consistent marketing efforts.

Investments in staff, technology, and infrastructure are essential.

I want the nonprofit organizations that I support, care about, and rely on to be solvent and flourishing for years to come. I do not believe it is realistic to expect that agencies bootstrap every piece of collateral and build events around borrowed space and begged auction items. We need to understand that nonprofits are businesses with expenses that build as they do the incredible work of caring for families, protecting the environment, and creating cures. The next donor will not come from silent effort, it will come from word of mouth and from the responses people have to the storytelling, marketing, and promotion the organization makes.

Communication has value and requires investment

It was valuable for me to hear from some of the people that are most frequently asked to support causes. It helps me understand how important it is that we, as a partner of so many nonprofits, communicate the relationship between investments and staff and marketing to potential donors. When we work with nonprofit companies we make sure to say that, whether they work with us or another agency, investments in design and marketing materials are an ongoing necessity . It is critical that these costs be included in annual budgets. There has to be consideration given to helping donors understand the value and significance of their gifts. It is also vital to acknowledge that each gift is made stronger by considering how the next gift will be secured.

We are proud to be supporters and advocates for the individuals who have dedicated their careers to keeping nonprofit organizations going. We all benefit from their efforts and we will continue to speak up about the realistic costs of doing the work.