EP 38 - Constanza Roeder - Featured

Episode 38: Adapting and Scaling In-Person Programs Online, with Constanza Roeder

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 38

Adapting and Scaling In-Person Programs Online, with Constanza Roeder

In this Episode:

When Covid shut down non-essential access to hospitals, it effectively shut down all of Hearts Need Art’s programming, as it did for so many other service-based nonprofits. Artists were no longer able to perform for patients, patients were no longer able to get much-needed emotional support, and they couldn’t deliver on their promise to donors.

This easily could have been the end of the line for the arts in health nonprofit that Constanza Roeder created just a few years prior, based on her first-hand experience of being a cancer patient and the support that got her through it.

Instead, the young non-technical, resource-strapped organization took on the challenge with their greatest asset: creativity. They developed new programs to meet the new constraints and, in the process, created a significantly more scalable system for delivering their programming that creates stronger connections between their work and their donors, provides a greater continuity of care for their clients, and allows them to reach exponentially more people in need… without over-taxing their resources.

Hearts Need Art founder Constanza Roeder joins the show to share her story and break down how any organization can do the same.

[00:00:06.050] – Intro
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding.

[00:00:22.890] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. Thank you for joining us. As the intro says, we are here to share advice from nonprofit leaders on how you can activate more heroes for your cause, primarily through technology, storytelling… but it really cuts across all topics.

[00:00:40.650] – Boris
And today we’ve got a slightly different topic than usual, which is, we’re profiling a specific nonprofit leader. Her name is Constanza Roeder and trying to work out what it is that she was able to do during the pivot that many of us had to take during the pandemic in order to not only retain her donor base and her volunteer base, but also to expand it and see how her organization was able to make some pivots and what have been the implications of those pivots.

[00:01:11.100] – Boris
Let me tell you a little bit about her. Constanza is the founder and CEO of Hearts Need Art: Creative Support for Patients and Caregivers and the host of a podcast of her own, which is Arts for the Health of It. Ms. Roeder was selected as one of the top 100 Healthcare Visionaries by the International Forum on Advancements in HealthCare for 2021. As a singer, adolescent leukemia survivor, speaker, and thought leader in the field of arts and health, Constanza is on a mission to humanize healthcare through the arts.

[00:01:40.680] – Boris
When I asked Constanza her superpower, she said it’s using technology and automation to help our donors serve clients so they feel more connected to the cause. Obviously, those are all things that I am very passionate about myself, so I was excited to have her on the show. Let’s bring her on.

[00:01:59.070] – Constanza Roeder

[00:01:59.440] – Boris
Hi, Constanza.

[00:02:00.990] – Constanza Roeder
Hey. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:02.380] – Boris
Thank you for joining me today. I’m really happy to have you. I’m excited to learn from you and what you guys have been doing at Hearts Need Art. First, I’ve read your impressive bio. Congratulations on the impressive achievements. And now I’d love to just hear a little bit. What’s your story? How did you get to this point?

[00:02:20.310] – Constanza Roeder
Sure, I will try to keep it short. So in my bio, you mentioned that I’m an adolescent leukemia survivor, which was really an inciting incident in my story. I’ve had several, but that was one of the big ones. I had 130 weeks of chemotherapy when I was going through that ordeal. So most of my high school experience, I was in and out of hospitals and experienced a lot of isolation and frustration and grief and all of the things that you might imagine anyone dealing with cancer might experience, but especially as a young person, there’s a lot of added, like just add being a teenager on top of that. Becomes very complicated.

[00:03:03.090] – Constanza Roeder
But I was really fortunate to still be classified as a pediatric cancer patient because I had access to pediatric services, which included the arts. The arts were really essential piece of how I was able to cope with not just my treatments, but really kind of rebuild my life after I finished that whole process. And I went on to study music and psychology in college. And I moved from my hometown in California to San Antonio, Texas, where I live now. And I started volunteering on an adult oncology unit.

[00:03:42.030] – Constanza Roeder
And I’ve never been in an adult hospital before. So I was in the unit, I was like, “Whoa, this is really different from what I’m used to.” Where are the activities and where is the arts? And where are all the visitors who want to come and make the patients feel better? And there was like none of that. And so many of the patients I worked with were much older than I was when I finished treatment. It’s not like we magically become a completely different species when we turn 18. We still need connection and love and beauty and expression. These are all things that we need throughout our lifetime.

[00:04:17.260] – Constanza Roeder
And so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I just started going room to room and singing for patients. I would bring music to the bedside, and that grew into starting my nonprofit in 2016, where we could bring in other musicians and visual artists and writers to come and bring… to help really… to help keep people from languishing. I guess I’ll use that word because there’s this languishing that can happen when people are left isolated and in their anxiety and depression just because they’re in this healthcare environment, which is kind of an artificial environment we’ve created.

[00:05:01.350] – Constanza Roeder
And so we use the arts to like I said in my bio, to humanize that healthcare experience, to restore some of that. So we’re about to hit our five year mark and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. We have an amazing team and they do awesome work.

[00:05:16.270] – Boris
That sounds great. And I can picture everything that you’re talking about. I’m fortunate that I did not go through quite similar experiences as yours. And I commend you on how you came through it and were able to turn it into a lifelong passion. When we talk about storytelling and you the term inciting incident. And I was actually really interested to hear that you say you’ve had several. I think we all do. And it’s part of how we choose to tell our story, which ones we tend to focus on, which ones we take action on and allow it to lead us down the path of the life that we want to live.

[00:05:52.090] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah, totally.

[00:05:53.420] – Boris
So kudos to you for acting upon it. And now turning it into something…

[00:05:58.490] – Constanza Roeder
I responded to the call.

[00:06:00.790] – Boris
You did. You took up the call to action. I talk about those all the time. And oftentimes it’s not the first call to action someone responds to. It might be the second or third or sometimes fifth. In marketing, they say you have to have at least seven touch points. So you had a long end and harrowing, it sounds, unfortunate experience. But you let that become the call to action and motivation as often we do. We turn our greatest weaknesses and suffering into our greatest strengths and prosperity.

[00:06:34.160] – Boris
So personally, I commend you for doing all that and creating an important organization, I think, because I love arts as most people who have ever listened to the show know. I’m a recovering actor and filmmaker. I did a lot of theater and there’s nothing like that artistic collaboration, that artistic communication. And I say collaboration, I don’t mean between two different artists, I mean between an artist and an audience. To transport them, to get them into a different time and place, which honestly, if you’re suffering from cancer and going through treatment, wow. How valuable…

[00:07:12.320] – Constanza Roeder
You get it!

[00:07:13.630] – Boris
Absolutely. I can easily understand how your work has been impactful and important. And then we had a little something happen around two years ago now, a little less than two years ago in the healthcare space that I would imagine made your work a little bit difficult.

[00:07:34.200] – Constanza Roeder
What? No. That? No. Yes, it did. Yeah, the pandemic— So, all of our programming is in person or was in person. Clue there. And then March of 2020, all of our programs were suspended in the hospital. And so we had to figure out, “Okay, what are we going to do?” Because our patient population, our stakeholders are even more isolated. They’re experiencing even more of the reasons that we’re there in the first place, because now they can’t have any family visitors and they couldn’t leave their rooms like so bad, so bad. Like we have to find a way and we have to find a way to support during this time.

[00:08:21.510] – Constanza Roeder
And so we spent two weeks and we completely overhauled our whole program and put it online so that people could access that. We started live streaming a lot of content, which is a really cool way, because really cool thing is a lot of our donors follow our social media and a lot of our clients follow social media. So we did these live interactive art sessions on social media and they could interact with each other, which is really kind of a special thing that we can’t usually bring a lot of donors into the hospital to kind of see our work. So they got to kind of interact with each other on this virtual platform. And we’ve kept some of those elements that we built in our programming because we found it’s helped us provide a better continuum of care for our patients now as well. So that’s it. Yeah. Interesting time.

[00:09:13.170] – Boris
No doubt, stressful two weeks there that you guys spent overhauling everything. But I hear the outcomes were pretty good. So can you tell us what did you guys come up with and how did it change what you’re doing?

[00:09:26.850] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. So it was kind of on all fronts. Right? So there’s the programming front, but also the fundraising front, which, of course, is common to all nonprofits. So on the programming front, we put together a platform where our clients could schedule sessions directly with their favorite artist or musician or writer, someone on our team, and then they would meet through Zoom. We also did, like I said, the live streaming, we did some group sessions as well. We also kind of put the word out in some of the communication channels that we were connected with in the healthcare community on the national level.

[00:10:08.150] – Constanza Roeder
And so we were able to support groups from around the country. And we still are actually because there’s a lot of groups that have had to shift completely online. We serve a lot of high-risk people that face isolation because they’re immunocompromised. So they’re living pandemic times all the time. So a lot of the social workers we partnered with were having trouble keeping people engaged virtually… the Zoom fatigue is a real thing. So they’ve been bringing us in as like little special fun event things to help keep people engaged so they’re continuing to connect with each other and not just retreating into isolation. Because, yes, virtual is not ideal, but when it’s the only way we can connect, we’ve got to find fun ways—ways to make it fun so people continue to engage. So that’s kind of on the program side of things.

[00:11:05.490] – Constanza Roeder
And then we also built a new program that specifically is supporting healthcare workers. And it’s called… we call it our Gratitude Grams program because the burnout rates are just ridiculous right now. And there’s kind of this mass exodus from the healthcare field because people are tired and they’re burned out. But the data also shows that there’s a 40% decrease in the incidence of burnout when healthcare providers feel valued and when they feel appreciated.

[00:11:40.310] – Constanza Roeder
So we built this program around showing gratitude through the arts. So we put up a platform where people could submit letters of thanks in gratitude to healthcare workers, and they just fill out a simple form on our website. And then we combine those messages with a video from one of our artist, musicians or writers that has an uplifting song or a poem or a prompt or some sort of simple art activity people could do, like on a pad of paper, to shift—take a moment to shift their mindset and help them feel seen and really feel that someone else is holding them in their heart and is really thinking of them and has put some energy into making them feel appreciated.

[00:12:27.550] – Constanza Roeder
And that’s been a really cool program. We have healthcare providers from 30 different healthcare institutions around the country that are enrolled in that program. And we’ve received letters from people all around the country expressing thanks to healthcare workers.

[00:12:41.450] – Constanza Roeder
And that’s been a really cool intersection of the fundraising—like engaging supporters directly in a program that we didn’t really have a mechanism for before. And now it’s been this really beautiful partnership. And people in our community really do genuinely feel grateful for healthcare workers. And now they have kind of an outlet to express that gratitude, even really on a regular basis.

[00:13:12.690] – Constanza Roeder
And we’ve had groups reach out to us and wanting to do something to help. And it’s been a really easy thing that we’ve been able to say, hey, you guys can do this X, Y or Z, and it has this impact, and then they can run with it. It doesn’t require any extra time on our staff, which I know in nonprofit, like when people offer to help, it takes time. There’s an internal cost of that of like, okay, now we have to figure out what they can do and we have to help them do the thing and all that. So this was a repeatable system that helped people feel engaged and supported our clients.

[00:13:51.510] – Boris
There are so many things that I love about that. One, the first, is that you found a way within your mission to create a new program that was entirely… well at this end of it, anyway, entirely digital. That doesn’t require a lot of ongoing cost, a lot of ongoing resources like people power, man hours, woman hours, people hours, and that at the same time, helps achieve your mission by connecting people to the healthcare providers by creating a better atmosphere for everyone involved in that system.

[00:14:30.080] – Constanza Roeder

[00:14:33.310] – Boris
What did it take for you to get that program up? If I’m a nonprofit or a nonprofit program leader and I’m thinking about doing something like this, it may sound resource intensive just to get that going. Can you talk a little bit about what it took for you guys to get that going? What some of the tools that you’re using to make it happen?

[00:14:57.240] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. It’s very simple. It just takes a little bit on the front end to kind of think through what outputs you need, what data does our team need access to in order to make this happen? But we’re using a Google Sheet, and we’re using a mail merge, and that’s it. We also use a Google form that’s connected to the spreadsheet. That’s where kind of the automation comes in. There’s a lot of ways to integrate, especially Google products, which is great, and they’re really accessible. And Zapier has been really useful. We haven’t used Zapier…No, we do use Zapier to send automatic emails when people sign up for the program. So that automates that whole “welcome to the program” part of the program. We built it and then it runs. And as a name shows up and our program coordinator assigns them to an artist, and then they go from there. And the great thing about the format… each person gets assigned a particular artist, but we can scale up as much as we want with very minimal additional costs. So it was a very scalable initiative, which was great.

[00:16:23.960] – Boris
Yeah. I love how simple that is. I mean, I use all of those things all the time. When someone signs up to be on The Nonprofit Hero Factory, for example, they fill out a form, it then get Zapped to an email, to a spreadsheet, all those things. And they’re fairly simple, like plug and play things to set up Zap being Zapier or Zapier implementation. And then what happens once that note is delivered? Do you collect any sort of a feedback? Is that the end of the journey when the note is delivered? Or is that the beginning of the next step? How does it work with you guys?

[00:16:59.260] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. So when a healthcare provider enrolls in the program, they’re enrolled until they say they don’t want to receive messages anymore. So they get regular messages from us, mostly weekly, sometimes every other week. So they get—it’s ongoing. And then we have a survey because, of course, data is really important. Right? We have a survey after they watch their video, they watch their Gratitude Gram. We have a quick survey they can fill out just giving a little bit of feedback how it impacted them in certain areas.

[00:17:33.950] – Constanza Roeder
We’re specifically looking for how it impacted some of the symptoms of burnout, since that’s the real issue right now, and it’s really cool. The data shows that it does. And we’ve actually recently won an award for this program from the National Organization for Arts in Health, a national award in the category of caregiver resilience for the specific purpose. And so they’re reporting that they feel more hopeful, that they feel appreciated, that they feel more energized, that they just appreciate…

[00:18:06.860] – Constanza Roeder
And then we get qualitative data as well, stories about why they signed up, which are so like, Boris, they’re so heartbreaking. Some of them are like, I signed up because I’m looking for a reason to stay in this job. Like I need to remember why I’m doing this or I’ve been in this pandemic for two years and I just want to give up and I need something to lift my spirits. Like just the most heartbreaking stories and we’re not getting all the way to… getting them all the way there. But if we can at least move the needle a little bit and help them feel that their sacrifice that they make every day is seen and it’s important and we value them. That’s the one.

[00:18:55.310] – Boris
Absolutely. It’s that human connectivity, especially at a time when human connectivity is so difficult. And for healthcare workers specifically, the overwhelm that a lot of them have gone through in the past year and a half, two years now is exhausting, so human touch.

[00:19:18.420] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. And we felt it was really important to have some sort of interactive element as well, because, like, okay, I’m on a mailing list where I get an email, that feels kind of impersonal. So regularly we ask, like, “Hey, if you have any requests like special song requests or types of activities you might want to do, let us know.” And then we make them and give them a call out and all these things. So we do try to have touch points.

[00:19:48.160] – Constanza Roeder
The first iteration of the program, which my team like, they nixed—we were creating personalized videos for each person. We would say their name. We would do the song, we would do this whole thing and it was so beautiful. But then we had too many people enrolling, and we’re like, we can’t scale this. So we had to kind of go back to the drawing board. Like how can we keep some of the touch points but also make it scalable? So that’s what we came to.

[00:20:14.820] – Boris
Until you guys get access to the AI and deep-fake technology where you could just mail merge somebody name into a video and you get them to actually say it. It’s already available. I’m not saying you need to jump on it. But it’s doable now.

[00:20:29.130] – Constanza Roeder
Next iteration of the program.

[00:20:31.600] – Boris
Absolutely. And I want to talk about how you guys iterated and how you were able to come up with this stuff. But before we even get there, you talk about the impact that it’s had on the healthcare workers, which, of course, is key to your mission. Have you seen any impact on your donors and your donor base as a whole as well?

[00:20:48.630] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. It’s a really good question. When we were in 2020 going into 2021, we kind of had to rack our brains of, like how do we communicate to our donors that we’re still making an impact, but also we can’t do the work that, like the original work that we said that we were doing? We had to communicate all this new stuff. And so getting people involved in the process of actually engaging with the program, they got to see on the inside, like what the program was. And they got a touch point of actually engaging with it.

[00:21:33.270] – Constanza Roeder
And we expected a lot of… a much higher loss last year from donor support. And we… we may, let’s see… Last year, we were on par, if not a little bit more from individual donors last year. And I think that’s like a huge one because we didn’t have any in-person programs. We couldn’t have any in-person fundraising events. And that meant we were able to keep all of our staff employed, that we were able to keep all of our artists employed at a time when musicians, artists, all of those people that rely on the gig economy had no… we were their only paycheck for months and months at a time until things started opening up.

[00:22:22.920] – Constanza Roeder
And so at a time when our organizations around the country were having to lay people off, we were able to keep everyone employed. And that was our goal. As soon as we were shut down and everything was not looking good, we’re like, “We’re going to do whatever we need to do to find work for you all to do to keep everyone employed.” So that’s a huge win in my book.

[00:22:44.450] – Boris
Congratulations. That is a huge win. And the fact that you were able to keep everybody connected didn’t have a large drop off rate. Which, look, donor retention, regardless of your efforts, is never 100%. But if you could keep on that even scale when everything’s in turmoil or maybe even grow it, then that’s an incredible win. And hopefully it’ll only put you in a place where you could grow a lot more.

[00:23:11.300] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. And we’ve seen, like the digital stuff that we’ve created and the digital platform that we’ve created has created a lot of momentum for us going into 2021, creating our podcast, all like the virtual offerings that we have now. It makes the work that we’re doing more visible, which is imperative for getting people to be like, “Oh, wow. This is cool. I want to support this.” So we’ve seen even more growth this year than… we kind of held steady last year, and we’ve seen a lot of growth and especially those individual donors this year.

[00:23:50.100] – Boris
I think that’s common where when you make a pivot, you first kind of plateau or even dip down a little bit before you can hit that hockey curve that everybody likes to aim for. Once the pandemic is over, which, let’s say in a couple of months, we’re going to be fairly back to normal. Let’s hope.

[00:24:11.910] – Constanza Roeder
Yes. Please.

[00:24:14.130] – Boris
I’m assuming you guys are going to start… if you haven’t already. Actually, maybe I should ask you that first. Have you restarted in-person programming with artists?

[00:24:23.630] – Constanza Roeder
Yes. We were out of the hospitals from March 2020 through April 2021. We were able to go back into the hospitals. And whereas before we were only serving one oncology floor in one hospital, which is still a lot, it was still like 60 beds that we were serving on a daily basis. But because we kept shifting to meet the needs that we were seeing in our healthcare space, the hospitals really took notice. And by the end of the year, we’re going to be in eight facilities. So we went from like one floor before the pandemic to now being in eight different hospitals, serving healthcare workers, playing concerts for them at the nurses stations and serving high-needs patients and stuff like that. So hold on. I got off on a tangent. What was the original question?

[00:25:23.860] – Boris
No, it’s a good tangent.

[00:25:27.020] – Constanza Roeder
Oh, we’re back in person.

[00:25:27.960] – Boris
Yeah. You’re back in person. Are you still continuing the digital programming as well?

[00:25:30.430] – Constanza Roeder
Okay. Yes. So the pieces that we’re keeping are those that are helping us provide that continuum of care. Like I mentioned earlier. So before, especially when we were working with oncology patients, they often have several admissions that they have throughout their course of treatment. So they might be in for a month, and then they’re home for a couple of weeks, and they’re in for another month and home for a couple of weeks. And during those times when they were home, they didn’t have access to the arts because they can’t go to an art class or go to a concert.

[00:26:04.530] – Constanza Roeder
And for a lot of the adults that we’re working with, they’re engaging with us in the arts for the first time. The last time they may have picked up a paintbrush was elementary school. And we kind of reawakened this expressive, creative spirit in them, and they want to keep doing it. And even before the pandemic we’re like, “How do we connect these dots?” Because we want to help them continue to create when they go home.

[00:26:32.860] – Constanza Roeder
So now, they can meet our artist Hannah in the hospital and build a great rapport with her and then schedule Zoom sessions to continue to work with her while they’re at home. And then pick right back up with Hannah when they come back into the hospital with us. So it’s allowing us to provide not just a continuum of care, but a level of accessibility to arts and health that we didn’t have before.

[00:27:00.630] – Boris
That’s wonderful. And this trend, this movement to digital—pandemic or not—it’s inevitable. It will only grow. I don’t think it’ll ever replace live theater. Hopefully not live performance.

[00:27:12.810] – Constanza Roeder
Please, no.

[00:27:14.970] – Boris
But it is a way for you guys specifically, but for all organizations to reach more people to be able to have an impact that’s more scalable than the one-to-one that you are offering or the in person real time, if you will, synchronous time that most organizations have relied on especially in the arts, but in all kinds of services.

[00:27:40.050] – Constanza Roeder
And one of the great things because we do surveys with our patients as well, and we were using kind of the same survey. We adjusted a little bit for the specific—some specific questions about the tech side of things that were… anyway, that wouldn’t be applicable in the hospital, but all of the measures held pretty strongly. So still, they were rating really highly that the activity helped reduce their pain levels, that their anxiety went down, that their depressive symptoms went down. The only one that was significantly different was isolation, that it was still beneficial, but not as beneficial. The numbers weren’t as good as when we were in the hospital. We expected that, but it was great to be able to see that it still was having good impact even though it was digital.

[00:28:30.420] – Boris
And that totally makes sense. We don’t want technology to replace humanity. We wanted to amplify it. We want it to be able to reach more people. And it sounds like the way that you’ve got things set up, it’s scalable. And as you were talking, I was thinking, I hope that you keep improving on the scalability factor, on the systemization and technology of it, because eight facilities is great. But what if another organization wants to or another group wants to start this up in California where you’re from, or on the East Coast or in the middle of the country somewhere in Chicago or someplace else? Can you start now basically almost franchising this model so that more organizations can start up doing it or your organization can grow out and reach just a whole lot more people that really need the service?

[00:29:18.090] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. And that’s a question we ask ourselves all the time. We’re in this real emerging field. Well, it’s kind of beyond emerging. It’s really popping up all over Arts in Health. And the National Organization for Arts in Health has done a great job of helping to get organizations like ours together so we can see different program models and collaborate. And there are organizations around the country that are doing similar work. But there’s such a huge need.

[00:29:47.970] – Constanza Roeder
We’re always asking ourselves that question: what is our role here with the people in front of us? And then what is our role in the larger mission of arts in health? This should be standard of care. The arts have always been a part of our healing practices and rituals throughout human history. It’s what we instinctively go to when we’re feeling dysregulated and it’s because it is the ultimate regulator. We express those hard emotions. We stay grounded in our bodies while we’re doing that, when we’re moving, when we’re speaking all these things that we do in the arts, these actions that we do in the arts are the trauma research that’s happening around the power of arts engagement is really pretty amazing. And it’s kind of like, duh, like duh, this is why we have the arts, right?

[00:30:43.350] – Constanza Roeder
Anyway, like I said, we’re always asking ourselves, what kind of role can we play? And so that’s where we went into. Okay, we want to elevate these stories. We wanted to start our podcast. I’m interested in learning more about this field of arts and health and how different people apply the arts to tackle different problems in the world.

[00:31:07.390] – Constanza Roeder
You might be interested in our podcast. It’s called Arts for the Health of It. We talk to people all over the world that are doing just the most amazing work with all kinds of different populations. So that’s one way that we saw that we could elevate the work that’s happening throughout the field. But, yes, that’s kind of our next thought is, okay, how do we continue to activate and equip people to do this work, too?

[00:31:33.510] – Boris
Very cool. I’m looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with. I wanted to ask you, though, a lot of organizations are facing similar issues, have been facing them for a couple of years, have found their own solutions. Yours, we could certainly say, considering everything that you’ve told us about it has been successful. To what do you attribute your success, your ability to come up with programs like this and implement things like this? What might other organizations look at and try to mimic in your processes or in your infrastructure so that they can do more of this as well.

[00:32:06.680] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah, that’s a good question. So there’s been a lot of emphasis over the past several decades on STEM and technical skills, but because technology is so accessible now and is also changing so quickly, creativity is a much more important skill in the emerging economy. So none of the people on our team, we’re all millennials Gen Zers. So we’re a fairly young group which hugely work to our benefit, but we’re also creative and so we could learn different pieces of technology and come up with creative applications for that technology.

[00:32:49.450] – Constanza Roeder
So you don’t necessarily need special skills, but you need people who can think creatively and problem solve creatively with the tools that are accessible and you can do it for much lower cost than you might think. There are so many resources out there for free techs for nonprofits, for discounted tech for nonprofits that are really easy to use. Whenever there’s like a new tech thing that I want, like a new software I want to use, I always email them and say, “Hey, we’re a nonprofit, we do blah, blah, blah.” And not once have I gotten someone that’s like, “No, we don’t have a nonprofit discount or no.” They’ve always been like, “Oh, yeah, we can do something special for you.”

[00:33:28.990] – Constanza Roeder
So that’s what I’d say is get creative. If you don’t have young people on your team, we got to lean into our young people right now. Find some interns back in because they have a good pulse on where things are going and we need to pay attention to that.

[00:33:49.870] – Boris
Absolutely. Are there any tools that you recommend to organizations that you guys like that have been working for you at this time? I always like to ask for tools or resources.

[00:34:01.060] – Constanza Roeder
Sure. I’ll give a shout out to Qgiv, which is our donation platform. We’ve had it the whole time we’ve been an organization and they’re amazing. They’re constantly taking feedback from their clients and adjusting to their offerings to support changes in the economy, in the pandemic. One of the great things that they started doing is their peer to peer campaigns now connects with Facebook fundraisers. So we had Readathon at the beginning of this year. It was an all online peer to peer campaign. Seven days. People could create stuff and post it with the hashtag and raise money for our cause.

[00:34:46.920] – Constanza Roeder
And we made more than we expected to make, which is great. But that connection between the Qgiv platform and Facebook fundraisers was really helpful, but on top of that, they provide great and really relevant training around their tools and ways. They had all kinds of support to help their clients shift from in-person fundraisers to virtual fundraisers. And they’ve just been really great partners along the journey.

[00:35:19.100] – Boris
Wonderful. There are a lot of great giving platforms out there. Glad to hear that Qgiv is doing such great work. I’m actually going to be working with them a little bit next year. So I’m excited that people are supporting or appreciating the work that they’re putting out there.

[00:35:32.771] – Constanza Roeder

[00:35:33.230] – Boris
So I really appreciate your times and I want to be respectful of yours and our audience, but I don’t want to let you go before I ask you, what’s your call to action for anyone who’s been listening to this episode or watching us or even reading it online? Now that we’re primed and ready to dig further, what’s your call to action to learn more about you and the work that you guys are doing?

[00:35:57.230] – Constanza Roeder
Yeah. Go to our website, heartsneedart.org. There’s not a person listening to this that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic, that hasn’t been helped by people in healthcare. And if you want to get involved in helping us show appreciation for people in healthcare, you can go to our website and click on the Gratitude Grams tab, and you can write a note to healthcare providers, and that will go out in this week’s group of emails that we send to them and messages that we give to them when we’re in the hospital.

[00:36:26.750] – Constanza Roeder
And then, like I said earlier, you can follow us on our podcast Arts for the Health of It to learn more about this type of work and how you can use the arts to tackle important problems in the world. And you might be surprised. There might be people that you relate to that are doing work with the population you’re working with and maybe are using the arts in a way you haven’t thought of. So I’d encourage you to check out the resource too.

[00:36:51.860] – Boris
Wonderful. We’re going to of course link to those, to Qgiv, to your podcast and to the Gratitude Grams. I do recommend that anybody listening. If you’re not sure how this works or how easy or difficult it is to set up, go check out their page. They did a great job of laying it out, of telling a story, and then making it super easy for someone to jump in and get involved. So do it. Send a message to a healthcare worker that will only be a good thing, and at the same time steal from their playbook, see how they’re doing it so that you can also incorporate some sort of process similar to this, a new program or an adaptation to your current program that will help you reach more people regardless of pandemics or no pandemics by using technology to leverage and amplify your work.

[00:37:36.170] – Constanza Roeder
The best artists riff off of other artists. So you have my permission.

[00:37:40.610] – Boris
Yeah. Is it Picasso or somebody said that good artists borrow great artists steal or something like that?

[00:37:48.690] – Constanza Roeder
Yes, I think that is the Picasso quote.

[00:37:51.890] – Boris
I apologize if I misquoted Picasso. No disrespect to him and all of his admirers myself being one of them. Anyway, Constanza, thank you so much for joining us today and telling us all about this program and what you guys have been up to over at Hearts Need Art.

[00:38:07.430] – Constanza Roeder
Thank you for having me. This was great.

[00:38:09.710] – Boris
And thank you everybody for joining us and listening in today or watching. However you subscribe or consume this content, I hope you’re enjoying it. I hope you’re learning, getting lessons from people like Constanza that you can implement in your own organization to create more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us.

[00:38:27.010] – Boris
And if you do like this show, please, please, give us a rating. Leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform so that more nonprofit professionals like yourself can discover it and get advice to improve their own programming as well. Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you next week.

[00:38:44.630] – Outro
Thank you all for watching and listening to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Constanza’s story began with her own health struggles as an adolescent leukemia patient. But it wasn’t until she volunteered in a hospital as an adult that she realized that there was something lacking in the system. This was the call to action in her hero’s journey, which led to the formation of Hearts Need Art. (2:20)
  • We don’t always respond to the first call to action in life. Sometimes it takes many calls before we answer the call. Often, when that call relates to our greatest weaknesses, we find our greatest strengths. (5:53)
  • Hearts Need Art was serving patients in hospitals, in person. The pandemic upended their ability to provide their services and they had to get creative. (7:21)
    • In response, they took two weeks to overhaul their programming and create new, digital-first programs that served their community and had additional benefits.
  • They designed an online system for clients to schedule sessions with their favorite artists through Zoom. They also invited supporters in on the livestreams, allowing them unprecedented access to the work being done. (9:26)
    • Using the online tools, they’re now able to scale that program on a national level even as they’re returning to in-person work at hospitals.
  • They created “Gratitude Grams” — an entirely new online program supporting healthcare workers, who needed moral and emotional support as they were dealing with the crisis on the frontlines. (11:05)
    • The program allows anyone to submit a thank you note to healthcare workers that would get delivered digitally by Hearts Need Art, along with creative content from musicians, writers or artists.
    • Healthcare workers from over 30 institutions have signed up to receive these messages.
  • Without any geographical constraints, Gratitude Grams has allowed people all over the country to participate, and for the program to scale at practically no additional resource cost to Hearts Need Art. (13:12)
  • Creating online programs like these doesn’t have to be an extensive or expensive endeavor. In their case, Hearts Need Art used off-the-shelf, free and nearly free tools like Google Forms, Google Sheets and Zapier to automate most of the processes. (14:33)
  • Opting to participate in the program is just the beginning. Hearts Need Art includes data collection tools in the process to continually get feedback that they can take right back to their program managers for adjustments, and their supporters for validation. (16:45)
    • They determine ahead of time what areas of impact they want to measure, and then include a quick survey with every message that allows them to collect the data and stories they need.
    • The program has won an award from the National Organization for Arts in Health
  • With the feedback they collect, they’re able to keep the experience personal while also iterating for scalability. (19:18)
  • The inability to deliver on their original promise to donors (of in-person programming), they were naturally worried that most donors would drop off. Through careful communication and setting new expectations, Hearts Need Art was actually able to retain and grow their overall donor base in 2020 and has grown even more in 2021. (20:48)
    • They were also, therefore, keep their artists employed at a time when artists were struggling.
  • Even though they are now able to provide their programming in person, they are keeping a lot of the digital programs in place because it has helped them reach more patients with a greater continuum of care, and more supporters at the same time. (25:27)
  • While it doesn’t replicate the in-person benefits completely, the scalability has allowed Hearts Need Art to reach more people and has put them on a path to potentially expanding well beyond what they were able to do prior to the pandemic. (29:22)
  • Constanza attributes much of their success to a few factors, including having a young, creative team around her that is always looking for new, creative ways to do things. Technology is available and can be outsourced, and can often be found for free or at a discount for nonprofits. (31:37)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Constanza Roeder

Constanza Roeder

Founder and CEO, Hearts Need Art

Constanza Roeder is the founder and CEO of Hearts Need Art: Creative Support for Patients and Caregivers and host of the podcast “Arts for the Health of It.” Ms. Roeder was selected as one of the Top 100 Healthcare Visionaries by the International Forum on Advancements in Healthcare for 2021. As a singer, adolescent leukemia survivor, speaker, and thought leader in the field of Arts in Health, Constanza is on a mission to humanize healthcare through the arts.

Connect with Constanza Roeder

EP27 - Elizabeth Ngonzi - Featured

Episode 27: Navigating the Nonprofit Digital Divide, with Elizabeth Ngonzi

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 27

Navigating the Nonprofit Digital Divide, with Elizabeth Ngonzi

In this Episode:

The nonprofit funding landscape continues to shift in response to the changing landscape in the pandemic and post-pandemic era. At the same time, there is a growing digital divide between those that are quickly adapting and adopting new strategies and those that are in danger of losing the ability to achieve their mission.

Elizabeth Ngonzi, founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute joins Boris this week to talk about how some nonprofits are staying ahead of the changes and new opportunities to connect with communities and funders alike. We also discuss how LinkedIn is fast becoming a critical platform for nonprofits, and how professionals can improve their skill sets to help their organizations and themselves.

[00:00:18.780] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.720] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. This should be Episode 27 that we’re broadcasting today. And it is with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a few years now. We first met doing a Candid—it was a live stream, and back then an in-person—panel. Since then, we’ve formed a pretty good friendship. We do a lot of very similar things, so we have a lot in common and a lot that we want to talk to you about today. So let me introduce to you guys.

[00:00:50.870] – Boris
Elizabeth Ngonzi. She usually just goes by Liz. She is the founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute. She’s also an Adjunct Assistant Professor and the Faculty Program Developer of a new exciting program at NYU that we’re both going to be talking to you about today as part of what we’re going to talk about. But primarily we’re going to talk about Liz’s area of expertise, which is social media, storytelling, online fundraising, all of the things that we love so much. Liz’s bio reads that she is an international social entrepreneur and educator who helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations to clarify, develop their stories for increased impact.

[00:01:30.940] – Boris
She is the founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute, which through initiatives with the King Baudouin—I hope I pronounce that correctly—Foundation US, CIVICUS Global Alliance, Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, the Resource Alliance in the UK and others — create opportunities for and amplified the voices of social impact leaders from historically marginalized communities around the world.

[00:01:54.460] – Boris
As an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Fundraising at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, she teaches digital storytelling, innovation and fundraising and planning and executing virtual events and fundraisers that inspire and activate support. Both of which are part of the Professional Certificate Program in Digital Fundraising she recently developed. Liz’s superpower is leveling the playing field for change makers and social impact driven leaders from historically marginalized communities. With that, let’s bring Liz on to tell her story.

[00:02:25.900] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Hello, Boris. Thank you so very much for including me today. Hello, everybody. I’m so excited to be here with you.

[00:02:33.340] – Boris
Thanks, Liz. I’m excited to have you. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been talking about getting you on the show,

[00:02:37.940] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:02:37.940] – Boris
And we finally had a chance to make it happen.

[00:02:40.620] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. No, it’s great. I’m excited to be here with you. And you did such a great … First of all, thank you for pronouncing my last name correctly. Most people botch it, right? Even if they know me forever, they do. So thank you for doing so. And I’m so glad you’re now part of the NYU program with us, which we’ll get into later. But should I go ahead and tell folks a little bit more about that?

[00:03:02.500] – Boris
Yeah. Your bio speaks volumes of the caliber of work that you do. But let’s find out a little bit more about you and your story.

[00:03:10.740] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I think what most people don’t know is that, kind of like, storytelling is in my DNA, right? My late dad, Dr. John Ruganda, Uganda’s preeminent storyteller. He was a playwright? You can find his Wikipedia page, you can find his books on Amazon, is someone who really was looking to tell the story of Africans at a time when we were going through independence and so much was going on. So I’ve got him on one hand. And then my mom was with the United Nations Development Program for 30 years, retiring as the Deputy Director of Communications.

[00:03:46.000] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And she used to travel around the world reporting and sharing about the different projects that they were supporting in developing countries. So this is how I grew up learning about all of this, learning about stories, meeting really incredible people, having these incredible experiences. So when I graduated from college, I went to work for corporate America, my parents were like, “What? That makes no sense.” I did that for ten years. And then after working as a management consultant, I actually worked in technology sector as well, in marketing and in sales.

[00:04:21.390] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And I decided that I wanted to really work with nonprofits and teach them, kind of leverage what I’d learned in the private sector to help them. It wasn’t storytelling at the time. It wasn’t what I called it, but it was really helping them to build their brands, to be able to reach their supporters and raise funds. And we were actually even helping organizations create websites, back in 2004 for their events. We had a company that we outsource to in Uganda. They used to create little websites when you didn’t have all the sites you have now that you can use to host virtual events and to market them—market events—we literally were doing that. And so I’ve always been thinking about digital on how to integrate it into the things that I was doing to help, specifically nonprofits at this point.

[00:05:10.600] – Boris
I love the fact that your father was a preeminent playwright? And it’s something that as long as I’ve known you, I just learned a few minutes ago, part of me wants to just geek out about theater and theater history.

[00:05:25.680] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
You’re a theater nerd right?

[00:05:27.360] – Boris
I am a theater nerd all the way through. I mean, that’s what my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are.

[00:05:33.750] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I don’t know. I never sort of thought, you know, there’s so many times when you talk about it.

[00:05:39.720] – Boris
One of these days, we’re going to get into all of it.

[00:05:41.040] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:05:41.880] – Boris
Today, let’s talk about your work and, from your perspective, what’s going on in the nonprofit sector these days. Particularly, of course, the elephant in the room, that’s pretty much taken over the house is, of course, COVID-19, which has shifted so many things to virtual, to digital, to online, something that you and I have been preaching for a long time that now has been sort of this mad rush for everybody to try to get in there and figure out what they can and can’t do. Talk to me. What are you seeing out there at the moment?

[00:06:13.630] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. It’s been a rough 18 months. Right? And for a lot of organizations that really weren’t prepared for this in terms of being able to easily move their programs, their general engagement, whether it’s with funders or other stakeholders online. And they’ve really suffered. Right? And quite frankly, those of them hasn’t been able to adapt, and we’re already sort of like, you know, stretched thin financially, had to dissolve or they had to merge with other organizations

[00:06:46.650] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The organizations that were able to quickly come up to speed, and it’s interesting, my digital storytelling course just went gangbusters in terms of registrations at Covid because we were just trying to figure this out. And so, I’ve seen that those organizations that not only figured out how to bring their fundraisers online, figured out how to really engage their supporters through live stream, and these sort of like, Facebook lives, LinkedIn live, and so on and so forth, those are the ones that are really starting to come out of this. But the other audiences or I’m sorry, the other organizations that really have done a great job here, the ones who’ve identified new offerings online.

[00:07:27.920] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so an example of that is I had a woman in one of my courses who worked for Film at Lincoln Center. Film at Lincoln Center literally had a month to basically move its film festival online, you know they had the catalog move online, and they did some in-person events through drive-throughs and things like that. But what they did was effectively create a Netflix offering. So they have the streaming service, which creates a whole new revenue stream down the line for them. And so I just thought it was just genius.

[00:08:00.010] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Now I understand that there are smaller organizations that are going to be watching this. But I always say, let’s learn from the organizations that have some of the budgets or the kind of the resources that we don’t have to figure out… they’ve already created a blueprint. How do we then emulate what they’ve done in our specific space?

[00:08:15.920] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So that’s one example, another example that an organization need, that’s really embrace digital is JCC Association in North America. Another one of my students is a head of marketing for them. And in the past, they’ve held their JCC ProCon event, which is an annual event in Florida for a couple of hundred people and adults to senior leaders, a few hundred people. This year, they were able to bring it online and attract about 3000 people. And so what happened by doing that was that they were able to get junior professionals, senior professionals, and leaders to be able to participate in this professional development conference and bring folks together who’ve been separated during COVID, because JCCs are actually physical locations. Some people hadn’t really seen each other. So in this virtual training, they brought folks together, and it really helped to boost morale. And it got people to feel like they’re part of something bigger because now they’re able to actually participate in this great training conference.

[00:09:19.220] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So those are a couple of examples that I’ve seen of organizations really embracing digital in an effective way. It’s not… it’s one of those things where you’re like, the technology is actually relatively inexpensive. The problem is, it’s the culture. So there’re organizations—like whenever I’m working, with my students, the course I teach at NYU—we essentially create a digital fundraising and marketing plan for their organization, and we always start with a SWOT analysis.

[00:09:51.880] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And inevitably, one of the biggest challenges or weaknesses they have is organizational. Meaning that they have a culture that does not embrace change. And we’re living in a world that you have to be able to adapt to change because things are happening so quickly. They were happening quickly before the pandemic. But you better believe they’ve been accelerated, right? So we have to really think about how do we change our cultures and how do we attract people or how do we change our mindset to be able to embrace this digital—because digital is not going away. Digital has been here for a while. And Boris, you and I talked about this, back in 2009 when I pitched my original course to NYU. It was just an online fundraiser course… I pitched it because I recognize just from my own clients back then, the huge budgets they had for Galas we’re going. They’re gone because of the economic downturn. So it was like, you have to now go online and really rely on online a lot more to be able to engage with the supporters that they need. Right?

[00:10:52.400] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
We didn’t have all the different social media platforms we have right now, but I did recognize that as a space that they really need to embrace. And I’m sure that’s where you are as well. And so, looking at where we’re at today, it’s not that different from were 11, 12 years ago. It’s just that it was didn’t seem as important because then we went back to normal. But I gotta tell you, normal is going to be hybrid from now, probably from now on.

[00:11:17.240] – Boris
I want to talk about a few of those things because I think you touched on several really great key points. The first in terms of the new opportunities, that the digital rush, if you will—it’s kind of a new gold rush feeling in the nonprofit space and finding new ways to leverage platforms that aren’t expensive anymore because technology, as you correctly said, the average cost has gone down and down. I recently actually came across and now own access to a tool where you can launch your own Roku channel.

[00:11:53.980] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:11:55.260] – Boris
Yeah. So I am actually now looking for a client that wants to launch their own Roku channel, talking to one of my clients about it right now. You talk about the film festival going online. Yeah. Here you go…

[00:12:10.790] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:12:10.790] – Boris
Put your channel on Roku, tell your subscribers where to get it. They could watch either in live set up…

[00:12:17.620] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:12:17.620] – Boris
Or in a format where it’s just on loop or something I programmed, and people can pick their own— “oh, now I want to watch this” kind of like Netflix or HBO Max or any of those.

[00:12:28.430] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. Whatever it may on.

[00:12:30.850] – Boris
The technology is so there. And wow, what a great way to find more people, provide more value, oftentimes with the content that you already have, because a lot of organizations have so much video content already.

[00:12:40.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
There you go. Exactly. That’s the thing. It’s like. Okay, so my hope is, and it’s not necessarily the case. But my hope is this 18 months that we’ve had to basically be at home and had time to reflect.

[00:12:55.100] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
It’s really helped organizations to think about new ways to leverage their existing assets, because why look outside when you actually have so much internally that you haven’t been leveraging? Right? So you record this thing, you have these assets and you just put them away, but actually they have value. You just have to know how to use them. Right?

[00:13:15.220] – Boris

[00:13:16.010] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Absolutely. And I didn’t know about this new tool, that platform, but that’s incredible to be able to launch your own Roku channel just like that. Think about it. Think about who owned media, who is able to rate that 20, 30 years ago. That was impossible.

[00:13:35.090] – Boris
Yup. Today we could compete with the Rupert Murdochs and Jeff Bezos of the world really,

[00:13:41.370] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:13:41.370] – Boris
Owns so much of the media and the Disneys and Netflixes. And if our message is more relatable and more relevant to our audience, then why not? Why wouldn’t they tune into us instead?

[00:13:59.580] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I agree with you. Completely. I definitely agree with you on that.

[00:14:04.980] – Boris
It’s funny. Also, you mentioned the JCC conference. It’s awesome that you spoke to them. They have all internally gone through their own kind of revolution as well. And a year ago, almost a year ago, at this time, I was presenting to the leaders of JCC Global and all the different JCC leaders. And I got to talk to them in Russian, too, because now it doesn’t matter that I’m not physically there. The fact that I speak Russian, and there’s JCC all over Russia, and the former Soviet Union allows someone like me to go speak to them. It also allows them to reach Russian speaking Jews here in the US for extra support.

[00:14:43.880] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:14:44.430] – Boris
It works both ways. The definition of community has completely changed, and you hit the nail on the head. If you don’t change, you will die. It’s Darwinian at that. There’s been such a proliferation also of nonprofits that have started over the last year and a half and even before that, but it’s accelerated. And I feel like and Liz, maybe you have a different opinion on this, but you kind of touched on it that in a little while, it’s going to be too much, and we’re going to have to start merging organizations or folding them.

[00:15:20.220] – Boris
So it’s whomever can actually use the best tools today to reach the most people today. Those are the ones that are going to thrive. If your mission is important, you’ve got to be there.

[00:15:30.290] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yup. It’s actually where you started. It already started. I had hosted a live stream, LinkedIn Live, with Candid, a couple of people from Candid last May, I think it was. And estimates, or the research indicated that about 50% of organizations we’re going to either, they’re going to go away or they’re going to have to merge based on what happened with the pandemic. Right? And we didn’t even realize how long the pandemic was going to last. Right? And effectively, we’re still in the pandemic. We’re not post pandemic. We’re still in it.

[00:16:03.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So we’re in that process right now. We haven’t seen what’s come out. And you mentioned that there’re new nonprofits starting. But it’s not no longer just about nonprofits. There’s social enterprises. The individual is telling about that young man from Italy who has 110,000,000 TikTok followers. Right? He started his to account, like in March of last year. So in less than 18 months, he’s even able to develop this following. Now, imagine if he decided he wanted to support a cause or he wanted to support specific communities. He has 110 million people. He can say, “Hey, I want you to support this particular thing.” How does a nonprofit compete with that that has a thousand followers?

[00:16:51.090] – Boris
Yeah. Partnerships with influencers, I think, is a big thing. It’s a little risky at the moment, because the influencer… you never know. Let’s say that young man from middle, he does endorse an organization. And then, you know, a few months from now, he does something.

[00:17:05.810] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Right? No, of course, that’s the challenge. But the same thing that you have with ambassadors, right? Organizations have ambassadors. But I’m saying that he can either be a partner or he can be a competitor. That’s what I’m saying. So when you’re thinking about a competitor in the real world, right? You’re thinking who’s around me physically. When you go online, that’s anywhere. Right?

[00:17:29.310] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I as a donor… I mean, I gave money. I made a donation to an organization in Cambodia last week. I don’t know anything about them, but it was because someone had… it was a thank you to somebody who would helped me.

[00:17:42.510] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And I said, please let me know the cause that you like. She said, this is what I’m interested in, so I made a donation to them. And I also made a donation to an organization here in New York. Right? So as a donor, I have a lot of options because I can do that online very easily.

[00:17:57.360] – Boris
Absolutely. We talk a lot about that the competitive landscape has completely opened up. And you were never really just competing with other organizations in your neighborhood. You are also competing with the Amazons of the world, the Facebooks who want your attention. The Amazons who want your money. Right? The discretionary spending hasn’t exceeded the growth of opportunity for me to spend my money at any given moment.

[00:18:24.750] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:18:24.750] – Boris
It’s making that connection to your specific target audience and making a really relevant and resonant connection that’s going to make the difference wherever they are around the world.

[00:18:35.840] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Absolutely. At the of the day, you brought up a good point. It is about story, right? You have to tell a great story, and you have to be able to differentiate yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re on every platform. Doesn’t matter if you have follows. You don’t have a story that’s compelling, you don’t have a way of engaging with folks in a way that makes sense to them. Right? Because when we’re telling our story, we need to tell it within the context of what is going to be of interest to your audience, to our audience.

[00:19:03.860] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And we tend to forget that we tend to communicate in terms of what’s important to us. And a lot of nonprofits can actually communicate that way. But it’s really important for us to think about what do the audience want? What does the want the audience want to know about us? What’s going to engage with them? What is going to activate them? Because ultimately you’re communicating, you’re trying to activate them. You’re trying to get them to do something. And so it’s important that we take that into consideration before we think about the channel we use. So we need to be really clear about the “what” we’re communicating, the “why” we’re communicating “with whom” we’re communicating.

[00:19:38.040] – Boris
Yeah. I mean, there are, well, six storytelling questions that we all learned in fourth grade and, well, most of us learned in fourth grade. And they are absolutely key to telling any story. What do you advise? Like, where should nonprofits be thinking at the moment to set themselves up for success going forward? Maybe they’ve been doing some of this? Maybe not. But since the landscape has completely changed in so many ways, what should they be thinking about right now to be effective going forward?

[00:20:13.440] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I think, that first and foremost, it’s time to really take stock of where we are and who we are. And what are story’s all about. Is our story relevant for today? I wrote a piece for Candid last summer about—it was about digital storytelling. I spoke about the fact that foundations we’re starting to shift their focus. They’re starting to think about issues around social justice all around COVID-19 relief. And so organizations really need to recast themselves to be relevant within that context, that they wanted to be able to engage those foundations.

[00:20:47.430] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so, along those same lines, I think that we have to think about who are we in this post-COVID or COVID era and ongoing COVID era, as opposed to what we were pre-COVID because it’s going to be different. The realities are different. The way that we even engage with people. The way that we’re online versus in person programming. And so and so forth. We have to really think about what’s going to really resonate with the people we’re trying to serve, the community we’re trying to serve.

[00:21:18.120] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
But also it’s going to resonate with those that we’re trying to engage, bring to come and support us. So that’s one of the things is really rethinking. Who are we? Right? We need to really rethink our purpose, our unique value proposition, which requires some soul searching, right? Some nonprofit soul searching, even for us, is people working in this sector.

[00:21:40.640] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The next thing I’d say is that it’s really important that we understand that we need to diversify our fundraising. I think that a lot of organizations found—and this happened in 2008, 2009 as well—they were so reliant on just a few funders and even one instance, just one. And when that goes away, you’re done. And in a situation like this, it’s really about having diversified funding sources so that if one goes away or if you lose corporate and whatever, then at least you’re still able to stand. And so that’s also something that I think organizations need to think about. So you’ve got the corporates, you’ve got the foundations, and the foundation is actually the most stable. And then, of course, individuals, you’ve got high net worth, but then you’ve got the individuals for online.

[00:22:26.550] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And those folks who can really support you on a monthly basis, you don’t want to just get a one time donation. You want to really look at recurring donations. So it’s important we look at that. And I also say you’ve got to start internally. I didn’t even talk about this. I believe that you have no right to ask anyone for money to support your organization if you yourself don’t get to that organization. So I always say what I work in the clients, the board—you know everyone expects the board, the board—senior leadership, and quite frankly, even throughout the organization, it’s important that everyone has skin in the game. It’s not necessarily that they have to make these big donations, but there’s something they’ve got to bring in so that everyone’s clear that they’re actually, everyone’s a fundraiser in your organization, everyone’s part of the mission. So they should feel that they’re an investor in it, as well. So it’s also looking at how you can take advantage of or leverage the internal to your resources to be able to support the organization.

[00:23:22.260] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And then finally, I would say that—I’m not paid by them, but—LinkedIn. I wrote an article about it. I believe it’s on your site. Linkedin is such an important platform right now. You know, Boris, I’ve been at this a long time. So I’ve got accounts on every platform. I’ve used all of them. I’m on ClubHouse, I’m not even going to talk about ClubHouse right now. But LinkedIn, if you are serious about engaging with professionals, if you’re trying to engage with foundations… there are only 10% of them that have websites.

[00:23:56.660] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so you’re going to really try to figure out how to connect with their employees, and that’s where you’re going to find them, because 900 million people have accounts on LinkedIn. So it’s important for you to really take advantage of that platform. Not only as a site like, a lot of people use LinkedIn in the past as a resume site, but it’s literally like your secondary and some of instances, your primary organization’s web presence. So, like, a landing page.

[00:24:26.510] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And it gives you an opportunity to showcase any of your thought leadership. It gives you an opportunity to present any of your projects and your impact. And then it also gives you an opportunity to bring all of your stakeholders together connected to that page. So that when you’re applying for a grant, whatever foundation and their doing research on you. They’re conducting to due diligence, they get to your digital profile, they’ll say, “Oh, so-and-so is part of the board. So-and-so as part of this. We know that person. We trust that person.” Otherwise, you’re just sort of like this little organization that they don’t know much about.

[00:24:59.840] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The other thing is that when you’re then conducting research and you do find whichever company or whoever you’re trying to connect with, if you don’t necessarily yourself as the fundraiser or know that person or have a connection to that company or organization, there might be someone within your ecosystem, within your network, connected to your page who can make that connection for you. So it’s really important to have those connections set up. And then finally, I would say that you can take advantage of the training. They have so much going on on LinkedIn, and all nonprofits, qualified nonprofits get 50% off of their products. And so, great research tool, great place to build a brand.

[00:25:42.950] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And of course, you and I love LinkedIn Live. I did my first LinkedIn Live with you. So, LinkedIn Live, and also using the LinkedIn event sites. Those are amazing the invitation sites, because those themselves create a whole new landing page for your event that lasts a very long time. And so I’m super excited about it. I wrote a piece about it for Nonprofit Times, and in it there are tons of resources so that you don’t have to be like, well, how do I do this? I present a best practice. I give you the resource to be able to implement it. They give you other resources that you can use to leverage LinkedIn.

[00:26:24.020] – Boris
Those are all great points and tools that people should be absolutely thinking about. Speaking of LinkedIn events, the first LinkedIn event that I was a part of was the one that we just did for the NYU.

[00:26:39.740] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh, I didn’t realize that.

[00:26:39.740] – Boris
Yeah. I had never been a part of a LinkedIn event, and I was really impressed with the reach that it got. Especially, you were able to, we were all able to tag each other in the post, and the reach was phenomenal.

[00:26:53.130] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:26:53.130] – Boris
So many sign ups for that. I was genuinely impressed. And I’m looking forward to using the platform for that kind of thing again.

[00:27:00.780] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Right? It’s awesome. And the thing is, a couple of things that this really takes advantage of is, you see, when someone sends you an invitation, you get to see who’s actually already invited. And that helps you, because we’re all about peer pressure. There’s peer pressure, right? We want to be where the cool kids are. Right? So you’re like, “oh,” I’ll say. “Oh, Boris is going to that. Okay. That must be cool. I’m going to participate in that.” Versus receiving an invitation in my inbox. And I don’t know anything about who’s attending. I don’t know anything. I’m like, “oh, I don’t know. I may not be that into it.” So it gives the opportunity to use that social proof in terms of wealth is going.

[00:27:38.130] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And then within this site, once you just get into the event, you’re able to then also access any resources that the event organized or share. So we shared, like, articles. We shared that you’d written or I’ve written. We shared videos, anything we want. Polls…

[00:27:57.070] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And by the way, just because the event is over, it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to communicate. I think you saw I posted a post-event post yesterday, and that site is live. Next month, if we want to add something else, we still can. So it’s really great because we already know what they’re interested in because they signed up for this event so we can continue to communicate with them through this particular channel.

[00:28:22.340] – Boris
Yeah. And it still gets plenty of reach and can be constantly updated. It’s pretty great. I think we should actually link to that event as an example for people in the show notes, along with all the other things that we’ve been talking about and LinkedIn for nonprofits and all of those things, we are also going to link to that event so that people could check it out, see what that was about and how it worked. You could deconstruct it, if you will, and see for yourselves.

[00:28:47.320] – Boris
The power of LinkedIn networking in general… I think for a while LinkedIn was this kind of sleeping giant, if you will. Where, you’re right. It was just resumes essentially, a virtual resume platform and people trying to network to each other to just be able to get a job or something like that. Now it really is a connection tool. And organizations that have a message can find people whom it’ll resonate with on there. And your idea that you mentioned about maybe partnering with organizations with companies, for-profit businesses, right? They’re all on there. Any for profit business.

[00:29:25.140] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And here’s something that I should mention, you know, when you’re updating your LinkedIn profile. One of the questions that ask you, “Are are there any causes you’re interested in? Are you interested in volunteering? Would you be interested in board service? Would you like to mentor?” So, when you have a certain level of account in LinkedIn as a nonprofit organization, you can find those leaders, those folks who are looking to volunteer for cause like yours, who’re looking to be on a board like yours. And so it’s really helping with that kind of outreach, because we fill it out and we don’t even think about it. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.” But they’re actually their making it easy for nonprofits or whoever is looking for that information to be able to look for it, to find it.

[00:30:09.240] – Boris
So. We’ve teased this event that we did, and the program. We’ve mentioned the program a couple of times. I want to be respectful of your time and our listeners time, but I definitely want to talk about this because it’s so exciting. Tell us about this new program at NYU.

[00:30:27.030] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Okay. So as I mentioned to you, I started teaching NYU well, at the time, the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. And we merged—we were absorbed into the Center Global Affairs four or five years ago. But given how much like interest that was in my course during COVID, the directors kind of realized that there was probably something here. And I’ve been talking about. I’m like, we need to expand this program. And so they asked me to create a program that would basically take what I developed as an overall course that helps an organization to develop its digital fundraising and marketing strategy, looking at the different channels and then break that into the different, break each one into a course. Right?

[00:31:18.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So we have you talking about high impact websites. I’m team-teaching with another woman, with Cheryl Gentry. We’re going to be teaching a course on virtual events and fundraisers. And then we have Kat, well, she already came. Right? So…

[00:31:34.960] – Boris
Yeah she will have been on…

[00:31:37.520] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So she’s talking about social media. And of course, with GivingTuesday as part of that. And then we have Dane Wiseman, who’s going to be covering—it’s actually a course he already teaches on—basically social media metrics, and analytics. And so these are the different pieces that we need. So it’s a certificate program. You can complete it within a two-year period, or you can just say, I’m just interested in one particular course, and you can take it. And they’re six to seven weeks each. It’s really easy to manage. And they write to me once a week.

[00:32:12.480] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And not only is it great content, but literally you walk away… you’re have something, a tool that you can then use for your ongoing campaign for your organization. I’ve had some students who used it as a tool to get a job. It’s like an auditioning tool. And quite a number of folks also, they implement a lot of what’s covered throughout the period of the course in real time. So it’s very practical. I’m so excited to see what we’re going to be doing with your course, and I’m going sit in on it myself. I want to learn what you’re doing.

[00:32:50.250] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so I’m just really excited about it, because what we found, if you look at the Giving USA report, overall, giving is a slight bump up. But online giving is going up significantly, right? Even over the last three years, it’s gone up by 32%. And so we’re really helping organizations to fully embrace how to do it effectively, because during COVID, folks just scramble to do it, right? But now we’re saying here’s how you can really develop a strategy around it. Here are some tools. Here are some of the wisdom we’ve garnered. Here are some examples and case studies. I’m going to have to see JCC Association coming into my course to do a digital engagement case study. I think it’s really exciting, and I’m really glad to see that we’re able to support the sector this way, because this is really necessary. I’m not saying the other topics and fundraisers are not necessary, but this is definitely very timely.

[00:33:50.040] – Boris
Now, with everything being virtual at this point, do people need to be in the New York Metro area to participate?

[00:33:56.060] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
No. The whole program is virtual. The whole program is virtual. In fact, I’ve had students as far from as far as Singapore, in Canada, from Hawaii, so they don’t have to be in New York. The course is pretty much in the evening, so they have to be able to either wake up really early for the different time zone or whatever the adjustment is. So people do it. It’s definitely worthwhile.

[00:34:24.260] – Boris
I’m really excited to be a part of it. First and foremost excited that I get to be an adjunct instructor, professor, whatever it is. Instructor, I think.

[00:34:38.140] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah exactly.

[00:34:38.140] – Boris
It’s kind of a lifelong dream for me to be teaching at a university, and especially one like NYU. Having grown up in New York, it’s iconic to me, of course. And I’m excited to teach all of these things that I’ve been trying to teach organizations. I’m going to teach other people how to really use them and hopefully partner with nonprofits to help redesign their websites and improve things for their own conversions, to activate more heroes for their cause, as I like to say all the time.

[00:35:06.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:35:07.470] – Boris
And anyone who completes it, they can get that certificate and put it up on LinkedIn to showcase themselves and to showcase what they’re working on.

[00:35:16.120] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And that’s a really good point you bring up, because, Boris, here’s the thing. If you think about our sector, there are not many people with those digital skills. And when I say with those digital skills… with the digital skills, with the formal training. And so, it is a true differentiator. Once you put it in there, you go from being a fundraiser to being a fundraiser with this digital aspect or marker with this and and so on and so forth. So people, again, like I said, they use it to get new jobs, but they can get promotions or whatever it is that they want to be able to do.

[00:35:52.760] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And we’re building this in such a way that yes, it will, it benefits nonprofit organizations. But if there’re social enterprises that are interested in this, they’re welcome. So are foundations because we’re really looking to support social-impact driven organization.

[00:36:08.090] – Boris
I often answer, when I’m asked, why is it that nonprofits are usually significantly behind the rest of the field when it comes to digital adoption and usage? That it’s partly inherent to the way that nonprofits are formed. It’s not usually by people who graduated with digital marketing skills and now want to start a nonprofit. Although there are plenty that have done that, and that’s fantastic. It’s usually people who graduated with different kinds of degrees and now want to put them in the service of good or are joining an organization that they believe in, but they don’t have that digital marketing or that website development or digital fundraising kind of background to them.

[00:36:52.290] – Boris
And so they’re kind of left to fend for themselves or hire consultants or hire expensive people in house. This program can really help level that playing field for organizations and super excited about that.

[00:37:04.350] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, I know. I agree a hundred percent with you, and it’s exciting to see that, because I feel like, this will really move the needle significantly. I’ve already seen it, right? So it’s not theoretical. It definitely will, and it has. And you know, really, to my knowledge, this is the first offering of this type at a university.

[00:37:29.720] – Boris
So, I’m hoping that a lot of people at least check it out. We’ll definitely link to it in the show notes, so that people go see the program and all the information.

[00:37:36.960] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And also to see the webinar. The webinar, as you guys be a terrific job and let them see the webinar, too.

[00:37:42.050] – Boris
We’ll definitely be linking to that. As I said before in the LinkedIn event, so that you can deconstruct how we did it and how we got so many people there in the first place. And we’ll also link to several of your articles, your Nonprofit Tech for Good pieces. And you mentioned that the blog itself is a good resource for people, I believe.

[00:38:02.800] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, it’s a great resource. Heather, who runs it is awesome. It’s a great resource.

[00:38:07.600] – Boris
So we’ll definitely link to that. What is your call to action to any organization, any nonprofit professional, because organizations don’t listen, but professionals do. At this point, they’ve listened to our interview. What should they go do now?

[00:38:22.580] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Upskill their digital skills. And not just because it’s self serving, but really it’s no longer good enough for you to be like a terrific fundraiser, a terrific market. You need to have digital. It’s not a nice to have. It’s an essential. So absolutely make those investments, whether it’s a store program or elsewhere. Absolutely make that investment because this isn’t going away. Digital is not going away. And if you see, I don’t know if you can see the book, there’s a book behind me, which is The World Is Flat. Thomas L. Friedman.

[00:38:56.480] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I read that in 2005. I think it was, and I was really looking at kind of differentiating myself too, what I was working on. And I realized that as professionals, as organizations, as companies, we have to constantly think about how we reinvent ourselves to be much more relevant. And if you’re known for real basic things, basic skills, you as a professional can be replaced or you as a nonprofit or you as a company, can be replaced. The more that you can really move up the food chain, the more that you can go to more value-added kind of offering, and this is one of them. The more in demand you will be.

[00:39:36.550] – Boris
Inevitably, you’re paid for the value that you can bring to an organization. Basically.

[00:39:40.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. So that’s what I would say.

[00:39:43.730] – Boris
Awesome. Liz, if people want to connect with you, by the way, I should probably say Liz is not a flat-earther. If anybody took that out of context.

[00:39:54.280] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh. Okay. Yeah.

[00:39:57.710] – Boris
But if anybody wants to connect with you, what’s the best way to do that?

[00:40:00.940] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I’m @LizNgonzi on every platform, and they can also email me en33@nyu.edu.

[00:40:09.560] – Boris
Fantastic. I’m sure a lot of people will have questions. I want to follow up with you. I’m really grateful to you for coming on the show today, Liz, and sharing all this valuable knowledge and having this immensely important discussion with me.

[00:40:21.190] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Thank you for inviting me. It was so fun. This is really, really a pleasure for me to do this with you.

[00:40:28.580] – Boris
Awesome, Liz. I’m sure we’ll have more things to talk about, and maybe we’ll have you on again.

[00:40:32.670] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, bring me back.

[00:40:34.010] – Boris
Maybe the other myriad things that you and I could dive into.

[00:40:39.030] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
We could talk about plays, we could talk about theater.

[00:40:41.770] – Boris
Oh my goodness. I’m sure there are nonprofits focused on theater that would love that conversation, but maybe we’ll do that as a side note.

[00:40:49.780] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I’m doing a presentation for arts organizations in the UK in two weeks, in Digital Storytelling.

[00:40:59.750] – Boris
Send me a copy?

[00:41:00.300] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Not that unlikely.

[00:41:03.750] – Boris
Actually, maybe an episode specifically for arts organizations would be great, because I do have several arts organizations clients, and they have some particular challenges.

[00:41:12.600] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh they really would have gone through it. Really.

[00:41:20.740] – Boris
Yeah, absolutely. All right, we’re gonna do that.

[00:41:22.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Okay. Awesome.

[00:41:23.870] – Boris
All right. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today on the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Please, please follow us on all the social media platforms. Subscribe to this podcast. And if you love interviews like the one we just had with Liz Ngonzi, then please go ahead and subscribe and leave us a review so that more people could discover it. Thank you, as always, for all the work that you do to make the world a better place. I’m Boris Kievsky, and I’ll see you next time.

[00:42:06.180] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Over the last 18 months, some organizations did a great job quickly responding to the Covid shift to digital in their fundraising and programming, while others could not. (6:13)
  • Small organizations can learn from larger ones, following their blueprint and applying it to their own organizations, even if at a different scale. (8:00)
  • With the cost of technology dropping, the biggest differentiator between nonprofits adopting digital today is not financial, it’s cultural. Those that cannot adapt and embrace change may be forced to close or merge. (9:19)
  • Nonprofits have to think about new ways to leverage their existing assets and generate new content. Most any organization can now compete with the large media companies in the world in terms of distributing your content. If your content is just as relevant to your audience, they will be happy to access it in the same ways they get their current entertainment. For example, it’s now simple and affordable to launch your own streaming channel on platforms like Roku. (11:17)
  • Your community is now potentially anywhere in the world. Geography is not as important as relevancy and accessibility. (14:04)
  • There are many new influencers with tremendous reach. These can either be competitors for attention or great allies for nonprofits whose causes they care about. As with all partnerships, though, you have to be careful with whom you partner. (16:09)
  • With the increased competition for resources, building genuine connections with your audience makes all the difference. It all starts with a great story that resonates with your audience, is in sync with their interests, and differentiates your nonprofit from the competition. (18:25)
  • Covid has changed, and continues to change the world. What worked before the pandemic may not be what’s most effective now. (20:47)
  • The funding landscape has also changed. Relying on a few high-level funding sources is perilous in times like these. It is far better to diversify, including seeking out smaller recurring donations. (21:40)
  • In connecting with foundations’ employees, organizations should take advantage of LinkedIn. With 900 million accounts, it is a great platform to reach people and organizations that may be interested in your work. (23:22)
    • Only 10% of foundations have websites, but many have employees who are active on LinkedIn.
    • It allows nonprofits to showcase their thought leadership, their work and their impact.
    • Development professionals can research prospects on LinkedIn and connect with them directly or through someone in their network that can make an introduction.
    • LinkedIn events are another great tool on the platform, creating a landing page around an event with social proof based on who else is attending. You can continue to add things to the event page, and the page will keep reaching your audience long after the event is over.
    • Take advantage of the training. LinkedIn offers 50% off of their products for qualified nonprofits.
  • There is a new certificate program in Digital Fundraising at NYU that offers courses in digital storytelling, virtual events and fundraisers, social media, analytics, high-impact web design, and more, taught by industry experts. (30:09)
    • The entire program can be accessed virtually.
    • Each class will have practical applications
    • The certificate is a great way for nonprofit professionals to distinguish themselves in the field

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Elizabeth Ngonzi

Elizabeth Ngonzi

Founder / CEO, International Social Impact Institute

Liz Ngonzi is an international social entrepreneur and educator who helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations to clarify, develop their stories for increased impact.

She is the founder and CEO of The International Social Impact Institute, which — through initiatives with the King Baudouin Foundation US, CIVICUS Global Alliance, Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, The Resource Alliance in the UK, and others – creates opportunities for and amplifies the voices of social impact leaders from historically marginalized communities around the world.

As an adjunct assistant professor of fundraising at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, she teaches Digital Storytelling, Innovation and Fundraising, and Planning and Executing Virtual Events and Fundraisers that Inspire and Activate Support, both of which are part of the professional certificate program in Digital Fundraising she recently developed.

Connect with Elizabeth Ngonzi

Ep 5 - Tracy Kaufman - Featured

Episode 5: How Foundations and Nonprofits Are Evolving Through the Crisis with Tracy Kaufman


The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 5

How Foundations and Nonprofits Are Evolving Through the Crisis with Tracy Kaufman

In this Episode:

How have funders responded to COVID-19? What should nonprofits do in turn? And how has this pandemic changed the field in the near and long terms?

As the Programs Manager at Candid, Tracy Kaufman has a front-row seat to the challenges that grantmakers and nonprofits are experiencing in response to the coronavirus pandemic. What’s working, what isn’t, and what’s next?

[00:00:04.310] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:21.930] – Boris
Hi, everybody, and welcome to the fifth episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m so excited to have my guest today is Tracy Kaufman from Candid. If you’re watching us on video, I’m excited to announce that the audio version of this show, the podcast, is now available on iTunes, on Stitcher on Spotify and basically most of your major platforms, and we hope to be on all of them within the next few days. So please, please, go seek us out over there. Subscribe, download, listen, and of course, share your thoughts whether you leave a public review. Very happy for those. Or a private one, if you want to send me a note. Anything is appreciated and any constructive criticism is always welcome because that’s how we grow and develop. So yeah, go check us out and without any further ado…

[00:01:07.890] – Boris
Let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. Tracy Kaufman is the Programs Manager at Candid. Candid is a recently formed, or renamed organization from the merger of Foundation Center and GuideStar. And now at Candid, Tracy is their Programs Manager and the main instructor of all things. Basically grant writing, communicating with funders, and she’s also currently working on a lot of their curriculum development. She is a pretty fantastic person in general, she’s a great resource. Very excited to have her, and without any further ado, let’s just go ahead and bring her on. Hi, Tracy. Good morning.

[00:01:47.130] – Tracy Kaufman
Hey, good morning. Happy to be here.

[00:01:49.590] – Boris
Thank you so much for joining us. So I hope that was an adequate introduction. But please, tell us more about your story and your nonprofit superhero superpower. In other words, how you help nonprofits get more heroes for their cause.

[00:02:05.670] – Tracy Kaufman
All right. I’ll start with the superpower just so that I don’t forget what it is. I would say my superpower would be the power of information. A lot of this is because my background was originally as a librarian, and anyone who knows any librarians knows we’re all about information and the power behind access to information. I have been working for Candid, formerly known as Foundation Center and GuideStar. I’ve been with the Foundation Center half of Candid for almost 13 years now. I started working with them back in 2007, originally in their Library. Candid is all about data and research on foundations and nonprofits and how you can use that information to be a little stronger in the work that you do for your cause. Both for foundations to do stronger work in terms of how they can fund things by knowing a little bit more about what’s going on out there in the world of foundation funding, and so that nonprofit organizations can be more well informed about what they can do to work more effectively.

[00:03:20.430] – Boris
That is awesome, and you and I have collaborated on things, you’ve brought me into Candid, to Foundation Center, and I’ve brought you on to Webinars in the past. I know you have a lot of tremendous valuable knowledge that you can share at any given time on a whole range of subjects. So let’s dive in to what you’re seeing right now. What’s going on in terms of the grant making and grant receiving space that you’re seeing?

[00:03:49.710] – Tracy Kaufman
All right. So as we all know, we are in the middle of a pandemic right now. So what has been happening with COVID-19 has been having, obviously, a massive impact. Not just on health, but also on the economy and on nonprofit organizations. They are all dealing with a lot right now. My organization, Candid, has been tracking a lot of data on what’s been going on in terms of foundation funding at this time, and I’d like to just talk a little bit about what foundation funding means at a time like this right now. So at this moment, since mid March, I believe $10.6 billion so far has been committed to funding related to Coronavirus relief. In some cases this has to do with, like, straight up towards the virus, health related issues. In many cases, this is talking about the economic crisis related to it and a lot of things really related to basic needs, food and shelter, unemployment, things like that.

[00:05:02.130] – Tracy Kaufman
But there’s been a tremendous amount of funding going up, and it’s been rising dramatically. The last time I spoke publicly on something like this, I believe we had a little over $4 billion that had been given out. That was in early April. Now that we are in May, we’re at $10.6 billion. A lot of that funding that’s floating around out there is corporate. The early rush of funding from foundations for COVID Relief was about 75% corporate. Now it’s about two thirds corporate, with more of the independent and family foundations beginning to catch up a bit. So when it comes to foundation funding right now, keep in mind, under normal circumstances, foundation funding is a pretty modest piece of how nonprofits are supporting themselves.

[00:05:54.810] – Tracy Kaufman
Like the most recent information was that about 18% of the private support that goes to nonprofits is coming from foundations, just 18%, compared to almost 70% coming from individual donors. However, at a time like this, foundation funding has a little bit more stability to it, relatively speaking, compared to individual donors. I read in a Chronicle of Philanthropy recently that the percentage of Americans giving to charity has dropped to, I think, an all time low of, like 73%. And a lot of this is because people don’t have the money to spare right now. Individual people don’t have the money to spare right now.

[00:06:40.110] – Boris
Are they worried about their long term financial prospects? And so they’re trying to save and allocate as thriftily as possible right now?

[00:06:47.790] – Tracy Kaufman
Exactly. Even if they’re not suffering financially at this moment, the uncertainty makes them more cautious about what they’re going to do with their money. But foundations don’t have that option to give or not give. Foundations are required by law to give out at least 5% of their assets per year. That alone leads to a little bit more stability as a funding source for an organization. At a time like this, foundations also often have certain, kind of, built in shock absorbers that help them to be a little more stable in their giving compared to other sources. I’m not going to say that it’s easy to get foundation funding or that foundation funding will not be affected by this crisis because it will, and it is, but a lot of foundations do what we call asset averaging, which leads them to give a little bit less than it seems like they should when times are good, but it leads them to give a little bit more during a rainy day. And right now we’re on a rainy day situation.

[00:07:50.550] – Boris
We’re in a rainy year situation.

[00:07:52.710] – Tracy Kaufman
Yes, and so because of this, about roughly a third of foundations do asset averaging, so that when they’re portioning out their 5% payout rate, instead of making it be just on their most recent fiscal year, they average it out over the past few years. So that if they’ve had some good years in the past, this means sometimes their payout is a little lower during good times. But it means that when times are rough, if it’s averaged out this way, they’re giving a little bit more. So that’s cool as well.

[00:08:24.870] – Boris
That’s awesome news, of course, for all of us in the nonprofit space. How can, I guess, nonprofits take advantage? I know that at least initially the response from foundations, and I think you just alluded to this, too, is to the most urgent of needs to the nonprofits out there that are handling. Marion Stern was on the show last week, and we were talking about the Maslow’s Hierarchy, and foundations were focused on nonprofits handling the most critical needs on that hierarchy. But all things are necessary in that hierarchy, they’re all needs. So is the funding now expanding to more types of organizations, or are most foundations still focused on those most integral needs of, like, food and shelter?

[00:09:16.570] – Tracy Kaufman
I would say a lot of the new funding initiatives that are coming out right now are going to be heavily focused towards basic needs, food and shelter. And that is important, especially because social services organizations, I think, are being hurt almost most of all, at a time like this. They have the thinnest margins and the smallest operating reserves of all nonprofits, and so it is important.

[00:09:42.010] – Tracy Kaufman
However, if, for instance, you have existing funders that already have been given to you, foundation priorities are foundation priorities. Those don’t tend to change over time. When foundations choose, these are the subjects that we want to give towards, that is a relatively stable thing. If you’re an arts organization, your arts funder is still an arts funder, for instance. I would say it’s probably more important than ever to focus most heavily on the funders you already have. You can chase down new funders, but as they say, it’s cheaper to keep them. Go for the people who know you and like your work the best first and steward them.

[00:10:29.530] – Boris
Absolutely, right on. So speaking of that, what is working and what’s not working for nonprofits these days with seeking foundational funding?

[00:10:39.910] – Tracy Kaufman
I think the most effective technique is to double down on what you do best. What are the critical needs that you serve and how you do it effectively? Some of these things are true, not just in a crisis, but at all times, but they become truer than ever right now. Focusing not just on the fact that your organization is suffering right now. Most organizations are suffering right now, but putting a little more emphasis on the urgency of the work you are doing, what is the critical social value that you provide right now? Why is it important that this work gets funded? What they call the case for support, strengthening that case for support and making sure that you can clearly articulate. Whether it’s to foundations, or to individuals, or whoever, that this is important work that needs to exist. That question of why do you exist? Why do you do the work that you do every day? Being able to communicate that in a crisp, clear, persuasive way is going to take you very far.

[00:11:54.970] – Boris
So we’ve been talking a bunch on this show and really, everyone that I’ve been talking to in general, about how to refocus your mission and within your mission, find new ways to achieve it, to serve your community. I know that individual donors, specifically, are responding to it. So if you have been primarily fulfilling your mission in one way and it’s been more person to person direct contact, and now you’re shifting to programs that are more online based or that are helping people specifically in the situation that we’re all in right now. But it’s something slightly new, something slightly different still, though, based on your mission. A lot of individual donors are responding. They appreciate that you are still trying to serve your community, that you’re filling these important needs, that you are pivoting and involving as needed to keep serving. Are funders interested in new ways that you’re doing your work, or are they mostly interested in the long term programs that you’ve already had in the past?

[00:13:03.370] – Tracy Kaufman
As long as whatever pivot you’re making for your programs make sense for who you are and who you serve and what you do, then, I believe funders are going to be very receptive to that. Funders are people the same way regular donors are people, and they understand that times are complicated right now. As long as you loop your funders in to what is going on, don’t surprise them with whatever changes are taking place internally at your organization. Talk to them right now, if you haven’t already, about changes that you’re making in your program. Because things are different, we are taking this program and reconfiguring it to this new virtual format in order to still keep serving people and getting such and such positive outcomes. Just talk to them openly and honestly about it.

[00:13:56.890] – Tracy Kaufman
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is just to talk openly and honestly with your funders. Do not surprise them, and also just to make sure that you’re getting them on board with things as they are happening, and they can either opt in or opt out. But they’re much more likely to opt into what you’re doing if you’re completely on the level with them at all times and having open human conversations with them.

[00:14:23.470] – Boris
Sure, keeping them feeling like a partner in the work that you’re doing, right?

[00:14:26.770] – Tracy Kaufman
Exactly, because they are a partner.

[00:14:28.990] – Boris
Absolutely, and a lot of storytelling definitely comes into play in that, where it’s, how do you tell the story of the community that you’re serving the way that they’re being impacted right now and the ways that you’re pivoting, adjusting to serve them. But absolutely, as you said, staying true to your mission and the goals of the programs in the first place, rather than all of a sudden, you see a need that’s unrelated and launching something completely new.

[00:14:56.530] – Tracy Kaufman
Yeah. You don’t want to do mission drift at a time like is.

[00:14:59.350] – Boris
Yeah, mission drift, mission creep. Absolutely. We’ve hit the initial crush, if you will, of emotion, of response, of changes in the way that we all not just our organizations operate, but we all kind of see the world in society right now. Things that change really rapidly. Some nonprofits were great at adjusting. Some took a little longer or are still on that path. But now that we see this new reality, if you will, that we’re going to be in for at least the next few months, maybe years. Maybe some changes are probably permanent in their lasting effects. What should nonprofits be looking at now and thinking about in terms of their sustainability post pandemic, post COVID?

[00:15:50.330] – Tracy Kaufman
There are two main pieces of what nonprofits are going to need to be thinking about. They’ll need to think about what do their programs look like? Long term now, and to what extent do you even know the long term? A lot depends on what your subject area is, what you do, what your programs currently look like. Some things more easily adapt to these modified new formats than others, but just being careful that for some things, it might not go back to normal. It might if we’re very fortunate, but coming up with maybe a few plans of what the future might look like so that you can be adaptable. Like trying to be proactive rather than reactive to the situation. Which is difficult, and it’s going to be difficult for everyone, but having an idea of what does, for instance, this time next year look like? How much will be back to normal and how much might not be, and how can you be ready for either outcome?

[00:16:52.190] – Tracy Kaufman
But then there’s the fundraising question. I think there’s a little more control over what the question of fundraising will look like compared to the question of what your programs might look like. Now, fundraising is hard and it always has been, and it will continue to be difficult. I don’t want to paint an overly rosy picture of what foundation funding looks like right now because it’s never been easy to get a grant, and it’s not going to be easy to get a grant, and it shouldn’t be. Grants are given to organizations who merit the grant funding, the case for support. So there is the foundation piece. There’s also figuring out what does the piece of individual donations look like for your organization? Because the share of donors is shrinking.

[00:17:44.690] – Tracy Kaufman
As I was reading that fewer people are giving to charity right now, and what’s that going to look like over time? They’re saying that lower income donors have shrunk the most, whereas the higher income donors have been affected the least. Donor advised funds, meanwhile, this is kind of a bright spot. Giving from donor advised funds has gone up something like, what is it? 58%. I wrote it down. Donor advised fund grant making is up 58% between March and April, compared to what those numbers were like this time last year. That’s a big deal, and that is a good thing to keep in mind. It’s not incredibly easy to access donor advised funds if you haven’t already, but these are basically high income donors, so cultivating them a little bit better.

[00:18:33.950] – Tracy Kaufman
With someone who has a DAF, the thing is, this is money that has already been committed to charity. It’s already there. So you may as well ask, you may as well cultivate those major donors more than ever. But this all leads back into a major thing of what nonprofits need to do to become more sustainable over time, which is reexamine your funding streams, make sure they are diversified. Before the pandemic, there were a lot of organizations that were overly dependent on one or two funding streams. Whether it’s individual donors, whether it’s government support, it’s very risky to be overly dependent on government support. Making sure that you are looking at ways to diversify as much as possible, so that when there’s a crisis, you are more protected, you’ve hedged your bets a bit more. So I think that’s going to be one major major piece of it.

[00:19:29.870] – Boris
Very similar to an investment strategy, right? That if you’re an investor, you want to have a diverse portfolio, because if you’re all in the stock market, the stock market went down pretty sharply over the last few months. Right? And most of your wealth could have been wiped out. Similarly, from the other perspective. As a nonprofit, you want to have multiple revenue and funding streams so that if one goes south, temporarily or long term, you can still keep going along with some of the others and supplement in different ways. Right?

[00:20:02.690] – Tracy Kaufman
Yep, and I mean, nonprofits tend to have been very vulnerable during crises like this, financially speaking. Even in the best of times, nonprofits have very slim margins and not that much money saved up in reserves for a rainy day. And then when something like this happens and you lose a critical funding stream, that is when disaster strikes. So it’s going to be more important than ever to think through finances and operations more carefully than ever to be protected.

[00:20:34.490] – Tracy Kaufman
But at the same time, keep getting out there and hustling to make the case for the importance of your work because you exist for a reason. The work you do is important and essential for a reason. And just learning how to put that into clear, jargon free wording that will get people excited, whether it’s a foundation, whether it’s a corporation, whether it’s an individual. Getting people excited about, “Oh, my money will make results. People’s lives will be better with this money” and learning how to tell that story as vividly as you can. Doing that along with that risk averse financial planning, I think, will be incredibly important.

[00:21:15.170] – Tracy Kaufman
And then there’s going to be one other thing which is learning how to collaborate with your fellow organizations more than ever. It’s been a lot of lip service about the importance of collaboration over the years, and I think at a time like now, collaboration is going to be more important than ever when it comes to being able to sustain yourselves. Sometimes it might be a more informal collaboration. Maybe people share office space at some point, assuming we all get back to physical offices at some point in the future, or it might be something as major as a merger. Some organizations will find that they’ll be able to thrive better if they merge and starting to think about that a little bit more carefully. Consolidating resources so that you’re not replicating the same services as another organization. And I think that will help people thrive considerably.

[00:22:09.470] – Boris
Finding efficiencies and synergies. In terms of office space, I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and I think the coworking model is probably going to shift, and nonprofits can take advantage of it, too. Where everybody doesn’t have to be in the office all the time. Multiple teams can essentially share the same space on different days or different hours, whatever it might be. So that you have a home-base, if you need to go in and have a conference, have an all-hands-on-deck meeting, hands on meeting, whatever that term is. And the other days, you’re all working from home and you’re fine with Zoom or other remote methodologies. So I did want to, though, come back to donor advised funds for a second. Are they very different than, say, a regular family foundation? Do they also have to donate a certain percentage or distribute a certain percentage of their funding in any given year?

[00:23:08.030] – Tracy Kaufman
No. So donor advised funds are kind of a little bit like an individual donor and a little bit like a foundation. A donor advised fund is when a person or a family or what have you, takes a chunk of their wealth, it could be in some places, it’s as small as, like $5,000, in other cases it might be a million dollars. They vary. And they’re invested in a donor advised fund, which means this money, it is technically committed to go to charity at some point, but it is invested. The money grows over time, and whenever the person wants to take a piece of this money and give it away to an organization, they’re able to do that. But there’s not a ton of regulation on donor advised funds.

[00:23:55.310] – Tracy Kaufman
While foundations are required to give out at least 5% of their assets each year, a donor advised fund can go a whole year and give away nothing. So there’s been a lot of controversy about this over time. However, it is a very good sign that right now, donor advised fund giving is up, because a lot of money is going there. A lot of the people who used to set up a family foundation are instead using their money for a donor advised fund because it’s much easier to operate than operating a foundation. It’s a lot of work to run a family foundation, but it’s very simple and straightforward to run a donor advised fund.

[00:24:34.190] – Boris
Do you guys track that at Candid as well? And at GuideStar and Foundation Center sides of it?

[00:24:39.290] – Tracy Kaufman
We try to collect what information is available on them, but there is a lot of secrecy around donor advised funds. A lot of the giving is anonymous, and that’s what people often like about using a donor advised fund as well. They like being anonymous. They like not having every nonprofit in town knocking on their doors at all times. I find it most helpful to think of a donor advised fund the same way as an individual donor, because in some ways they are. It’s like The Wizard of Oz, where behind the curtain of all that money and that structure, there’s just a person with a lot of money.

[00:25:14.030] – Tracy Kaufman
So you might cultivate a donor advised fund holder the same way that you would cultivate a high net worth donor. So getting to know people in spheres of wealth and influence, we’re all trying to cultivate that for our donor basis in some ways, I guess. A lot of people who have a lot of wealth, it turns out, even if you did not know it originally, that they do their giving through a donor advised fund. So I would say talk to them the same way you would talk to an individual high net worth donor. That is going to be the most successful way to do it.

[00:25:51.170] – Boris
So you guys can only collect as much information as you can collect because it’s not all publicly available. They don’t need to file 990s or any kind of documentation, really, that’s public. For the stuff that you guys do track, is there a tool you think nonprofits should be looking at, especially right now or in general?

[00:26:13.370] – Tracy Kaufman
There’s a lot. If you’re interested in COVID-specific information, we do have a pop-up site that our data and research staffers have been working on. Funding for Coronavirus pop-up site is tracking how much funding is going on out there and who are the top funders? Where’s the money going? We’ve been tracking tons of information, doing a lot of write ups and analysis on what that funding looks like right now. That would be a great resource. And just for general information, if you’re looking for foundation funding, you can always use the foundation directory online, which is our database of over 150,000 different grant making foundations. That will be a very helpful resource for researching foundations.

[00:26:56.630] – Tracy Kaufman
If you’re looking to research nonprofits and the type of work that a nonprofit organization is doing, GuideStar will be a terrific resource for doing that. And if you’re just looking for kind of tools for how to strengthen your organization overall, I would suggest grantspace.org. This is where we put a lot of our training classes, our webinars. You can access our Online Librarian Service there. Whenever you have a question about anything, ask our Online Librarians, and they’re very knowledgeable and helpful. So those will probably be the major resources.

[00:27:31.490] – Boris
Those are all great, and we’re going to make sure to link to all of those in the show notes for this episode. If someone does reach out to a librarian, is there a chance they’re going to hit you? Are you still doing any librarian services or are you fully out of that?

[00:27:43.970] – Tracy Kaufman
I used to be one of the Online Librarians, but we’ve got a whole team all over the country of people who are doing it right now.

[00:27:51.170] – Boris
So what should people do if they want to follow you? Connect with you further and learn more about the stuff that you’re doing over at Candid?

[00:27:58.490] – Tracy Kaufman
Well, if you want to follow me personally, you can find me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to connect and answer any questions you have. You can also find me through a lot of the trainings that take place over on Grant Space, so definitely follow Grant Space. If you get on their newsletter list, you’ll be able to keep up with what are the new classes, webinars, what have you that are coming up in the future and my team and I are always happy to be of service there.

[00:28:23.870] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you so much, Tracy. You’re always so generous with all the knowledge and information that you have. So much of it stored up in your head over all these years that you’ve accumulated. I really appreciate it. I’m sure that people will be following up with you on LinkedIn and checking out Grant Space and all the other great resources that you mentioned. Any parting words that you’d like to share with the audience before we sign off?

[00:28:49.250] – Tracy Kaufman
Stay strong and remember to talk to your funders. Call them up today.

[00:28:54.350] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you so much, Tracy. And thank you, everybody, for joining us today for episode five of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Do check us out on YouTube, on Facebook, on all of the major podcast streaming platforms. Let us know what you think, share your thoughts. Subscribe, download, I don’t know. Do anything that you like to do with a podcast these days. Talk to you all very soon. I’m sure. Bye-bye.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Candid’s focus on data and research allows foundations and nonprofits to use that information to strengthen their organization. (2:47)
  • COVID Relief funding saw a dramatic increase of nearly $6.6 billion from April to May. Initially, the rush of funding was corporate, but has since evolved to include more independent and family foundations. (5:02)
  • Of the private support going to nonprofits, only 18% comes from foundations, compared to nearly 70% coming from individual donors. (5:54)
  • Organizations gain stability in funding from the law requiring foundations to donate a minimum of 5% of their assets yearly. (7:00)
  • Asset averaging is common for foundations because during ideal times, it allows the foundation to give less than their assumed amount, however, during unfortunate times, leads the foundation to give a bit more. (7:34)
  • Right now, many funding initiatives are focusing on basic needs. But many established pre-pandemic funders remain consistent with their areas of focus. (9:03)
  • The most effective technique for nonprofits to seek funding right now is to focus on the urgency of their work, not the struggle of the pandemic. (10:30)
  • For nonprofits making pandemic-related pivots, it’s essential to stay true to their missions and communicate significant changes to their funders. (11:54)
  • It is crucial to talk openly and honestly with your funders. Don’t surprise them – instead, keep them involved as changes are happening so they can choose whether they would like to opt in or out. (13:56)
  • Be proactive rather than reactive – plan ahead of time what your organization may look like in the future. (16:24)
  • Funding is, and always has been difficult. It’s not easy to get a grant, and it never will be. As it should, because grants are only given to organizations who merit grant funding. (17:04)
  • When compared to last year’s numbers, giving from donor advised funds, grant making increased by an impressive 58%. (18:10)
  • There is one major thing that nonprofits need to do in order to become more sustainable over time and that is re-examining funding streams and ensuring they are diversified. (18:46)
  • It is essential to have multiple sources of revenue as a nonprofit. If one source becomes unavailable, whether it is temporary or long-term, you can comfortably supplement your additional sources in different ways. (19:46)
    • Even in ideal circumstances, nonprofits have very slim margins and do not have large amounts in savings for unfortunate circumstances. It is during these circumstances, such as losing a critical funding stream, that disaster can strike.
  • In current times, it is more crucial than ever to collaborate in order to remain sustainable. (21:46)
  • Many people who once set up a family foundation are now, instead, using their money for a donor advised fund due to its ease of operation when compared to operating a foundation. (24:17)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

  • Start implementing!

    A journey of 1,000 changed lives begins with a single step.

    Need help? Let us know.

About this week’s guest

Tracy Kaufman

Tracy Kaufman

Programs Manager

Tracy Kaufman is the Programs Manager at Candid. Tracy is responsible for building out Candid’s public and education programming, including stakeholder and networking events for New York City’s social sector at both professional and community-based levels. She is a Lead Instructor for Candid’s three-day Proposal Writing Boot Camp and teaches a popular workshop on Outcomes and Measurement. As one of Candid’s training experts, webinar instructors, and a frequent public speaker, she has spoken at conferences, most notably the United Nations, and has represented Candid on numerous panel discussions. Previously, Tracy held positions with the Association of American Publishers and New York Public Library. Tracy earned her Bachelors of Arts from John Hopkins University.

Connect with Tracy Kaufman

Ep 4 - Marian Stern - Featured

Episode 4: Grants, Fundraising and Storytelling in Times of Crisis with Marian Stern

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 4

Boards, Grants, Fundraising and Storytelling in Times of Crisis with Marian Stern

In this Episode:

Boris talks to Marian Stern, Principle of Projects in Philanthropy, who shares how nonprofits are impacted and advice on how to pivot during COVID to create your budget, reach out to donors, share your message and stay true to your mission while creating new funding needs.

Boris Kievsky 0:04
Welcome to the nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and Podcast, where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world. Dading!

Everybody and welcome to Episode Four of the nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m really excited to have my friend and occasional collaborator Marian stern on the show today. Marian is a consultant, a former professor at the NYU School of philanthropy. She provides services to nonprofits around fundraising, strategic planning, Board Governance and development. She also advises foundations on grant making. We’re going to talk to her a bit about that today and specifically in terms of the response to COVID-19 And how nonprofits are reacting, how foundations are reacting. I don’t want to delay any further because there’s so much I’d really like to talk to her about. So without any further ado, let’s get Marian onto the show.

Marian Stern 1:13
Hi Boris!

Boris Kievsky 1:14
Hi, Marian, how are you today?

Marian Stern 1:16
Good. Good. Thank you and you.

Boris Kievsky 1:18
I am doing all right. All things considered doing great. So, thank you so much. First of all, for coming on the show. I’m really excited to have you here. You and I have worked on a few projects together at this point. And I honestly always learn a lot from you. So I’m really happy to bring you on the show and help more people learn a lot from you. If you don’t mind, tell me a little bit since I’m so focused on storytelling. Tell me a little bit of your story, Marian?

Marian Stern 1:47
Oh, sure. Sure. Well, certainly I’ve been in this business for decades, both as a grant maker way back several decades ago and then owning my own firm which is called Projects and pholampathy. I work with public charities. as you indicated in the intro, I do a lot of fundraising planning, I like to work on strategy, etc. Recently during COVID my work has has changed a bit and has also accelerated. A lot of nonprofits. Initially were very concerned about events that seemed to be the biggest problem once they were able to go virtual with their services. Then, almost every nonprofit I’ve worked with had something scheduled for April May or June. Those events either had to be postponed or canceled had to go virtual, some converted to emergency campaign. That was the initial shock in the system of nonprofits and what to do about that. I’ve seen everything. I’ve seen people postpone them, I’ve worked with nonprofits who have gone virtual. I also feel in some respects, the best tactic for many of them were emergency campaigns in lieu of events. If you want to know I can tell you a little bit more about that. Then the next phase of my work with nonprofits is okay. What do we do now?

Boris, I think you know me well enough that I tend to believe in the real deep best practices of fundraising, which is to work with the donors who know you best. For many of your organization’s we really emphasize going back to major donors, explaining to them new needs that may have resulted from the crisis either lost revenue if you had earned revenue as a nonprofit, or other grants that might go away and work with those major donors to see if they could help you. They’re also asked them to help you in your asking for others. We’ve developed emergency campaigns. I we’ve also learned and I learned this actually with you, Boris and another broadcast from Tracy, the Foundation Center that institutional donors really want to help now and most foundations and corporate giving programs have removed many of the barriers For communication with nonprofits and also they want to get money out the door very quickly. That’s what I’ve been doing on the advice side the next phase I seeing a lot of nonprofits begin to grapple with is many have fiscal year ends of June 30. Maybe a lot of them have bought in a good amount of money in the past couple of months or earlier in the fiscal year they did very well in their annual campaigns, their earlier events etc. Now all of a sudden the new fiscal year is looming and they’re very worried about revenue production beginning July one.

Boris Kievsky 4:37
There’s a whole lot to unpack there

Marian Stern 4:39
I know.

Boris Kievsky 4:41
Thank you. That’s awesome stuff. Just for the for the record. Tracy is actually going to be on the show next week. So next Thursday, Tracy now candid when we knew her well, Foundation Center and now its Foundation Center is merged with Was it a Wasn’t it? Yes, exactly. Now they are candid. I guess what I love to do is really break things down and help audiences understand as much as possible things that they could do things that they should be looking out for and implementing these days totally agree that the initial mad rush was, what do we do? How do we fill our budget gaps, if we don’t do our online, our in person events, our major gala is a lot of nonprofits. Their fiscal year end is in the summer. Several that I spoke to were really worried about it. Then they slowly figured out with advice from people like yourself and me and other pros out there, how to take those events, put them up online instead, really make a call to action around the fact that this is an emergency situation and As much as I rail against it against using the term, but put it in terms of now more than ever.

Marian Stern 6:07
Few too many times.

Boris Kievsky 6:09
Just gets a little much in my inbox. But yeah, and a lot of them have successfully now pivoted and started offering their programming online. Actually one organization that I’m in regular contact with actually raised more money this year, based on everything that’s going on, they now have a surplus. Their concern is actually for next year at this point. If they can’t resume their regular operations, what are they going to do then? Before we even get there, though? Tell me a little bit. I know that you’re currently working with a relief fund.

Marian Stern 6:46
Yeah. Yeah.

Boris Kievsky 6:48
Tell me a little bit about what you’re seeing there. What, what are the big things that nonprofits are feeling the challenge with and what are the responses that you’re helping put out

Marian Stern 7:00
Okay, so I was fortunate enough to be asked to serve as a grant proposal reviewer for the New Jersey pandemic Relief Fund, which was started by Governor Murphy’s wife I forget her first name. Now Forgive me, along with most of the major foundations in New Jersey who pulled funds. Then they had that they had a telethon that Springsteen and Bon Jovi were on and they raised money. It’s been very interesting. They received many more proposals than they expected from a whole spectrum of organizations from the largest in the state to very grassroots kind of church based organizations or soup kitchens, things like that. The priority of the fund right now is to get money out the door for immediate relief, food, health care, safety, those kinds of issues.

What I’m seeing is that the response by nonprofits in New Jersey has been really formidable, again from the smallest soup kitchen. That is having multiple Request for triple or quadruple the number of food packages or meals to larger or to the food banks. It’s been very rewarding to see how the state has held the nonprofit’s in the state have really rallied. For those of you who are out there, Please don’t reach out to me about this because not that I wouldn’t love to hear from you and people can reach out to me for anything but I can’t help you in in the review process. I’m just helping to review the grants the board makes the final decisions. Sorry, I had to do that.

Boris Kievsky 8:36
Oh, absolutely. I understand. That said though. What are the things that you’re you’re seeing in applications that are helping people actually get those grants? What are the key points or stories that you’re reading?

Marian Stern 8:56
Boris, I can’t really serve as an official spokesman on behalf of them. They have those people, Tammy Murphy and others, again. I’m seeing this with other foundations that I’ve spoken with. I’d like to make this a more universal kind of assessment. I’m also a member of a large women’s King circle in New York City, which is associated with the New York Community Trust Fund, which has also started a very, very large emergency fund. I’m seeing probably a hierarchy among institutional donors now, which is immediate relief. For those who have family members or they themselves are sick, people have lost their jobs and wages. People are going hungry, people who feel that they don’t have sufficient funds to pay their mortgage or the rent.

Working with organizations that basically serve the most vulnerable populations, and I’m seeing that and I think Tracy will confirm this next week. I think all institutional donors going forward or like nonprofit saying, Okay, we got through this really quick mergency period, it was very, very intense. Now there are going to be issues of sustainability. I think that’s what nonprofits need to think about in terms of their appeals, and who they go to, for what, and also institutional or after that matter, personal individuals who give away money. Where can they make that difference in this area sustainability, because the next year is going to be maybe longer will be extremely challenging, and serving people because of the employment matters.

Boris Kievsky 10:30
Right. Right now we’re looking at, essentially, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right, and the things that are most core to our survival, which is shelter, food safety, right before we could get to the other things. I understand that’s where a lot of grant giving organizations are focusing right now because those are perhaps identifiably the most pressing needs. But we do. Even though it’s framed as a hierarchy, we do actually need all of the things on that pyramid that Maslow formulated, including community including a sense of self and self worth. What are we advising nonprofits that maybe are not dealing with? Can you pay your rent this month? Do you have food on the table, but are still really providing essential services to their communities?

Marian Stern 11:26
Yeah. This to me is really the existential question for now through at least the next six months. I’m even thinking about arts organizations and where they fit into this larger sphere. First of all, but I’ve been advising my clients right now is that in many cases, and I never understood this, why there was the Finance Committee on their board and then there’s Development Committee and the Finance Committee creates the budget and then the development committee is responsible for seeing that the fundraising or the unearned revenue side is The budget is fulfilled. Well, right now I am suggesting that development, your development board and staff and your finance board and staff work together as a team to do projections for next year’s budget. I’m saying do an optimistic, optimistic and pessimistic versions, three versions of next year’s budget on both the revenue and expense side. Because it’s just too hard to predict right now. Expenses are probably a little easier to predict. But on the revenue side, it is extremely difficult to predict what’s going to go on. So I think that holistic approach to planning for next year is essential. First of all, secondly, I always advise organizations do not disassociate yourself with your mission. If you are in an arts organization, or you’re an education organization, and you haven’t been in the frontline of getting grants.

That doesn’t mean now that you want to pivot completely and become something you’re not what I’ve been suggesting. That you stay true to your mission, but then you create an additional value proposition. Why now and going forward your organization needs assistance to be to help sustain individuals or for the larger community. We know for example, that arts organizations when they enter a community, they are usually the first revitalizes of a depressed community because artists will come in, they’ll build they need the low rents, etc. They begin bringing people to communities, whether they’re coming to view a theater or visual arts or music, and they revitalize community. Well, arts organizations will play a very important role, I believe, in the next six months and potentially they have the funds, hiring people, most unemployed actors or waiters. They’re getting no revenue right now.

that’s an example of how nonprofit can create this value proposition that I think will help with funders. Again, always go back To the funders who know and love you best first education organizations. We don’t know what’s happened with schools in the fall either, primary and secondary schools. A lot of universities are still have not announced what they’re doing I’m particularly concerned about low income children preschool age, who have been in state funded daycare centers, or flexibly funded daycare centers. They have been getting no socialization, no education. Their parents are probably still frontline workers working in supermarkets or Home Depot. I think that’s another area that educational organizations might want to think about. If they are primarily elementary school, can they possibly do something jointly with the preschool where their services could be more holistic and maybe more attractive to a larger swath of donors?

Boris Kievsky 14:55
Everything you said they’re starting with their is a need to innovate within your organization within your mission at this time, but it has to stay true to the mission. You don’t want to lose your funders. You don’t want to lose your community because suddenly you see an opportunity, right? In the for profit and startup worlds. We talked about pivoting, right a company might pivot. Well, a pivot is fine, but a huge turn might lose everybody that it has been serving in the past. It might strike a chord of dissonance right? With your existing supporters that might suddenly say, Well, this is not what I signed up for. This is not why I’m giving monthly, but finding new ways to serve your communities during this time. absolutely critical. I’ve seen many organizations do it successfully at this point, with either digital services, your online services or even food delivery services, whatever it might be. Asking their communities, what do you need right now? How can we help get it to you? Then turning around and saying, Hey, here’s what we’re doing. Here are the programs we’re launching. Can you our supporters, our champions, help us to fund this type of programming so that we could keep serving these needs?

Marian Stern 16:17
Wow. I’m glad you mentioned digital because I’ve been speaking with nonprofits who are going again to their closest donors and saying, We need money to invest in better technology, because not only will our fundraising goal more digital, our provision of services is going to be more digital, telehealth, this is not going to go backwards. This is going to stay this is going to continue in the future. I also have been suggesting to nonprofits that now that the flooring for some of them is a little bit over and there’s a little bit more spaces there, that this is an excellent time to talk with their boards about really strategic looking taking a strategic look at what their future will look like.

I heard a great story from a Jewish Family Service Agency up in Boston, which had a gala in some fancy hotel in Boston and raised almost somewhere between 1,000,002 million dollars. Well, they had to cancel it. She said for the first time, her board is saying, Wait a minute, maybe we should invest more, and hire another major gift officer, because these people are going to need to be calling on virtually or eventually in person and major donors, working with them, helping them to understand what we’re doing. They’ll support new initiatives and whatever. Taking the time or giving yourself the luxury of having those conversations now, I think is not really a luxury. I think it’s essential for planning for the future.

Boris Kievsky 17:50
Absolutely. The appeal to helping low income folks that nonprofits may have already been helping, but are now needing help. Even more. putting that out. I’ve seen that come back in spades where people who, without any requests without any sort of major campaign have just come on to websites and said, I love what you’re doing. Thank you for serving my community. I care about this community. Here’s just a donation, some have become recurring donors, some one time donors. Of course, if they’re just one time, your job is to now nurture them into recurring donors. Don’t lose out on the opportunity, I guess, to create true supporters, rather than just one time givers out of the crisis, people who recognize your value, you should be able to prove that value going forward as well right to really

Marian Stern 18:42
Boris I think that’s really where your emphasis on storytelling makes the most sense, because we know that some donors are more data driven, and we talked about this before more data driven, they want to see the numbers, but right now during COVID most and I’ve been watching this closely donors are motivated much more on the personal stories on how a social worker in a Human Services Agency made the effort because a senior didn’t answer her phone then got in her car and knocked on the window to make sure that the person was okay. Those kinds of stories right now I believe, are driving donors, generally for small gifts. But as you said, then it’s our job as fundraisers to convert them to long term supporters.

Boris Kievsky 19:31
Yeah, absolutely. We got to drive that oxytocin give that that that feedback loop of, we’re doing something, we’re getting feedback on it, or we’re collecting our stories where we’re sharing our stories, those stories, then in turn, generate additional additional supporters, which then generate, hopefully new stories, right,

Marian Stern 19:54

Boris Kievsky 19:55
Michael going until, you’ve served every person you possibly can in your community.

Marian Stern 20:04
Obviously capturing as much as you can on video. I think people are tired of screen time. I think they’re tired of. I know I’m just reading constantly on my screen but a short video with a moving story that doesn’t feel manipulative or disingenuous that is really true and can really go a long way.

Boris Kievsky 20:24
Absolutely. Video is amazing for this. Becausejust the whole driver behind storytelling is the connection from person to person is our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another person, we can’t even help him. When someone tells a story. We imagine ourselves in it, but to actually see the person and to create that connection to create that empathy that’s going to drive the results much much faster. But absolutely, authenticity has to be key. It can’t be manufactured. It can’t be put on people. We have pretty strong bs detector. If you will, when it comes to those things, and as soon as we even get a hint of it, we feel if we feel like we’re being manipulated, we instantly turn it off. Because there’s a million other things pulling for our focus pulling for our dollars. Right? So always err on the side of too little and authentic then and disingenuous. Absolutely.

Marian Stern 21:24
The research that I’ve done on donor motivation. I’ve done a fair amount of research on that show, particularly with larger donors, what we would consider major donors. They’re driven really by two very important factors are there the hierarchy of factors are really two one is to make a difference, to make a deep difference. The other is gratitude. This is the first time in history that we anybody who has not been impacted directly by the virus can feel gratitude in other crises. We haven’t felt that sense same sense of empathy because we wouldn’t necessarily be impacted by it.

When Katrina took place, for example, or Superstorm Sandy here in the northeast, people around the country felt badly for those being impacted, but they didn’t necessarily feel the same empathy because the geographic distance prevented some of that. This situation is unprecedented because every single one of us can be in the same place. So concept of empathy, and also belonging in a nonprofit that you try previous donor or a potential donor you really want about you. You are helping us if it lets your scholarship sages I’ve been working with very, very closely of which their recipients are very low income students, and the message has been, every time you donate us You are one of us making sure that this young woman can get a laptop at home so she can finish school this semester.

Boris Kievsky 23:00

Marian Stern 23:01
That’s, I think also, again, what authentic and very compelling.

Boris Kievsky 23:09
Not to plug myself too much here. That’s why this is called the nonprofit Hero factory, right? We want to create, we want to make people feel like heroes that sets that gratitude. That’s that feeling of impact. Right? Closing that story loop and making someone feel like a hero to someone else. Also, like you’re empowering that person that you just gave that laptop to that you just sponsored up to, to become a hero in their own lives. Right. It’s a double effect. It’s so powerful.

Marian Stern 23:37
Yeah, I think a great message from a nonprofit right now is if you’re going outside, as much as possible, and you’re wearing a mask, and you’re doing social distancing, you are a hero, because you’re helping to protect anybody else who you would encounter when you’re outside your home space. Then you can just add to that heroism of the average sort of situation, which is When you support your community, for people who have more difficulty practicing social distancing, because they live in a walk up a tenement in New York City, and they’re constantly passing people in the stairwell or whatever, and you’re making sure that they get the assistance that they need, whatever it might be. That just adds to your heroism.

Boris Kievsky 24:20
Absolutely. We talked a little bit about grants and applications and the ones getting the most attention from foundations right now or the ones that are fulfilling the most diarist of needs. What are some other resources though, that most nonprofits might be able to take advantage of? Do you have any that you recommend? Things that nonprofits can be doing right now or taking advantage of?

Marian Stern 24:45
Yeah well, in addition to try to develop this special new value proposition, certainly nonprofits that have not been deployed, social media needs to do more than ever and it doesn’t happen. To be particularly professional looking, I think everybody in some respects has lowered their standards a little bit on what’s being produced out there. I mean, I’m just looking at my hair right now what everybody looks like. So, so definitely get your message out on social media. Secondly, as states start to open up, one of the things I’ve been sort of brainstorming with with organizations is the concept of some in person gatherings. I think big events, I would say for the next 12 months don’t even consider a large event.

It’s just not worth the time and the anxiety that is going to cause but we’ve been talking about small parlour meetings, which are generally not asked meetings, they are donor stewardship meetings or education meetings in someone’s home, somebody who has a large home, let’s say or a large apartment, you invite very few people 45 minutes, so that the exposure is limited and you you create it so that people don’t have to be on top of one another. For two reasons one is to get your message out again, in a smaller, more intimate setting where people feel that it’s being directed to them individually. Secondly, to say thank you. But I’m not sure if that was your question. Was your question like, what resources are out there?

Boris Kievsky 26:22
Yeah. That’s great. Those were a great strategy. Thank you for sharing that. Yeah, are there specific resources that you think more organizations should be taking advantage of or looking into?

Marian Stern 26:34
Well. I think it would be helpful for nonprofits to just see what the general trends are out there. Whether donations are going up or down and getting an overview, larger, much larger than what you are now you’re doing here right now boris. I’m an avid reader of the Chronicle philanthropy, they’ve been following philanthropy nationally, very closely. Recently. Secondly, I know what you want me to say for us based on our earlier conversation. Secondly, reach out to past providers. If you use marketing firms, if you’ve used consultants, with your fundraising, board, governance, whatever I am finding, and I’m doing this myself, that virtually all of my colleagues are providing some pro bono help right now. It might be a one off one hour conversation.

You can say, or is what we’re doing right? Do you have any new ideas? It could be reduced rates, it could be a longer term relationship. But I see on my LinkedIn page, and just by talking with colleagues and bars and I are both doing this, that those of us who work in the nonprofit space are the first I think, who are likely to say, Hey, we’re in this together, we want to help you so people can reach out to me if they’d like. I’ve been giving a couple of organizations have asked me to be part of a team that’s giving free one hours and then negotiating with clients for some low low cost assistance. So that’s a great resource right now.

Boris Kievsky 28:13
I remember when this first started, when we first began the the big waves of lockdowns and things. I had sent out a newsletter, saying I’m offering free consultation and if somebody needs a pop up on their website or some kind of alert or something, just let me know. I’m doing it for free. You were one of the first people like within minutes of that newsletter, you responded saying this is amazing. I’m doing the same thing. This is great.

Marian Stern 28:39
Yeah. I know I have a crackerjack reach prospect researcher who I work with a lot. She just put on a LinkedIn page. She wants to help I know capital camp capital campaigns. Now, this is a complex issue. I think they should continue. I think they can be they can be successful, but it is more complicated. I know capital campaign. Pain specialists who are giving some free support. Yeah, and marketing and marketing people. I’ve noticed that a number of marketing firms that do a lot of work in the nonprofit space, have been putting a lot on their websites. Again, like what you’re doing posting recordings of discussions about how to market right now. I’ve been putting a lot of PowerPoints up on my LinkedIn site, about best practices and a lot of what we talked about today. So if you are aware of consulting firms, and you know, competition, but they’re a zillion times bigger than I am CCS, which is probably the largest consultancy in the nonprofit in the fundraising space in the world, their their website has a ton of free content on it right now. Yeah, so they’re there. People do want to help.

Boris Kievsky 29:53
Yeah, absolutely. And I really appreciate the time even depth you’re taking today, Marian, I know that you provide A lot of value all the time on on LinkedIn. We’re going to have that link in the show notes today, as well as the links to the Chronicles of philanthropy and some of the other resources that you mentioned. I encourage all our viewers and listeners to go check them out and take advantage as much as possible.

Marian Stern 30:18
Right want to link Boris then if I can, to CCS? Yes, yes. Racing consultancy. And also big duck as a marketing firm in Brooklyn. You know, big duck. They do brilliant work. And they have been running a lot of seminars, and I’m sure that they’re living on their website now.

Boris Kievsky 30:35
Mm hmm. Absolutely. Yeah. So we’ll definitely link to all of those and encourage people to connect with Marian to get in touch and maybe she could offer some some free consulting there as well. We’re always conscious of your time, which I know you’re spread really thin these days. So I don’t want to I don’t want to mob you with requests, but I’m sure people are gonna be

Marian Stern 30:58
I don’t have any young children at home. So I don’t have to deal with for people with young children. It’s been so challenging. So a little bit. I wish my grandson were here, but sadly he’s not.

Boris Kievsky 31:09
Yeah, it’s both a blessing and awesome. Thank you again so much, Marian, I really appreciate you. I know we’ll be talking more soon. I’ll have you back on the show, hopefully talking about something other than pandemic response in the future.

Marian Stern 31:27
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Great. Thanks, boris. Thank you, everyone.

Boris Kievsky 31:31
Bye bye.

All right. Thank you everybody for joining us. Thank you again, Marion. Definitely check out the show notes. If you go to NPHeroFactory.com. You’ll see all of the different shows. This was episode number four with Marian Stern, and we’ll have all the resources and the transcript everything all linked up there, including the video if you want to watch the replay later on or share with friends. Stay safe everybody stay sane everybody whether you have kids at home a new puppy or not. We’re all in this together. I know the path forward is going to be a little challenging, but We definitely can and we’ll get through it stronger as a community. Thanks for everything you do.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Create a holistic approach to planning – finance and development committee collaboration for next year’s budget projections
  • Stay true to your mission while creating additional value proposition
  • Understand donor motivation and what it’s driven by during this crisis
  • Work with major donors who know you best

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Chronicle of Philanthropy – serving nonprofit leaders, fundraisers, grant makers, and others involved in philanthropy with news, advice and resources
    • CCS Fundraising – leading consulting experts in campaign and development strategy
    • Reach out to past providers – marketing teams, capital campaign specialists and consultants are willing to do pro-bono service
    • Connect with Marian on LinkedIn
  • Start implementing!

    Check out Marian’s LinkedIn page for lots of free content:

    Marian’s LinkedIn

About this week’s guest

Marian Stern

Marian Stern

Principal, Projects in Philanthropy

As principal of Projects in Philanthropy, Marian Stern provides consulting services to non-profit organizations in the areas of fundraising planning, board governance, training and development, strategic planning and meeting facilitation, as well as providing grant-making advice to foundations.

As a former professor of philanthropy at the NYU Center on Philanthropy, she has been quoted widely in the press on many issues confronted by non-profit organizations and philanthropists, alike.

Connect with Marian Stern