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Environmental Nonprofit Managers’ Newsletter

Vol. 1 Winter 2013-14


This newsletter is produced for the course PAI 748 At the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Instructed by Sheena Ashley, PhD. Author bios may be lightly fictitionalized.

Contributing Editors Elisa Hitt Davis, Thomas Kaczmarek, & Megan O’Connor

Layout & Design Elisa Hitt Davis


Contents Maximizing Image and Support through Cross-Sector Partnerships

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by Tom Kaczmarek, Executive Director of (Climate Change Organization)

Nonprofits focused on crisis management and climate change have more in common than meets the eye (and wallet). The executive of a climate change organization offers insight on how managers in both sectors can integrate communication strategies to increase capacity by strengthening donor support.

Re-envisioning Volunteer Management By Elisa Hitt Davis, Executive Director of Local Conservation Alliance

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Growing organizations often focus resources on fundraising and development, but developing your volunteer pool may be a better long-term strategy. The executive director of a growing local conservation organization discusses how her organization is focusing on volunteers as a way to improve community engagement and bolster organizational financial stability.

On Your Marks...Get Set...Go? Should Your Environmental Nonprofit Join the 5k Competition?

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By Megan O’Connor

Many nonprofits are quick to use a 5k run/walk as a fundraiser. The executive director of the Environmental Nonprofit Consultancy Group offers her perspective on whether or not your environmental nonprofit should establish its own annual event.

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Maximizing Image and Support through Cross-Sector Partnerships

by Tom Kaczmarek

Executive Director of Climate Change Organization

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, I was torn. As the executive director of a climate change organization, I knew our research indicated climate change may very well have contributed to the existence and severity of the storm. I wanted to rally my colleagues together to highlight the issue and attract new donors to our cause. But in the carving out of the nonprofit sector, I knew this was not “our turf ”. On this day, disaster relief organizations needed the media attention and donor aid. After all, that’s the way it always was. While I supported the calls to support disaster relief efforts, I knew deep down that our organization could do more – to fulfill our own mission while aiding theirs. After meeting with my peers at disaster relief organizations to discuss our subsectors’ common needs and challenges, we realized that through coordinated communications we could.

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Challenges and Solutions for Crisis Management Organizations As executives of disaster relief organizations note, they disproportionally receive funding during “front page” crises. The increasing frequency and intensity of storms over the past several years has demanded more relief groups to ask more donors for more money more often. The increase in emergency donation drives has been lead-

ing to “disaster fatigue” – or a reduction in donations due to the hopelessness donors feel in trying to keep up with the increase in disasters and disaster needs. The “fatigue”, however, may very well be due to the reactive nature of relief aid drives. Although Red Cross and Oxfam still seek proactive solutions to future problems, their donor base is driven by addressing crises as or after they occur. With ongoing criticism for the appropriation of earmarked donations, crisis management nonprofits need to break their donors out of the “band aid” donation habit by educating on the variety of missions they serve and the preventative measures that can be taken with more regular donor support. Groups such as Climate Change Organization are in a position help make this happen. Our nonprofits are heavily focused on the causation of weather pattern changes and how to reduce the frequency and intensity of the very storms relief organizations respond to. By partnering with crisis management groups, environmental organizations can offer complementary communications to build upon this cause-effect relationship, highlight the prevalence of environmental-related disasters beyond those on the front page, and ultimately draw donors’ attention to the need for sustainable revenue for missions of both organizations.


Challenges and Solutions for Climate Change Organizations It is no secret to environmental nonprofits and existing donors that there is a potentially strong correlation between climate change and the frequency and potency of natural disasters. Yet from the perspective of our potential donors, it is difficult to see such har monization. This is because we lack a relatable face. The polar bear has long been a mascot for our sector. While some donors are driven to support a cause to save polar bears or other wildlife, we fail to penetrate new pockets of potential supporters. What we miss is where disaster relief groups are strongest – a “face” for the cause. Because many potential supporters have little idea how close to home climate change already is, climate change groups need to shift away from marketing of polar bears toward highlighting the impact of climate

change on humans. Many donors want to see their funding go to direct human services, and rightfully so. But by teaming up with disaster relief groups, climate change organizations can show how their efforts will lessen the need for disaster relief for future generations.

Success of climate change nonprofits would reduce the quantity and magnitude of future disasters that relief groups respond to.

Communication In Action Our two organizations seized on the critical bond between these commonalities: although not all disasters are linked to climate change, success of climate change nonprofits would reduce the quantity and magnitude of future disasters that relief groups respond to. We released the following two coordinated communications through various online, print and television mediums: “Global warming is not just about the polar bears. Lend a hand to your brothers and sisters in need by donating to disaster relief and acting sustainably.” “These disasters can be prevented. Contribute to climate change organizations and save your future generations from needing my assistance.” By embracing our similarities and reaching across subsectors, we found higher message resonation with donors and a greater willingness to contribute to both causes. Funding can be more consistent, donors more loyal and volunteers more active when causal relationships are more clearly defined and support goes directly to solutions. Through strategic partnerships on communications in overlapping areas, we can overcome long-standing walls between ourselves and potential donors, volunteers and advocates.

Tom Kaczmarek has been the Executive Director of Climate Change Organization since 20XX. He obtained his MPA from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School in 2014, and also sits on the board of Local Land Trust. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, running, and camping in the wilderness he’s devoted his career to preserving.

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Re-envisioning Volunteer Management

by Elisa Hitt Davis

Executive Director of Local Conservation Association

Nonprofit organizations across sectors have been pushed by the recent recession to diversify their revenue streams in order to better weather the next economic storm. Here, at Local Conservation Association (LCA), we’ve taken a different tactic to shore up our long-term financial viability, one that so far is paying dividends and should improve our fiscal standing for years to come. Instead of expanding our fees-for-service offerings in response to the recession, or hiring a designated fundraiser, we’ve doubled down on investing in volunteer development. Two key pieces of nonprofit research have shaped our strategy: the first, by Baris Yoruk, shows that one of the key indicators of whether an individual will donate to a cause is whether they have previously volunteered for that organization. 65% of potential donors identified previous volunteer experience with an organization as being a somewhat or very important reason that they donate to a particular charitable organization. Additionally, 36% of donations were unsolicited, while 13% of donations were the result of personal solicitation and only 3% were the result of direct mail solicitation. Unsolicited donations were also the most generous, averaging 156% greater than gifts in response to a personal solicitation.

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The second, by Jeffery Brudney and Lucas Meijs, suggests that volunteers, overall, are a lot like a renewable natural resource; they can be utilized in a way that depletes the resource, or cultivated in such a way as to improve the resource over time. LCA has made three strategic management decisions based on these insights. 1. Invest in Volunteer Coordination We know that today’s volunteers are tomorrow’s donors, but often in the face of pressure to run “lean” organizations with low administrative overhead, volunteer coordination ends up as a part-time position. At LCA, this job was previously shared between staff members on a per-event basis. When LCA received funding to hire a full-time staff person, it was tempting create and fill a fundraising position. Instead, we a hired full-time volunteer coordinator. We’re a younger organization and our name recognition, volunteer engagement, and individual donor pool are all less than they need to be for us to make a difference in our region. Hiring a fundraiser would have addressed one of these needs, but a hiring volunteer coordinator addresses all three. People who volunteer with your organization


have already shown that they are interested in your issue, and committed enough to donate their time. Previous volunteers are also more likely to spontaneously donate in the future. Making a strategic investment in volunteer coordination is like planting a garden so that one day you can supply your own vegetables, rather than focusing on how to get larger vegetable donations today. 2. Focus on Cultivating Lifelong Volunteers It’s easier to count how many total volunteers or new volunteers you have than it is to measure volunteer retention, or long-term satisfaction. Shifting to a volunteer stewardship philosophy aligned with the environmental stewardship values we espouse as a sector would suggest that we should monitor long-term volunteerism, and make sure that our volunteers are engaged, enriched, and satisfied. At LCA, we’ve achieved this by tweaking the way we structure our volunteer events. We know that people volunteer for many different reasons: some are looking to make a difference, others to build connections within the community or make new friendships, and others may have motivations we haven’t considered. Previously, LCA had not emphasized the relationship-building aspects of our volunteer opportunities. This year, we re-structured our annual trailcleanup day. In the past, volunteers signed up in groups, and these work groups were assigned tasks at a morning kick-off meeting that was the only time we gathered as a large group. This year, we had people work in small, randomly-assigned teams to make sure that people were making new connections, and partnered with a local barbeque restaurant to provide a closing cookout in order to provide further opportunities for socializing. We took pictures of all of the gathered trash as a way of documenting impact, and collected a three-question survey (filling it out was your meal ticket!) to improve the event next year. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, 90% said the event exceeded expectations, and almost 100% indicated that they were likely or highly likely to volunteer with us again!

er adults, but this year’s exit survey overwhelmingly indicated that our volunteers would like to see this change. As a result, LCA’s new volunteer coordinator has reached out to several organizations around our community to co-sponsor the event next year. We’ll be working with the local college’s outing club, the elementary school’s fifth grade class, and the local chapter of Trout Unlimited. Instead of seeing ourselves as in competition with other local organizations for volunteers, we’ve shifted to a collaborative stance. Local fifth-graders learn forest ecology as part of their curriculum, so collaborating with their teachers and parents is an easy way to get kids and families into the forest and see ecology in action! In our partnership with Trout Unlimited, we reach out to the community of angling enthusiasts who might not normally be aware of our mission but share our commitment to preserving lakes and streams. Conclusion So far, LCA’s new strategy seems to be working well. Our spontaneous individual donations have increased, and our name recognition in the region is improving. Additionally, we’re improving relationships with other nonprofits in the area and cultivating long-term relationships with our volunteers/donors/advocates. Difficult environmental problems might be here to stay, but through careful volunteer relationship development LCA will be here to stay as well.

3. Create Partnerships to Engage Elisa Hitt Davis has been Executive Director of LCA since a Wider Constituency 20XX. She recieved her MPA from Syracuse University’s MaxOur annual trail-cleanup day is generally attended by old- well School in 2014.

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On your marks… Get set… GO? Should Your Environmental Nonprofit Join the 5k Competition?

by Megan O’Connor, Executive Director

of the Environmental Nonprofit Consultancy Group

One of the most popular events designed to fundraise and generate awareness of a cause or of an organization in the nonprofit sector is the annual 5k. The rapid rise in the number of 5ks parallels the rise in number of runners throughout the United States. On any given weekend, an individual can choose to run to support breast cancer research, run to support the fight against hunger, or run to raise money for a children’s hospital. Many of us wonder where the environmental nonprofit sector fit into this all. Throughout the nonprofit and running communities, there is a general buzz about “5k over kill”. Despite the rampant growth of runners and walkers willing to participate in such events, there are many limiting factors. Within a community, an athletic event traditionally attracts the same type of people over and over again. Each year, individuals can only commit to so much. As a runner, there are only so many times I can justify paying $25 to run out and back on boring parkway, regardless of the mission or purpose of the event. Lack of ingenuity in determining a race location, a date, an entry fee cost, or even the distance, may lend itself to the demise of an organization’s event. Increasing the competition between races by adding yet another event to the calendar year should seem like a big risk to a nonprofit administrator. Regardless, there is still hope for the environmental nonprofit sector to use a competitive race as an effective fundraising and marketing tool. A New York nonprofit, Save the River, provides us with an excellent example of success. Save the River is a grassroots environmental organization with a mission to protect the St. Lawrence River through advocacy, education, and research. Each summer, they host the “Run for the River” 5k that runs through the town

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of Clayton, NY and along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Several attributes of their event stand out as key factors for all environmental organizations to take into consideration when contemplating whether or not they are equipped with what it takes to organize a successful event. • Save the River is the only environmental group within the St. Lawrence region and they protect a very visible and very crucial element of the culture and livelihoods of those who live and visit. • The race course offers a view of the river and allows participants to access the river upon completion of the course. It allows for individuals to physically appreciate and enjoy the resource their mission is to protect, effectively connecting the participants of the event with the mission of the organization. • The event is hosted during a high traffic time of the year, allowing the organization to target a diverse population of donors—both repeat donors and/or members of the organization, as well as first-time donors who may be residents of the St. Lawrence region or outside tourists. • The St. Lawrence region does not have many organizations that host 5ks or similar events making this a unique event. It therefore avoids competing with other races for local attendance. •Save the River relies heavily on outside local organizations to donate their services and for sponsorships to fund the direct services the race needs to function such as timing, awards, and advertising. •Save the River relies completely on volunteer efforts from its members to ensure the event runs smoothly. Each year the event has been held, it increases in size, requiring Save the River staff and volunteers to be adaptable and innovative within the planning stages. As


evident with the success of Save the River’s event, environmental nonprofits can often offer an event with a different goal from the health and human service related events. The following Go! Go? No. rubric can serve as a guide for deciding whether or not your organization has what it takes to organize a successful competition. If you have any hesitations or concerns, reach out to other successful (or unsuccessful) events planned by environmental nonprofits! The risk may be worth the reward if your organization can appropriately use its re-

sources and networks. If not, don’t sweat it; the 5k competition may not be for your organization. Megan O’Connor has been the Executive Director of the Environmental Nonprofit Consultancy Group since 20XX. Previously, she concurrently pursued a MPA from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and a MS in Environmental Science at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. In her spare time, she is a competitive runner and an avid hiker.

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