Monday, July 28, 2014

A New Way of Attracting Philanthropic Support

The image of the lonesome warrior is one that reminds me of the men and women who are fighting overseas to make this a better world. As we count our blessings, let's pray for the young people in our armed forces.

However, this image is also one that I think of when I think of the people leading social benefit organizations around the world, mostly in isolation, mostly with too few resources to do everything they are trying to do. From 1990 to 2011 I led a small non profit organization, and I wrote thousands of letters to potential donors, business leaders, city leaders, foundations, etc. asking for support of the volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs I led, and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which I created in late 1992 as a strategy aimed at helping high quality, constantly improving, tutor/mentor programs grow and thrive in all high poverty areas of the Chicago region.

While I raised more than $6 million over a 20 year period, I received far more rejections than approvals. My biggest challenge was not finding new donors. It was keeping existing donors who kept changing due to business conditions, changes of focus, funding restrictions, etc. After a few years of doing this I said "there has to be a better way". Below are some graphics that I included in an article I wrote on this topic in 2007.

Instead of each different tutor/mentor program competing for a shrinking pool of dollars, why can't we combine our efforts and innovate ways to inspire more donors to fund our sector? Then let those donors choose who to fund based on where we are located, and what we show of our work on our web sites.

When I was a retail advertising manager for Montgomery Ward I learned that more competition in a market created more advertising and led more customers to want the products we were selling. Those customers usually shopped at a store near where they lived or worked. I've piloted the uses of maps to show where programs are needed and to help potential customers locate programs in different parts of the city.

I've borrowed ideas from others for more than 40 years. My background studying history in college, and spending three years in US Army Intelligence, taught me to look for ideas applied by others and to borrow those ideas to improve my own efforts.

One of the web sites I found a few years ago was one that is called Internet Evangelism Day. This article suggests that the old way of standing on street corners to pass out religious tracts is replaced by using web sites to express ideas. The people who find your web sites are already interested in what you offer, thus will spend more time trying to understand your message.

Thus, my vision is that people who care about helping inner city kids living in high poverty areas will learn to use web sites like mine for deeper learning, and to make funding decisions. This graphic can be found at this link, and shows information in the various sections of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC web site. This link points to a concept map, which offers a "learning path" through the information on my web sites.

Some might say "who will spend this much time?" I would say, "Who is tired of spending billions of dollars with so little long-term impact?" Why in the social sector do we make funding decisions on sound bytes and elevator speeches, where in the corporate world plans are developed over many years of research and thinking.

The Internet is a Game Changer. Busy executives, people with too much money to know what to do with it. Political leaders. They all use computers and if the do a Google search for "tutor mentor" they will find my sites. If the spend a little time every day reading and reflecting they will soon understand the ideas and be able to adopt what makes sense to them into their own efforts.

Those who lead small non profits, or are struggling to get social benefit ideas launched, may relate to this One-To-Many graphic. We're constantly reaching out in many different directions, trying to find the help we need. We're like fish in a bowl, competing with thousands of others for a limited amount of dollars and volunteers. Unless you've got a powerful marketing machine, or are well connected in donor circles, you succeed some of the time, but not most of the time, and you spend tremendous amounts of emotional capital and energy all of the time.

Through the Tutor/Mentor Connection, I'm trying to change this. I'm trying to recruit leaders in many places who lead strategic thinking process in their organization that aligns social benefit with corporate and organizational strategy. Such leaders will use their own advertising, visibility and resources to support the growth of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs that lead kids to careers, because it's a core business strategy.

I've been saying this for a long time, but last week I found an article on the Harvard Business Review that reinforces this concept. The article is titled Strategy & Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility. Written by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer.

Education and workforce development are of strategic importance for most industries. Thus, if leaders of business, health care, law, journalism, sports and entertainment, etc. are strategic, they can use tools like the Program Locator and Chicago Program Links to choose what part of a city they want to support, and what programs they want to help grow from good to great.

This isn't a strategy to support just one tutor/mentor program, or one brand name like the Boys and Girls Clubs, or Big BrothersBigSisters, it's a strategy to help every high poverty neighborhood have comprehensive programs that are one end of the pipeline to jobs and careers for businesses that are strategically engaging their corporate resources to help grow their future workforce.

Recently the President launched a new initiative to attract mentors, and has requested millions of dollars in funding. I encourage you to read this editorial from the BlackStar Project in Chicago, showing how this initiative supports big brand name organizations while ignoring smaller organizations who may be doing great work in many places.

If decision makers in philanthropy, government and business go directly to the internet to build their own understanding of problems and solutions, instead of depending on sound bytes provided by people who work for them, who depend on one or two page summaries from organizations competing for scarce funding, perhaps better, more consistent, and longer lasting support will be distributed to all of the neighborhoods where help is needed and to more of the organizations already operating in those areas.

Hopefully a few will spend time on Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC sites and step forward to offer their help for my own role in this process.

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