How to sell your nonprofit's 'special sauce' to donors - Generocity Philly

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Dec. 20, 2017 10:30 am

How to sell your nonprofit’s ‘special sauce’ to donors

Hopeworks 'N Camden's Valerie Buickerwood makes the case for nonprofit leaders to focus on the "why" of their missions outside of direct services.

City Council President Frank Moran visits Hopeworks 'N Camden.

(Photo via facebook.com/hopeworksyouth)

This is a guest post by Hopeworks 'N Camden Director of Engagement and Communications Valerie Buickerwood.
In this critical month of giving, it’s important to think about the impact that your donations will make.

No doubt, there are many nonprofits doing great work and with the most honorable missions and good results. Those providing critical services, such as feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, are easy to feel good about giving to, especially during the holiday season and with the cold winter weather upon us. You feel the immediate sense of having made a difference in someone’s life, even if for a day.

But many nonprofits whose work is more complex compete for resources in December and every other day of the year — nonprofits solving problems with bold ideas, one person or one community at a time, and with long-lasting impact that requires thoughtful research, careful program management, and sophisticated approaches to data collection and impact measurement.

Finding the differentiator that makes a nonprofit’s programs unique and impactful is often its greatest challenge. But like all successful businesses, and a nonprofit is a business, it is imperative that it be done.

In his 2009 TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Simon Sinek, international motivational speaker and marketing consultant posited that great leaders and organizations “focus on the why.”

That sounds easy. Why do we feed people? Because they are hungry and don’t have access to food. More difficult to answer: Why are people hungry and why don’t they have access to food?

Answering these complex questions makes the why a bit more challenging and the solutions less obvious. But the exercise is well worth the effort and often results in innovative solutions to problems, solutions that become the “special sauce” or the unique differentiator in a nonprofit’s toolkit.

One approach to problem solving that is proving to be effective across sectors is addressing the impact of trauma on people and communities, particularly poor and violent communities. Much has been learned and shared about adapting a trauma-informed approach to social service agencies.

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Finding the differentiator that makes a nonprofit’s programs unique and impactful is often its greatest challenge.

The question is, what is the most useful way to implement it? The answer may be a little different for each nonprofit depending on the problem they are trying to solve and on the individuals they are serving.

At Hopeworks ‘N Camden, a youth development organization using technology, education and entrepreneurship to provide an alternative path to a sustainable future, we’ve learned that creating an organizational culture of trauma-informed care is a powerful tool in helping youth who have experience high levels of adversity overcome obstacles to personal success.

It helps in preparing them for the world outside of their trauma-filled communities and in managing their emotions as they step outside their comfort zones, and it helps support and retain outstanding staff so they can sustain the commitment and compassion required to do the work.

Adapting a trauma-informed framework by itself, however, is not the sole solution to the complex problem of intergenerational poverty that Hopeworks is tackling. Blending it with social enterprises that provide work experience and income for the youth we serve creates the special sauce in a winning recipe.

With equal measures of training, coaching, professional experience and support, the result can be transformational.

From Hopeworks’ perspective, the why of intergenerational poverty is determined by adverse childhood experiences resulting in trauma that has lasting negative effects on brain development and decision making, and a lack of opportunity. In this case, Hopeworks’ unique differentiator, or special sauce, is a compound solution to a compound problem.

As you plan your year-end giving, certainly support those organizations addressing critical needs. Far too many individuals require those services on a daily basis. But also consider those organizations whose missions are a bit more audacious and whose solutions a bit more bold, but whose results are transformational and whose impact will be felt for generations.

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