February 12, 2019

Being Left Behind as a Nonprofit

Technology and innovation are moving at a pace never seen before in human history. There is social media, Ai, VR, QR codes (those still around?), voice assistants, live streaming, and a host of other trends that are becoming more central to people’s lives. Yet in 2019, resource-strained nonprofits are often left attempting to catch up, figure out how to be included, and get any amount of attention to their worthy programs that are trying to solve some of society's most pressing issues. Specifically, fundraising innovation can be especially challenging for nonprofits.

As the Digital Platforms Manager at Feeding America, it is my responsibility to change this. Feeding America is the nation’s network of food banks, working to provide food to millions of hungry Americans every year. This is a complicated and sometimes daunting task. On top of that, fundraising for nonprofits has changed. It’s no longer as simple as asking someone to write a check or even visit your website to make a donation. Fundraising is being integrated into the fabric of society through tools like Facebook Fundraisers and AmazonSmile.

But all of these new tools are decentralized. They don’t fit within the process organizations have created over the decades of receiving checks. Database administrators and finance teams are being forced to give up control in this new world. Some are simply saying “no” and leaving money unclaimed. Programs go unfunded because the new tools don’t align with how things have always been done.

That is where the Leap Kit comes in.

As an original leaper from 2012, I’ve seen firsthand the value of trying something new and asking bigger questions about what is possible. So, when I was challenged to build a new program focused on fundraising innovation designed to meet people where they are instead of asking them to come to us, I knew the Leap Kit would help me put together a game plan. But more importantly, it gave me a framework to bring other stakeholders along for the ride.

I started by building the plan using the main framework of Discover, Prepare, Act, and Share. I spent a day in solitude brainstorming, thinking, and dreaming through what this program could be. What could it achieve? That set the tone for the story I was going to tell with my colleagues. It let me say “no” to things that were not aligned or were simply distractions from the ultimate goal.

I then assessed what resources are already available and what skills I needed to learn before proceeding. I saw an opportunity with live streaming and gaming, but I haven’t owned a video game system since college. That meant I needed to spend time catching up on the latest trends in the gaming space. I even went to TwitchCon last October to see what people were talking about when they said they were watching other people play video games in real-time. I also faced the realities of our organizational silos and internal politics, because they will play a real role in the success or failure of this new program.

Adapting for Feeding America.

I had to adapt the Leap Kit in several key areas for this project.

The first was the timeframe. Within the Act section, I wasn’t asking what I was going to do within the next 5 mins, 5 days, and 5 weeks. This program roadmap needed to be sustainable and translated into our annual plan and multi-year projections. Although the timing was different, each of the goals and objectives within the program’s annual plan has been associated with one of the four buckets from the Leap Kit.

The second was determining how to share my progress. I wasn’t able to establish my own schedule or ways of sharing because Feeding America already has internal communication streams in place. Figuring out how to adapt to those streams to reach the people most important to the program was critical. So, I joined existing team meetings for other departments. I shared brief updates through our weekly report up to the Executive Team to ensure leadership was aware of my progress.

Keeping it moving.

Since starting this project, I’ve had two of the coaching cards from the kit pinned next to my computer. One reads,

First, it needs to exist - Most people have a hard time connecting with an abstract idea, but they can connect with something that’s been done. Even if your idea isn’t perfect, build it out anyway. Then watch how people start understanding what you’ve been thinking about all along.

I knew that people would need examples to look at and respond to. I’m now a little more than halfway through the year and people are responding. There is a palpable excitement within the organization about the ideas we are putting together. There are dates being finalized for taking these ideas, making them a reality, and going public.

The second coaching card reads,

Your inner critic is a punk - He’s only trying to protect you from fear and embarrassment. But he’s also hindering you from reaching your goals. It’s time to have a stern talking to with your inner critic.

Since I’m human, I have doubts about this new program and if I am the right person to push it forward. But I have to keep moving and referring back to this Leap Kit, the inspiration stories it provides, and the framework for success that I know lies in front of me.

Taking advantage of new technologies can be overwhelming and Feeding America is just beginning to explore what is possible but over the coming months. I know our team will be trying new things, taking more leaps, and raising more funds for the people that need it most.

What challenge stands in front of you that could use some fresh thinking? How can you use the tools available to take a leap and get started? Have that tough conversation with your inner critic, face the doubts, and take the first step. Progress and change await on the other side.

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