Cohort Groups: Support for Those Who Are Supposed to Know Everything

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“A question for Executive Directors everywhere. Do you have a cohort group? A group of people who are also Executive Directors, understand your challenges and provide you an opportunity to talk, share, learn, grow and mentor others. If not – you should. Being an Executive Director can be one of the loneliest jobs – there is literally no one you can confide in. Perhaps your spouse or significant other – but that gets old pretty fast. A cohort group make a huge difference.

That’s what Executive Directors learned at a workshop given by Sharon Danosky and sponsored by the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain and the Farmington Bank Community Foundation. In a setting that was described as “Las Vegas” executive Directors from different nonprofits explored issues around governance and management and how to create stronger relationships with their boards to build a stronger organization. “The real benefit of the workshop was people realizing that they aren’t alone in addressing these issues and that by sharing with one another, they can find good solutions,” noted Sharon.

“As we host these kinds of workshops, Community foundations are in an excellent position to learn about and act on the supportive needs of Executive Directors and board members,” said the  Community Foundation of Greater New Britain’s Director of Community Initiatives and Program Services, Joeline Wruck. “Executive Directors in our area had voiced a strong desire to access a collegial network where they would be free to explore similar concerns and learn from each other — and based on the feedback we’ve received, this workshop is exactly what they had in mind.”

Communications Assessments:
Looking Inward to Get Your Message Outward

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By David Deschenes

Build it and they will come? No. That only happens in the movies. Whether you are looking to engage new & existing donors, attract talented staff or volunteers, implement a new internal process, or make your services known to the community, effective marketing and communications practices will have a crucial bearing on your success. That’s where a communications assessment is key.

A communications assessment examines both external and internal marketing and communications; what has been effective and what hasn’t worked quite so well. Interviews with key staff and volunteers provide valuable insight, and very often, great ideas. And a survey of the community lets you know how people perceive your organization.

Danosky & Associates has conducted a number of communications assessments recently for organizations in Connecticut. The New Britain Industrial Museum promotes the extensive history of industry in New Britain. It has a location on Main Street, and enjoys an extremely faithful, local member base. But they wanted to take their marketing and communications to a level that would attract new members, expand their age and cultural demographic footprint, and increase visits and donations to the museum.

Through a review of their current practices, interviews with key volunteers, and an online survey of the community, we were able to provide recommendations that would be reasonably within their means. “Our organization has already benefited from our recently-completed Communications Assessment,” said Sophie Huget, Executive Director of the museum. “The recommendations re-enforce vital points in our strategic plan, and helped us clarify how our audience wants us to communicate with them. Recommendations like seeking skilled marketing professionals as volunteers and using video as an educational (and promotional) tool will help us reach more people. D&A’s consideration for our organization’s history and vision made the process easy for us. Asking for our input at each turn, they gleaned meaningful responses from our network of supporters and made easily-digestible recommendations based on these responses.”

Whether large or small, all organizations must maintain effective marketing and communications efforts to ensure that the public is aware of their services and the value they bring to the community. A communications assessment resulting in a set of reasonable recommendations will present the tools and plan to get you there.

We want to hear from you! If there is any topic you would like us to explore, please send your inquiries to info@danosky.com! See more of our blogs to read more of what we’re passionate about!

The Post-Feasibility Study Reception:
A Capital Idea for Engaging Major Donors

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By Sharon Danosky

Capital campaigns – traditionally the holy grail of fundraising.  And for good reasons.  They allow you to raise significant sums of money in a relatively short period of time for a critical need.  While campaigns have evolved over the years – (they are not always for capital projects, for instance) – they still remain a relevant and critical source of philanthropic revenue.

The question of whether a feasibility study is a valuable part of the pre-campaign planning has been debated for a number of years now.  I subscribe to the school of thought that it is.  And while I am not debating the value of feasibility studies in this blog – I believe one of the primary benefits of the study is the opportunity  to ask your donors for their input on your initiative before you launch it and ask for their support.  And as a consultant who has had numerous conversations with donors over many years – I appreciate the candid and frank responses they giving knowing that their answers will remain anonymous.

Years ago, a donor make a comment during the interview that has stuck with me for years – and actually changed the way I approach doing feasibility studies.  He said to me, “You know, Sharon, I have participated is so many of these studies, and while I always enjoy it and feel they are valuable – I never hear the results of the study.  And I wonder why?”

I wondered why, as well.  So I started recommending that organizations hold a reception for those who participated in the study to be able to share the results.   I believe it provides a valuable opportunity for several reasons:

  1. It shares the results of a study in which they participated
  2. The organization can answer specific questions that were raised during the study
  3. It provides the opportunity to let the donor know you heard what they were saying
  4. If you made changes to the Case for Support as a result of the study – you can let donors know what their changes are
  5. And you can let them know of your decision to proceed (or not) with the campaign and even let them know the level of support from the Board

These receptions can be tailored to the organization and indeed, I have seen some very creative and effective ways my clients have used these forums.  Many even continue the forums as cultivation events with some tweaks and modifications.

Rabi Ari Rosenberg of Temple Sholom in New Milford found that holding these receptions lets his donors see that they’re not alone in supporting his organization. “Many of the opportunities I have to engage our donors are one-on-one. These receptions allow donors to see that they’re in good company with other like-minded people; they’re part of a larger cause.”

Beekley Community Library board member Laura Sunquist had a frank conversation with a donor at the reception following their feasibility study. “There was a major concern on the part of the donor related to a hot button issue. I was able to bring this back to the board for discussion; I never would have had an opportunity for this kind of conversation otherwise.”

The feasibility study is an excellent way of engaging your major donors.  The reception keeps the engagement going.  Both vital to a successful campaign.

I Can’t Believe They Didn’t Run It!
Five Steps to a Good Relationship with the Media

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I was speaking with someone new to the field recently, and they were perplexed that their press releases weren’t getting run in their local paper. So, I told him a story about the first press release I ever sent out. The short version is that when I followed up with the reporter — to complain — I got lambasted. The last thing the reporter said to me was, “Do you have ANY idea how many things I’m working on right now? THIRTY! So pardon the [bleep] out of me if I don’t have time to chase down a quote for your [bleeping, bleeping] BOARD ANNOUNCEMENT!!!” Click…

I learned the hard way that while I may think what I’m sending is top news of the day, others may have different thoughts. So following are five things that will not only increase your chances of getting something in the media, but might also make you some friends:

  1. Look at your relationship with the local press as a long-term one. Take the time to reach out and introduce yourself. Include some brief information about your organization and offer to be a resource. Reporters and editors are always on the lookout for fresh sources.
  2. Make a reporter’s job easy. Write the press release as a story; something you would like to see in the paper. Include quotes. Reporters are typically working on many other stories. So if they can just “plunk it in,” you’ve increased your odds and possibly made a friend for life.
  3. Don’t take things personally when you don’t get in the paper. Getting “bumped” is a common occurrence, especially when it comes to TV stations. You will ALWAYS get “We’ll try to be there, but no promises . . . and call us the day of to remind us.” They’re not kidding. Call.
  4. NEVER send your press release as a pdf. Reporters are always looking to copy & paste. So include all text of your press release in the body of your email (including contact info). You can attach a Word document if you want something that looks prettier. If you’re including photos, attach them and offer captions.
  5. If a reporter calls you, call them back IMMEDIATELY. Since they’re always on deadline, there’s a very good chance that they’re calling a bunch of different people for the same quote. Sometimes they’ll take the first one, and sometimes they’ll take the best. So call back right away, and be prepared.

BONUS TIP: Thank the reporter or editor if they run something of yours – a simple, “hey, thanks for running that story – appreciate it!”. They can surely be gruff with the pressures of reporting – but they’re human. They’ll remember a thank you and just might call you first the next time.

Community Seeks to Make a Big Impact in Addressing Childhood Poverty

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What better way to start the New Year than to set a goal to reduce childhood poverty in not just one Connecticut community, but many? The Valley Community Foundation, Griffin Hospital, TEAM, Inc., and Valley United Way came together with more than 20 other organizations in Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, Seymour, and Shelton (the Valley) to figure out how to do just that over the next 10 years. Danosky & Associates was honored to be asked to facilitate this initiative as they explore all the different facets that contribute to childhood poverty – and the impact it causes.

The priority to focus on childhood poverty came as a result of a facilitated brainstorming session to highlight some of the pressing needs within the Valley Community. The one issue that continued to resurface during this exercise was childhood poverty. According to detailed data the collaborative has compiled, 26% of all Valley children live in households below 200% of Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Over the course of the next several months, these organizations will utilize an innovative and structured approach known as Collective Impact, which facilitates collaboration across government, business, philanthropy, non-profit organizations, and citizens to achieve significant and lasting social change. The concept of Collective Impact is based on the idea that, in order for organizations to create lasting solutions to social problems on a large-scale, they need to coordinate their efforts and work together around a clearly defined goal. Nonprofit organizations in the Valley have a long history of collaboration, so this approach was a natural fit as they sought to move forward. In addition, the project will be facilitated by Danosky & Associates, which has successfully managed other collective impact initiatives – including the Working Cities Challenge in Danbury, which resulted in a $450,000 grant to reduce the number of minorities living below federal poverty guidelines.

One of the community leaders heading up this initiative is Valerie Knight-DiGangi of Valley Community Foundation. “It has been a wonderful evolution of time and energy with people who are so committed to working together,” said Valerie. “In these early stages of this project, we are working through three task forces on a very structured timeframe. The first task force will work to identify who these families are: the make-up of their households; where they live; the many factors that impact their economic status in the community. The second will determine who in the Valley can connect us with people who have direct experience with childhood poverty – who can talk to us about what the needs are and truly inform our work. The third will create processes to bring all of these people to the table. To ensure this important project maintains on track, Sharon Danosky is keeping us on a very tight timeline to acquire the necessary data before reporting back to our task forces to discuss next steps.”

The task forces include a diversified representation from nonprofits across a variety of sectors. Leading the initiative with Valerie are Sharon Gibson of Valley United Way, David Morgan of TEAM, Inc., and Monica Oris of Griffin Hospital’s Valley Parish Nurse Program.

“At Danosky & Associates, we find this work to be extremely rewarding,” said Sharon Danosky. “It is a privilege to work with so many dedicated groups. And it’s exciting to be part of an initiative that will benefit so many into the future.”