When we started this blog six month ago, we set a goal to double the donations and budget of Tennies for Tots in 2022. Tennies for Tots is an all-volunteer nonprofit started by Paula Sedillo Wise four years ago. The program gives new shoes and socks to children five and under, who live in poverty, through Head start Programs, all over Northern and Central Arizona. Last year she provided those gifts to over 3000 children with a budget just short of $20,000. And if you do the math, she amazingly does it for less than $7.00 a child. It was perfect fit for the Full Circle Charities model and we were excited to get involved. And we are very pleased and proud to be able to announce that as of June 30th, six month into our year, donations totaled over $30,000. More than ¾ of our total goal and on track to not double the budget, but triple it.
How and why that happened was a result of many factors not the least of which is Paula’s infectious commitment to her cause. It also is the result of the principles we developed over two decades of starting and reviving nonprofits in Flagstaff AZ . Principles which are detailed and this is a shameless plug, in our Going Full Circle book and work book. It’s not rocket science, but it does require a strong work ethic and a commitment to doing what needs to be done. It is our experience, that too often small non-profits are led by Executive Directors who only tackle fund raising efforts that they are personally comfortable doing. And since most of them seem to have a very low risk tolerance, it means they all are using the same old methods like annual galas, silent auctions, or hoping they can find a grant writer who can raise enough money so they don’t have to do any fund raising at all.
Telling your story, why and what your nonprofit does, is the most important job anyone has who leads a nonprofit has. And if you aren’t doing it 24/7, at least while your working, you are failing your mission, donors, and volunteers. We seem to forget, or don’t realize that the more people who are aware of what the problem is we are trying to solve in our community the better the chance someone will come up with a real solution to the mission. Bluntly, if you are uncomfortable with that commitment you should find another line of work. Paula made our helping her easy because she loves telling her story. She was always ready and willing to speak to large or small groups to share that story. We used direct mail, word of mouth, and reached out to any contact we knew to get Paula in front of a few folks to share her passion. Those efforts lead to several checks from civic groups and their members and a church that adopted Tennies for Tots as a Lenten project.
At the same time we sent press releases, which really amounted to press ready stories with photos, to the half dozen local newspapers that served the areas that were covered by our shoe give away. Print ready because local newspapers are struggling and a print ready story saves them time and money. Each release was specifically tailored to the community it served. Thankfully, we were successful getting all the stories in all the papers. And now when we reach out to churches and civic groups in those communities we will be able to reference those stories as further confirmation that we are the real deal. The thing most nonprofits miss is that the cumulative effect telling your story over and over has is why it works. You need to always remember you very seldom get a yes on the first ask.
One thing we learned while we worked with nonprofits is that although they all know and support each other, most nonprofit leaders have a very small sphere of influence, outside the nonprofit world. That was quite a surprise coming from the construction industry, where having a myriad of connections in the community was vital. Nonprofit’s and their leaders need to be telling their story to everyone they come in contact with, from the place you stop for coffee in the morning to the insurance agent who protects your home. And by doing that the more money you spend with local businesses the greater your sphere of influence becomes. We were thrilled and thankful to all those folks we asked to help with Tennies for Tots when we reached out to the contacts we have made over the years.
Doubling a nonprofits budget one year over the last is not an easy task, especially when it’s been around for a while. That might be too much to expect with every nonprofit. But if you, your staff, and board are willing to try new ideas and expand your comfort zone you can make giant strides. And if you are a board member it is critical that you explore how capable your next leadership hires are in implementing these kinds of ideas. Because without quality leadership your nonprofit is destined to remain at best only scratching the surface of its potential.