Every non-profit organization has its own hidden resources and the challenge is uncovering them and taking full advantage of what they have to offer the agency. There is real value in reaching out to people who have the ability to assist the organization in formal and informal ways. Often times these connections are so obvious and we overlook them.
I have been working with a women’s rights organization, “Here for You” and they have received a series of small grants from a number of endowment funds connected with local Jewish communities. For the longest time, the grants have been received because of the FRD (financial resource development) staff member’s creativity and occasional tenacity. However, each endowment fund is an independent identity and there was no thought given to the connection between and among the funds and their leadership.
In reviewing the organization’s efforts to reach out and develop their contacts with potential sources of funds, we began to map out their relationships with the lay leaders involved in the endowment funds’ allocations processes. It became apparent that they had not fully utilized their relationships with volunteer leaders who were impressed not only by their goals and purposes but also by the implementation of their services. Through the mapping process we identified people who have a great deal of knowledge about endowment funds in a number of communities.
These local volunteer leaders are fully acquainted with their colleagues who are involved in both raising the funds for the endowment, as well as, the process of allocating the funds to recipient agencies. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of “Here For You”, Rebecca S., happened to be in Israel and we decided to approach her and request a meeting with her. We thought it would be a good idea to recruit her and consult with her about reaching out to other volunteer leaders involved with endowment funds. In addition we thought she could be helpful in directing the agency toward family foundations that supported women’s advocacy and support programs.
Since I have known Rebecca for a number of years, I offered to call her and see if she would be willing to meet with us. She could not have been more gracious and forthcoming. The director of the organization and I accepted a dinner invitation and met with Rebecca for several hours.
As we sat enjoying dinner and updating Rebecca about recent developments at “Here For You” she asked many questions and clearly expressed her willingness to assist the agency. She reviewed names of local endowment funds that she thought would be helpful to the organization. She identified people who were committed to women’s issues and who she thought would be interested in learning about the services provided.
After reviewing lists and recommending specific people, Rebecca then said she was willing to contact a number of people. She had longstanding personal relationship with some of the endowment directors as well as the volunteer leaders. After listing the people she thought would be the best ones to contact she began to prioritize the names and said she would let us know after she spoke with people so the director could follow up the contacts.
We could not have asked for more assistance than Rebecca was giving us. In some ways what she gave to the agency was more valuable than writing out a check for a donation. She opened doors for the agency director and the FRD professional. This was more effective than writing e-mails and inquiring about the endowment funds’ allocations processes.
Rebecca was truly a hidden resource, and she not only provided a great deal of assistance but she taught the director of the organization a valuable lesson. When people are enthusiastic about the purposes and functions of a non-profit agency it is important to explore how this interest can be translated into their being more involved in assisting in the cultivation of potential sources of support. It is important to pursue these relationships and to explore how such people can become important partners in broadening contacts.
People like Rebecca are hidden resources because they often go unnoticed. When a person who is a member of an allocations committee of a fund or foundation expresses enthusiasm for a program then it is worthwhile cultivating the relationship. It is more important to explore how this person can be an ally and assist in ways just as valuable, if not more valuable, than writing out a check to the organization.
Rebecca represents how a knowledgeable and committed volunteer leader can provide information and make connections that can service the organization’s best interest. In addition to the existential value of these new contacts, the process taught the director and the FRD professional to be on the “lookout” for other people they know who could be helpful in a similar way.
Every non-profit organization in the Jewish community has a “Rebecca” sitting on a board of fund or foundation. It is up to the volunteer leadership and the professional staff to identify these people. They should nurture the relationship and recruit them so they become an active and involved supporters like Rebecca did for “Here For You”. Discovering your hidden resources can be an inspiring experience for the agency’s volunteer leadership as well as the professional staff.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.