Tutor/Mentor Connection

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Consistency in Funding: Toward a New Funding Model

These past few weeks of soliciting donations for TM/C's Mapping Solutions event have been an education of sorts. At times, it's seemed that my attempts to spread the word, in person and through mail, add up to nothing more than exercises in preparation for future failures. These weeks have illustrated why perseverance is a necessary trait for anyone who wants to get into the nonprofit business.

But along with perserverance, this experience has also taught me a fundamental lesson about the essence of the conventional nonprofit funding model: it's fundamentally inconsistent. And when funding is inconsistent, so is programming. For this reason, many nonprofit organizations, TM/C among them, are beginning to realize the need for an entirely different model of nonprofit funding. One that not only emphasizes empathy, but equity as well. Such a model would require nonprofits to perceive their potential funders as investors in a cause that translates into dollars and cents. After all, social capital is still capital.

As Tom Raiser, author of ROI for Nonprofits: The New Key to Sustainability, writes, Nonprofits "are very good at filling the need, but are often less adept at: 1) Demonstrating the value of their services [and] 2) Communicating the value in a way that is understood at, fundamental economic level, that makes sense to the private sector. If this demonstration and communication gap can be bridged, the private sector can then be cultivated to become investors in the [nonprofit] that provides something of value to them."

So, in keeping with Raiser's advice, last week I decided to think about my approach to soliciting funds not simply as a volunteer, or 'crusader', but as a salesman or marketing representative selling the service of tutoring and mentoring in a region of metro Chicago that is cripplingly underserved.

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Comment by Daniel Bassill on February 22, 2011 at 5:42pm

Fund raising is all about selling, story telling and relationship building...and perserverence.  Here are some ideas to consider.

1) look at this organizatoin and see how they support social entrepreneurs. Could a few of you put together a T/MC SE business plan to duplicate this, but focused on non profits? http://33needs.com/

2) create competitions - look at the Business School Connection. http://boardfellow.wikispaces.com/  Can you put together a sponsor plan that could be pitched to corporate sponsors who would sponsor an annual competition like this?

3) celebrity bloggers - can your networking reach out to pro athletes, musicians, political people and CEOs and invite them to submit guest blog articles showing why what we do is important to them, and why people should give to us and other tutor/mentor programs. Such a strategy would give greater visibility, more credibility and at the same time begin to engage these people in their own learning path.


These are just some suggestions. Can you an others build a list of ideas that some people might be able to implement to overcome the challenges we face?

Comment by Joseph Kreul on February 22, 2011 at 4:42pm

I know I'm a little late to replying to this forum thread, but at the time I first read it, I had little experience and very little understanding of this program as a whole.  It is diheartening when you send out e-mails that you crafted and thought hard on, only to receive no replies or the "please stop e-mailing me about this" response.  So many of my classmates that I have talked to about this organization have all found it interesting, and mostly undertand the need for it, but aside from the "uh-huh, hrm", I haven't received any other form of contribution.

I have come to realize, much like you have, that you do have to sell it.  I am currently trying to come up with a way to make it seem silly for an organization or a university to NOT support this program, as opposed to just telling them about it.  Finding that niche is tricky though, and it makes me feel a little jaded towards humanity when you have to tell an organization what they may get out of supporting a worthy, nonprofit cause.

Some of my ideas are to show that by supporting these programs, local universities will have their foot in the door to many potential students from a diverse background (socially as well as ethnically).  This could also be used for local businesses, as these businesses will have a hand in their future employee's lives, making it much more likely that their employee candidates will be well-rounded individuals better suited for the working world.  Worse case, tie it in with money.  People with very poor educational backgrounds who become involved in the legal/welfare system as a possible result of poor role models growing up will put more of a financial strain on the local economy, as they will potentially use up tax funds.  Effective prevention is always cost-effective in the long-term, but not usually in the short term, so it can be a tough sell at times.


Anyone else share in these ideas or have others that I'm failing to notice?

Comment by Michael B. Romain on December 22, 2010 at 2:47pm
Karina, Bradley, and Dan thanks for the thoughtful input. I'm actually working on establishing some relationships w/ potential small businesses that might be able to invest in the long-term.  What I've noticed with government and private money nowadays is that its pretty reluctant to leave funders' hands if their isn't proof that it will be soundly and efficiently invested.  Donors are increasingly finding ways to hedge their bets, so to speak, and so they rely on indicators like an organization's ties in the community, whether an organization is apart of a coalition, whether it has the trust and backing of municipal leaders, etc... All of which TM/C has in varying degrees.  The big task is translating TM/C's virtual strengths into even better real-world strengths.  Karina, I look forward to engaging in your discussion about this in more depth as soon as I'm free to sit down and really think and write some more.  Bradley great points about the reality of funding, those opened my eyes. 
Comment by Karina Walker on December 22, 2010 at 1:06pm

Hi Michael,

I echo Bradley and Dan's sentiments about your thoughtful and insightful observations. Since I am also new to the non-profit industry, I can certainly relate to the learning-curve of figuring out how to approach getting funding, sponsorships, and grants when money is inconsistent and positive responses to our requests often feel infrequent.

I think you hit on something really key, and that's the need for sustainable funding through more consistent, long-term investments. You also discuss the possibility of "changing the model" for building funds.

One thing we have discussed at T/MC to help us generate these types of long-term financial commitments, is creating a T/MC membership/subscription option for organizations that utilize our services. Ideally, it would be businesses, banks, and churches that are supporting us on this level (so we aren't creating a financial burden on the organizations we intend to serve). But we probably aren't there yet. I have started a brainstorming discussion on the feasibility of doing this in the fundraiser forum and I would certainly be interested in any of your thoughts or feedback on this topic!



Comment by Bradley Troast on December 8, 2010 at 1:27pm
Michael, you've done an excellent job of succinctly describing your observations. I completely agree. I think nonprofits inherently think in a "if you build it, they will come" sense. They are passionate about their work and feel strongly about their success because they live it day-to-day. They hope others will see this, on the same level as they do, and feel compelled to donate. But the true investors - the people with the big bucks - are not on the same level. They need to be, like you said, sold on tutoring and mentoring or whatever the cause is.

It would be nice to meet in the middle, though. It would be nice for donors/investors to seek out quality programs. You could spend an hour on the Program Locator checking out web sites of Chicago-area tutor/mentor programs and probably find many quality programs which you would feel confident in supporting. You could even take a minute to call the contact number and set up a meeting. But this is not how it works.

Hundreds (thousands!) of nonprofits compete for the same pools of money. Sometimes it feels like granting bodies just sit back, let the applications roll in, and then browse through them with a strong emphasis on quantitative measures. We do our best to convey qualitative aspects, through personal stories, pictures, and videos, but numbers ultimately do the talking. But what are the true numbers? How do you really measure something like tutoring and mentoring?

One rhetorical question has led into the next it seems, haha. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It would be interesting to hear other points of view from members here.
Comment by Daniel Bassill on November 17, 2010 at 1:47pm
Michael, you're absolutely correct. So what are the ways T/MC could generate revenue, and achieve its mission? This brainstorming can take place in this forum, or elsewhere.

Some examples that you and I have talked about.
a) create stories,books, videos and movies that tell the story of what happens in programs like Cabrini Connections and pitch them as entertainment to sponsors and producers. Touched by and Angel was a TV show, and Waiting for Superman is a movie. Where are the investors for this?

b)every city needs an intermediary platform, like T/MC to connect volunteers and donors to places where they can be involved. While there are many platforms for this, most work on the "find a single program" model and don't combine the "be a volunteer" feature with "be a donor at the same place" feature. Can we pitch our platform as a tool that cities would purchase/subscribe to? Maybe instead of asking for support in Chicago we should be asking for orders in other cities?
c) on-line webnars and network building. This ning forum does not generate interaction of its members, and I'm not sure how much value everyone else gets. If we added webnars and other pro-active training and facilitation, could we create a membership fee? Could we charge a fee to attend webnars?

We cannot develop these ideas without people/capital to think them through. Finding people who will invest means we need to show the vision and impact resulting from their investments. Keep looking for ways to do this, and for people to help us.

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