Monthly Archives: February 2014

Does Your Mission Have a Compelling Voice?

“I was born in prison. My mother had just been sentenced to 7 years. And by the time I was a freshman in high school, I was already addicted to crystal meth. People would look at me with disgust, my family in particular.” 

“Life was hard for me growing up. I had no dad to look up to. I had no role model. My older brother was in and out of prison. I didn’t know what to do, so I started gang banging.”

What images come to mind about the characters making these statements?

2014-02-21 09.01.11Recently, the Not-For-Profit Network of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a storytelling workshop delivered by Barkada Circle. Does Your Mission Have a Compelling Voice? gave participants the opportunity to delve into the challenges they face in creating stories that engage their audience, especially potential donors. The overarching question was: “How do we determine who should be telling the story of our mission?”

The conversation centered around two videos about one organization’s mission. Fresh Lifelines for Youth is a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the cycle of violence, crime and incarceration of teens. One video was created in 2007 and the second in 2012. Both videos were done professionally. They tell the same story with overlapping characters, but they differ in how the story is told.

The first video begins with putting the teens in a negative light. The statements at the start of this blog entry are direct quotes from this video. Does this draw the audience into the narrative? It then introduces the adult staff describing the programs and their successes.fly1_cast

It’s clear that in this video, the organization is the voice and the hero because they are presented as the one with the ability to make change happen for the youth. “We have the answers and our programs work.” On the other hand, the youth are helpless and have lost all hope. What strikes me the most is that staffers are identified with their names and titles, but the video begins and ends with nameless teens. We are not given the opportunity to get to know them.

In its retelling, the story introduces the teens in a positive light so they appear to a wider audience as relatable characters. Then, in their own voice, they share their personal histories. We see them interacting and having real conversations with staff as they progress through the programs. We hear them contemplating their options and the consequences of their choices. We hear their aspirations. Their collective voice reflects the success of the programs.fly2_cast

In this version of the story, I am struck by the deeper insights shared by staff based on what they’ve learned from interacting with the teens. In my view, the adult staffers are clearly represented as the supportive structure that raises up the youth to be perceived by the audience as, in the words of Christa Gannon, Founder & Executive Director, “strong, resilient, and possess a spark of goodness that the rest of the world needs to see.”

Who is the new voice–the one with the power to move the story forward? Who now embodies the true meaning of the mission and its impact?

For more information about Fresh Lifelines for Youth, go to To find out more about the programs and upcoming events of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce Not-For-Profit Network, please contact Kara Carpenter, Programs Assistant, at (630) 544-3360 or visit the chamber’s website at

GPA Think Tank: Members have spoken!

GPA_LOGO-smallThe first gathering in 2014 of the Grant Professionals Association, Chicago Area Chapter added a new component: a think tank where participants had the opportunity to share ideas for program topics they were interested in.

First we identified core drivers for grant professionals to participate in targeted learning experiences:

  1. To develop needed skills for advancement in the field
  2. To advocate for support from the organization they serve so they can perform their job in the best way possible
  3. To build relationships with funders and other professionals in the field
  4. To stay current with trends, technology, resources and policies in the field
  5. To promote ethical and fiscal stewardship in their practice

The think tank produced this list of shared priorities for program themes to be covered at upcoming sessions this year.

Organizational Development as it Pertains to Grant Seeking:

  1. Grant professional’s role in organizational development and strategic planning
  2. Gain deeper understanding of the motivation and incentive for grant writing
  3. Improving communication and buy-in from program staff (i.e. educating them about the grant process)
  4. Engagement with other fundraising disciplines
  5. Fostering a team approach to grant seeking

Strategies for Effective Program and Project Design and Development:

  1. Developing long term strategic action plans for which the proposal will be written
  2. Partnerships and how to make them work
  3. Identifying appropriate definitions of and interrelationships among elements of project design

How to Craft, Construct and Submit an Effective Grant Application:

  1. Storytelling with data
  2. Identifying and accessing the best statistical data sources (e.g. census)
  3. Perspectives from CFOs/CPAs on budgets and financial statements
  4. Tips for working with needs assessments, project objectives, project designs and methods
  5. Using asset-based language in pitching programs

Post-Award Grant Management Best Practices:

  1. Stewardship: Nurturing mutually beneficial relationships between fund seekers and funders
  2. Effective collaborations with other organizations appropriate to funders’ missions and goals
  3. Quality reporting and its impact on your next ask
  4. Ethics and authenticity

Other Themes:

  1. Career Building: Planning your next steps
  2. Access to funding forecast
  3. Trends in government and corporate funding
  4. Getting your foot in the door with difficult to reach funders
  5. Grant writing and management for specific fields (e.g. higher education)
  6. Managing under new leadership: How to communicate through the ranks

The Program Committee will be rolling up their sleeves this week to begin shaping this year’s entire series of sessions. Stay tuned!

Punch It Up!: Sound Bites from the GPA Panel Discussion

The GPA Chicago Area Chapter kicked off the year with an open dialogue about how to deliver a more compelling presentation to funders. A panel of foundation representatives engaged the audience in an honest exchange of ideas and stories. Below are some memorable quotes we picked up from the panel.

cc-ama_reinischOtto Reinisch
Director, Organizational Development
Episcopal Charities and Community Services

  • Be authentic.
  • Need is not a good motivator. Instead, invite the funder along for the journey.
  • Be creative to set yourself apart.
  • Be strategic. This is a reflection of the organization’s leadership.
  • Follow up after you submit a proposal. Follow up post-award. Follow up after a rejection. Keep the dialog going.

gpa_murrayMark C. Murray
Program Director
Field Foundation of Illinois

  • Have an agenda for the meeting.
  • Tell the story of who you serve. In your story, be clear and specific about the resources or staffing you need in order to provide the service.
  • Engage the funder by getting them to ask questions.
  • At the site tour, introduce the funder to your “rock stars” and let them tell your story. Best to have the funder see your team in action in a real scenario.
  • Be friendly, but don’t be creepy.

Mission-Driven Marketing™: Sound Bites from the SIG

How can a nonprofit emerge from the recession better off than before?

The Chicago AMA Nonprofit SIG kicked off the year with a fresh look at what it means to be innovative in facing today’s challenges. A team of thought leaders in the nonprofit sector led a dynamic discussion about the role Mission-Driven Marketing™ must play in our organizations in order to achieve a renaissance. Below are some memorable quotes we picked up from the panel. Feel free to add some of your own.

John Davidoff
Founder & Managing Director
Davidoff Communications

  • cc-ama_davidoffWe can choose to see the recession as a gift, an opportunity for transformation that will allow us to thrive in this new world.
  • In difficult times, being authentic is about constructive transparency, being honest about our circumstances and stating how we will address it. It’s not about being a victim.

Emily Dreke
Director of Development and Communications
Chicago Foundation for Women

  • cc-ama_drekeIn the face of declining government funding and a difficult economy, more mergers in the nonprofit sector have become a reality.
  • Putting mission first meant having the courage to have difficult conversations around the mission and acting on our bigger commitment–serving the women who need our help.

Steve Ford
Executive Vice President—Chief Communications and Marketing Officer
Muscular Dystrophy Association.

  • cc-ama_fordCreating a strong and unique brand experience is key to telling a compelling story about your mission.
  • Communicating your mission is more than achieving awareness. It must be about relevance.

Otto Reinisch
Director of Organizational Development
Episcopal Charities and Community Services

  • cc-ama_reinischMarketing your mission is a great opportunity to strategically engage your board of directors.
  • Communicating need does not inspire giving. Sharing your vision of abundance does.

The purpose of Culture

What stories about your community are being told outside of your physical boundaries? Why is it important for you to be the voice that moves the truth forward?

Your mission is your purpose. It guides how you make decisions, where you spend your resources and what goals to pursue. People will try to connect this with what you allow them to perceive. It becomes the main theme for the story they tell themselves about you.

And then there’s culture. As an organization, what you believe gives meaning to your purpose. What you share with others gives you a strong sense of place. Your story has roots that give you the courage to step outside and reveal your true identity, not to isolate yourself, but rather to invite others to discover who you really are. And to ask them the same question: “Who are you?”

“Let’s shift our collective consciousness and remember that we belong to one another.”
— Matika Wilbur, photographer, project 562