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  • Capturing the Human Spirit in Times of Crisis

    This article was written by James Perez. He is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from him and from the work he did while part of the Ostara team. Jose Marti, a Cuban poet, and writer, once wrote  Patria es Humanidad  which, in the context of the poem, translates to “Humanity is the only nation.” As COVID-19 continues to inflict damage on our health and the health of our families and communities, I look to Jose’s words as a reminder that we are fighting for something much bigger than ourselves. Recently my fiancé sent me an article about  Captain Tom Moore , a 99-year-old British man that decided to fight and support for something bigger than himself and in his own unique way. Captain Moore pledged to walk 100 laps around his garden (fancy British speak for a back yard) by his 100th birthday. With the assistance of his walker Capt. Moore walked 10 laps (about 27 yards) each day and set a goal of raising £1,000. All of the money raised would go to support the U.K.’s National Health Service Charities, a group of charities that support the staff, volunteers, and patients of Britain’s health care services. In four days, Capt. Moore met his financial goal, which he then changed to £5,000. By April 16th, Captain Moore met his walking goal, which he later changed to 200 laps. Fast forward to the stroke of midnight April 30th, 2020, the last seconds of Capt. Moore’s birthday. As his JustGiving campaign page closes, the final tally is released…£32,796,405 from over 1.5 million unique donors. Let me write that one more time but in long-form. Thirty-two million seven hundred and ninety-six thousand four hundred and five. All raised in support of the men and women on the front lines of the worst public health crisis of our generation. I still find myself getting misty-eyed thinking about this. Captain Moore’s true talent was not in some fancy campaign slogan, glossy one-pager, or perfect pitch. I see his success falling into two categories: a clear and well-defined mission and the undying belief that humanity, society, our community, whatever you want to call it, are inherently compassionate and, when called upon, will act. COVID-19 has a never-ending list of horrors that it brings to our lives, but that same life-threatening public health crisis has shown us what community means and the ability for one to be galvanized. Of course, people are reading this saying, well, what about people buying extra toilet paper or masks and selling them for extreme profit! Yes, those people exist, but I choose to put my energy and focus on people like Captain Tom Moore. Many of my clients asked in the first days of the stay at home order what they should be doing. Our answer slowly morphed into a very simple response of “call your donors and just talk, make sure they are safe and healthy.” Fundraisers are first and foremost relationship builders and managers. When I was a major gift officer, I never saw my role as asking people for money; I saw my role as a facilitator. If a prospective donor spoke about a general interest in education and believed that access to quality education would be an equalizer, then I would present to them the idea of supporting or starting a scholarship fund. Philanthropy is not sales; we do not provide you with a tangible commercial item. Philanthropy offers something far greater, a transformational impact on the community by a community. One of my biggest hopes coming out of this crisis is that we 1) see the ability of a motivated and compassionate community 2) find ways to galvanize them that don’t include a public health crisis. For more stories of hope from our community, be sure to check out the  Ostara Instagram page . Every Monday we’ll be highlighting a different nonprofit in our community and how you can support them during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are here for you and we will walk with you as you navigate this situation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like to discuss how to shift your fundraising event plans, how to respond to funder inquiries about programs and services, how to manage remote work for your teams, or to navigate fears with donors or volunteers.  We’re here to connect.

  • Is Your Board Asking these Uncomfortable Questions Before Launching a Campaign?

    This article was written by JeeYoung Dobbs. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the work she did while part of the Ostara team. Have you ever been in a room with a board as they are wrestle with the decision to launch a big campaign fundraising effort? I find you can tell a lot about how the campaign will unfold based on their discussion. Board members are the leaders of the organization and campaign ambassadors. Their attitude about the campaign sets the tone from the start for staff, volunteers, donors, and the community. A campaign means shouldering additional responsibilities across an organization. I get curious about the campaign’s ability to reach a successful conclusion when I hear things like: “Can the staff raise the campaign goal?”  “How can we find new donors to support the campaign?”  “We have a lot going on in our organization. Can we outsource the campaign to a committee or consultants?”  Read: Campaign Fundraising is not your jobRead: We don’t think our long-time donors will step up with significant gifts.Read : We aren’t willing to make this campaign our top organizational priority. These questions can reflect an unwillingness to change or expand their commitments beyond the standard board role.You can help your board better understand their role in a campaign and set a strong example for other volunteers and community members by considering a set of strategic questions. Every board should grapple with the answers to these questions before voting to move forward with a campaign, which is often a significant investment of resources.  How would this campaign further our strategic goals and mission? How will this campaign transform our community with lasting change?  Are we willing to individually and collectively stretch for this campaign in terms of time, talent, and treasure?  What tactical steps will we take to make sure the campaign is our top organizational priority? Are we willing to make investments in staff and organizational capacity to support this campaign? Are we willing to share the opportunity to support the campaign among our current donors and network of friends, family, and colleagues? If we vote not to move forward with this campaign, what would happen?   If a board decides to move forward with a campaign, there’s one more question to consider: are we willing to put in the very real, often frustrating, but ultimately rewarding work to accomplish our goal?These questions should make staff and board members feel uncomfortable. A campaign is an extraordinary phase in the life of an organization. A campaign requires major evolution in how board and staff think about and approach fundraising. This change can be difficult but can ultimately lead to a higher caliber of annual fundraising thanks to the investments and expertise devoted to the effort. More importantly, a successful campaign can truly change lives for the better, transforming organizations to meet the complex needs of our communities. We are here for you and we will walk with you as you navigate this situation. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you would like to discuss how to shift your fundraising event plans, how to respond to funder inquiries about programs and services, how to manage remote work for your teams, or to navigate fears with donors or volunteers.  We’re here to connect.

  • A Funder in Motion Should Stay in Motion

    This article was written by James Perez. He is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from him and from the work he did while part of the Ostara team. Who remembers Isaac Newton’s first law of motion… For those of you that did not use the internet to search for it, Newton’s first law of motion says that an object at rest will stay at rest unless affected by an outside force. Maybe because my father, a manufacturing engineer, used to try and get me to do physics problems for fun, this has been one of my personal and professional mantras since my teens. Newton is giving us really great life advice. If you do everything the same as you are doing now, nothing is going to change. If you don’t want things to change, great! If you are looking for change…something needs to give. One of the first things I teach clients in development coaching workshops is that you are more likely to be abducted by aliens while hanging out with Sasquatch, than you are to receive an unsolicited, out-of-the-blue gift of any size from an unknown person. A large number of organizations wait for the donor, funder, foundation, corporate partner, or even paid member to contact them about making a gift. The next thing I reflect on with coaching clients is whether they are currently “putting out a fire” with their funding requests or are following a donor strategy that was compiled at a team meeting. Most, but not all, fall into that first category. This is passive and reactive fundraising, and it is  not  where we want to be. We want to be dynamic and proactive.A dynamic and proactive fundraiser splits their portfolio into thirds: Solicitation  – whom am I asking this year? Cultivation  – whom should I ask next year and how can I cultivate that relationship? Stewardship  – whom did I ask last year and how can I maintain a relationship with them? This fundraiser spends their time reaching out to their solicitation segment to set up donor meetings to put together well researched and crafted proposals that demonstrate the donor’s interest and where it aligns with the vision of the organization. Dynamic and proactive fundraisers take the strategic vision laid out by the Executive Director and Board, identify key funding priorities, and cultivate prospects who have expressed interest in those areas. They reach out, invite, encourage, and inform the donor of the progress within their area of interest. Finally, they spend time stewarding the donors in their portfolio that made a gift the previous year, actively sharing impact reports and updates. The dynamic and proactive fundraiser must be set up for success by the organization as a whole. Funding priorities must be laid out in a strategic plan or an annual development plan, somewhere that is easily referenced and can be recited on the spot. When we fail to create a big picture framework, we run from fire to fire, leaving our development teams mentally, physically, and psychologically exhausted. If we keep putting out fires, we will never have the time to step back, write a plan, and galvanize a new future. We will stay in motion down the same path unless a force affects a change. In human terms, a relationship will stay motionless unless we reach out. The message is simple –if you don’t ask, they won’t give. Without a vision for the future, you only exist for tomorrow, which will not inspire a donor. Newton may have written the laws of motion three hundred years ago, but I think they are just as relevant today and can be applied directly to our profession. If you’d like to learn more about how you can apply these principals to your development plan, check out our new cohort learning program. During these sessions, participants will learn and gain confidence in understanding the foundations and essential principles of fund development. Registration is now open!  Click here  for more info.

  • Letter from Kyle: Ostara Day!

    We would love to hear how your organization has been adapting to provide services to your clients and how we can support you during this time. Please reach out to us online here . Once again Spring has sprung! And all I can say is, thank goodness!  After 2+ year of a global pandemic, a social justice reckoning that is both long overdue and nowhere near its completion, and a world very nearly gone mad, it feels like we all need a bit of extra sunshine in our lives these days. So, like I do each year at this time, I’d like to share a little Happy Ostara message. I’ve been asked the meaning of Ostara countless times, and for me, it’s both personal and profound.  But when I named this company in 2009, I never imagined how much its significance would resonate today, thirteen years later.   You see, Ostara is about new beginnings.  Making a fresh start. Weathering the hard times and embracing the new period of growth that will surely follow. (Given what we’ve all been through, and are still going through, I’d say we’ve certainly earned a bit of an emotional reprieve.) So, I encourage all of you to take a moment, take a breath, and acknowledge how alive you are and how much what you do every day means to those in your community.  It’s important, difficult, and transformational work.  It can, and often does, take a toll.  But it can also uplift, engage and energize us.  It’s a new world today.  There are new paradigms, new technologies, and new opportunities around every corner.  There are also challenges the likes many of us have never experienced before. These challenges are not lost on us. We didn’t just skate through these two years unscathed.  Many of our long-time clients know that we’ve had our own opportunities for change. But we’re leaning into this change with our eyes, and our hearts, wide open.  We’re re-focusing and re-doubling our efforts to meet the needs of our clients as they navigate this new world.  In the coming months, you’ll see announcements about new Ostara team members, and new Ostara service offerings as we do the same.  We hope you reach out if you need help, or if you just want someone to run an idea by.  We’ve always made it a significant part of our company ethos to be here for you.  If you know anything about Ostara, you know that. What tomorrow (or even later today!) might bring, we can’t know for sure.  But we can support each other.  We can help each other.  We can create new beginnings for our community, our families, our world.  Let’s make that happen…together. Happy Ostara!

  • Campaign Planning in Verse

    National Limerick Day, May 12, 2022 And now for a word from Ostara To our clients both near and afar-a Who are taking the reigns And planning campaigns, We offer this brief Magna Carta: (Article I: Leadership) Your leadership must be prepared, Committees shall duly be chaired, All will give in good measure Their time and their treasure And networks be happily shared. (Article II: Community) Begin with your deepest investors And community messaging testers To ensure there’s potential And those influential To be your best friends and connectors (Article III: Core Assets) Neglect not your staff and your culture Your fundraising infrastructure Your plans and your mission Your values and vision All under a skillful conductor If you’re wondering “what’s our potential?” “Do we have everything that’s essential?” Our team’s seen it all And we’d welcome your call To discuss our approach and credentials.

  • Food Security and Campaigns

    How outpouring of community support has created opportunity The last two years of pandemic, worsening systemic inequities, and more recent struggles with inflation, supply and employment costs1 have continued to drive up food insecurity throughout our community. However, one positive note has also occurred: many of our food security and human services client organizations have been the beneficiaries of a tremendous outpouring of resources and support. This has resulted in area food banks, lifelines, and pantries funding their reserves and considering how to strategically invest in future sustainable services.  “the number of food-insecure people in our state doubled to 1.6 million people” - FOOD LIFELINE – COVID REPORT Many leaders of these organizations have recognized the incredible opportunity they have to move away from their typically hyper-frugal approach into a longer term, invest-in-the-future stance that has included the hiring of additional staff capacity, expanding their services, and even moving out of older, less client-friendly facilities and into newer remodeled or even custom-built locations. The Ostara Group actively encourages this strategic approach. Many of these organizations are working in inadequate space – negatively impacting distribution and access, with too few staff, all of whom are working incredibly hard to keep people fed and taken care of. Staff are amazingly dedicated, but frequently lack the necessary bandwidth and resources to offer sustainable services that meet increasing needs. This confluence of factors has led to requests for support in planning, both strategic and campaign, as well as hiring support and interim staff leadership, as each organization considers how to best grow and mobilize their organizations to meet their community’s food security needs. In the past 12 months alone the Ostara Group has engaged with 8 different food security clients in campaign readiness, planning, and counsel – for those engaged in or completing campaign fundraising. Sometime in the future the pendulum will swing back again into equilibrium across the non-profit sector, but for now, while the proverbial iron is hot, many of our clients in these service areas are striking the right note of investment in their internal workings and staff to ensure a stronger future and a higher level of service to their clients and customers. For more information regarding Ostara planning, leadership, and fundraising services, please contact us at 206.209.2022 or visit our website   Contact Us – The Ostara Group . High Inflation Leaves Food Banks Struggling to Meet Needs ( philanthropy.com )

  • Changes at the Top

    The challenge of finding and keeping top talent is being felt by many in our community. Like many issues that face our economy, the 2023 “great resignation” and the hiring crisis in America is hitting nonprofits especially hard. It has always been a challenge to attract and retain younger talent in the social sector, typically offering less competitive wages and professional development opportunities. Now with many staff feeling burned out, reevaluating their career paths, and facing economic pain, recent articles such as in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Forbes have given voice to nonprofit leaders wondering how to retain their people and pivot to offer the kind of flexibility and compensation that frontline workers are demanding. But what about the turnover at the top?  Executive Director and Director of Development/Advancement roles have also been notoriously hard to keep filled with top talent. It is often cited that the national average for a Development Director tenure hovers between 15-18 months. Though this trend is nothing new, we have noticed an uptick in top positions vacating our local client community lately. We have walked alongside many through their transitions as either interim leadership or as hiring advisors. Here are a few observations and encouragements we would like to share:  Pay attention to the pressure points . Leadership is a shared responsibility, and whether as a board chair, an E.D. or a function/team Director, it is important to maintain trust and unity at the top and act in accordance with your core values. Under-mining, over-reaching and under-resourcing are common pitfalls that just might nudge a critical leader past their tipping point.  Remember, people matter . If facing a leadership vacancy, take the time to honor and celebrate one’s contributions, and offer reinforcement to those left to manage through the disruption. Create a healthy transition, attend to frayed nerves, formalize and compensate for any interim ‘stretch’ assignments, and contract outside help to relieve the pressure. Your people, and your reputation as a fair employer, will thank you.  Stick to your principles . Don’t let urgency lead to hasty solutions, but also don’t delay the inevitable. Ensure you follow equitable hiring practices, prioritize strong leadership competencies and track records among your candidates, and allow yourself to go back to the well if the right hire does not materialize at first.  Seize the opportunity to engage leadership . This may be the moment when a committee chair, a leadership team, or a community ambassador decide to show-up to support the team and rally others around your shared goals of organizational stability and fundraising success. It is also the time to diversify your team’s donor relationship connections through sharing in stewardship calls and visits.  As seasoned leaders know, change is scary but is often for the better. If a key staff person is leaning out the door, a people-first approach with a vision for the future can help everyone feel valued and remain invested in your organization’s success, whatever may come. Contact Ostara if you foresee a possible leadership transition in your future, and would value some perspective and a skilled partner to come alongside you.

  • Around the Table: A Conversation on Food Security

    The Ostara Group has been privileged to work in partnership with several food banks throughout Washington state. At Ostara we believe in the power of bringing community together to face problems shoulder to shoulder with our clients and the sector as a whole. Last month, our team had the opportunity to spend the evening with leaders from six of our food bank clients where we discussed crucial issues faced by our regional food security nonprofits.    Representing a variety of communities in the Puget Sound region, the group honed in on two challenges that were impacting each of them: The inability of local community food banks to compete with the widely publicized narrative that larger, regional organizations in the food security sector are better positioned to utilize donor dollars in a more efficient and impactful way. Food banks continue to struggle to meet the need for services as inflation has outpaced the donation of food and dollars. Food banks work tirelessly to meet the increasing demand for food assistance while trying to navigate the increasing costs of operations and soliciting the necessary funding to ensure their customers have not only nutritious foods, but food that is culturally significant to the diverse populations they serve.    Two countermeasures evolved through our discussion – the impact of consistent messaging to build community and donor awareness, and the importance of having transparent conversations with major funders, private and public, about organizational challenges.    Awareness leads to informed donors.  Effective marketing campaigns generate awareness among audiences, both new and existing, who have yet to fully understand the breadth of an organization’s work.  Creating this level of awareness rquires a coordinated marathon of activities to build interest over time which in turn generates greater engagement. When designing awareness campaigns, ensure that the campaign supports upcoming milestones and leads to new types and levels of participation. Start with coordinated informational posts that educate donors about your mission, pieces that work to build engagement and interest, then culminate with an ask to take action – such as volunteering, formal and/or informal advocacy, and supporting the organization through a donation.    It is a continuous cycle that builds engagement over time. Focus on fostering a deeper understanding of your organization’s mission, initiatives, and the societal issues you are aiming to address and work to cultivate a sense of community and engagement with your audience that encourages active participation.   Harness the collective power. When operating within a sector that has competing narratives, join forces with organizations that share your mission to regain control of the messaging you want your community to hear.  There is strength in numbers. By collaborating with other likeminded organizations, you can amplify your message and shape the narrative that best serves your organization and the community.   The power of transparency. Your organization plays an important role in shaping and enhancing the community you serve. The ability and willingness to have transparent conversations with your major funders will enable you to establish a foundation of trust, foster strong relationships with stakeholders, and demonstrate your commitment to making a positive impact.  In the nonprofit space, public trust is of utmost importance and transparency is the key to ensuring continued success and support.  Be upfront about challenges your organization is facing and invite your funders to join you as a thought partner as you work towards creating the solution.    Our team is grateful to our community of clients and the incredible work they dedicate their time to in service of the communities we live and work in.

  • Happy Holidays from Ostara!

    As I look back on this past blur of a year, I can’t help but get a little nostalgic. The passing of time marks our lives in myriad ways.  The birth of a child who, all too soon, launches out into the world ready to make their mark.  A valued employee who leaves to fulfill a long-standing dream of their own, while new colleagues come in to take up the mantle, and in so doing add their own experiences and perspectives to the collective. Clients with whom we’ve had rewarding relationships will move on, and new clients and projects come into the fold.  Lessons learned, some harder won than others, change how we interact with our friends, colleagues and ourselves. Change is inevitable.  How we manage that change, how we show up for it, or don’t, takes the measure of who we are as people and professionals. Over this past year, we’ve been doing a lot of talking about Ostara 3.0, as we’ve taken to calling it. Namely, how will we, as a company, adapt and grow to meet new challenges and the many opportunities now in front of us?  This organizational self-reflection has brought about some high-level changes at Ostara that you’ll begin to notice in our company language and philosophy.  As one example, where Ostara 2.0 had four service line areas – Grant Services, Campaign Services, Development Services, and Strategy and Facilitation Services – we will now have three areas of focus: Leadership, Planning and Fundraising.  Much of the work we do will remain the same, but elevating our top line perspective feels like it better aligns with where the sector is headed and better coincides with our clients, and the sector’s, needs. More information about these changes will certainly be forthcoming over the course of these next few months.  What I can say now is that we’re excited for what the future holds.  We have an amazing team of highly skilled consultants already part of the Ostara family, and are looking to partner with even more talented and experienced colleagues and clients as we continue to grow and evolve. In the meantime, keep reading our newsletters to stay up to date on our journey and to learn about opportunities to connect with us out in the community. (Or even just reach out to say hello!)  We wish you all a very happy, healthy and exciting new year!

  • Navigating Food Security: Vashon and Orcas Island Food Bank Leaders Talk Challenges, Changing the Narrative + Shifting Paradigms.

    At Ostara, we’ve been thinking a lot about food security organizations recently. We’ve worked with numerous organizations in the sector over the years and have been talking internally about the challenges these organizations are facing, in the wake of rising costs and inflation, and post-pandemic. We decided to start talking with the leaders of these organizations to get a sense of where everybody is at now: what are the challenges, where are the opportunities, how can their organizations – and especially the smaller food banks – help support each other and band together? To begin these conversations, we hosted a dinner for leaders of current food security clients and some of those we’d worked with in the past. That conversation was rich with stories, connection and a desire to seek solutions to shared challenges. We wanted to continue to explore this thread with two leaders of food banks in island communities – Emily Scott, Executive Director of Vashon Maury Community Food Bank, and Amanda Sparks, Executive Director of Orcas Island Food Bank - to understand the unique challenges they face compared to their counterparts on the mainland, and discuss where the greatest opportunities are for them to grow their impact.     Morgan: To get a sense of size and scale, what are your operating budgets and what percentage of the population on your respective islands do you serve?   Amanda: Our budget is now just over $1 million, up from around $70,000 before the pandemic. This increase reflects the rising need in our community. According to the 2023 census, Orcas Island has a population of approximately 6,078 people, with 53% qualifying for food assistance. Currently, we are serving 35% of this qualifying population, meaning 65% are not yet accessing our services. To better meet these needs, we are planning for a new facility. We had already outgrown our capacity pre-pandemic, making our current service delivery extremely challenging. Emily: Wow, that’s a staggering number, 53%. Our operating budget’s at about $700K right now and that's not including capital revenues or expenses. We serve about 15-20% of Vashon’s population. Right now, we’re serving more people than ever – up about 25% over this time last year even.   Morgan: As leaders of food banks in island communities, what challenges do you face that may be different than those faced by food banks on the mainland?     Emily: I’d make some assumptions Amanda that you probably deal with many of the same logistical issues we do on Vashon, but probably to an even greater degree because of your distance to populated areas. On Vashon, we send a truck off island 1-3x a week to get food from Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest - though we'll be getting cut out of the Northwest Harvest network at the end of this year because they’ve narrowed their partner network.    Amanda: Distribution challenges are one of our greatest hurdles. Like Vashon, we don't have easy access to distribution like organizations on the mainland do. Additionally, the high cost prohibits many companies from distributing here altogether. Often, the cost of shipping is not the best use of our dollars. To ensure the best stewardship of our funds and maintain freshness, we stick to established island distributors, including local growers. If something doesn’t make it on the truck or the ferries are canceled, which happens frequently, we go without that week. For this reason, having a sizable inventory on-hand is crucial, especially during crises like the pandemic. Being an hour and a half offshore makes us an extremely vulnerable population, especially regarding our food supply.   Morgan: Given that, how have you gotten creative with your shipping and distribution practices?   Amanda: Currently, our commodity food allocation from the state is being shipped to the island thanks to limited-time grant funding from the WSDA through our contractor in Skagit County. This eliminates the need for our staff to spend a full day off-island, which is a significant expense. Our other major food donor, Food Lifeline from Seattle, committed to delivering to us starting in 2020. In exchange, we act as a redistribution site for Food Lifeline orders for Lopez Island.   Also, our local grocery stores place orders with their distributor on our behalf, and we rely on local growers as often as possible. We also have purchasing agreements with two vendors who sell directly to us, which is preferred as they deliver, eliminating the need to pick up orders from the stores.   During the pandemic, we developed the habit of pallet stashing—bringing in large volumes of food and distributing it gradually to ensure consistency. However, this requires additional storage, both cold and dry. This is why we are soon embarking on a capital campaign for a new facility as part of a social service co-campus which also includes a community resource center and low-income housing. A new building will enable us to properly serve the population we currently feed each week, while also positioning us to meet future needs and maintain supplies for emergencies such as earthquakes or major distribution challenges. At present, we operate out of shipping containers, Cool-bots (refrigerated boxes), and rented freezer space and it’s simply not sufficient.   Morgan: Emily, you mentioned losing access to Northwest Harvest’s distribution. Can you elaborate a bit on that, and the impacts it has on your ability to serve your community?   Emily: Northwest Harvest has made a strategic decision to cut certain food banks out of their network and, we, unfortunately, are one of them. Historically, we’ve received about 10% of our free food from Northwest Harvest. The removal of this food source is putting us in a hard position to serve our community, who are mostly multi-generational islanders who constitute the cultural core of the island; lots of artists and service workers. Much of the reason that people from off island find Vashon charming and appealing is because of the people who have been the cultural thread of the island for years, and who have lived there for generations. Those folks are having a really hard time maintaining their livelihoods on the island because of rising housing and food costs, and inflation. Amanda, is that similar on Orcas? Amanda: It’s a similar situation. It’s tough to prioritize one community’s needs over another. But at the end of the day, I always stand up for our population. Food is a fundamental human right, and figuring out how to distribute resources fairly is a challenge. It’s not easy to say who needs it more; it's hard to figure out how to divide a loaf of bread.   In 2020, we expanded our outreach beyond our local area to understand what resources were available. With support from advocates like WSDA, Northwest Harvest, and Food Lifeline, we secured grant funding and additional resources that brought much-needed stability to our operations. Now, we’re facing a sharp decline in those resources, which is really tough to see. We're currently figuring out how to prepare for this new reality.    As I mentioned, just over 50% of Orcas Island's population qualifies for food assistance. This includes essential workers on the island like UPS drivers, grocery store clerks, baristas, and school staff—people who play critical roles in keeping our community running smoothly. Given the current situation, there's also the looming concern of losing our workforce.   Morgan: Are there suggestions or ideas you hear consistently from your community or those outside of the work to improve the problem that you’ve thought about but know are ultimately not the right solution? Emily: There's a pretty active gardening and farming community on Vashon, and a lot of people vocalize the notion that we should close the loop on Vashon's economy and grow all the food we need here. But there’s the elephant in the room that Vashon does not have the tillable, fertile soil, and the volume of land it would take to feed all the people on the island, not to mention to be able to do so in a sustaining way. Amanda: Yeah, the utopian dream is to grow all our own food, but the reality is that it’s not feasible for the reasons Emily mentioned. I really love the idea, though. In 2020, we explored various possibilities, and that was definitely one of them.   On Orcas, we seemingly live in a land of plenty, but based on the need, it's actually a food desert. Our farmers will never be able to grow enough food for the population, and our food bank will never have sufficient access to food without shipping it in, unfortunately.   Emily: Exactly. Even the grocery stores locally get their produce from Charlie's, just like we do. People are like, why don't we just cut ourselves off from the mainland? But the reality is that we can’t survive without a mainline to the mainland. You know what I mean? Amanda: It’s just not realistic.   Emily: I was on the board of the Vashon Island Growers Association for a handful of years, and we at one point did a feasibility study in partnership with another organization around forming a proper Food Hub, where small growers basically aggregate their product to be able to sell wholesale to institutions like schools or the food bank. The result of that study was that there was neither the interest, nor the capacity; it’s an economy of scale issue.    Amanda: In 2020, we too explored how our food bank might support our local Food Hub by providing capacity, but it fell short. Most of our farmers cannot grow enough food and lack confidence in the consistency of their crops to justify the cost of joining the Food Hub and meeting its expectations. Fortunately, we received grant funding that allows us to purchase farmed foods, but we always need to supplement with Charlie’s or other produce distributors. Morgan: I'm curious, what kind of awareness, communications, marketing, messaging are you doing around food security issues on your respective islands and what do you see working? And what kind of engagement do you all have from your communities in terms of supporting your efforts, volunteering, etc? Emily: We're really trying to lean into knowing that the funding landscape is changing and that it’s incumbent upon us to reframe the idea of what a food bank is. We need to remind people that the culture of the island is everyone’s responsibility and that those who have the means are also a part of this community. That it’s going to take community investment because we're losing the outside investment. We are also hoping our capital campaign will be a way to inspire general operating dollars.   Being a small nonprofit, we haven't had a proper major donor program in the past. We don't have any major gift officers or staff whose job it is to make x number of phone calls to major donors per week. We need those WSDA dollars (that are also shrinking) and would like to be able to still pick up that Northwest Harvest product, but if resources need to get reallocated to places of intense need, I'm never going to advocate against that. So, then it's our responsibility to remind our local donors and folks who have never given to the food bank that the landscape is changing, and we need to rely on them more now for support. And that, you know, this is an asset that’s foundational to their community. On Vashon, we don't have a municipal government. We're part of unincorporated King County, so there's no local B&O tax and there are levies for services like the fire department and the library. That’s a good reminder that we live in this kind of rural, remote area and we’re independent; we rely on ourselves and we're a tight-knit community. But that also means as a community we need to invest in the social safety net. I don’t know – we’re in it and it’s a challenge. We don’t want to guilt or morally shame anyone into giving money, so we are working on reframing it as an opportunity to strengthen the foundation of our community. Morgan: Amanda, I'm curious to hear your perspective on that, because I know Orcas is a landing spot for many people who have homes in the city and second homes on the island. How do you engage those families who aren’t full time residents of your community?   Amanda: I want to echo Emily's point. Regarding your question, we've found that a data-driven narrative holds significant power. In 2020, we leaned into this approach by developing systems to collect extensive data, which we then translated into narratives that resonated uniquely with everyone in the community. Data is hard to argue with and certainly more challenging to ignore than testimony alone.   However, I try not to rely too heavily on standard practices because what worked yesterday might not work today. We’re constantly asking ourselves, “What’s the message now? How do we reach people? What are the giving trends?” One effective strategy has been emphasizing the broader community benefits of our resources, not just for those who access the food bank, but also for those who don't. For example, if we don’t support our workforce with food assistance, you don't have a workforce. That means you don’t have the luxuries and amenities you need and want on the island – mail services, coffee shops, restaurants, et cetera. Highlighting how our services touch everyone personally is more impactful because it bridges the gap people often create with social services. Instead of thinking, "Oh, that's somebody else's problem," we help them see how these resources benefit the entire community, increasing the likelihood of their engagement. Also, because we're such a small island community, neighbors know each other on a more intimate level. When you're volunteering at the food bank or taking a tour and you see your neighbor come in to get food, it creates a powerful, personal connection. It's about connecting the dots on a real, personal level for people, making the impact of our work more tangible and relatable.   We are seeing a generation of people aging and no longer able to farm their own land. Their resources are dwindling, and they must rely on others for help. Convincing elders to accept free food can be a challenging conversation. Many of these individuals worked multiple jobs their entire lives just to make ends meet and struggle to understand why they need assistance now. Some even feel unworthy of the support. Morgan: And that’s a huge part of the work, right? Dismantling the shame associated with needing these services.  Amanda: Shame is the biggest barrier, along with the false belief that "someone else needs it more." Emily: Yeah, we talk about that all the time, too. You know, on Vashon, and I forget the statistics exactly but a majority of the population is over 65. And people who live on islands are likely to identify as independently resourceful, like, “I built my house, I have a lumber mill in my backyard” kind of thing. So, for them, needing this resource can certainly raise issues of shame.  On top of that, our current food bank is in a dismal state of disrepair. It's like old military buildings that are falling apart and everything about a functional space that should be clean and welcoming and dignified, we just do not have that right now. So, there are a ton of independent, resourceful seniors on fixed income on Vashon who probably don't use the food bank because of that internal notion of what our building is for and how that feels for them if they have to use it; that old stigma of “that’s for other people, that’s for poor people, that’s not for me.” Morgan: I assume that state of disrepair is a key driver for the launch your capital campaign, Emily. Am I right? Emily: Definitely. If we can create a welcoming, inclusive and dare I say, aesthetically pleasing place, I believe we’ll reach and be able to serve more of the population. I can just imagine this self-respecting senior who's living in their own house by themselves on a fixed income and goes to the grocery store and spends $150.00 for a weeks’ worth of groceries and doesn’t even know the food bank is accessible to them.    Amanda: I can tell you for certain that creating a welcoming atmosphere has helped encourage people to use our food bank. It’s real. We turned ours into a charming self-select shopping model with a grocery store and it elevated the whole experience, and it does attract more people. But our facilities are just, they're working against us. Emily: Exactly. For us, the facility itself is a barrier to service. The distance - you have to drive a quarter mile off the highway into a gravel, potholed parking lot. And then you get to the space and there’s nothing dignified or welcoming about it. I think the best way we’ve found thus far to encourage prospective campaign donors to consider a gift is to give them a tour of our current facility. It certainly tells the story for us. Morgan: Amanda, is your campaign driven primarily by storage space or are there other dreams and aspirations you have that are also driving it?    Amanda: Well, it’s everything, right? The space, especially storage space, is lacking, which is definitely an understatement. We need safe and adequate storage space for inventory and distribution. Additionally, a commercial kitchen will allow us to utilize more donated items, such as blemished produce or bulk-sized items, by turning them into meals instead of animal feed or compost. Honestly, all food banks serving large volumes should have a commercial kitchen for this purpose. Many of our households are often better served by prepared meals rather than raw ingredients. When we prepare the food ourselves, we can ensure it's more nutritious, without preservatives, added sugars, sodium, and all the other unhealthy additives commonly found in food these days.   We aim to someday make medically tailored meals and provide food education classes to further promote the "food is medicine" movement, as well as curate a native food forest and edible landscape to use as a teaching garden. We want to have an outdoor pizza oven for community potlucks to inspire the tradition of sharing hot meals with neighbors. Emily: Offering hot food is an inroad to other services whether it's groceries or the community resource hub model which we’re leaning into for our new facility; the idea of partnering with other social service agencies. If you can draw somebody in with a hot meal, there’s a stronger likelihood of them walking away with two bags of free groceries and signing up for, say, SNAP benefits. It’s like a gateway for social services if you can offer somebody a delicious warm meal and then give them access to resources they didn't know they needed, were too ashamed to pursue, or couldn’t figure out how to access. Morgan: If you could communicate something externally to the nonprofit community, to other leaders in the sector, to your communities, what would you ask people to consider or think about? What would you want to share? Amanda: Social service needs are not decreasing; in fact, they're growing in demand. It's important to recognize this reality and for people to consider how they can contribute—whether as a distributor, donor, or volunteer. Where do you see yourself fitting into this picture? We’re a community, we’re all connected. One hand holds another. Community benefits by people leaning in, not leaning away and ignoring. Emily: We kind of talked about the line between the “haves” and the “have nots” or the people who perceive themselves as not the kind of person who needs a social service like the food bank. That line is not only thin, but also imaginary. We don't demand people tell us their stories, but so much of the time they choose to, like, here’s what happened to me and why I ended up here. There are so many life circumstances that can change and leave people in a position to need a food bank.  Food is a basic need so there’s not a choice; you have to eat; your family has to eat.     The name food bank can be unfortunate because people associate it with using a resource to be embarrassed about. We are really trying to reframe it like an actual bank: you pay in to be able to take out when you need it. That reframe can change someone’s feelings about using this resource.  As Amanda was saying, this is a resource for the entire community, whether you need it right now or whether you might need it in the future, or whether you'll never need it, but your neighbor does. Really framing it as a shame-free, inclusive, collective resource as opposed to shame driven welfare will continue to have huge benefits. Amanda: There's a success story here as well: transforming our food banks into welcoming grocery store models where people can "see themselves on our shelves," choosing foods they desire independently. This approach fosters dignity, unlike traditional models. The products offered are of high quality, culturally recognized, and nutritious.   When I see people, especially kids, come in and respond joyfully to using the resource for the first time, it's a complete departure from my own childhood experience of visiting a food bank. Back then, the experience was fraught with stress, disappointment, and guilt. The food we received didn't align with our family's dietary habits, and it deterred us from returning, impacting us in other ways.   That all said, there are moments when I still feel our organization struggles as a resource. We're evolving as rapidly as possible, but being a small nonprofit with limited resources, there's only so much we can achieve with what's available. However, it's remarkable to see how far we've come in the last four years.   The emotional and mental health improvements we're witnessing, both visually and through customer testimonials, are palpable. I wish we could find a way to tangibly track health outcomes. Having measurable data on how our new model is improving the physical and mental health of our customers over time would be incredibly valuable. Emily:   We absolutely will have long term intergenerational impacts. There is a paradigm shift happening in food banks. We're not doing anything revolutionary. We’re keeping up with best practices and this paradigm shift that's happening, broadly speaking, is us moving away from the poverty and welfare model and more towards abundance and resourcefulness because the food is there. It's just a matter of redistributing wealth.   Amanda: We are changing the wheel on generational poor nutrition and shame, and that is something that we can all be proud of.

  • The Value of Impact Metrics on Fundraising

    Fundraising can be an uncertain, challenging, and long process at times. And with over 1.5 million nonprofits in the US seeking funding from a limited pool of philanthropic resources, it can also be a very competitive process. So, how can nonprofits increase their chances of getting funding? When looking at organizations that consistently achieve successful fundraising results, one of the strengths they have in common is their ability to connect their mission to their impact. The Importance of Impact Metrics How your organization defines, measures, and communicates its impact is not just mission-critical; it’s also fundraising-critical. Funders want to know that their philanthropic investments are driving meaningful change and are more likely to support nonprofits with a proven track record of success. This is where impact metrics play a huge role. Impact metrics are the quantitative and qualitative data points that demonstrate your organization’s effectiveness in achieving its mission over time. They go beyond standard outputs like the number of people or communities served to provide funders with a deeper look into the key drivers that advance an organization’s theory of change. For example, an education-focused nonprofit might include specific data points that show how their programs increased literacy proficiency or high school graduation rates. Metrics like these provide credibility to your organization’s work, making them more persuasive and impactful in advancing your fundraising efforts in key areas, including: Funder Engagement and Retention: Stories backed by data are more compelling and memorable. When donors understand the specific outcomes of their contributions, they feel more connected to the cause. This connection not only encourages initial donations but also fosters long-term funder relationships. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the average donor retention rate for nonprofits is around 45%. By using impact metrics to tell a powerful story, nonprofits can improve this rate, resulting in a more stable and predictable funding stream. Major Donor Acquisition: Nonprofits that can provide robust impact metrics are better positioned to attract larger gifts. Major donors want to see clear evidence that their donations are producing the desired outcomes. For example, let’s say you’re a major donor and two nonprofits present their case for support to you – the first organization has a defined set of impact metrics; the other doesn’t. Which one will you support? You’d likely pick the organization that can show you the impact of your donation over time. Improved Grant Success Rates: Similar to major donors, institutional funders are more likely to fund nonprofits that have the highest potential for moving the needle on a particular issue and at a larger scale. By integrating impact metrics in your proposal narratives, you can demonstrate how your organization is unique in the field and why it should be funded. And because most institutional funders require some level of reporting on program outcomes, it is critical that your organization has systems in place for tracking progress against your stated impact metrics. Implementing Impact Metrics: Best Practices: To maximize the value of impact metrics, nonprofits need to implement them effectively. Here are some best practices to consider: Define Clear Objectives: Before collecting data, nonprofits should define what they want to achieve with their impact metrics. Clear objectives guide the data collection process and ensure that the metrics gathered are relevant and useful. Objectives should align with the organization’s mission and strategic goals. Choose the Right Metrics: Not all metrics are created equal. Nonprofits should select metrics that are meaningful and directly tied to their mission. For instance, a health-focused nonprofit might track the number of patients served, the improvement in health outcomes, and the cost savings from preventive care. Choosing the right metrics helps in telling a compelling story about the organization’s impact. Invest in Data Management Systems: Accurate and efficient data collection requires the right tools. Investing in a good data management system can streamline the process of gathering, analyzing, and reporting impact metrics. These systems can range from simple spreadsheets to sophisticated software solutions, depending on the organization's needs and resources. Regularly Review and Update Metrics: Impact metrics should not be static. Nonprofits should regularly review and update their metrics to ensure they remain relevant and accurately reflect the organization's impact. This might involve adding new metrics as programs evolve or refining existing ones to better capture outcomes. Communicate Impact Effectively: Once collected, impact metrics need to be communicated effectively to donors and stakeholders. This can be done through annual reports, newsletters, social media, and face-to-face meetings. Visual aids such as charts and infographics can help make the data more accessible and engaging. Conclusion In an increasingly competitive nonprofit sector, effectively using impact metrics can significantly enhance your organization’s fundraising efforts. By building trust, demonstrating effectiveness, and providing a compelling narrative, nonprofits can improve funder engagement, attract major gifts, and increase their chances of grant funding. The value of implementing impact metrics is clear – nonprofits that invest in tracking and communicating their impact are better positioned to secure the funding they need to fulfill their missions and create lasting change.

  • Public Funding Sources: How Budget Appropriations Can Elevate Your Capital Fundraising

    When your organization is planning major capital work, it’s important to not overlook public funding resources. Public funding opportunities include grants, appropriations, and loans from city, county, state, and federal government entities. With so many potential public funding sources available, it can be difficult to form a coherent public funding strategy and keep track of the options. Budget appropriations are an exciting funding opportunity that may be unfamiliar - and a bit intimidating - to your organization. In this article, I’ll cover the basics of appropriations (what the heck is that, anyway?) and how to position your organization to take advantage of this funding source.  A strategic appropriation can potentially be one of the largest funding sources for your capital project and is often an essential fundraising strategy to complement and leverage individual and private institutional giving. Appropriation Basics A budget appropriation is when a legislative body earmarks funding for your project in their annual budget. Budget appropriations can happen at any level of government; however, we most commonly pursue them at the federal and state levels. At the federal level, budget appropriations are made by both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives and signed into the federal budget annually. In Washington state, capital budget appropriations are made by State Senators and State Representatives and signed into the state budget annually.  Typically, each legislator has a set amount of funding per year that they can appropriate to the community projects of their choosing, which means they must pick and choose between many compelling projects. Appropriations are a great funding option because they can be a source of significant revenue for your project and involve a less cumbersome application process than many other government grants. Having your elected officials support your project can increase overall confidence in your project from other donors and can spur donations from private funders, many of whom like to see funds committed to the project in advance. On the other hand, it’s important to recognize that appropriations are a political process, contingent on having support from your legislator, with the project aligning with their legislative priorities, navigating the sometimes-murky application process, and subject to shifting political pressures and budgetary constraints. Despite the challenges, budget appropriations can be a key factor in successfully reaching your fundraising goal and completing your capital project. Building Relationships Like most fundraising, appropriations are contingent on cultivating relationships. To get an appropriation for your project, you need to find a sponsor - a legislator you've built a relationship with - who supports your project and will advocate for it during the budget process. Ideally, you’ll have more than one sponsor - i.e., a Senator and Representative; or at a local level, a Mayor and multiple City Councilmembers. If your organization wants to pursue legislative appropriations, start building relationships with your elected officials, at all levels of government, when the legislature is not in session. It is never too early to foster those connections, even if your capital project is a few years down the road. If your organization doesn’t have existing relationships with elected officials, start creating them by reaching out to their offices. This is also a great opportunity to engage your board and other community supporters who many times have large and diverse networks. These people can be powerful advocates for your organization and may have relationships that can help open doors. It is also important to remember that elected officials are politicians - it can be strategically useful to research their priorities in advance and to frame your project in a way that will be mutually beneficial to them. Elected Officials to Contact: Federal: US Senators for your state; US Representative for your congressional district State: State Senators and State Representative for your legislative district County: County Council Members (or comparable leaders) City / Town: Mayor, City Councilmembers (or comparable leaders) Once you reach out, it’s normal to not hear back - be persistent. If you don’t get a response in a week or two, follow up - repeatedly - until you do. Sometimes making a phone call is a great tactic, too. It’s also normal for elected officials to have dedicated staff members managing constituent relationships and appropriations processes, and it is OK if you primarily interface with those folks. Once you get movement, focus on familiarizing the elected official (or their staff) with your organization, your work, and the impact your capital project will have on the community. Invite them to visit your organization for a tour. Or if geography is a barrier, set up a virtual meeting. Ultimately, your goal will be to ask them to sponsor your budget appropriation. Application Process Applications are available on request through your elected official’s office. It is normal for the application to become available on short notice and have a very fast turnaround time. It can be extremely helpful to find previous year’s application forms to use as a reference to prepare your proposal in advance. It is also common for different legislators to have different application forms, due dates, and submission tools (even within the same legislative body). And, it’s normal to get slightly different or inconsistent information from different elected official’s offices. The best strategy is to be in touch with legislative staff and ask to be alerted when the applications become available. Timing Budget appropriations happen annually in conjunction with state and federal fiscal budgeting. In Washington State, appropriation applications open in early January, when the legislative session starts. Funding decisions are announced in the Spring, after the legislative session has concluded. That means you need to start your lobbying process in advance - the earlier, the better. At the federal level, appropriations correlate with the federal budget process. Applications open between February and April, with awards being announced over the summer, and once again, it is advisable to lobby for support well in advance. Planning for Post-Award Management Appropriations awards are signed into law as part of the city, county, state, or federal budget. Budgets are set for the next fiscal year. For example, in 2024, the U.S. Congress is working on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. That means it can take a full year between applying and being able to utilize funds - so planning and applying in advance is critical. Awarded appropriations are typically administered via a contract with a government agency. In Washington State, they’re administered by the Department of Commerce and subject to state grant contracting guidelines. At the federal level, they’re administered by various government agencies (depending on the project), and subject to the Code of Federal Regulations Title 2 (which is typical of all federal grants), and other agency-specific rules and regulations. It can be extremely helpful to work with those agencies in advance to understand award management and compliance issues. It is also important to assess your organization’s experience and capacity for managing state and federal grants, and plan accordingly for capacity building in advance. It’s typical for appropriations (like most public funding) to be reimbursement style. Your organization will likely not be able to execute the appropriation contract until you can show the administering agency that your organization has all other financial resources needed to complete the project on hand. Appropriation awards usually require that they be the last money spent / reimbursed - ie, you need to use other sources of funding first. That means it is crucially important to plan your cash flow and other fundraising needs well in advance. In conclusion, appropriations can be a transformative source of funding for your organization’s capital projects. Success is contingent on building strong relationships with your elected officials, well in advance of making your request; being persistent in your outreach; anticipating a short application turnaround time with little advance notice; and, planning well in advance for your organization's cash flow and grant management needs. With cultivation, patience, and strategic foresight, appropriations can be a substantial, catalytic source of funding for your capital project with the impact to motivate private funders and reach your organization's fundraising goals. Reach out to the team at Ostara to learn more about appropriations and to help develop a custom public funding strategy for your campaign.

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