Monday, November 30, 2009

A Microcosm of the Mission

Glimpses behind-the-scenes help you see how an organization really works: dust on the windowsills, animated hallway conversations, empty coffee cups stacked neatly or haphazardly filling the sink.  All of these can be positive or negative indications of single-mindedness, collaboration, and mission-focus.  With trained eyes you quickly get a feeling for the culture of the place.  Messy does not mean bad and too neat can mean trouble.  Getting it just right is a collaborative effort. 

At East Cooper Community Outreach the lobby is bright and cheery.  There is enough space so that clients do not feel cramped.  Behind-the-scenes is another matter.  The working conditions are professional but cramped.  All available space is given over to a dental clinic, a food distribution facility, offices for social workers interviewing clients, a classroom, a medical other words, all available space goes first to service and only later, if there is any left, to working comforts.  Even the Staff offices are divided into tight cubicles shared with the one desk offices of smaller, collaborating nonprofits.  Jack Little tells me that the latest renovation enclosed what used to be a shady porch so that a childcare service can be provided to visiting clients.  East Cooper Community Outreach, even without saying a word, says we are here to serve.

So here's a behind-the-scenes photograph for you to interpret.

And here is a close-up of this coming week.

Get the picture?

East Cooper Community Outreach is a service organization that packs into every available space service to clients.  They collaborate with other organizations while striving to become a full-service operation that caters to the needs of those in need.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Whatever happened to "The Quiet Company?"

Community foundations pride themselves on their quiet competence.  We often work behind-the-scenes to improve communities through the creation of nearly silent, but steadily growing endowment funds.  While every now and there is a splash in the media pond when a large endowment fund is created, generally community foundations do not make waves.  Few have fulltime communications officers.  This past week I saw a noisy outpouring of emotion as many of my colleagues exchanged emails about a Wall Street Journal article that failed to mention community foundations as a locally-administered, low-cost, high-value option for those seeking a custodian for a Donor Advised Fund.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that community foundation executives are overly sensitive, it is not as if community foundations are a trivial part of the Donor Advised Fund management marketplace.  There are more than 700 community foundations compared to only a handful of for-profit investment firms.  More than $31 Billion is held in endowments funds by community foundations.  While quiet, we are huge and quiet.

Moreover, the reporter in her research conducted an extensive interview with the President of the Council on Foundations, Steve Gunderson.  The Council on Foundations is the nonprofit membership association that serves as an advocate for nonprofit foundations of all types.  It is not like she just didn't hear about community foundations, she chose instead to favor the small subset of the Donor Advised fund management sector that advertizes in the Wall Street Journal.

Coincidence?  Perhaps, but the last time this happened I wrote a note to, (and I got a nice response back from) the Wall Street Journal reporter who failed to mention community foundations.  That time they said that they would make a special effort next time.  This is next time. 

What do we have to do?

Maybe this is why I no longer see those ads for Northwestern Mutual with the tagline: "The Quiet Company."  That marketing strategy doesn't work.

Would you be comfortable with a portion of the operational costs of your local community foundation going to a national marketing campaign or would you rather those funds be used to directlly benefit your local nonprofits?

I think community foundations need to take advantage of social media tools to reach deep into our local commuinty rather than spending money on raising our brand awareness nationwide.

Your thoughts?