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How-To information from the Called to Serve conference

May 13, 2010

How to develop viable income-generating enterprise that can sustain non-profits when gifts and grants fall short…How to build and maintain healthy boards over the long-term…How to engage congregations with the transformational “Just Faith” curriculum…how to develop a methods of fund-raising that are sustainable in today’s economically challenging environment.

The Called to Serve conference offered a number of practical workshops aimed at the needs of non-profit ministries. Here’s a roundup, with some practical take-aways from each session.

Mission and Enterprise: A Tale of Two Jubilee Ministries

By Becky Jones, DJO for Colorado

The No. 1 lesson for Jubilee Ministries hoping to launch some sort of sustainable, money-generating enterprise is this: Think out of the box and dare to take chances and take risks.

That’s the advice from Samuel Cheung, lay leader at Episcopal Church of Our Savior in New York City’s Chinatown, and a Jubilee Ministry that has successfully found a profitable niche in web design and printing services.

Cheung was among the presenters at the “Called to Serve” conference in Newark in April, where he outlined some of the strategies Episcopal Church of Our Savior has used to become self-sustaining. Also presenting at the “Mission and Enterprise” workshop at the conference were Beverly Mandina and Katrina Robertson, sales representatives of Thistle Farms, the commercial arm of the Magdalene Community, a Jubilee Ministry in Nashville that assists women who have survived lives of prostitution, violence and abuse. Members of the community work at Thistle Farms making handmade all-natural body and bath products and candles.

Since its founding in 1973, Episcopal Church of Our Savior has been serving the Asian community in New York City. In 1975, Chinatown Mission Inc. was officially incorporated to parent numerous outreach programs to ministry to the people of the neighborhood. A year later, Mission Graphics, a publishing house, was launched.

Today, Mission Graphics provides graphic design and printing services, custom promotional products and Chinese translation services for a long list of clients, including many Episcopal churches and Episcopal organizations, as well as JP Morgan Chase Inc., and Citibank, Citigroup Inc.

“We offer below-cost products to help churches,” Cheung said.

Later, Peter Ng founded Ecoserve, which specializes in creating customized web pages, especially for churches and faith-based organizations.

In 1991, Episcopal Church of Our Savior’s Bishop Robert F. Grein Community Center became the first Asian-American Jubilee Center. Among its many programs: a Jubilee Youth Chorale, Gateway Computer Learning Center, computer recycling programs, and enrichment programs for youth, including a summer camp, Mandarin Chinese classes and after-school and Saturday programs for teens.

“In 1997, our Jubilee Preschool started, but we ended it in 2001, when we realized that other organizations were copying our format, and we know our kids would be served regardless,” Cheung said. “So we moved on to new programs.”

Cheung says that’s another lesson for successful enterprise: Be willing to let go of what you have built and move on to new territory.

And a third lesson: Make space available to the community. “In our creative efforts to survive, especially during times of economic hardship, we must never forget what the church is,” Cheung said. “We are meant to be fishers of men. We are called to serve our brothers and sisters in need. All the money in the world won’t buy you church growth. That’s why we have so many programs. Not all of them make money. But the ones that do make money cover for the ones that lose money.”

In Nashville, directors of the Magdalene community are also finding that making money isn’t the sole purpose of Thistle Farms. It also provides a kind of sheltered workshop in which women without previous employment experience can learn business skills.

“A lot of our women have minimal education, and have lived on the street,” said Mandina. During the two years that women spend in the residential community, they work on recovering from sexual and substance abuse and violence. They also are paid to work in the non-profit Thistle Farms, creating and marketing natural bath and body products.

The business grew from necessity. “Some of the women went in the kitchen and just started playing with candles,” Mandina said. “One of the ladies at her church had a little knowledge about making candles. That’s how it started.”

From that humble beginning – a single homemade candle in a tin – Thistle Farms has expanded its product line to include bath teas, lotions, healing oils, body polish, soap, room spray, lip balm and sachets. The products are available in retail stores throughout much of the country, as well as online. “We’re moving toward becoming a national company,” Mandina said. “We got some new packaging design, and last year we got into Whole Foods.”

Mandina says the updated packaging helped get the product into more retail stores. Sales have grown so, the community’s small kitchen is simply no longer adequate to accommodate demand. Thistle Farms is now in the process of moving into a 12,000-square-foot building.

Engaging Communities in Organizing for Economic Justice and Development
By Gill Keyworth, DJO for Texas

This workshop was led by Dianne Aid and Chris Hoebermann. Both are members of the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice, a network of individuals, dioceses, congregations and organizations within the Episcopal Church who are engaged in a variety of economic justice ministries. Among those ministries: the support of local economic development projects, such as housing cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, and community based credit unions; the creation of housing, businesses and jobs through the energy and resources of the church; advocacy for worker justice, including the right to organize; and concerns about the effect of the globalization of the economy on workers, the poor and the environment.

They have developed a tool based upon the theological reflection method used by the Education for Ministry. This asks a series of questions that encourage continuous reflection:

What is the issue, including the underlying justice issue?

What called you to engage in this issue?

What does contemporary culture and reasoning say about this issue?

What does our faith tradition and scripture say about this issue?

What would we do, who would be our allies, what would be our challenges?

We divided into groups and chose a justice issue for analysis and worked through the reflection.

In regards to justice education, a major question is what does our culture say and what does our faith say. We need to engage the issue and brainstorm it; we need to discern what our ministries, as a faith community we are called to do; we need to respond with a plan of action.

Take-away: ENEJ offers abundant resources for talking with and educating congregations and other groups on the ins-and-outs of economic justice. On the organization’s Website, you’ll find an Economic Justice How-To Manual, Economic Justice Education Units, a booklet on alternative investment strategies for individuals and congregations, and many other resources.

Board development: An ongoing challenge
By Evie Smith, DJO for Arizona

The speakers, Sally Hamlin Coates, the Rev. John E. Midwood, Jill Oettinger, each a director or past director of a large urban Episcopal Community Services agency, addressed non-profit board responsibilities and structure, the role of the chair of the board, the role of the executive director, the relationship between the chair of the board and the executive director, and assessment of board governance. All referred to the Carver model. Community foundations are a potential local source of board building; many universities have adult programs for non-profit organizations.

Boards

There are six basic responsibilities of a governing board:

1. Strategic planning including establishing the organization’s mission and purpose; approving the overarching goals and objectives of all agency programs; and monitoring achievement and outcomes of those goals.

2. Financial accountability to ensure proper fiscal management and that proper judgment is exercised in all business and financial decisions.

3. Fund development, including identifying funding goals and plans, participating in fundraising activities and cultivating and soliciting individual donors.

4. Public relations to enhance the image of the organization.

5. Defining the role and responsibilities of the executive director and conducting an annual performance review.

6. Maintaining the board through recruiting and nurturing new board members as well as assessing the performance of the board/members.

In a non-profit organization, there are four distinct roles board members may play, depending on the organization’s stage of development: making policies in partnership with the executive director and staff; actively raising funds for the organization; providing free advice, when asked, on business and programmatic areas within their expertise; and volunteering in service delivery.

They urged that board should be composed not only a range of demographically and geographically diverse representative, but should have specific professions represented, including law, accounting, human resources, or experience in building an organization. One of the speakers seeks clergy with certain skills. Another seeks CEOs who have built an organization. For larger organizations, it is advantageous to have either a labor attorney or a human resource director on the board.

Board governance includes exercising ethical, businesslike and lawful conduct, including proper use of authority and appropriate decorum, establishing annual calendars of meetings, expectations of board members, definitions of the role and responsibilities of the executive director and making decisions as a group. Once a decision is made, there is a clear understanding of what is to be done to implement the decision, by whom and by when. Board committees help the board as a whole to do its job, but they can only speak or act for the board when they are formally given that authority. In addition, committees exercise no authority over staff.

The role and responsibilities of the executive director are to implement the strategic direction of the board, manage programs, conduct fundraising through grants and contracts, establish systems and procedures to ensure infrastructure and administrative stability. An organization needs a Chief Financial Officer and insurance if it is not part of the diocesan umbrella.

The Board Chair and the executive director manage the intersection between the board and the administration. The goals of the board, as communicated by the board chair, and the executive director must be in close alignment with clear understanding of the roles of each. It happens through trust, discussion, oversight, support and advice, reporting and engagement.

Take-away: A number of Websites offer helpful information if your organization is seeking to strengthen its board. In addition to PolicyGovernance.com, where the Carver Model is fully explained, look at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, the National Council of Nonprofits, BoardSource, or The Bridgespan Group.

Sustainable Funding: Mindset and Methods
By Becky Jones, DJO for Colorado

Never be afraid to ask. That’s Denver-based fund-raising consultant Martha Vail’s (www.marthavail.com) motto.

Vail, author of Fundraising Basics for Preservation Organizations, has a Ph.D. in history from Yale, and a passion for empowering nonprofits. She consults with organizations nationwide on board-building and fund-raising. And she shared a number of pointers with those in attendance at her workshop, “Sustainable Funding: Mindsets and Methods.”

“Experience tells us ‘these tough economic times’ will come again,” Vail said. “So see the future as bright. Think about re-framing how you see fundraising. It’s not about the money, it’s about mission, how you can deepen and broaden your organization’s network of relationships if you choose mission-appropriate, cost-effective fundraising strategies.”

Vail says organization’s who focus JUST on money when contacting past or potential donors lose valuable opportunities. Tell people about your successes, she advises. Educate them about issues. Correct misinformation. Gain political support for your work. Recruit volunteers. And connect people with services or information. None of these things directly raises a dollar in the short term, but may lead to substantial donations over the long term.

Vail promotes two core concepts of fundraising: diversification and sustainability. She points out that individuals were responsible for 75% of the $307 billion donated to American nonprofits in 2009. Foundations, on the other hand, were responsible for just 13%, bequests for 7% and corporations for 5%.

She suggests that organizations should strive for 60% of their donations to come from individuals at all giving levels in response to many different kinds of solicitations, and that no single source – a grant, a major donor, a public fund or an event – should account for more than 30% of annual revenue.

She warns organization’s facing a cash crunch to be wary of sounding desperate. “Don’t put out the fire with gasoline,” she says. “The first response to an imminent cash crunch is often to desperately seek a quick fix. So an emergency appeal is mailed to all your current donors. Or an event is hastily organized. Or a funder gets a pleading phone call. What’s the long-term effect of desperation?’

Instead of desperation, communication preparation, she says. Since tough times usually aren’t unforeseen, explain what your organization did to prepare. Talk about things like contingency budgets, collaboration with other agencies, staffing cuts, program cuts, relocation or postponing planned expansions.

Beyond that, communicate impact, not need, she says. Consider how you evaluate your programs and services, and how you communicate your findings.

When choosing a fundraising method, she advises asking four questions: 1. Does this activity vividly communicate your mission? 2. Is the activity likely to result in sustainable funding? 3. Does the activity maximize resources you already have on hand? 4. What are the opportunity costs of undertaking the activity?

Instead of big, costly and time-consuming events, have you thought about a series of more intimate, cost-effective house parties? Or starting a monthly giving program? How about charging for some programs or services? Or asking a community group to adopt you as their favorite charity?

Other take-aways:

* Elevate thanking donors and acknowledging their importance to the same level of thought and attention as soliciting them.

* Ask and ask and ask again, and be asking enough so as to have some freedom to allow that this particular donor might not be our donor, and to know that our donors are out there if we are just persistent enough to find them.

* Talk honestly and confidently about your program, not to aggrandize or prove how great you are, but to honor your staff and board’s commitment to your mission and the hard work it takes every day to more toward achieving it.

* Overcome your discomfort and fear about interacting with people of wealth, and look and listen more deeply for what you have in common.

* See that every interaction with a donor or prospect is an opportunity to touch the heart of someone who, like you, is seeking to make the world smile and to ease suffering, both their own and the world’s. See that every encounter is a blessing, and that we are both made whole by the type of connection that philanthropy and generosity allows.

* Some good online resources: Association of Fundraising Professionals; Free Management Library; “Charities and Nonprofits” section of the Internal Revenue Service; and A Small Change.

Formation Resources: Just Faith
By Leslee Sandberg, DJO for Iowa

As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminds us, “Mission is the heartbeat of the church.” How can people in our pews become excited about mission and justice?

One answer might be through a program that started at the Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, Kentucky that grew from four people to 3,000 people by the end of its third year and now has 20,000 graduates. People who completed the program had not only built community but had been set on fire for ministry and advocacy with and for the poor.

Jack Jezreel, founder of the Just Faith program, shared details about this powerful curriculum that explores the relationship between faith, spirituality and justice. Just Faith lasts 30 weeks and a complete curriculum is provided. Co-facilitators are also participants in the group. Each session is 2.5 hours long an includes discussion centered around a common book. Over the course of the class, participants will read all or parts of 13 books.

The course includes videos and guest speakers. In addition, four “border crossings,” or out-of-class immersion experiences give participants the opportunity to go out to hear the voices of those they may not otherwise hear. Jezreel emphasizes that Just Faith is a group process and not merely a class.

In addition to the basic 30-week Just Faith curriculum, the organization also offers other courses and workshops. Check out their website at http://www.justfaith.org

Take-away: JustFaith would be a great program for DJOs to investigate and to find out where in their diocese it is happening!

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